The ongoing conflict between Turkey and the outlawed PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) restarted in August 2015, breaking the solution process that began over 2 years earlier.
In the southeastern region (or North Kurdistan), where the population is mostly Kurd, the Turkish government declared more than 58 officially confirmed, open-ended and round-the-clock curfews in the area with the purpose to fight back against PKK armed groups such as the Civil Protection Units (YPS) and the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) rooted in the region.
Despite statistics regarding casualties being controversial, the human cost of the conflict is in the hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths from both of sides. According to statistics provided by Crisis Group, Turkey lost 433 security forces and PKK 383 members during the conflict so far. Statistics provided by the two factions expound data, but also might be biased.
The highest price of this conflict though has been paid by the civil population. More than 250 civilians have been killed and 350,000 people are displaced in the region.
- Local organizations have claimed violations of human rights committed by the Turkish state towards civilians, such as the right to life, the right to health and the right to property.
- People have been killed without being directly involved in the battles, entire districts and buildings have been destroyed and houses, mosques and churches have been expropriated.
- Even the death toll among civilians can’t be confirmed. Human rights organizations weren’t allowed to assist with the autopsies on the corpses.
- Even medical aid has been impeded by the Turkish forces and some people died due to lack of medical intervention.
“Everything that is happening is illegal. Whatever has been done is totally unacceptable because the state can’t do something that affect thousands of people who are leaving their houses,” the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) Diyarbakir representative Bariş Yavuz said. His complaint is against the procedure used by police during the curfews, “When Turkey declared the curfew, people were in their homes, they didn’t know what was happening. This is the reflection that all Kurds are the same for the government. They don’t care whether they are civilians or not,” Yavuz said.
One of most important curfews had been declared in Sur, the Diyarbakir’s old district, which is listed by UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Diyarbakir is the largest populated city of the region and curfews have been declared there 32 times since August 2015. The Sur area has been almost completely destroyed and most of the inhabitants are living out of the district, which is inaccessible because it is militarized.
Cimile Acire, 64, is one of the witnesses who has been affected by the curfew in Sur. She lived in the area and when the curfew started she found herself stuck in her home without any possibility to go out safely. “No one police officer told us personally to leave our house. It was really hard to stay in. I called police telling them to stop to hit my house, but they didn’t care about my words and continued to. Bombardments hurt my face. Even my daughter was injured. When we left our house at the end of December calling the police, police officer told me to put my hands up, then they caught us asking our documents and taking us to a sport centre where there were other people to be checked. We stayed there for hours and hours. I wasn’t able to take my medicines. We didn’t eat anything for hours. Police officers ate in front of us laughing. Then, they brought us to the hospital to live there for a while,” she told us.
As well as Diyarbakir, many cities of Southeastern Turkey have been affected by damages and civilian casualties such as Cizre, Şırnak, Silopi, and Batman. A member of the Southeast Anatolia Association of Municipalities (GABB) who wished to remain anonymous, filed 25,000 damaged buildings in the areas involved in the curfews. In his point of view, the project planned by the Turkish government is expropriating houses and places of worship which have been damaged and destroyed and reconstructing them in a different way from the Kurdish architectural style. “It means to reconstruct new spaces and a new identity different from the Kurdish one,” he said, stating how the Turkish war against the PKK armed groups hides an attempt to perpetrate an assimilation policy towards the Kurd population in South-East Turkey.
Salih Yıldız is the Vice Co-Chair of Democratic Regions Party (DBP), a social democratic Kurdish political party. During the curfews, 106 municipalities in the region managed by the party have been subject to investigations on charges related to autonomy, co-leadership, and terrorism. Furthermore, 10 majors have been suspended or detained. “During the curfews, the Turkish army killed 3 members of our party [Seve Demir, Fatma Uyar, Pakize Naır] because they tried to stay in touch with the NGOs in the region,” he said. The Kurdish political parties are struggling for full recognition of its rights in a democratic way. Although their goal is to earn a tangible autonomy, the dialogue with the state is not bringing any results. “The Turkish government wants to destroy the Kurdish community in Turkey. From the State’s point of view is: every Kurd is a terrorist. Turkey was looking for a valuable reason to attack the Kurds in the region. Instead of concentrating its struggle against Isis, Turkey concentrates itself against the Kurds” Yıldız said.
Despite the accusations against the Turkish state, Mazlumder, a non-governmental human rights organization established by lawyers, journalists, authors, publishers and businessmen, reported evidence of violations of human rights from both Turkish state and the PKK. Its members tried to embark on a dialogue with both sides requesting the end of the conflict, unsuccessfully. Mazlumder reported that the Turkish government carried out a disproportionate and excessive use of force, shooting everyone who was in the streets during the curfews even using snipers. At the same time, the organization reported concerns about the child recruitment made by the PKK. The outlawed party took on some obligations by signing “Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict” with Geneva Call, an NGO supported by the UN, in 2013. Mazlumder revealed that there is likely 3,000 young boys in training camps pledging to do propaganda for the party and likely 200 of them would have fought on the front line. Also, Mazlumder registered complaints by the Cizre inhabitants towards the PKK for involving the town in the conflict.