Tag Archives: Cizre

Collusion, Complicity or Neglect: How Media is Responsible for War Crimes

Imagine you wake up tomorrow to learn your city is under curfew, you have been stripped of your citizenship, all electricity, water and medical services have been stopped and no one is reporting anything in the news about any of it. Snipers are on rooftops, so you can’t go outside or be seen from a window. What would you do? How will you survive?

Written by Carol Benedict

Cizre after security forces "secured" the city. Image via Twitter.

Cizre after government forces “secured” the city. Image via Twitter.

President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan has asked for and received all legal clearance to now strip Turkish civilians of their citizenship for any actions or opinions expressed that are contrary to what the government narrative is.

This comes after recently gaining the ability to label journalists, academia and politicians as terrorists if they report, teach or campaign with any negative reflection on Erdogan or his government.

This totalitarian control is not limited to within the borders of Turkey. While in Washington DC, at a protest of his speech at the Brookings Institute, his security forces violently attacked peaceful citizens and called them terrorists. Turkish security physically assaulted a woman journalist and roughed up two of the Brookings Institute Management staff, including the building manager and stopped only when the threat of canceling the speech was presented. All this occurred before Erdogan’s motorcade even arrived, but after the Turkish security had taken pictures of every protestor they could.

The Ambassador from Germany in Turkey has been summoned – not once, but twice – by the Turkish government, demanding that a video posted on YouTube that mocks their “boss from Bosphorus” be pulled down. The response so far has been more views as the video gains popularity.

Reports have surfaced that prove Turkey’s government is in cooperative relationship with ISIS. Journalists arrested in Turkey include those who filmed Turkish military vehicles delivering weapons, food and medicine to ISIS jihadists inside Syria. The majority of foreign fighters route their travel through Turkey, and ISIS proudly displays the Turkish flag along side their infamous black one.

Turkey has removed al-Nusra from its terrorist list while refusing to allow America’s allies, Syrian Kurds, a seat at the Syrian peace talks. Without the Syrian Kurds, ISIS would be gaining territory in Syria, not losing it. Erdogan sees these gains by the Syrian Kurds as a threat to Turkey.

None of this compares to what is taking place inside Turkey itself.

The Kurdish population of Turkey resides primarily in the SE region. Cities and neighborhoods have been placed under siege and curfews by government forces. Erdogan claims this is being done to respond to terrorism, yet the majority of the over 5,000 deaths are to women, children and the elderly/ The destruction that has occurred is to Kurdish homes, business, schools, churches, cemeteries and infrastructure.

Hit particularly hard is the city of Cizre.

“What the people of Cizre were exposed to for many days and nights – artillery assaults by tanks and the sounds of mortar fire, explosives, rampages, announcements, harrassment of people staying in their homes – are clear violations of the right to life; they are, moreover, forms of torture. Some families who did not endure a loss of life, have come to see artillery, and their houses and cars being targeted by firearms, as something normal.”

After getting permits on March 2, 2016, lawyers of Libertarian Lawyers Association (ÖHD), Mesopotamia Lawyers Association (MHD), Asrın Law Firm (AHB), and the Foundation for Society and Legal Studies (TOHAV) entered Cizre to document human rights violations and legal processes.

Their harrowing preliminary legal report has just been released. To read the details is not for the weak of stomach or soul. Some of their conclusions were:

The barbarity in Cizre has been heavier and more serious than has been reflected to the public. Between 12/14/2015-03/02/2016, more than 280 civilians were killed during the clashes; among them there were women, babies, children and the elderly. The exact number of the deaths cannot be determined as most of the bodies are burned beyond recognition, distributed to different cities and buried without identification.

Documentation and data on the profound violation of right to life by special operation forces and snipers acting on behalf of the state according to the testimonies, violation of bodily integrity, forced displacement, deprivation of liberty, the hindering of essential needs, torture, discrimination and racism are all available. It is critical to designate the curfews and related operations as torture and maltreatment of the people of Cizre and to investigate them thoroughly. When violations this common, systematic and substantial are revealed, they become humanitarian law violations and crimes against humanity and assume legal stature. They must be investigated.

People who lived in Cizre were forced to leave Cizre. Any artillery fired by tanks or assaults by firearms on an individual’s house, close to his house, alley, neighborhood, or city is a part of a forced displacement. The execution of these operations and the format, techniques, and size of the curfew, leave the strong impression that all people in Cizre were defined as either “terrorist” or a “potential terrorist”. Cizre and its people are still being criminalized. Even the action of entering Cizre is seen as “suspicion of crime” by security forces; while those who enter the province are treated as “suspects”.

Not the faces of terrorists. Image via Twitter.

Not the faces of terrorists, children in Cizre wonder about their future. Image via Twitter.

