By Louise Christian
In Turkey's Kurdish areas, more than five people die every day (nearly 2000 so far this year) as security forces continue their indiscriminate spree of extrajudicial killings, torture and repression. Locals describe the military crackdown as much worse than that following Turkey's 1980 coup.
Every Kurd is branded a terrorist. Women and children are among the victims of shooting, torture and harassment. Villages and towns are patrolled constantly by armoured vehicles and soldiers.
There is an unprecedented purge of the tiny Kurdish press. In the last few months, nine journalists have been killed by gunmen, believed to be Turkish security personnel; a 10th journalist, Burhan Karadeniz, was shot and seriously injured in July. Other targets include human rights workers and officials of the People's Labour Party, which is under threat of being banned.
As a lawyer for Kurdish refugees from Turkey who came to Britain since 1988, I have heard countless tales of suffering and courage; read medical reports detailing torture scars; and empathised with the horror and humiliation of torture victims. My clients include women and young adolescents who have endured sexual torture. But I did not imagine things had got worse.
In April I visited Turkish Kurdistan on a broad-based human rights delegation organised by Britain's Kurdish community. Our visit lasted less than a week, during which we witnessed and heard eyewitness accounts of terrible atrocities.
Shortly before our visit, during Kurdish new year celebrations, Turkish security forces fired on
unarmed crowds in the towns of Cizre and Sirnak near the Iraqi border. A pregnant woman was shot in the stomach and lost her baby. Up to 100 people were killed, more wounded.
Security forces in Sirnak then fired on civilian houses for 22 hours. Whole families were seriously injured. A curfew was imposed in both towns. In Cizre boys of 15 and 16 were shot at when they went out to buy bread; one was shot in the back of the head and killed, two others received serious gunshot wounds.
Meanwhile, students and other "troublemakers" were arrested. Sixteen-year-old Biseng Anik was arrested in Sirnak along with fellow school students. When her body was returned to her family, they saw she had been shot through the head and there were also torture marks on her body. The official explanation was that she had negligently been put in a police cell containing a gun and had shot herself.
We heard reports that the army was carrying out mass killings around Bismil, 20 kilometres south of Diyabakir. In a village called Tepe we witnessed the security forces breaking up a funeral procession for 38 people whose bodies had been dumped in a mass grave by the army.
In an extremely tense atmosphere, a senior army colonel arrived and made a chilling death threat against Kurdish MP Leyla Zana. We left under pressure from the authorities and later learned that the army had arrested villagers who were gathering in protest — one died in custody the next day, reputedly from torture.
The following day — Easter Sunday — we heard the army had killed more people in the nearby village of Birik. Three members of the delegation and film-maker Simon Gray arrived as soldiers were dumping three naked bodies in a communal grave.
All three were killed, their clothes removed, chains put round their necks and they were dragged through the village and dumped in the mass grave.
Meanwhile in Diyabakir, a demonstration of several thousand people was fired on by troops. The remainder of our delegation saw a five-year-old boy in hospital who had been shot through the chest while watching the protest from a balcony.
At the same time, British foreign secretary Douglas Hurd was in Ankara, wining and dining members of the Turkish government and promising British support for their bid to enter the European Community.
When the delegation returned to Britain, two eyewitness reports by David Sharrock of our group appeared in the Guardian, and Simon Gray's film of the mass grave excavation was on BBC news, but there was little other coverage. Since then, there has been virtually nothing about Turkish Kurdistan in the British media, despite increasingly desperate reports from human rights groups Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch. [From the British socialist.]