‘The police and military are using every kind of violence against the Kurds. They are using tanks and heavy armoured vehicles. They have flattened houses, historical places, mosques. They use helicopters and technological weapons, night vision binoculars and drones. They don’t let families get to the bodies of youths who were killed. Corpses remain on the streets for weeks.’
Baran describes to us the massacres that are taking place right now in Kurdish cities in Turkey. Baran is from Amed, or Diyarbakır in Turkish. Once a political activist in Kurdistan, he now lives in exile in the UK. Right now, Amed is being besieged by the police and the military as Turkey carries out the greatest massacre and mass displacement of its Kurdish population since the 1990s. Meanwhile, the city of Cizîr (Cizre in Turkish) has been left in ruins after two months of operations by state forces.
Baran’s hometown is just one of a number of Kurdish-majority cities within Turkey’s borders that, after an intensification of violence directed at Kurds, declared autonomy from the state last year. Residents erected barricades, many guarded by youths carrying Kalashnikovs, to protect themselves.
We ask Baran whose decision it was to declare autonomy and who built the barricades. ‘The neighbourhood assembly made the decision and that assembly was elected by the people who live there,’ he explains. ‘Most of the local people agreed to the declaration of autonomy. The Patriotic Democratic Youth Movement (YDG-H) built the barricades. The main reason for the barricades is to protect activists and youths from police attacks. Police always carry out raids against them.’
Narin, a resident of Farqîn (Silvan), which declared autonomy in August 2015, explained why they wanted to become autonomous when we visited the city last November: ‘There was a big uprising in solidarity with Kobanê and the state made a new security law giving new powers to the police. Another reason was because of the Suruç and Amed bombings. This is why we started to declare autonomy. Everything is related. But the main reason was the Suruç bombing [which killed 33 young people who were preparing to cross the border to help with the reconstruction of Kobanê].’
The people of Bakur (the region of Kurdistan within Turkey) have been organising themselves in a communalist, democratic way since 2007. Despite state repression, neighbourhood assemblies and workers’ co-ops have been flourishing, and the model of democratic autonomy is firmly established within Kurdish society.
Turkey has responded to the declarations of autonomy with immense violence, effectively declaring war on its own population. Since August the state has declared 58 open-ended, round-the-clock curfews on various cities in the south-east. The most recent of these was issued on February 16 in the city of Hezex (Idil).
‘At least 1,337,000 residents have been affected by these curfews and fundamental rights of these people, such as right to life and right to health, are explicitly violated,’ the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey recently reported.
Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) also reported that: ‘The curfew itself is a violation of the right to life and prevents the truth about civilian killings from being revealed. In fact, the curfews contribute to the legitimatisation by the government of civilian killings, which are not considered violations of the right to life.’
Residents, including children, are being killed daily, and as the wounded lay dying in the streets, those who try to help are shot. In Amed, the mother of nineteen year-old Turgay Girçek is currently holding a daily vigil to try to reclaim his body, which has been laying dead on the streets for three weeks.
‘The police and army want to break the will of the people who have declared autonomy,’ Baran tells us. ‘They want to show the other Kurdish neighbourhoods that the state is very strong. They want to spread fear into people’s hearts. They want to break people’s political wills and choices.’
Sur district in Amed is coming up to its 80th day of non-stop curfew. ‘The police and army attack daily with all available weapons, except bombers and chemicals, against some hundred local defenders of the YPS (Civil Defense Forces),’ Ercan Ayboğa, an Amed resident, told us. ‘The less the state is successful in conquesting Sur, the more brutal it becomes.’
In the city of Cizîr, 139 wounded citizens were trapped in three different basements, without food and water, for weeks. Security forces blocked ambulances that tried to reach the injured and shot at those who tried to leave. Late last week, the death toll of those trapped had risen to 110 and there was no news from 28 wounded people. Many were caught under debris as one of the buildings collapsed under artillery fire, while others were burnt to death after state forces used petrol to set the building alight. Police also fired teargas into one of the basements, making it impossible for the survivors to breathe.
JINHA news agency also reported that unknown chemicals were pumped into the sewer system in Cizîr. ‘The chemical agent, which has a smell similar to tear gas, has entered residents’ homes through water drains in kitchens and baths. Meanwhile, state forces have shut down the last remaining markets, bakeries and pharmacies in the town until further notice.’
IHD has issued a statement listing a huge number of human rights violations by the state and has documented a number of citizens who have died in Cizîr and Silopi, another city that declared autonomy. Amongs those who have lost their lives is a 70-year old elderly man, Selahattin Bozkurt, who was shot dead by security forces as he walked into his garden. A 3-month old infant, Miray İnce, died after she was seriously injured in the face by gunfire from security forces. Her grandfather, 73-year old Ramazan İnce, was shot dead by security forces as he carried his grandaughter to an ambulance, whilst at the same time waving a white flag.