While all this was happening, western media reported nothing. In the responsible world of ethical journalism, this is either complicity or collusion.

Turkey has a long history of wanting to rid itself of its Kurdish population. Hasan Cemal writes

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it cannot find a solution to a problem that has spawned 29 rebellions since 1923.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has banned the identity and language of a group of its own citizens but has not found a solution since 1923.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has forcefully displaced its own citizens and burned down their homes for years on end and yet has not found a solution since 1923.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has completely ignored law, created Susurluks [mafia-state relations], Ergenekons [deep states] and committed thousands of extrajudicial killings, but has not found a solution since 1923.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has carried out military coups, suspended democracy, disregarded law, fed feces to its own citizens as in the example of Diyarbakir Military Prison, but has not found a solution since 1923.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has not solved the issue, but conversely exacerbated and deepened it.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has spent Turkey’s resources on war rather than development and welfare.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has led to the death of more than 50,000 of its own citizens since 1984.

What kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it has not taken the necessary lessons from all the bloodshed and mistakes since 1923.

And finally, what kind of ‘state mentality’ is it that it thinks, despite all the blood and tears and tragedies, that a solution is at the end of a barrel,.

Turkey wants to be part of the EU and has asked for action to be stepped up in consideration of their application. The western media needs to make clear to Erdogan that being an EU member-state means western journalists will now be given the right to free and open access to events occurring within Turkey’s borders.

The world stops and looks at a terrorist attack in Paris, Belgium and London. If the actual human rights violations, crimes against humanity and Turkey’s cooperation with ISIS would be reported, demands for intervention would have been heard before Cizre’s massacre occurred.

Recently Erdogan has proclaimed, “Now we are going to finish the job, we are going to deal with the issue and god-willing create a peaceful and prosperous southeast [Turkey].”

Ironically, the first-ever United Nations-sponsored World Humanitarian Summit is scheduled to take place May 23-24, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Turkey’s “compassionate leadership” in hosting the summit and its “admirable commitment to humanitarian action.”

Where is journalistic responsibility in a globalized society when the focus remains on an election that will not occur until November 2016? In 1933, people and media turned a blind eye, then later asked why neither said anything. Why is this happening again in 2016?

Western media has chosen not to report on a current massacre and genocide. Since this has been occurring on an escalating scale since June of 2015, it is only reasonable to conclude that there is either collusion among media to not report these atrocities, or the governments of all western media outlets are censoring the “free and open” press worldwide. Whichever of these two is correct, the answer is very concerning.

If the refusal to report Turkey’s internal atrocities is not collusion or complicity, it is neglect.

Regardless of the answer to why, the longer it remains unanswered, the more innocent lives will be lost and history will again ask civilization “How could you let this happen?”

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an indépendant researcher and human rights activist. She has been studying Kurdish history, culture and politics for the last three years.

Share Button

Whispers of War in North Kurdistan — a photo essay

Many Kurdish towns across Turkey lie in ruin, but Yüksekova — a bulwark of the PKK — has so far escaped destruction. Still the war is always present

By Alex Kenman. Published 3-8-2016 by ROAR Magazine

Egid called me today to tell me that the situation in his hometown is rapidly deteriorating. It’s been nine months since I last saw him in Yüksekova, or Gever in Kurdish, in southeastern Turkey.

Egid is a positive man. Despite the hardships he and his people face on a daily basis, he has the capacity to enjoy life to the fullest wherever he is. Actually, it may well be that it is precisely because of those hardships that he is so positive, as a sort of self-preservation mechanism. Violence, repression and uncertainty are common themes in his daily life.

On July 20, 2015, Süleyman, a 25-year-old teacher, was killed together with 32 other primarily Kurdish activists in the Suruç suicide attack. Two days later, when his body was brought to Yüksekova, the whole city shut down. Hundreds of cars filled the main highway to show their respect and thousands of people attended the funeral.

I often envy him for his positive attitude. With him, any ordinary situation would turn into something special; whether we would be secretly drinking beers at night in his cousin’s van, or simply having a chat over a cigarette in the kitchen. He has learned to appreciate and accept life the way it is.

Egid often calls me to cheer me up, when by all means it ought to be the other way around. He tells me how I should feel blessed to live in such fortunate circumstances.

But this time it was different.

He called to say he had lost all hope. He seemed upset, explaining that while he and his family are okay right now, he doesn’t know what will happen in a few weeks’ time. They are expecting the Turkish military to come soon, after the snow has melted, to do to Yüksekova what they already did to Cizre, Sur, Sirnak, Nusaybin and all those other places: “To wipe out all terrorists.” They fear they will be trapped inside their houses, with no food, medical care, media, or observers, and that they will risk getting killed whenever they step outside. In English this situation is translated as a “curfew”, but that’s not the right word to describe the situation. It’s a military siege.

