By Elif Gün
350,000. That is the number of people displaced since the Kurdish-Turkish ‘resolution process’ was interrupted. 350,000. That is the recorded number – many more have been displaced, which have not yet been recorded. In the predominantly Kurdish towns of southeastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), Erdogan is bringing the war home.
Since the breakdown of the ‘resolution/peace process’ between the explicitly authoritative Turkish government and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a destructive conflict has unfolded. This conflict has been demoralising, and dehumanising. The Turkish military and police have been let loose on all traces of Kurd-ishness – the innocent and guilty – all are in the crosshairs of the Turkish government. Hundreds, thousands have been killed, with no particular judicial reasoning, not to mention those arrested and imprisoned, with no democratically justifiable rationale. Under the judicial body of the European Court of Human Rights, none of the actions of Turkish authorities or its government can be considered legitimate nor justifiable.
Some 40 million, the Kurds make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, with 25% of Turkey’s population being of Kurdish heritage – 19 million people. Yet they have no recognised status as a collective, as a nation or people. This fact has always worked in favour of the successive Turkish governments and continues to do so. While there were ‘peace talks’ up until the spring of 2015 between the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan and the Turkish government, this climate of hope was ended by Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Fear that the rise of the left-wing, pro-autonomy Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Kurdish gains in Rojava would bring an end to his reign, Erdogan declared the Dolmabahçe Agreement void and unleashed war on the Kurds.
Although the decision to ‘collapse’ the Kurdish resistance was taken at a National Security Council meeting in October 2015, the Turkish military laid siege to whole towns, shelling residential areas, destroying the lives of civilians and demolishing 6,000 buildings in the process: homes, work places and schools, only after Erdogan’s go-ahead. In the face of this onslaught, Kurdish youths predominantly, erected barricades, dug trenches and began fighting state forces that had not stopped killing, arresting and torturing them even during the ‘peace process.’
338 civilians have been killed according to Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation. For many there is little hope of a peaceful resolution to the conflict, primarily caused by the Turkish state. The Kurds are made to feel isolated, ignored by international bodies and governments, Kurds, especially the young, feel disconnected and alienated more than ever. Unavoidably, the long-term costs of the operations will be so high even if the fighting was to stop today.
Now Erdogan’s war has entered its ‘second phase’. Recently he signed a bill that put an end to the parliamentary immunity of MPs. This measure is expected to lead to the prosecution of HDP lawmakers. Just 5 days after the bill became law, a public prosecutor demanded two life sentences, meaning a ridiculous 486 years imprisonment for the HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas. Demirtas has 93 files against him, and is being accused of being a member of the PKK, as well as ‘aiding and abetting terrorism’. All of the accusations are based on speeches he made or for the work conducted by the HDP during the ‘peace process’. This legislation is evidence that we are straying further from a solution, as the democratic political arena is being eroded, and discussion silenced.
Another step taken by the government is the appropriation of Kurdish municipalities governed by the pro-autonomy Democratic Regions’ Party (DBP). Plans are afoot to appoint government trustees to the municipalities, thus taking them from elected DBP co-mayors. As well DBP co-chair Kamuran Yüksek, half of the DBP’s co-mayors have been arrested and imprisoned, laying the ground for the AKP government’s takeover of municipalities in the region. Several DBP co-mayors and executives were also killed during the curfews and sieges.
The fighting has also now spread from urban areas to the mountains of the Kurdish region. In one of the most comprehensive military operations in its history, the Turkish army is bombing the hills and villages in Diyarbakir’s Lice and Silvan areas, to destroy alleged PKK encampments. The bombardment has caused fires in expansive areas that continue raging on, without any intervention. 90 houses have been evacuated forcibly in this region, and 75 people who had tried to prevent the military operation as human shields have been detained and not yet released. Just like the destruction of Sur, Nusaybin, Cizre and other towns, the destruction of Kurds’ mountains is another form of genocide or ethnic cleansing. All this, not to mention the Turkish state’s enmity towards the Kurds of Rojava and the federation declared in Northern Syria, which sees people being killed at the border by Turkish soldiers, Turkish support for jihadist groups fighting Kurds and the sporadic bombardment of Kobane by the Turkish army, means that Erdogan’s war will unfortunately continue for the foreseeable future.
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