The Kurdish city of Amed (Diyarbakır in Turkish), is currently under attack by Turkish state forces. Amed is situated within the borders of Turkey and its residents are locked in a decades long struggle for self determination. In November, people erected barricades in the neighbourhood of Sur, part of Amed’s historic old town, to protect their autonomy and prevent the Turkish police and army from entering. Since then six consecutive curfews have been imposed in the city and police and military have attacked densely populated residential neighbourhoods with heavy weaponry. The current curfew is on its 17th day.
Destruction caused by the Turkish military in Sur, Picture taken from KurdPress
On Monday 14 December, Şiyar Salman and Şerdıl Cengiz were killed by the police in Sur. Earlier that day a strike had been called in Amed in solidarity with the people of Sur and a mass march aimed at reaching the besieged neighbourhood had been attacked with water cannons and tear gas by the police. A journalist from the JINHA women’s news agency was detained during the demonstration. In retaliation, the armed wing of the PKK (the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which previously advocated an independent Kurdish state and now supports democratic autonomy in Kurdistan) attacked a military convoy in Amed district, killing six Special Operations officers and destroying armoured vehicles. On 16 December state forces shelled houses in Sur, wounding seven people.
Kurdish Media has reported that Turkish police have used Ford vehicles to blockade the neighbourhoods where the killings took place (for more info on Ford’s dealings with the Turkish police click here).
The streets of Diyarbakır in a more peaceful time, Picture taken by a member of the Kurdish Solidarity Network
The Turkish police’s aggression in Amed is part of a full-frontal assault on the Kurdish populations within Turkey’s borders, aimed at stamping out the latest uprising which has seen people in many Kurdish cities declare their autonomy from the state and arm themselves to defend their neighbourhoods against the police and army. New curfews have been announced in the cities of Cizîr (Cizre in Turkish), Nusaybin and Silopi this week and civilians have been killed in all three of these cities in the past few days. Ferhat Encü, a deputy from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which supports Kurdish autonomy, made this statement about the attack on Silopi:
“An ethnic cleansing is being committed against our people. What is being done here is quite a massacre. The Turkish state is attacking civilians with heavy arms as if it confronted the military force of another state.”
“It will be our people to triumph. State forces could make no advances into the areas of self-rule so far. They couldn’t fill one single trench even. They will not be able to advance either. Turkish state gangs will be expelled from Silopi, Cizre and all Kurdistan territory in the same way ISIS has been pushed out of Kobanê… Our people living in Turkish cities and Europe must stand by Kurdistan and obviate these mass killings”
Living with Turkish militarism in Diyarbakır
Last July we spoke to four young people in Amed about what it’s like to grow up and live in a society where Turkish police and military repression is ever present. All of the people we interviewed had come to Amed recently, from other parts of Turkey and North Kurdistan (the part of Kurdistan within Turkey’s borders, known as Bakur). The names of our interviewees have been changed at our own discretion.
Our interviewees began by describing what it is like to be a student in North Kurdistan. Hasan tells us: “Sometimes we make little demonstrations at the university, and because of that the police take photographs of us. I have friends who are socialists or communists and sometimes the police call them on their mobile phones and threaten them. They also pressurise them by calling their families.”
The police affect our lives everywhere. For example, when I came from my home in Gever [Yüksekova in Turkish, a town to the east of Amed] to university they stopped us and searched our clothes and bags a total of seven times on one journey from Amed to Gever. In the city centre in Amed there are military bases to pressure and control people.”
Elif tells us that all men with Turkish ID cards have to do military service in the Turkish army, unless they can afford to pay the 15,000 Turkish Lira fee to buy their way out of it. Many poor people in Kurdistan cannot afford to do this. According to Elif: “in our country you have to go to the army as a man. If you don’t go you won’t get a job, you won’t marry. So it pressurises men.”
We ask whether it is common to see military vehicles on the street. Barış tells us that they are on the streets all the time: “It causes psychological problems. Everywhere you see armed people. It frightens us”. Hasan says: “When we were babies, our mothers said “the police are coming. if you cry, the police will come!” In other countries mothers might say that a monster is coming. Here there is a lullaby that says, “the army and police will take your father”.
We are told that it is normal to see Akrep (Scorpion) vehicles, on the street alongside TOMA water cannons. Akreps, manufactured by Turkish company Otokar, are used by both the police and the military. The TOMA is manufactured by two Turkish companies: Nurol Makina and Katmerciler. The engine is manufactured by Perkins, a subsidiary of the US based Caterpillar corporation.