Op het verspreiden of bezitten van PKK propaganda staan zware straffen, desondanks zijn ze populair in Yüksekova. Een centrum van PKK aanhangers.

The distribution or possession of PKK magazines like this may lead to imprisonment and terrorist charges. Nevertheless, they remain popular throughout Yüksekova, a center of resistance.

Yüksekova, just like Cizre, is one of those towns infamous for its decades-long resistance. The PKK has always been very popular here, and it still is. Referring to Yüksekova and the surrounding Hakkari province, Abdullah Öcalan once said, “This is where we are strongest.” Indeed, beyond the military outposts this territory is ruled, or at least strongly contested, by the PKK.

From here, Qandil — where the guerrilla’s headquarters are based — is only a stone’s throw away, on the other side of the border between Turkey and Iraq. Traditionally, Spring is when the fighting starts, as the snow-capped mountains become a little bit more accessible, both for the Turkish army and the PKK.

It is in Hakkari where one can come to a true understanding of what the Kurdish struggle is all about. The ever-present conditions of the ongoing war are impossible to ignore, and it inevitably maneuvers its way into all aspects of daily life.

05 Hakkari, Alex Kemman

This sports hall was set on fire during a protest. Governmental buildings are often set on fire as they are easier targets than police and military buildings.

Yüksekova has thus far escaped the fate of many other towns and cities across Bakur, or North Kurdistan. Egid’s family’s house is still safe, for now, but guarantees are a scarce commodity in these critical times. If the Turkish military attacks, the people of Yüksekova will resist fiercely, that much is sure.

Back in 2013, Egid feared that if the peace process were to come to an end, the war would erupt like never before. He saw the youth around him, the next generation, and realized that they were much more radicalized than him. So much so that these youngster appeared to be willing to fight to the very end. This is what the region has witnessed with the YDS, the so-called “Civil Protection Units”, made up of heavily armed and radicalized youths.

In the people’s experience, the situation now is worse than it was at the height of the conflict in the 1990s. People are desperate, and every time it seems impossible for things to get worse, the conflict is escalated to a whole new level.

12 Hakkari, Alex Kemman


One night in August we sat in front of Cihan’s house, one of Egid’s friends. We smelled the teargas and tried to discern the different loud bangs in the distance. Were they explosions, gunfire, or something else? We tried to figure out what was going on, but with the internet not working and the media silenced, this proved an impossible task. Cihan said that things hadn’t been this bad in years, that there’s often the sound of gunfire but not for three hours straight, as happened that particular evening.

Some say there are so few birds left in Yüksekova because they all died from the teargas, which fills the air of the town on a regular basis. Ironically this has created a metal recycling business among kids to earn some money.

We were lucky this time, because the fighting often takes place right next to the house. The traditional thick walls of the house have too often proven their necessity as bulletproof entrenchment.

The sound of gunfire and whiffs of teargas that reached us were only the whispers of the war that was taking place around us, but they carried with them the fear for the well-being of friends and family elsewhere in the town.

Cihan is from a politicized family. His younger brother has just been released after five years in jail. His father had been in prison for ten years, and many of his uncles and cousins are still locked up, while others are with the guerrilla forces in the mountains.

14 Hakkari, Alex Kemman

Sahit never says goodbye. He isn’t accustomed to it, because in prison you never leave. He was imprisoned at the age of 15, as a preventive measure. It would be 17 years before he was eventually released. “The world changed. It was a new world, I felt like aliens had landed. When I left there were one or maybe two televisions in the whole city. Now everyone had one. Most of all, I left as a child, but I didn’t realize I had grown up. Society had changed and I didn’t know how to cope with it.”

15 Hakkari, Alex Kemman

Rojda’s family originally came from Iran, their grandfather was a famous revolutionary who fought the Shah in Iranian Kurdistan. They fled when her husband would risk a death sentence in Iran. In Turkey he was betrayed, and served a long time in jail. Her youngest son has been in prison too. When he went on hunger strike together with many fellow Kurdish prisoners in 2012 to ask for more rights, she joined in solidarity.



















Cihan’s brother tells about the first night of their father’s imprisonment. They put him in a certain position, one thumb bound to the ceiling in such a way that he could just reach the floor with his toes. The prison guards laughed “Welcome! This is just your first night, we’ll be easy on you”. Cihan’s father still has a problem with that thumb.

They tortured the man for a month. For ten years he was imprisoned. When he came back he was a mere shadow of the man he used to be. He would not join family dinners, and although his smile never left his face he became a very distant person. His world consists of the house and the front yard — the outside world is something he can’t handle.

08 Hakkari, Alex Kemman

“We love enough to die for the sake of life.” Above, Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, Kemal Pir, Akif Yılmaz, Ali Çiçek started a hunger strike until death in 1982 in Diyarbakir prison. The people at the bottom row were also on long hunger strikes.