JINHA has also reported that in Silopi thousands of people were evicted from their houses and marched to a gymnasium. Sabriye Gizer told JINHA that her family were assaulted as they were forced out of their home.
She continued: ‘We were walked by force of arms. One woman and one man walked ahead of us. One shouted “Shoot them, shoot them.” They opened fire on them. We don’t know if they are alive. It was cold. We froze. They chose some young people. They took them somewhere. They searched us thoroughly, even our underwear.’
Summing up the situation across Turkey’s Kurdish cities Ayboğa told us: ‘The human tragedy is deepening step by step without any serious critics from Turkish society and the western allies, which makes the Kurds – always seeking for a real peace – more disappointed. However, after some uncertainty, nowadays the majority of Kurds stand behind the resistance in more than ten cities against Turkish military occupation and systematic massacres.’
In Farqîn the barricades have since been destroyed, but the residents of the city still believe that they are autonomous. Zuhal Tekiner, the co-Mayor of Farqîn told us in November 2015: ‘We believe we will achieve autonomy. We believe that we can change things. When we struggle here we believe that all of Kurdistan is with us. They said they wanted to erase us from the map. Now we will draw the map again.’
The recent attacks on Kurdish cities have resulted in a mass-displacement of people, as many flee their homes to escape the violence. Ercan Ayboğa told us that in Amed, around 50,000 people have evacuated their houses.‘Together with the other cities in North Kurdistan, up to half a million people have had to leave,’ he stated.
Baran tells us about those most affected in Amed: ‘Sur is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Amed. And it’s a highly political city, of course. In the 1990s people were forced to leave their villages and came to the city. [Turkey’s security forces burnt down Kurdish villages in the 90s. Over 3000 villages were wiped from the map, whilst thousands of people were either killed or disappeared]. And now the same people have again been displaced. One of the reasons for destroying Sur now could be that they want to rebuild it again. It will become a business and district centre.’
Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently stated that the Sur district of Amed is to be rebuilt similar to Toledo in Spain. Kurdish HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş responded that it was no coincidence that Davutoğlu compared Sur to Toledo, the Spanish city famous for its struggle against fascism. ‘After Toledo surrendered to the dictatorial regime, Franco took full control of Spain. Prime Minister [Davutoğlu] now wants to declare his dictatorship by toppling Sur,’ he said last week.
The state and the right-wing in Turkey are maintaining a deafening media silence about the police and military massacres in the South-East through intimidating anyone who dares report it. Due to this intimidation, coupled with racism and bias, Turkey’s mainstream media has distorted the killings in Kurdish cities, with media outlets branding those killed as terrorists and blaming the violence on the PKK and not the state. On February 7, newspaper Today‘s Zaman reported the impossible figure of 733 ‘PKK members’ killed in Cizre and Sur, while not mentioning any killings of civilians. A columnist in Daily Sabah claimed that the PKK had opened fire on ambulances that the Turkish state had deployed ‘against all odds,’ while not mentioning the police and army’s prevention of medical care reaching wounded civilians.
Similarly, the international press has remained overwhelmingly silent over Turkey’s massacres in Bakur. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the Turkish state has imprisoned and deported foreign correspondents reporting from Bakur over the last year, and the mainstream media is unwilling to trust Kurdish media sources, buying into the state’s attempts to discredit them. Secondly, Turkey is an important ally of NATO and the US, and it is not in the interest of US-aligned governments to criticise it. In London, there have been demonstrations at the BBC, with UK-based Kurds and their allies protesting the corporation’s silence on Turkey’s massacre of its Kurdish population.
We ask Baran whether he thinks that self-defence behind the barricades is a good tactic for the Kurds to achieve self-determination. ‘There is a reality in Kurdistan that if you don’t have a weapon or gun then you can’t live, as you are surrounded by brutal forces who don’t let you live in normal conditions,’ he replies. ‘So the Kurds think that armed struggle is very crucial for them. This armed struggle guarantees their lives. If these people didn’t have any weapons then worse things could happen. Kurds know that the armed struggle is very important for their existence.’
Kurds have called for a boycott of tourism in Turkey until the violence against Kurdish people ends. A national demonstration protesting the violence of the Turkish government will take place on March 6 outside the BBC. To find out more about campaigns in support of the Kurdish movement for autonomy go to http://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com. To read about the companies supplying arms to the Turkish police and military click here.
Tom Anderson is an anarchist and anti-capitalist writer and researcher. He is part of the Corporate Watch collective. Eliza Egret is a freelance writer and anarchist activist. In November 2015 they were part of a group of activists who visited Rojava and Bakur.