Tag Archives: PKK

Writing from Diyarbakır under blockade

While writing this article, currently without access to the world, I can’t help but wonder how you will read it.

By Nurcan Baysal. Published 11-1-2016 by openDemocracy

Protests throughout Diyarbakir erupted on October 26, 2016 following the arrests of the city's co-mayors. Image via Twitter.

Protests throughout Diyarbakir erupted on October 26, 2016 following the arrests of the city’s co-mayors. Image via Twitter.

Diyarbakır, the unofficial capital of the Kurdish people, has been one of the main locations of armed conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state. Since August 2015, numerous curfews have been declared in the city and its villages, hundreds of civilians have been killed, the centre of the 5000 year old city Suriçi was bombed, and half of the old city was totally destroyed. The curfew still continues in the old city Suriçi. Today is the 333rd day of the curfew.

Right now, the city is undergoing another trauma. Two days ago, the co-mayors of Diyarbakır, Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, were detained by the Turkish police with the allegation that they are “supporting the PKK terror organization”. Kışanak was detained in Diyarbakir Airport, on her way back from Ankara, while Anlı was detained at his home in the center of Diyarbakir. According to the press release of the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Kışanak and Anlı were detained due to statements they had made, under laws governing their rights to freedom of speech.

Following their detention, all internet connection was cut across the Kurdish region. 6 million people have been cut off from the world for the past 3 days.

Why did the Turkish government cut off internet in the Kurdish region?

The government is trying to prevent the mobilization of Kurdish people through social media. Kurdish people are very angry because of the detention of their co-mayors. They want to protest. The government has prohibited all kinds of protests, gatherings and marches under the Emergency Law.

This blackout also aims to silence the voices of the Kurdish people,  to prevent them from informing the national and international public about developments in the region.

What has happened in these two “dark” days?

The municipality building has been completely closed by police barriers, panzers and thousands of police officers. Even municipal staff have been forbidden to enter the building.

On the first day, hundreds of people tried to gather in front of the municipality building. The police tried to prevent the people from gathering and protesting. It was a hard day, full of tear gas and water cannon. The police did not only use tear gas and water, but guns were turned against protestors as well. Many people were injured by police violence. At the end of the day, 37 protestors, some of them Kurdish politicians, were also detained.

Thousands of Kurdish people gathered in front of the municipality building on the second day. The co-president of HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş gave a speech to the crowd of people. He said that the Kurdish people will not accept the detention of their co-mayors and encouraged people to continue their peaceful protests until the release of the co-mayors.

Message to Kurds

Kurdish cities have witnessed outrage, killings and bombings all year. Just a month ago, on 11 September, 27 elected mayors were replaced by appointed state officers, 11,285  Kurdish teachers were fired from their jobs. Hundreds of Kurdish politicians and activists have been detained. Almost all Kurdish media, even the Kurdish childrens’ channel have been closed down. As of today, 27 elected Kurdish co-mayors are in prison in Turkey, while 43 of them were dismissed.

The detention of Diyarbakır’s co-mayors is an important phase in a year-long process.

The government has blocked all political access to Kurdish people in Turkey. With these policies, the government is sending a message to all Kurdish people: “There is no legal way to gain rights for Kurdish people.  There is no place for Kurds in this country.”

While looking at my municipality, which has been under police blockade for 3 days, I wonder if the Kurdish people will accept these humiliating policies.

As a member of the Kurdish society, I can easily say NO. Kurds are part of a very organized society, a resilient society, struggling for their rights for more than a century. They will continue their struggle, though I believe these policies risk the future of Turkey as a country.

While writing this article, currently without access to the world, I can’t help but wonder how you will read it.

About the author

Nurcan Baysal is a Kurdish author who has published numerous books and articles about Turkey’s Kurdish issue.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

 

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‘A gift from God’: Erdoğan will strike back with an iron fist

Whoever was behind the failed coup attempt, one thing seems clear: Erdogan will use it as a pretext to concentrate and consolidate even more power.

By Jerome Roos. Published 7-17-2016 by ROAR Magazine

The images beamed from across the Bosphorus this weekend were surreal. For a few terrifying hours early on Saturday, no one really knew who was in control of the second largest military power in NATO. As tanks took up strategic positions in Istanbul and Ankara and the embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed an anxious nation from an undisclosed location via FaceTime, it briefly looked like the country might be in the throes of yet another full-blown and irreversible military coup. Continue reading

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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

A VICIOUS CYCLE OF VIOLENCE

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.”

portraits

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

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Turkish President Continues ‘Vicious Campaign’ Against Dissidents

President Tayyip Erdoğan wants the country to redefine its anti-extremism law to include journalists, politicians, and academics

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-16-2016

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has unleashed what Human Rights Watch dubs "a harsh campaign vilifying the academics...terming them vile, equal to terrorists, base and dark." (Photo: Agencia de Noticias ANDES/flickr/cc)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has unleashed what Human Rights Watch dubs “a harsh campaign vilifying the academics…terming them vile, equal to terrorists, base and dark.” (Photo: Agencia de Noticias ANDES/flickr/cc)

Representing a further crackdown on free expression in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdoğan said this week he wants the Turkish parliament to redefine the country’s anti-extremism law to include journalists, politicians, and academics.