Each of the rooms in the house has a television. At least one was always on. Apparently it eased his mind. However, when the situation throughout Turkey started to escalate, Cihan’s father became more restless. The news was all about the latest clashes and the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Will there be war?”

The present situation that has been going on for so long is about whole generations and entire cities being traumatized; about daughters and sons getting killed, brothers and sisters imprisoned. Despite all that, even while for a moment even Egid lost his hope, he picked himself up and said: “It doesn’t matter, we will win. We will teach them the reality is right, unavoidable. You were there! You are my friend and you took all these pictures. Maybe one day you will show them.”


They came at midnight. First they went to the wrong house. We were away doing construction work, and came home late in the night. They took him violently. We don’t know when he will be released. My oldest son is a guerrilla, he joined at his seventeenth, he is 22 years old now. I haven’t seen him for almost six years. My imprisoned son was photographed at a protest. It was unfair.

They came through the garden in the middle of the night, and broke our door and windows. They aimed a gun at my daughter’s head. They searched everything and then took my son. They beat him with sticks, they beat him in front of us. They tortured him for eight days, until he had a heart attack. He had to go to the hospital.
He was 18 or 19 when they took him. It’s been ten months now. They accused him of killing three soldiers. The thing is, it’s all a lie. The killers have already been arrested, and the court says he’s not guilty. Still, they keep him. Next month there will be another court case.

We were still awake as we just came back from work. Around 3am the special forces came. They tried to break open the door. I opened it and asked what they wanted. They just rushed in and aimed their gun at my little boy. When I shouted “don’t do that!” they put me on the floor, face down, and broke my finger. They also attacked my neighbor and broke three of his teeth.
My son was sleeping, they arrested him. Later they came back with him, they wanted the gun. There wasn’t a gun. I swear to allah, we do not have a gun. They started beating my son. My son was very angry. They kept beating him. We can actually forgive them. We just want our son back.

Alex Kemman

Alex Kemman is a criminologist, anthropologist and photographer. Presently he is working on a book that combines personal experiences and people’s stories in a context of state repression in the Hakkari province. Visit his website at alexkemman.org

Share Button

Unchanging state security policies in southeast Turkey

The region’s people already know quite well that any policies pursued in the region are military-related, and have not brought peace but only more conflicts.

By Özlem Belçim Galip and Cemal Özkahraman. Published 2-2-2016 by openDemocracy

Centerpiece of the project: Atatürk Dam. Wikicommons/US federal government. Public domain.

Centerpiece of the project: Atatürk Dam. Wikicommons/US federal government. Public domain.

In order to fight effectively against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the prime minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, recently announced that his government will preside over a new security structure for the Kurdish inhabitants of Şırnak, Cizre, Hakkari and Yüksekova, in the south-east of the country, by changing the status of these cities and towns, transferring the administrative functions of Şırnak and Hakkari within 90 days to Yüksekova and Cizre. Apart from any ensuing socio-political conflict, this will also result in many administrative challenges. For example, 15 state institutions and 500 officers will be relocated.

Above all, this decision reflects the fact that the Turkish state is quite prepared to make changes in the region without reference to either negative outcomes for local people or judicial restrictions. The government knows that it holds all the necessary authority to make any judicial changes it feels appropriate with regard to its long or short-term planning. Continue reading

Share Button

Academics for Peace: “enemies of the state” in Turkey

About 1,100 Kurdish and Turkish academics signed a letter condemning the ongoing atrocities by the Turkish army. In response, Erdoğan accused them of treason

Authored by Francis O’Connor & Semih Celik. Published in ROAR Magazine on 1-16-2016.

Police are arresting Academics in Turkey for signing a declaration. Photo via Twitter.

Police are arresting Academics in Turkey for signing a Declaration for Peace. Photo via Twitter.

“I am fine with everything except for imprisonment,” says a recently appointed Assistant Professor from one of the most prominent universities of the country, in Ankara.

“Everything happened so quickly. First, we signed the statement, the next day President Erdoğan was condemning us with the worst of adjectives, immediately after that, came the inquiries.”

His personal anxiety in the face of the latest clampdown on academics in Turkey is one example, but it is representative of the common mood among hundreds of young academics who have become part of a movement “Academics for Peace” through their signing of a statement.


Since August last year, the Turkish government has imposed intermittent open-ended military curfews on an array of Kurdish cities in its campaign against young militants in the YDG-H, which is linked to the PKK. These have been dramatically scaled up since mid-December, however, when a number of cities — most notably the Sur district of Diyarbakir, Cizre, Silwan, Şırnak and Silopi — were put under military siege.