It is common to hear the sound of F16 planes overhead and the army uses helicopters too. Serdar tells us that these flights are used to put the population under psychological pressure. “Sometimes Kurdish people use fireworks so that the helicopters can’t see and have to go another way.” However, these planes are not only used for psychological effect. Hasan points out that F16s are also used to attack civilians. On 28 December 2011 34 cross-border traders from the village of Roboski were killed after Turkish F16s attacked them. According to Serdar: “Roboski is an example where they have used the planes to bomb people. They said that the people they attacked were terrorists but they were not terrorists. They were only selling oil in order to buy food.”
The F16s used by Turkey are manufactured by US arms giant, Lockheed Martin, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) co-produced them and provide parts and modifications for the planes.
Serdar tells us that the use of drones is common too over the city of Gever. Corporate Watch has also witnessed drones being used in residential areas in Farqîn (Silvan in Turkish) in November 2015. Turkey uses Heron drones manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries. A homegrown drone called the Anka, manufactured by Turkish Aerospace Industries, is also being trialled by the Turkish Air Force. The US has stationed Predator drones, manufactured by the US firm General Atomics, at Turkey’s Incirlik airbase and shares intelligence from their flights with the Turkish military.
Solidarity with Kobanê
We ask about the Serhildan (uprising) of 6 and 7 October 2014. At that time the city of Kobanê in Rojava (The part of Kurdistan within Syria’s borders) was under siege by Daesh. The Turkish state was attacking Kurdish fighters trying to cross to Kobanê to fight Daesh and preventing supplies from entering Kobanê. At the same time, Turkey did not prevent Daesh fighters from entering Syria from Turkey. The serhildan began after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Kobanê was about to fall. People came out onto the streets in cities all over North Kurdistan in solidarity with the people fighting in Rojava.
Serdar tells us: “I was in Gever at the time. Syrian and Turkish Kurds are like family. [When the Daesh attack on Kobanê began] the Turkish military closed the border and didn’t let us help people in Rojava. They think they can stop the revolution which had begun there. They wanted to put people in Rojava under siege. They stopped medicines, clothes, food too. They closed all of the border and we couldn’t send anything to Rojava. [President] Erdoğan said that Kobanê will fall.”
Barış continued: “People thought that the Turkish government was supporting Daesh and other terrorist groups. So people wanted to say that the Turkish government should help us, not help Daesh.”
According to Elif: “We just wanted the Turkish government to open the borders so we could help people in Rojava. A lot of people passed into Rojava illegally; they couldn’t stop us. A close friend of mine died in Rojava at Mistenûr Hill. He had been studying his masters degree, and he could speak four languages. He was Turkish and Sunni, not Kurdish or Alevi. His name was Paramaz Kızılbaş. He went to help the Rojava revolution because he was an internationalist. Another fighter, Ivana Hoffmann was an open lesbian who was killed by Daesh in the Rojava revolution.” Ivana Hoffman was a German communist who was killed in Rojava in 2014 while fighting for the people’s protection units.
We ask Elif what happened when demonstrations broke out in Amed at that time. She tells us that “on the 6, 7 and 8 October 2014 the police announced a curfew and didn’t allow us to go on the streets. Because of this we couldn’t buy bread. During this period they didn’t use plastic bullets. They used real bullets. A man was shot in front of my house by the police.”
“On the 2nd day of the curfew I was here in Ofis [a neighbourhood of Amed]. In the morning we needed bread. My friend went to buy bread and the police arrested him in front of the building even though he was wearing just shorts and a t-shirt and he had nothing in his hands. We screamed from the balcony but if we had gone downstairs they would have arrested us too and nothing would have changed. He said many times to the police, “I just want to go to the bakery.”
“Ofis was really dangerous in these days. There were many street fights between the police and the people. Police used tear gas and people threw stones back at them. There were continuous fires on the street. The TOMA water cannons would put them out and then people would light them again.”
“During the curfew, I saw an unmarked car with no number plate drive up and police got out. They tried to arrest a man wearing a black t-shirt. Some elderly women saw this and they ran up to the police and tried to take the young man from them. One of the police shot into the sky. One man ran over and kicked one of the policemen. The policeman shot the man who had kicked him as he was running away. I don’t know if he was badly injured but he had blood coming from his shoulder. It was an unmarked car without a number plate.”
