Turkey: Erdoğan deepens ethnic cleansing of Kurds

July 10, 2016

Destruction wrought by Turkish state in Diyarbakır.

Three-hundred-and-fifty thousand. That is the number of people displaced since the Kurdish-Turkish “resolution process” was interrupted by the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last year.

That is the recorded number — many more have been displaced, but are yet to be recorded. In the predominantly Kurdish towns of south-eastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), Erdoğan is bringing the war home.

Since the breakdown of the “resolution/peace process” between the authoritarian Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers' 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 Kurdishness — 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 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 or justifiable.

About 40 million-strong, the Kurds make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. About 25% of Turkey's population are of Kurdish heritage — 19 million people. Yet they have no officially recognised status as a collective, nation or people.

This fact has always worked in favour of successive Turkish governments. There were “peace talks” up until October last year, between the PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan and the Turkish government, but this climate of hope was ended by Erdoğan.

Fear that the rise of the left-wing, pro-Kurdish autonomy Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and Kurdish gains in Rojava in neighbouring Syria would bring an end to his reign, Erdoğan declared the talks dead and unleashed war on the Kurds.

The decision to “collapse” the Kurdish resistance was taken at a National Security Council meeting in October. But it was only after Erdoğan's go-ahead that the Turkish military laid siege to whole towns, shelling residential areas, destroying the lives of civilians and demolishing 6000 buildings in the process — homes, workplaces and schools.

In the face of this onslaught, largely Kurdish youths erected barricades, dug trenches and began fighting the state forces that had not stopped killing, arresting and torturing them even during the “peace process”.

There have been 338 civilians killed, Turkey's Human Rights Foundation said. 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 high even if the fighting stopped today.

Now Erdoğan'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 five days after the bill became law, a public prosecutor demanded two life sentences for HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş — meaning a ridiculous 486 years' imprisonment. Demirtaş has 93 cases filed against him. He is accused of being a member of the PKK, as well as “aiding and abetting terrorism”.

The accusations are based on his speeches or the HDP's work during the peace process. This law is evidence that Turkey is straying further from finding a solution. 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 — removing elected DBP co-mayors.

DBP co-chair Kamuran Yüksek and half of the DBP's co-mayors have been arrested and jailed, laying the ground for the 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 Diyarbakır's Lice and Silvan areas, to destroy alleged PKK encampments.

The bombardment has caused fires in expansive areas that still rage, without any intervention. Ninety houses have been forcibly evacuated in this region. Seventy-five people who tried to prevent the military operation as human shields have been detained.

Just like the destruction of Sur, Nusaybin, Cizre and other towns, the destruction of Kurds' mountains is another form of ethnic cleansing.

Then there is the Turkish state's hostility towards the Kurds of Rojava and the democratic federation declared in northern Syria. This hostility includes people being killed at the border by Turkish soldiers, Turkish support for jihadist groups fighting Kurds and the sporadic bombardment of Kobanê by the Turkish army.

All of this means that Erdoğan's war looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

[Slightly abridged from Kurdish Question.]

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