In these cities, around 200,000 civilians are trapped in what remains of their houses, in some cases for up to 30 days — many without electricity, water or even food in some places. Injured civilians have been prevented from accessing medical attention and have subsequently died of their wounds. Families have been prevented from reclaiming the bodies of their loved ones.

According to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, the civilian death toll as of January 8 is 162 civilians, including 32 children, 29 women and 24 victims over 60 years of age. These extensive sieges involve enormous deployments of soldiers and police officers encircling urban centers before targeting them with heavy artillery, oblivious to the presence of local residents.


In light of Turkey’s flagrant disregard for both its own laws and international human rights protocols, more than a thousand Kurdish and Turkish academics signed a letter declaring that they would not pay silent witness to the ongoing atrocities. They announced: “we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state.”

The letter further called for an immediate end to the curfew, the presence of international monitors in the affected districts and a restoration of the peace negotiations which Erdoğan deliberately scuppered in an effort to restore the AKP’s electoral dominance last summer.

In response to the call for an end to the violence, Erdoğan decried the signatories’ ignorance, accused them of favoring colonialism and ultimately of treason. In the immediate aftermath, state prosecutors initiated legal proceeding against all the original signatories of the declaration, charging them with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” and “overtly insulting the Turkish nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the Government of Republic of Turkey and the judicial organs of the state.” These charges can result in sentences of up to five years in prison. Twenty-two of the signatories have already been taken into custody.

In addition to these legal proceedings, the Council of Higher Education (Yükseköğretim Kurumuo, or YÖK) has vowed to take further punitive measures against the signatories. YÖK has demanded that Prof. Bülent Tanju from Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri resign, while individual university administrations — contrary to all legal protocols — have suspended or fired their own staff members, such as in the case of Professor Latife Akyüz in Düzce University.

In cities like Bolu and Kocaeli in northwestern Turkey, police have raided the houses of signatories. Incidentally YÖK was established by the military government in 1982 as a means to limit universities’ autonomy and restrict their capacity to serve as sources of opposition to the state.


In parallel to this blatant suppression of freedom of expression, a concerted media and political campaign is trying to further demonize the signatories. Turkey’s far-right MHP party has been to the forefront these efforts: one of its Istanbul deputies, İzzet Ulvi Yönter, declared that “the government should immediately take action and fight as it does in the districts of Sur, Cizre, Dargeçit and Silopi against the terrorists in universities.”

Meanwhile, other figures with links to fascist or Turkish nationalist organizations such as the criminal Sedat Peker have threatened: “at that moment, the bell will toll for you all … I would like to say it again: we will spill your blood and we will shower in it!”

This cannot be dismissed as an idle threat. Turkey has a long and shameful history of murdering intellectuals, critical academics and journalists. Calls like these are seized upon by university students of extreme right-wing political organizations like the Grey Wolves, responding with insults and threats to the signatories, mostly by marking and sticking threatening letters on their office doors promising to “make the city hell” for their own professors.

Students have also acted upon their threats by raiding their professors’ offices. Prof. Kemal İnal’s life, for instance, was directly threatened by his own colleagues. As a result, he was one of the two signatories to withdraw their signature. The threats, both from state officials and public figures, have found support among the pro-government and pro-state segments of Turkish society, contributing to the signatories’ stigmatization and leading only to further polarization.


The threats and legal measures have created a strong sense of solidarity among the academics who had signed the statement. Nearly all of the more than 1,100 signatories have declared that they stand firmly behind their words. Their efforts have been further supported by their own students in universities, and in a wave of statements of solidarity from filmmakers, journalists, publishing houses and authors.

However, given the horrendous human rights credentials of the Turkish state, anxiety caused by the inability to foresee what is awaiting them makes it harder to bear the smear campaign launched by the government and state institutions. “What is the worst that could happen?” worries one comrade who had signed the statement. The ambiguity of criminal codes and their arbitrary application since the 1990s leaves this ghastly question mark hovering in the signatories’ minds.

For a younger generation of academics who have been politicized in post-1990s Turkey, the immediate example is the unlawful imprisonment, for months, of thousands of Kurdish university students and professors, activists, journalists and members of the pro-Kurdish party under the accusation that they were members of the “civilian” wing of PKK, the KCK, in 2011.

The likelihood of spending months in prison makes losing academic positions a concern of lesser importance. Many of the affected academics who have established ties with institutions outside of Turkey maintain the possibility of fleeing abroad in order to be able to continue their professional careers in environments with a minimum breach to their freedom of expression.

Despite this gloomy and pessimistic picture, initial feelings of sorrow, weariness, fear and anxiety have been transformed into hope as a result of the ever-growing sense of solidarity. Another comrade, a research assistant from a private university in Istanbul whose contract has been suspended due to the ongoing investigations, expressed her happiness for the huge number of solidarity messages she has received in a single day.