“It is not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists, regardless of their title,” Erdoğan said on Monday, one day after a suicide bomb attack in the country’s capital of Ankara killed at least 34 people and wounded 125 others. Continue reading

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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

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Turkey Detains Academics as Chomsky Takes Aim at Erdoğan’s Brutality, Hypocrisy

With reknowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky playing prominent role, situation escalates over Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish population

By Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1/15/2016

World-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky has accused Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of launching a "tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds, who happen to be the main ground force opposing ISIS in both Syria and Iraq." (Photo: Youtube/file)

World-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky has accused Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of launching a “tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds, who happen to be the main ground force opposing ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.” (Photo: Youtube/file)

Global outcry over academic freedom and human rights has erupted following news on Friday that the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has arrested at least 18 academics and scholars for signing an open letter last week calling for the end of Turkey’s brutal treatment of the country’s Kurdish people.

The controversy has been elevated internationally by the involvement of Noam Chomsky and other high-profile academics who have also expressed public contempt for Turkey’s policies towards the Kurds as well as Erdoğan’s double-standards on fighting “terrorism” both inside his own country and in neighboring Syria. Continue reading

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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.

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Turkey: Erdoğan is forcing his people to take sides

Turkey: Erdoğan is forcing his people to take sides

Bahar Baser, Coventry University and Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, University of Ljubljana

Up in arms. Reuters/Murad Sezer

Ever since the June 2015 elections, which thwarted the proposed presidential system that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long craved, Turkey has been hurtling into one of its most turbulent periods in decades. And with a snap election called for November 2015, the country’s political factions are facing off in an ever more violent and bitter fashion.

Polarisation has been a problem for Turkey for a long time: right versus left, Kurd versus Turk, Alevi versus Sunni, secular versus non-secular. But now, the division between supporters of the AKP – Erdoğan’s party – and their rivals has become one of the country’s biggest fissures.

All against all

As the country grapples with the threat of Islamic State just across the Syrian border, Turkey’s low-intensity civil war has been ramped up again with the Kurdish PKK mounting attacks on security personnel and the state responding with violence of its own. Recent fighting has claimed the lives of more than 60 military personnel, 400 PKK fighters and a considerable number of civilians, who are treated as casualties of war.

The so-called peace process has entirely stalled, although it’s debatable whether it was really going anywhere in the first place. Restrictions on movement in eight provinces have been introduced, raising fears that the state will enact “emergency laws” to allow a heavy crackdown. A district of Diyarbakir called Silvan was attacked by the Turkish military in mid-August; it was seriously damaged, and many residents had to flee to survive. Kurdish people are forced to live in an environment of insecurity as if they are being punished for not voting for the AKP, which also meant Erdogan’s way to the presidential system.

On the Kurdish side, the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, Selahattin Demirtaş, has called on the PKK to end its violence, but everyday funerals are being held for Turkish soldiers killed during clashes with the PKK. These funerals have become a way for Turkish voters to show their rage not only at the PKK for its attacks, but also at the AKP and its MPs for putting their countrymen in harm’s way.

At the funeral for his brother, who was killed in a PKK attack, Lieutenant Colonel Mehmet Alkan demanded: “Who is his murderer? Who is responsible for this? Why are those who were saying ‘peace process’ before now demanding ‘war till the end’ right now?”

Alkan was a lieutenant colonel in the Turkish army, and spent a good part of his life protecting Turkey’s territorial integrity against the PKK. His anger was directed at the government, and at its representatives at the funeral who were trying to make election propaganda of his brother’s death.

The cynicism around the civil war has reached the point where no side can even mourn its dead without being exploited for political ends.

Alkan soon found out the hard way what happens to those who speak out. Immediately after his tirade was reported, pro-AKP Twitter users began smearing him as a member of one or all of the groups designated as enemies of the Turkish state: the Alevists, the pro-Kurdish HDP, and the Hizmet Movement – a huge transnational Islamic movement some regard as a parallel state.

More chaos, more votes?

This sorry state of affairs is not just an unfortunate collision of circumstances. It has been nourished by the current AKP government, which was put in a corner by the HDP’s biggest-ever electoral haul and entry into parliament.

It is now trying desperately to gather the nationalist and conservative votes it needs to win its longed-for parliamentary majority. The AKP’s calculation appears to be that more chaos will mean more votes, with people turning to the devil they know in hope of stability.