Serdar tells us that: “on October 6 2014 in Gever the uprising started, like in other cities, and lasted five days. The police wouldn’t allow people to march so there was fighting. You could see the cloud of teargas in the sky. The protesters were using stones and some young people were using Molotov cocktails. Normally the army controls the city centre in Gever. You can see lots of police and army on the streets all the time. In other parts of the city military bases are being built. The army controls all of the entrance and exits to the city.”
“In general, during protests some people rock the TOMAS and Akreps until they fall. In all of Turkey there are lots of CCTV cameras and during the Kobanê demonstrations in 2014 lots of people broke the cameras. People bring sugar with them to help with the effects of tear gas.”
We ask how the response to demonstrations in North Kurdistan differs from the policing of the Gezi protests in Istanbul. Elif responds: “the force here is not just police. It is also army and [Kurdish] Hezbollah. It is more violent here. For 21 days I stayed in Gezi but I saw nothing like here. You can look at the numbers killed: 52 people [killed in North Kurdistan] in just three days.” In comparison, 11 people were killed over almost two months during the Gezi uprising.
Kurdish Hezbollah (KH), whose name means ‘party of god’, are a Kurdish Sunni Islamist group that is carrying out increasing numbers of attacks on the pro-Kurdish autonomy People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the PKK and the communities that support them. The group is unconnected to the Lebanese Hezbollah. In the 1990’s KH was in direct conflict with the PKK, killing hundreds of its members.
During the uprising in solidarity with Kobanê in 2014, KH carried out attacks in many Kurdish cities. (See here for an account of the attacks in Cizîr). Elif tells us:
“When the government loses power here they give Hezbollah weapons and tell them to go on the streets. It was the same in the 1990s. I saw them coming to a house close to mine with guns and banging on the door shouting Allahu Akhbar. They took people from the building and we didn’t see them again.”
We ask Elif whether she thinks that governments like the UK should grant export licenses for the sale of arms to Turkey. She responds: “of course not. Their licenses kill our people. Militarism supports the system. It’s part of the system. We have to defend ourselves but we are not militarists.”
LGBT struggles in Amed
In Turkey’s general elections in June and November 2015, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) gained seats in the Turkish parliament. This is the first time ever that a party that supports Kurdish autonomy has passed the 10% threshold required to gain any seats. The HDP has been speaking out in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The party has a 10 per cent quota for LGBT people when fielding candidates. We ask if the situation for LGBT people in Bakur has changed because of this. Serdar replies “It’s difficult. LGBT communities in Turkey and Kurdistan have to be secret. They would only tell close friends about their sexuality. In cities it’s a little less bad but we are still really oppressed by our families. Roşın Çıçek, a gay man, was murdered by his family in Amed in 2012. Things are changing but really slowly because the religious people here are really closed minded about LGBT people. The Kurdish movement has to do a lot of work about these things. Members of the HDP need to educate themselves and then teach other people. It’s really brave that LGBT people are in the HDP. Their words are brave but they need to be more than words.”
“There has been an LGBT group in Amed for the last three years and we are working in the Amed Ecological Council and in the conscientious objectors movement, as many LGBT people are conscientious objectors. We also monitor cases where LGBT people are killed or violence has been committed against them. We are starting to be more visible. We have started to go with our LGBT flag to both the 1st May and Newroz celebrations.”
According to Barış, who is from Antakya: “we saw that there was an LGBT movement in Amed, so Arabic Alevis formed one in Antakya too. We support each other.”
Elif and Serdar tell us how the establishment of an autonomous region in Rojava (within the borders of Syria) based on democratic confederalism gives them hope that one day the system established in Rojava can be put in place in Bakur too. Democratic confederalism is a system of direct democracy based on organising confederations of grassroots neighbourhood and village assemblies, which co-ordinate together across wider geographical areas. In Rojava, since 2012 when the majority of Syrian regime forces withdrew,a revolution has seen thousands of communes established, based on the ideas of democratic confederalism.
Serdar explains that “capitalism has more power here in Amed than in other places in Kurdistan. But in the Gever area it’s different. We have nearly the same system as Rojava in the small towns. In my village, my system is like the Rojava system. I am also in the council for ecology in Amed and we are trying to get away from capitalism.”
We ask what people can do from outside Kurdistan in solidarity with the struggle for autonomy in Bakur. They ask us to raise awareness of what’s going on in Kurdistan among people in Europe. To force European governments not to support Turkish military policies and campaign against the sale of arms to Turkey. Finally, they want to work together with other anti-capitalists. Barış says hopefully, “It’s a big dream but maybe we can make a big anti-capitalist union.”
Click here to read more about the struggles for autonomy in the cities of Silvan and Cizre