In this light, we should consider that the ultimate outcome of the clampdown on the Kurdish activists in 2011 was broader solidarity and a better organized Kurdish movement, whose mobilization made the peace talks and the ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces possible.

At the moment, our conversations end with a sense of hope generated by the acts of solidarity of friends, colleagues and total strangers. Solidarity remains the only force to beat the darkness that prevails in the country for more than 40 years. Another comrade reminds us the famed verses of one of the most prominent contemporary poets of Turkey, Murathan Mungan: “Our path might cross through steppes/Yet; the streets will reach the sea.”


Tonight, thousands of brave academics, journalists and activists across Turkey are anxiously awaiting a knock at the door — a knock that could potentially escort them to years in prison or add them to the tragic list of great minds murdered for views considered impermissible by the state. Similarly, tens of thousands of civilians are cowered down in the basements of Silopi, Cizre and Sur, parents attempting to lull hungry children to sleep while being bombarded by their own government.

Emboldened by his success in the November elections, Erdoğan is determined to quell any internal opposition and to silence all voices which resist his violent authoritarianism. The Turkish state’s willful disregard of its own citizens’ well-being and rights, and its determination to punish those who refuse to remain silent in face of its atrocities, demands a collective response from international political actors, activists and civil society.

Let us collectively raise our voices and act in solidarity with our Kurdish and Turkish colleagues and comrades under threat in Turkey. Solidarity demonstrations are being organized across the globe, across Europe, North America and of course in Turkey itself. The barbarism and inhumanity of Erdoğan and his regime needs to be halted.

The world can no longer remain complicit by its silence.

About the Authors:
Francis O’Connor is a Germany-based researcher from Ireland. He completed his PhD at the European University Institute on the Kurdish struggle in Turkey.
Semih Celik is a PhD candidate at the European University Institute, department of History and Civilization.

Related Article:
Why Turkey’s government is threatening academic freedom

Share Button

Kurds resist state-imposed curfews in Turkey

Since August, 52 curfews have been declared by the Turkish state in Kurdish towns and neighborhoods. Despite the repression, the resistance is thriving.

Written by Joris Leverink. Published 12-15-2015 in ROAR Magazine.

What remains of a home in Sur, one of the Kurdish towns and neighborhoods placed under curfew by the Turkish authorities. Image via Twitter.

What remains of a home in Sur, one of the Kurdish towns and neighborhoods placed under curfew by the Turkish authorities. Image via Twitter.

The scenes of destruction in the Kurdish towns and neighborhoods placed under curfew by the Turkish authorities do not just resemble a war zone – they are a war zone. This is a war of a government against its people. A total war, in which a government is indiscriminately targeting a civilian population, killing the youth, destroying houses, burning down historical monuments.

Dozens of people have been killed by Turkish police and special forces in the past few months. From months-old babies to 76-year old grandfathers. Mothers, daughters, students, school kids – lives cut short by the terror of the state.

The world might prefer to ignore this fact because Turkey is being such a valuable ally at the moment. On the one hand it plays a role as the gatekeeper of Fortress Europe, while on the other it is the patron of many “opposition” groups fighting against Assad in Syria – many of whom awkwardly keep their imperialist friends close, but their jihadi enemies even closer.

On Friday, a curfew that had been imposed on Sur, the historical district of Diyarbakir, was lifted for a few hours. In the nine days the neighborhood was cut off from the outside world, special police forces descended upon the area like vultures on a feast. Randomly bombing and shooting at the densely populated neighborhood where there is no escape from the violence for those trapped inside.

During an earlier curfew several weeks ago, special forces had left a message on the wall of one of the neighborhood’s houses: “You will see the power of the Turk”, signed, the Esedullah Tim. There has been much ado about this special ops team, whose name translates to “lions of god”. In every town under curfew, the same graffiti appears on walls, and locals speak of bearded men shouting insults, and using extreme violence against the population.

So far, their existence remains shrouded in mystery, with the government refusing to comment. It is clear, however, that this is a special unit placed above the law, whose sole purpose is to terrorize the population.

In the June elections, the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), with its roots in the Kurdish freedom movement, managed to breach the exceedingly high 10 percent electoral threshold, bringing an end to the 13-year one-party rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Posing a serious obstacle to the ambitions of the AKP’s founder and current president Erdoğan to turn Turkey into a 21st century sultanate, the HDP and its Kurdish supporters became the target of a state-orchestrated terror campaign.

The peace process between the state and the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK was brought to an end, and a bombing campaign of PKK positions in Turkey and northern Iraq was launched. Hundreds of HDP party offices across the country were attacked by nationalist mobs, while the police failed to intervene. Kurdish people were attacked on the streets, abused, insulted and in some cases even killed. The Turkish military even attacked the Kurdish YPG militias fighting against the so-called Islamic State across the border in Syria.

curfews in TurkeyThe Human Rights Foundation of Turkey released a detailed report listing the 52 curfews that have been declared by the state since August. Repeated round-the-clock curfews, often lasting days on end, were imposed in 17 different cities, affecting 1.3 million people. A total number of 157 people have died during these curfews, murdered by the state.

