On 11 December, ROAR spoke about the historical Sur neighbourhood of Amed (Diyarbakır in Turkish). It said Turkey’s largest Kurdish city now resembled “a war zone”. In a military assault on the largely Kurdish communities of Turkey’s south-east, State authorities had murdered at least 162 civilians by January 2016, in what Amnesty International referred to as “collective punishment“.
Ankara’s aim, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was for PKK members (i.e. anyone sympathising with the idea of autonomy or self-rule) to be “annihilated”, and for Kurdish areas in Turkey to be “cleansed” of their presence. To do this, insists the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Turkish soldiers imposed at least 58 curfews in Kurdish communities, which killed children, disrupted the lives of around 1.4 million people, and left entire neighbourhoods destroyed. Professor Sebnem Korur Fincanci, President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, said the State’s military operations were reminiscent of both the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides.
And according to Sibel Yiğitalp, from the left-wing HDP, the real reason for Erdoğan’s assault on Kurdish communities was that the ruling AKP wanted to punish areas that had voted for the HDP in the elections of both June and November. She insists that this is why:
state violence has turned into a daily occurrence
On 11 January, Amnesty International said that indefinite 24-hour curfews had left over 200,000 people in danger. European lawyers, meanwhile, reported “massive human rights violations” in Amed due to the curfew there, calling for “immediate international action”.
But the voices for peace were either ignored or repressed by the Turkish State. For example, at least six women co-mayors from Kurdish towns and cities were imprisoned for speaking out against the State-organised massacres – referred to on numerous occasions as the worst since the 1990s.
Ayse Celik, an art teacher from Amed, phoned a popular TV chat show and said:
Children are dying here. All of these bomb sounds, bullet sounds… People — especially babies and children — are struggling with a lack of water, with starvation. Please show some sensitivity. See us, hear our voice, extend your hand to us. Please let no more people die. Let no more children die.
Celik was soon prosecuted for “making propaganda for the terrorist organization” (the way the State refers to the PKK).
Turkey’s subterranean war crimes
At the end of January 2016, lawyer and human rights activist Hoshin Ebdullah said:
Dozens of civilians have been killed, hundreds injured and tens of thousands displaced due to the brutal operations by the Turkish forces
And the town of Cizre in Şırnak province received particular attention from the Turkish army, which had reportedly killed three children during a bombardment on 15 January. The population had already seen more than 50 civilian casualties in a weeks-long siege on the area.
On 30 January, Kurdish Question claimed that a number of civilians injured by state forces, who had taken refuge in a basement in Cizre over a week before, remained trapped. It reported that the army had started to attack the building just as ambulances were about to reach the wounded people.
The HDP’s Osman Baydemir said the government was trying to cover up what was happening in Cizre:
Between statements of Ankara and the actual situation in Cizre there is a gulf. War destroys not only people, but also the truth. What the government is now striving to achieve today together with the media — is an open attack on truth. Authorities are trying to destroy the truth.
Journalist Ergun Babahan wrote a few days later about the people trapped in Cizre, saying:
Regardless of how the state views the status of these people, regardless of whether it sees them as enemies or not, this is a crime against humanity.
In Kurdish communities like Cizre, he insisted, the Turkish State was:
imposing a blockade worse than the one employed by Israel in Gaza.
The majority of Turkey is largely unaware of what is happening in the Kurdish region because there is a media-blackout on one hand and a bombardment of disinformation from government controlled media on the other… we have already surpassed the stage of having an authoritarian regime and are well on our way to a fascist regime in practice.
The basement mentioned was not the only one in Cizre where civilians were trapped. A further 52 people had taken shelter in the basement of a nearby building, and most of those were killed during a military assault on 8 February.
On 10 February, former HDP politician Derya Koç – who was trapped in one of the basements – said:
We’re currently surrounded by tanks. They’re opening fire on us. We could be burned up at any moment.
Meanwhile, just like a month before when thousands marched to retrieve bodies which had been taken by State forces from where they were killed, a number of brave women walked towards one of the besieged basements with white flags on 10 February. This in spite of the fact that in January footage appeared showing Turkish authorities shooting at unarmed civilians during a funeral procession – even though it was led by a man holding up a large white flag.
But a day later, Minister of the Interior Efkan Ala said the Cizre siege had finished:
The operations were successful and total control of Cizre has been taken
Response to the war crimes in Cizre
On 8 February, Kurdish protesters blocked a main road in London and were attacked by French police in Paris. The families of those trapped in Cizre’s basements, meanwhile, were understandably more angry and resolute about Turkish attacks than ever. In other words, the State was just making the tensions between Kurdish communities and the government in Ankara even worse.
The wife of one of the trapped men said on 10 February:
I just can’t live together with the Turks who help those oppressing us by staying silent.
HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş insisted on 9 February:
There are no clashes, only tank fire by state forces… only unilateral attacks on buildings… [Turkish authorities] have committed a massacre and they cannot declare it. The rest of Turkey doesn’t want to believe what is happening in Cizre.
Demirtaş said the government’s message was “If you oppose us this is what we will do”, and he stressed:
The bombing of Cizre is a manifestation of ISIS mentality.
And to hide the massacres, he asserted, the State was:
scattering the dead bodies into side streets and ruined houses as if the dead bodies were already there
On 11 February, a Spanish MEP called on the European Commission to launch an independent investigation into civilian deaths in Cizre.
One Twitter user asserted that the only possible silver lining to the State’s attacks would be that they would “single-handedly lead this artificial fascist state to complete isolation & downfall”.
And to a certain extent, the horrors committed by the Turkish State could be forcing Turkey’s western allies to take steps towards ending Ankara’s war. For example, over 100 MEPs launched a petition in mid-February calling on the EU to remove the PKK from its list of terrorist organisations. The case has long been outlined, but this type of step could help to undermine the Turkish regime’s use of the word ‘terrorism’ to justify constant war crimes against in Kurdish communities.
Similar State war crimes in Amed
In the Sûr neighbourhood of Amed, journalist Norma Costello insisted on 10 February:
There is a war happening here that is unreported
This came one day after state forces had announced imminent airstrikes above the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, one resident of Sûr condemned to the local presence of American tanks:
The United States and Nato are a party to these war crimes… they are both providing the weapons and then ignoring these attacks.
On 17 February, after the 78-day blockade of Sûr, DİHA reporter Mazlum Dolan sent a text message from a basement in Sur, insisting:
We can be killed like in Cizre
This is an ongoing situation, and Turkish war crimes are unlikely to stop anytime soon.