‘ What about our human rights ?’: Kurds feel force of Turkey’s crackdown

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Kurds believe their harsh therapy by the Turkish state, particularly since Julys failed takeover, is being ignored by the outside world

Ahmet stood on a roof in different districts of Sur in Diyarbakr and watched as two bulldozers bulldozed his family home. Dust clouds rose into the sky as another wall collapsed. This is the second hour that I watch them demolish my house, the 33 -year-old said softly.

The first time, Ahmet was nine years old. In the 1990 s, when the conflict between the Turkish state and the proscribed Kurdistan Workers party( PKK) was at a peak, soldiers burned down his village. Together with thousands of people displaced from the region, his family endeavoured to Sur. We had to leave everything behind. I did not even have shoes when we arrived in Diyarbakr, he remembered.

He looked down at his feet. This time I was at least able to save them.

Violence in Turkeys predominantly Kurdish south-east has surged after a ceasefire between the countrys ruling Justice and Development party( AKP) and the PKK fell apart last July, leaving the three-year peace process in tatters and resurrecting a conflict that has cost more than 40,000 lives since 1984.

In the summer of last year, Kurdish activists announced local administrative independence for several Kurdish cities and districts, including Sur. Ankara, fazed by the possibility of Kurdish self-rule along the lines of that which exists on Turkeys borders with Syria and Iraq, responded with a ferocious crackdown. Blanket curfews were implemented for months.

In Sur alone more than 100 people were killed as Turkish security forces employed tanks and heavy artillery against Kurdish activists who dug trenches and put up booby trap. The violent clashes across the region have laid waste to entire neighbourhoods, displacing more than half a million people in a country that already hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

After the failed takeover in July, existing conflicts is deepening. On Monday, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, widened the countrys nation of emergency, imposed after the takeover endeavor, into next year. Administrators were appointed to dozens of Kurdish-run municipalities, with Ankara accusing the elected mayors of supporting the PKK.

Displaced once more, Ahmet and his family rented a small apartment in another Diyarbakr district after the police ordered them to leave their home in Sur in November, just before the curfew. He now makes about 500 Turkish lira( 130) a month selling liquorice syrup, a local delicacy. He has no plan for the coming winter.

Residents carry their belongings as they flee after clashes in Diyarbakr earlier this year. Photo: Sertac Kayar/ Reuters

The Turkish government has announced urban renewal plans for Sur and is offering residents the chance to buy flats in high-rise blocks on the outskirts of Diyarbakr city. Homeowners have been told they will receive compensation for their destroyed homes, but nobody knows how much. Ahmet is unimpressed.

All I want is my house, he said. I dont want the government to give me fund, or sell me a house. Id instead pitch a tent on the ruins of my old home in Sur.

He is stunned by the worldwide silence in the face of the Kurds situation in Turkey. Pointing towards the ruined city centre, where bulldozers pushed the rubble of his house into a heap, he said: It looks like Syria here. What about human rights? Do they not apply to us? Like many Kurds in Turkey, Ahmet feelings abandoned by the EU, which last year struck an agreement with Ankara to stem the numbers of refugees coming to Europe. They have sold us for the refugee bargain, he said.

Although the attacks on law enforcement agencies and military strongholds in the region continue, the military operation in Sur was proclaimed finished in March. Most stores along the main road have reopened, but half of the historic centre remains closed. Several streets are blocked by police fences and large plastic sheets. Blast walls sieged most of the gates of the old city walls. Turkish flags hang off buildings and minarets. Armed police vehicles patrol the streets.

The Turkish state behaves like an occupier here, said one proprietor of a teahouse. A few metres away, a cheese marketer sat in his half-empty stall. He is now unable to afford the more than 20 different types of cheese he used to sell, as most of his clients have left the district. His house was demolished. A close family member is in pretrial detention on charges of PKK membership.

