Almost entirely unnoticed internationally, Turkey’s government and rebellious Kurdish groups are locked in battle in a series of sieges in the main towns in the east of the country. Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu describes it as a struggle against terrorism which will be fought to the end without compromise.
Close-up details of the sieges are scarce even in the Turkish press. Few Turkish journalists let alone foreign correspondents are covering what amounts in effect to war conditions in the affected towns. Other information comes from clandestine Kurdish sources and pictures, coming not from the Turkish press, but sent via the Internet showing ravaged buildings and bodies lying in the streets. According to a government statement on Dec. 25, 217 Kurdish terrorists have been killed in the past month. The Turkish Human Rights foundation says that over 124 civilians have been killed in recent months. In total there have been about 150 days of “curfew” each of them lasting for the whole 24 hours, not simply overnight.
The two worst-affected settlements are Sur, the old city of Diyarbakir, and Cizre, a town close to the Tigris and Turkey’s border with Iraq. Sur was designated a protected area of outstanding beauty before the shooting started. Now many of its historical buildings, as well as schools and social centers, have been burnt out: the government and the PKK each blame the other.
Cizre has been under a daily 24 hour curfew for more than two weeks this month and for at least 30 days into since September. Tanks took up positions around Cizre on Dec. 16 and have been shelling the city since then.
The government says that its aims are to punish PKK supporters in Cizre and other towns who began digging trenches in their streets a year ago, suggesting to the government that preparations were being made for some kind of mass uprising. This – and Kurdish calls for autonomy — are now being cited as grounds for the curfews which have gained steadily in frequency and intensity since they began in the late summer, apparently as police search and arrest operations.
December saw the sieges escalate with few if any breaks in the curfews and 10,000 soldiers and tanks brought in to reinforce the police. Despite this resistance continues amid shattered streets which increasingly resemble war-torn Syrian towns. Most of the non-combatant population has left, making at least 100,000 internally displaced people. Before the final assault began on Cizre, the government ordered teachers and government employees to leave the town.
One of those feared lost in the siege is the city’s 28-year-old mayor, Leyla Imret, elected by 83% of the voters in 2014. She was deposed by the Ministry of the Interior in September for warning of the risk of civil war in Turkey but was released from detention and allowed to go home shortly before the shelling began. Imret has not been heard of since putting out a message on the Internet on Dec. 16 hours after tanks surrounded the town, saying her home was being shelled and she was ready for death.
Inside Turkey, Turkish liberals and intellectuals usually unsympathetic to the Kurdish nationalist movement condemned the violence – asking why there is so little news coverage about the fighting outside the country. “Europe is playing the three monkeys game,” one Turkish academic said, asking not to be identified.
EU leaders appear anxious to avoid any kind of confrontation with the Turkish government. In recent weeks they have refrained from all criticism and are opening new sections in Turkey’s long-stalled negotiations with the Union. The soft line is a bid to persuade the country’s leadership to block the 2.5 million Syrian refugees there from travelling into the Union.
On Dec. 22 an EU spokesperson noted the “threat from PKK terrorism” but called for the immediate resumption of the peace process, something of which there is currently absolutely no prospect.
Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, this week said he would not hold talks on a new constitution with the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples Democratic Party), which was until last spring the channel for peace talks between the PKK and the government. Davutoğlu a day earlier denounced the HDP as “traitors” for condemning Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su 24 jet on its borders on 24 November.
Though the Turkish government believes that by crushing resistance in the towns under curfew, it will finally eliminate support for the PKK and Kurdish nationalism, opponents say current policies may have exactly the opposite effect.
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