Turkish Kurdistan: Town after town declares self-government in face of war

Declarations of self-government and the commitment to self-defence are spreading through Kurdish towns and neighbourhoods in Tur
Friday, August 21, 2015

Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's new wave of attacks on North Kurdistan within the Turkish state in the wake of Turkey's June election, people of all ages have joined the effort to defend and govern themselves in the area.

Since the 1990s, the Turkish state has used tactics of denial, assimilation and annihilation in the North Kurdistan. Although the promises of peace that the Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) made when it first came to power awakened hope for many, 13 years later the promises remain unfulfilled.

In the June 7 elections, Kurds and people across Turkey rejected the AKP in a historic election, denying the party its hoped-for majority. With no party able to form government, new elections have been called.

The results crushed Erdogan's dreams of moving Turkey to a system where power is concentrated in the president. Now, he has declared a personal war on the Kurds ahead of an early election.

Self-government

In the spirit of the Women's Defence Units, who fought against ISIS in defence of their autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish area of Rojava in northern Syria, Kurds in North Kurdistan have declared self-government in a number of areas.

Among the towns and neighbourhoods that have declared self-government are: Silopi, Cizre, Batman's Baglar neighbourhood, Diyarbakir's Sur district, Lice, Silvan, Varto, Bulanik, Yuksekova, Semdinli, Edremit, Van's Hacibekir neighbourhood, Istanbul's Gazi neighbourhood, and Dogubeyazit.

The first declaration of self-government came on August 10 from the town of Silopi, whose residents are no strangers to state violence. Locals witnessed assassinations in the middle of the street and victims thrown into acid wells during the 1990s.

When the AKP intensified attacks in Kurdistan, Silopi was the first to take action. Locals dug trenches in their neighbourhoods to stop police and soldiers from entering. That was when police began a total attack.

Early in the morning on August 7, police opened fire on the Zap neighbourhood, killing 58-year-old Hamdi Ulas and 17-year-old Mehmet Hidir Tanboga.

Police rained bullets on the homes and set six houses on fire. The attack wounded many, children among them.

Police began arresting all the wounded brought to the hospital. One resident was shot during an arrest attempt, brought to the city of Diyarbakir hours away by human rights volunteers, then arrested there.

As the police mounted snipers on the roofs of buildings, locals set up curtains to block the snipers' views — a tactic famously used while resisting ISIS in the Rojava town of Kobanê. Today, it is hard to find a house in Silopi without bullet holes in its walls or windows.

The town of Cizre, like Silopi located in Sirnak province, has witnessed years of massacres by police and soldiers. There, the local people joined Silopi in declaring self-government on August 10.

Self-defence

The people of Cizre are well-equipped for self-defence. They declared in their statement of self-government that it was only by digging trenches that they could breathe easy again.

The AKP government's wave of assassinations, arrests and torture began to escalate, recalling images of the troubled 1990s for many. On August 13, the district of Varto, located in Mus province, joined the declarations of self-government.

In response, the state virtually declared war on the people of Varto, starting with a wave of arrests and detentions in the town.

Clashes broke out on August 15, with guerrillas linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) taking control of the entrance and exit to the town over the weekend. Armed volunteers set up trenches along all the main streets of Varto.

With strikes targeting the district police station and military command, the guerrillas also secured control of the main streets and the roads into town. Guerrillas called on police and soldiers to remain inside for their own safety, leaving them unable to leave their buildings.

A photograph began to spread on social media depicting guerrilla Kevser Elturk (nom de guerre Ekin Wan), whose body police had stripped naked, dragged along the ground, and photographed. Protests against the treatment of Ekin Wan spread across Kurdistan.

On August 17, two dead bodies were found in Varto. They were identified as volunteers Andok Ekin and Demhat. Police had brutally assassinated one and dismembered the other, according to witnesses.

War zone

Varto quickly turned into a war zone as soldiers entered the town centre in tanks and armoured vehicles. Dozens of buildings were destroyed.

A delegation led by Democratic Society Congress (DTK) co-chair Selma Irmak analysed the damage and met with locals, but reported that government officials refused to meet with them.

The town of Bulanik, also in Mus province near Varto, declared self-government on August 13. Members of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) and Democratic Regions Party (DBP), neighbourhood assemblies and local co-mayors joined in the declaration.

There, Zeynep Topcu of the DBP spoke on behalf of the Democratic City Assembly. Topcu said that as elected representatives of the people of Bulanik, they would govern themselves, as the regime did not represent them.

On August 15, the anniversary of the day when the PKK fired its first bullet in the armed struggle in 1984, the town of Silvan (Farqin in Kurdish), in Diyarbakir province, declared its autonomy.

The resistance grew after the Farqin People's Assembly declared self-government. Notably, women played a leading role in the struggle to defend the trenches.

The Sur district, the oldest part of the city of Diyarbakir, declared its self-government on August 14. With the declaration of self-defence, police intensified their frequent attacks on the area.

The Lalebey neighbourhood became the scene of intense police violence as youth attempted to defend the neighbourhood from their trenches. Elected officials from the DBP and HDP, the largely Kurdish left party whose vote rose significantly to win more than 13% in the June elections, held an overnight vigil in the neighbourhood to prevent clashes.

The district of Lice, in Diyarbakir province, is a place where many youth have died over the years at the hands of the state. Recently, young men and women took to the streets with a determination to defend their neighbourhoods from police attack.

Police have roamed the streets in armoured vehicles opening fire indiscriminately on the neighbourhoods, to which resistance fighters have responded with guns and stun grenades.

In the town of Yuksekova, in Hakkari province, the resistance has spread, starting in the neighbourhoods of Orman, Kisla and Dize. Youth managed to completely close off access to the neighbourhoods with trenches.

Locals formed Self-Defence Units to hold armed vigils overnight. Residents danced traditional dances around fires, singing songs to enliven the vigil. Following Yuksekova, the neighbouring town of Semdinli also declared self-government.

In the city of Batman, the neighbourhood assembly in the Baglar neighbourhood declared self-government as “an urgent necessity against the state and the AKP government's total attack”.

In the eastern Van province, autonomy has been declared in the district of Edremit, near the city of Van, where the Edremit Democratic People's Assembly declared its rejection of the state. In the neighbourhood of Hacibekir (Xacort in Kurdish), located in the central Ipekyolu area of Van, the neighbourhood's Democratic People's Assembly also declared self-government.

Self-government has been declared in the Dogubeyazit district of Agri province and in the Gazi neighbourhood in Istanbul. Declarations of self-government and the commitment to self-defence are spreading.

[Reprinted from JINHA Women's News Agency.]

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