The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yldrm, has shown little exuberance for reopening peace talks with the Kurds. Photo: Adem Altan/ AFP/ Getty Images

Maybe I should be grateful, he said. So many young people have died here, exactly what he incarcerate compared to that? He guesses building furrows and roadblocks was wrong. We will not provide solutions like that. And many Turkish governments have tried violence. They destroyed our villages, burned down our woods. Now our cities are in ruins as well. Dialogue is the only way.[ President Erdoan] could objective this war with a single sentence. He sighs. We are really tired. We want Erdoan to end this conflict.

The government, however, does not show much exuberance for reopening peace talks, with the prime minister, Binali Yldrm, repeatedly saying there will be none of such a solution nonsense. And, after the bloody takeover try, the crackdown on the Kurds has intensified.

I am Kurd, but also a citizen of this country, said the cheese vendor, who did not want his name to be published. In Diyarbakr people also went out into the streets on the night of July 15 to protest against the takeover. I dont like Erdoan, but when I assured him on the screen of a mobile phone on Tv, I prayed for him. When he called on people to protest the putschists, we did.

We have lived through several military takeovers here and they have always been terrible for us Kurds. This time the plotters did not succeed and we are happy about that, he said. But it still feels as if the junta is in power now.

The AKP has extended the post-coup purges of Turkish society to the Kurds , not restriction the scope to adherents of the US-based clergyman Fethullah Glen, whom the government blameds for the coup attempt. Erdoan argues that Glenists and the PKK are one and the same. Thats absurd, said one Diyarbakr-based journalist. Glen has repeatedly raged against the peace process.

Turkish police officer raid the offices and studios of the pro-Kurdish IMC TV station in Istanbul. Photo: Ozan Kose/ AFP/ Getty Images

However, the government is exerting the full extent of the legal powers granted to it under the country of emergency. Based on situations of emergency decree passed in July, Ankara pulled the plug on 23 predominantly pro-Kurdish channels and radio stations last week, arguing that they posed a threat to national security and supported terrorism. Among the closed TV stations is a childrens channel that translated cartoons such as SpongeBob Squarepants and The Smurfs into Kurdish.

This spells the end to critical and objective broadcasting in Turkey, said Remzi Budancir, the editor of the Kurdish-language news channel Azadi TV in Diyarbakr. And an end to proper reporting from this region. All journalists here are either go looking for other jobs or hope to leave the country. Even if we would be able to work unhindered, there are no more outlets left in which to publish our work.

The crackdown is not only against the media. Only days before the start of the new school year the education ministry suspended about 11,000 educators in the Kurdish area on charges of supporting the PKK. More than 4,000 of them worked in Diyarbakr schools.

Teachers were suspended since they are attended union sessions and demoes, said one educator from a neighbouring province. Tens of thousands of children are again deprived of an education, putting them at farther disadvantage.

Turkish police incarcerate two students in Diyarbakr during a protest against the suspension of educators in September. Photo: Ilyas Akengin/ AFP/ Getty Images

Just before the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha, the Turkish government appointed administrators to 24 Kurdish-run municipalities, including Sur. Since then, more elected mayors in the region have been removed from their posts. Ankara accuses local legislators of supporting the PKK. Sleyman Soylu, the interior minister since September, said the government could not allow terrorists to hold municipal office. The pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic party( HDP) spoke of a coup.

dris Baluken, the HDP MP for the city of Bingl, criticised the measure. Many voters in the region will not accept this. Why do we even hold elections if a politician who gets up to 80% of votes can be removed at the governments whim?

At the beginning of September, Yldrm announced that the government would invest 2.6 bn in reconstructing the conflict-hit Kurdish south-east, with schemes including 67,000 flats, hospitals, mills, sports stadiums and police stations.

But Ahmet was not convinced. Investment is always good. But you know how often we have heard this? Many Turkish governments have promised us flats and mills, but nothing has changed. He shook his head. We are not beggars. It is incorrect to treat the Kurdish issue as a question of money. We do not want their charity. We want our rights.

Some names have been changed

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