The aftermath of clashes in Silvan, near Diyarbakir. Reuters/Sertac Kayar

On the face of it, the latest PKK-Turkish army clashes have driven many groups on both sides back into their traditional corners. But things are changing as well – and it is clear that many Turkish voters are anything but won over by this new strategy. And the public’s reaction to the deliberately contrived chaos has so far defied the AKP’s expectations.

People all over Turkey are now questioning what intentions lie behind the resurgent violence. Kurds have always been suspicious, but this is new to the Turkish population at large. While polarisation and unrest are in themselves hardly new to Turkey, the current division of Turkish political and social life is more intense than it has been for decades.

As HDP MP Gülten Kışanak recently mentioned, this is a very different era. In the 1990s political killings were executed in secret, and violence was covert; nowadays, they are carried out without any shame or pretence.

In this deeply polarised climate, the obvious reaction is to take sides. That’s exactly what the AKP wants Turks to do, and it’s highly dangerous. It not only harshens the tone of political discourse; it exacerbates all the deeper, long-existing divisions that undermine Turkish civil society.

The run-up to the snap election will be a very dangerous time not only for the HDP, but for all opposition groups, who must now mount election campaigns in a deliberately cultivated environment of violence and fear. To be sure, this began a long time ago – the HDP’s party buildings were constantly coming under attack even before the June elections – but it is getting substantially worse.

As things stand, Turkey offers no promise of a better future to any of its warring groups. And with the campaign for the newly declared elections already sinking into a factional brawl, the signs are ominous indeed.

The Conversation

Bahar Baser is Research Fellow at Coventry University and Ahmet Erdi Öztürk is PhD Candidate/Research Asistant at University of Ljubljana

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From genocide to resistance: Yazidi women fight back

Having suffered a traumatic genocide, Yazidi women on Mount Sinjar mobilize their autonomous armed and political resistance with the PKK’s philosophy.

By Dilar Dirik. Published 8-23-2015 by ROAR Magazine.

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The old Kurdish saying “we have no friends but the mountains” became more relevant than ever when on August 3, 2014, the murderous Islamic State group launched what is referred to as the 73rd massacre on the Yazidis by attacking the city of Sinjar (or Shengal, in Kurdish), slaughtering thousands of people, and raping and kidnapping the women to sell them as sex slaves.

Some 10,000 Yazidis fled to the Shengal mountains in a death march in which many, especially children, died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion. This year on the same day, the Yazidis marched in the Shengal mountains again. But this time in a protest to vow that nothing will ever be the same again.

Last year, the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) promised the people to guarantee Shengal’s safety, but ran away without warning when IS attacked, not even leaving arms behind for people to defend themselves. Instead, it was the guerrilla of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as the the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) and its women’s brigade (YPJ) from Rojava, who — in spite of carrying just Kalashnikovs and being only a handful of fighters — opened a corridor to Rojava, rescuing 10,000 people.

For an entire year, the Yazidi women have been portrayed by the media as helpless rape victims. Countless interviews repeatedly asked them how often they were raped and sold, ruthlessly making them relive the trauma for the sake of sensationalist news reporting. Yazidi women were presented as the embodiment of the crying, passively surrendering woman, the ultimate victim of the Islamic State group, the female white flag to patriarchy. Furthermore, the wildest orientalist portrayals grotesquely reduced one of the oldest surviving religions in the world to a new exotic field yet to be explored.

Ignored is the fact that Yazidi women armed themselves and now mobilize ideologically, socially, politically and militarily with the framework laid out by Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK. In January, the Shengal Founding Council was established by Yazidi delegates from both the mountain and the refugee camps, demanding a system of autonomy independent of the central Iraqi government or the KRG.

Several committees for education, culture, health, defense, women, youth, and economy organize everyday issues. The council is based on democratic autonomy, as articulated by Öcalan, and has met with harsh opposition by the KDP, the same party which fled Shengal without a fight. The newly-founded YBŞ (Shengal Resistance Units), the all-women’s army YPJ-Shengal and the PKK are building the front-line against the Islamic State group here, without receiving any share of the weapons provided to the peshmerga by international coalition forces. Several YBŞ and council members were even arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Photo by Dilar Dirik.

On July 29, women of all ages made history by founding the autonomous Shengal Women’s Council, promising that “the organization of Yazidi women will be the revenge for all massacres.” The women decided that families must not intervene when girls want to participate in any part of the struggle and committed to internally democratizing and transforming their own community. They do not want to simply “buy back” the kidnapped women, but liberate them through active mobilization by establishing not only a physical, but also a philosophical self-defense against all forms of violence.