Currently, curfews are imposed in five different towns and neighborhoods: Sur in Diyarbakir, Dargecit and Nusaybin in Mardin, and in Cizre and Silopi in Sirnak.

There are fears that the crackdown will be especially long and brutal in Cizre and Sirnak. On Sunday the government ordered all school closed, dormitories shut down and called all teachers back to their home towns to attend “special training sessions” — apparently to spare the large number of Turkish teachers from the terror launched against their Kurdish countrymen. While police and military forces were amassing at the cities’ borders, hospitals received instructions to be prepared.

Some teachers of the Egitim-Sen Union chose to ignore the government’s orders and to stay in the towns. Independent news website Sendika.org spoke to the co-chair of the local chapter of the union, Serhat Ugur, who was quoted as saying:

“It is as if we have a war here. They are coming as if to destroy our whole town and raze it to the ground. How could such a move be justified? If this happened in Palestine everybody [in Turkey] would be up in arms. We are following the news, but not a whisper of the events here is heard. We are facing a total annihilation. They [the government] are coming here as if to confine us inside for about 10-15 days.”

In the past days, major protest occurred in many cities across the Kurdish parts of Turkey. The biggest protest was seen in Diyarbakir, where tens of thousands of people defied a ban by the governor and took to the streets in solidarity with the people of Sur. In the clashes, two youths of 21 and 19 years old, were shot dead by the police.

The war across Kurdistan continues. In the southern parts, the Kurds are fighting the Islamic State, and in the north they are under attack from the Turkish government. When the AKP was rewarded for its strategy of divide and rule prior to the November elections, and received nearly 50 percent of the votes despite its campaign of terror directed against its own citizens, all incentives to look for a peaceful solution to the so-called “Kurdish issue” had vanished.

The violence, repression, and the propaganda aimed at polarization and marginalization has paid off. In the international arena, no country will stand up to Turkey and demand that it respects the lives and demands of its Kurdish citizens. Locally, the media remains firmly under the control of the government, allowing for little news from the besieged towns to reach the outside world.

Meanwhile, the people of Cizre, Silopi, Sur and Nusaybin brace themselves for what might be weeks of shootings, bombardments and killings — not even safe inside their own homes because a bullet or a rocket might come flying through the window any minute.

The Turkish state calls this “fighting terror”, but they have misunderstood. The only true fight against terror is fought by the people on the streets and behind the barricades, in the cities and in the mountains, at the assemblies and in the local meetings. This fight is long and hard, and has been going on for decades, if not centuries. But it takes more than a few masked men and some heavy artillery to break the resistance.

In the words of the tens of thousands protesters on the streets of Diyarbakir: “The struggle continues and Kurdistan will be the grave of fascism!”

About the Author:
Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst, freelance writer and activist. He is an editor for ROAR Magazine, columnist for teleSUR English and Turkey-contributor for the IPS news agency. He blogs at Deciphering Disorder.

Share Button

Cizre cries for help: “Turkey’s Kobane” under siege

As the conflict in Turkey spirals out of control, dozens of people have reportedly been killed in Cizre and the army shows no signs of lifting the siege.

Written by Joris Leverink. Published by ROAR on Friday, September 11, 2015.

Photo by Sertaç Kayar, showing HDP-deputy Osman Baydemir scuffling with riot police on the road to Cizre.

Photo by Sertaç Kayar, showing HDP-deputy Osman Baydemir scuffling with riot police on the road to Cizre.

Tanks shelling the city center. No-one allowed in or out. Electricity and water have been cut, as well as phone lines and internet access. The people have dug trenches to stop armored vehicles from entering their neighborhoods and have hung sheets in the streets to prevent being seen and shot by snipers.

While the above reads as a report from Kobane, from when the Syrian town was still under attack from the so-called Islamic State (IS), it is in fact a description of the current situation in Cizre, a predominantly Kurdish town in southern Turkey.

Cizre under attack

Since the Turkish government imposed a curfew in Cizre last week, its citizens have been forced to remain indoors, risking being shot by snipers as soon as they step out. The city is under total lock down, which means that for at least a week people have had no access to fresh food or water, medical services, or anything else for that matter. Even the wounded are not allowed to be transported to the hospitals, as a result of which a number of civilians have died from non-lethal injuries due to blood loss and infections, among them a baby of less than two months old.

Due to limited phone and internet access in Cizre news from the besieged town reaches the outside world only piecemeal, meaning that reports of what is going on inside the town are difficult to confirm – a very worrying sign in and of itself.