The international system insidiously depoliticizes people affected by war, especially refugees, by framing a discourse to render them without will, knowledge, consciousness and politics. Yet the Yazidi refugees on the mountain and in the Newroz camp in Dêrîk (al-Malikiyah), which was created in Rojava immediately after the massacre, insist on their agency. Though some international organizations provide limited aid now, almost no aid was able to cross to Rojava for years as a result of the KRG-imposed embargo.

The people at Newroz Camp told me that in spite of attempts by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to model the camp and its educational system according to its top-down vision, the camp’s assembly resisted, forcing one of the biggest international institutions to respect its own autonomous system. Now, education in literacy, art, theater, culture, language, history and ideology are taught across ages, while commune-like units organize daily needs and issues in Dêrîk and Shengal.

“With all these councils, protests and meetings, the resistance may seem normal. But all of this emerged within a year only, and for Shengal. This is a revolution,” one Yazidi PKK fighter said. “The atmosphere of Rojava has reached Shengal.”

Hedar Reşît, a PKK commander from Rojava who teaches the sociology of Shengal before and after the latest genocide, was among the seven people who fought the Islamic State group at the beginning of the massacre and was wounded opening the corridor to Rojava. The presence of women like her from four parts of Kurdistan enormously impacts the Shengal society.

“For the first time in our history we take up arms, because with the last massacre we understood that nobody will protect us; we must do it ourselves,” I was told by a young YPJ-Shengal fighter, who renamed herself after Arîn Mîrkan, a martyred heroine of the resistance of Kobane.

She explained how girls like herself never dared to have dreams and only sat at home until they got married. But like her, hundreds have now joined the struggle, like the young woman who cut off her hair, hung the braid on her martyred husband’s grave, and joined the resistance.

Photo by Dilar Dirik.

The physical genocide may be over, but the women are conscious of a “white” or bloodless genocide, as EU governments — especially Germany — try to lure Yazidi women abroad, uprooting them from their sacred homes and instrumentalizing them for their own agendas.

Mother Xensê, member of the women’s council, kisses her granddaughter and explains: “We receive armed training, but ideological education is far more important for us to understand why the massacre happened and what calculations people make at our expense. That is our real self-defense. Now we know that we were so vulnerable because we were not organized. But Shengal will never be the same again. Thanks to Apo [Abdullah Öcalan].”

A Yazidi woman herself, Sozdar Avesta, a presidency council member of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) and a PKK commander, elaborates:

It is not a coincidence that the Islamic State group attacked one of the oldest communities in the world. Their aim is to destroy all ethical values and cultures of the Middle East. In attacking the Yazidis, they tried to wipe out history. The Islamic State group explicitly organizes against Öcalan’s philosophy, against women’s liberation, against the unity of all communities. Thus, defeating the group requires the right sociology and history-reading. Beyond physically destroying them, we must also remove IS’ ideology mentally, which also persists in the current world order.

One year ago, the world watched the unforgettable genocide of the Yazidis. Today, the same people who — while everyone else ran away — rescued the Yazidis, are now being bombed by the the IS-supporting Turkish state, with the approval of NATO. When the states that contributed to the rise of IS promise to defeat it and destroy the social fabric of the Middle East along the way, the only survival option is to establish autonomous self-defense and grassroots democracy.

As one drives through the Shengal Mountains, the most beautiful indicator of the change that hit this wounded place within a year are the children on the streets, who whenever heval — “the comrades” — drive by chant: “Long live Shengal’s resistance! Long live the PKK! Long live Apo!”

Thanks to democratic autonomy, the children who once opened their tiny hands and asked for money when peshmerga fighters drove by now raise the same hands to fists and victory signs.

Dilar Dirik is part of the Kurdish women’s movement. She is a writer and PhD student at the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.

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Erdoğan, Syria and the Kurds: be careful what you wish for

A complex political triangulation links the Turkish president with the Syrian imbroglio and the Kurdish question, but his political target is receding.

By Sinan Ekim. Published May 9, 2015 at openDemocracy

Photo By James Gordon [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By James Gordon [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Until a year ago, it seemed as if some sort of reconciliation between the Turkish state and its Kurds would be feasible. With the launch of the ‘Kurdish opening’ in 2009, the leadership in Ankara was re-engaging the Kurdish population after decades of estrangement. The announcement of the ‘peace dialogue’ between the government and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK), as well as the ‘reform package’ introduced by the then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, confirmed in the eyes of many the executive’s genuine interest in reconnecting with its Kurdish community.

Since the rise of Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, however, optimism has been in shorter supply. To be sure, the peace process is still moving along, albeit at a much slower pace than desired. Yet Erdoğan’s reluctance to come on board the military coalition against IS at Kobane, Operation Suleiman Shah (see below) and a series of domestic incidents since January 2015 have raised suspicions over whether Ankara is still intent on pushing the negotiations forward. Continue reading

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