In order to break the siege – and the silence – the co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş has been leading a march in an attempt to reach the town on foot. At several instances this march was blocked by the police upon orders of the Minister of Interior Selami Altinok of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has argued that the HDP lawmakers are not allowed to enter the town “for their own security.”

While trying to circumvent the police blockades on the roads leading into town by following small trails through the fields and mountains, the HDP co-leader suggested that Cizre was being punished for voting “84 percent for the HDP” during the last elections in June. Demirtaş called Cizre “Turkey’s Kobane”, comparing the plight of the town and the resistance of its citizens to the Syrian Kurdish town when it was under attack from IS.

“In Cizre, 120,000 people have been held hostage by the state for a week,” he added. “They put ice on the corpses to stop them putrefying, because burials are banned.”

One of the most heart-breaking stories spoke of the young girl Cemile Çağırga, who was reportedly shot by the police in front of her house – under what circumstances remains unknown. After succumbing to her injuries her family was unable to transfer her body to the morgue due to the curfew and the threat of being targeted by snipers and artillery. For several days Cemile’s body was kept in a fridge in the family’s home before the young girl could be buried.

Violence spiraling out of control

The siege of Cizre occurs at a time when the recent upsurge in violence in the country’s southeastern Kurdish region appears to be spiraling out of control. An ambush by the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK on a military convoy left at least 16 soldiers dead – or so the state media reported – followed two days later by another deadly attack on a police van, killing another 11 officers.

In response to these attacks nationalist groups around the country took to the streets en masse. In many cases these marches started as protests to show their indignation and anger, but they quickly turned into lynch-mobs targeting Kurdish neighborhoods, shops and individuals. A nationalist mob marching through a downtown Istanbul neighborhood was heard chanting “We don’t want a [military] operation, we want a massacre!”

Offices of the HDP were a popular target of the masses brandishing Turkish flags, hands held high up in the air making the “sign of the wolf” – a gesture emblematic of an ultra-nationalist organization called the Grey Wolves, which has been accused of countless racist and xenophobic attacks on Armenians, Kurds, Syrians and even Pope John Paul II. After two nights of attacks around 130 of the party’s offices were left destroyed or burned, windows broken and party signs torn down or covered with Turkish flags.

The HDP is perceived by many nationalist Turks as the political wing of the PKK, and as such as a terrorist organization in and of itself. The party’s historical success in the June elections, when it collected an unprecedented 13 percent of the vote and was able to send 80 delegates to the national parliament – the very first time a pro-Kurdish party entered Turkish parliament in the country’s history – angered many nationalists and AKP supporters alike.

Nationalists – represented in parliament by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – fretted about seeing what they perceived as “Kurdish terrorists” inside the parliament; and AKP supporters saw their dream of Erdogan being installed as the 21st century Sultan shattered when the party lost its absolute majority.

Both parties have reasons aplenty to be wary of HDP’s success. Another Kurdish victory in the upcoming November elections would seriously curb their aspirations to see their respective dreams of a Turkish utopia come to pass: an ethnically-pure country free of Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and Arabs in the case of the MHP; and a revived sultanate under the “auspicious” leadership of Erdogan in the case of the AKP.

The upsurge of violence in the east should be analyzed in light of the national elections of November. Plunging the country into war immediately after the coalition talks have broken down serves two purposes. First, it attempts to show that without the AKP at the wheel, the country is ‘doomed to disintegrate into chaos and violence’. Second, the escalation of violence is encouraged because of the belief that in times of crises people turn towards a strong leader who promises to restore peace and tranquillity — if only the people would grant him exceptional powers to do so.

A cry for solidarity

And while the party leaders cook up their plans to restore their power, its once again the ordinary people that suffer most; the mother who was shot by a sniper while holding her new-born baby in her arms; the young boy who got bored of sitting indoors days on end and decided to sneak outside for a quick peak, and got shot; the seven children who had to cover their mother’s dead body with bottles of frozen water to stop the body from decomposing because she couldn’t be buried after she was shot to death.

The siege of Cizre continues in a blatant violation of all morals and values that are supposed to determine the actions of a “democratic country.” It is outrageous that Turkey, especially as a NATO-member state, is allowed to target its own citizens, torturing them collectively in the name of ‘securitization’ and ‘fighting terrorism’.

In the case of Kobane the collective outcry of the international solidarity movement made the city’s plight impossible to be ignored. Let’s draw our lessons from this experience and raise our voices in solidarity with the people of Cizre, Silopi, Sirnak, Yüksekova, Sur and all those other towns, neighborhoods and villages that are being punished for demanding freedom, tortured for refusing to give in, arrested for simply being Kurdish and shot on the streets for daring to venture out of their homes.

Cizre is not alone, and it’s about time we’d let the world know.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.

Share Button