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Turkey: Stop the cycle of violence

"In the face of the violence and the human rights violations in Turkey, in particular in those regions of Eastern Turkey affected by the war between the Turkish government and the PKK, the European politicians must not look the other way any longer."

War Resisters' International launches an online petition addressing the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, on behalf of the European Union, to call on the EU to take action on the current situation of escalating violence in Turkey. 

Join us in our call to the European Union here.

Background

In August 2015, the violent conflict between the Turkish government and armed Kurdish groups in Turkey resumed after President Erdoğan cancelled the peace process in July. The first results of the already existing peace process were destroyed, and civilians are the victims. The Turkish army is arbitrarily using tanks and heavy weaponry without heed for the safety of the civil population. Parts of towns have been bombarded. There have been hundreds of deaths, curfews in towns and regions inhabited mostly by Kurds lasting several weeks, and severe human rights violations have lead to a humanitarian crisis. Additionally, Turkey is also bombing Kurdish regions in Syria. The situation is likely to become even worse in the weeks to come unless the violence is stopped.

However, European governments are looking the other way: they hope the Turkish government will prevent refugees from reaching the EU, and close the external borders. They also don't want to alienate Turkey as a partner in NATO; Turkey remains an essential NATO base for the war against Daesh in Syria and Iraq. European governments are risking a new refugee tragedy with this policy.

Kati Piri, Rapporteur to Turkey of the EU parliament, visited Diyarbakır in February 2016 and said, "In the South East of Turkey an estimated 400,000 people have had to flee their houses due to heavy fighting and curfews, which in some cities have already lasted for more than two months." Kati Piri wants the EU to call for an immediate ceasefire and the (Turkey-Kurdish) peace process to resume.

Scroll down for more information on the escalating cycle of violence in Turkey.

The petition

Dear Mrs. High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini,

In the face of the violence and the human rights violations in Turkey, in particular in those regions of Eastern Turkey affected by the war between the Turkish government and the PKK, the European politicians must not look the other way any longer. We ask you:

  • To call on the parties of the conflict, especially the Turkish government and the PKK, for an immediate ceasefire and the resumption of peace negotiations;

  • To call on the Turkish government to act in line with all international human rights agreements signed by Turkey, refraining above all from involving the civilian population in the conflict;

  • To stop all arms trade to the region;

  • To use all channels available to promote the protection of human rights for all citizens of Turkey and the refugees who are currently in Turkey, and the resumption of the peace process.

  • To involve the OSCE and to send an observer mission to Turkey.

Sign the petition here.

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Escalating Violence and Rights Violations of Civilians in Turkey*

The city has experienced a kind of destruction without parallel in Western Europe since World War II: street after street has been reduced to rubble, houses with holes in their sides the size of articulated lorries, multi-story apartment buildings burned out leaving only hollow shells, the rooms within them now a trichrome scheme of black, grey, and white ash.

Deutsche Welle on the town Cizre in south eastern Turkey

Introduction

Since August 2015 the conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish groups in Turkish Kurdistan has escalated into a new spiral of violence. This has led to hundreds of deaths on both sides and a deteriorating humanitarian crisis, accompanied by grave violations of human rights, from arbitrary imprisonment to extra-judicial killings. Only months before, on 28 February 2015, a ten-point peace plan (called the 'Dolmabahçe agreement') was announced by the government and pro-Kurdish the People's Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi or HDP).1 The agreement was reportedly backed by the Kurdish Workers Party (or PKK), after a fragile ceasefire between PKK and the Turkish military since 2013. However, the peace process began to unravel after the general elections in June 2015, which left the AKP short of an absolute majority and brought the pro-Kurdish HDP into Parliament.

On 17 July 2015, President Erdogan declared that he “by no means, accept[s] the expression of [the] Dolmabahçe agreement”, and that “An agreement cannot be made with those who lean their backs on the terrorist organization [PKK]"2. Since then, as Nigar Göksel, Senior Turkey Analyst of the International Crisis Group puts it, “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reversed a decade of openings, resorting to measures reminiscent of the military-dominated 1990s, when Kurdish nationalists were routinely jailed. On 28 July, he called for HDP leaders to be stripped of parliamentary immunity; two days later, criminal probes were initiated against them for 'inciting violence and carrying out terrorist propaganda'.”3 Since then, all out repression and war have exacerbated the situation further with increasing number of people affected by it .

Elections and intensifying tension

Escalating tensions between the sides did not evolve into an armed conflict before the June 7th general election. With the increasing public support for HDP, violence became more and more evident in the competition for elections. When it became obvious that HDP would pass the 10% election threshold for entry to parliament, violent attacks against HDP offices and its supporters intensified dramatically.4 This culminated in an explosion during an HDP rally in Diyarbakir - only two days before the elections – which left four dead and hundreds of people injured.5

The results of the June 2015 elections left AKP without a majority to form a government. HDP's unexpected electoral success was a major factor in this.6 .Without an AKP majority government though, it became obvious for President Erdoğan that he could no longer initiate the constitutional changes he had long been planning, concentrating power in his office under the name of “presidential system”.Shortly after the elections in June (in less than 3 months) a snap election to be held in November was announced.

From peace negotiations to renewed war

The results of the June elections were a milestone in the escalation of violence in Turkey. The country was brought into a new spiral of violence that has escalated further since July 2015.

  • On July 20, 2015, a suicide bomber killed 33 mostly young people in Suruç (Turkey), near the Syrian border. The victims were mostly socialist or leftist youth on their way to the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane to help with reconstruction there, following months of assaults by ISIS. The Turkish government blamed the attack on ISIS7.

  • On July 22, 2015, two policemen were killed in Ceylanpınar, Şanlıurfa by Kurdish militants.8

  • On July 23, 2015, one soldier was killed by shots from the other side of the border in Kilis. ISIS was held responsible for this attack. Following this attack, Turkish war planes bombarded the reported locations.

  • On July 24, 2015, Turkish jets started bombarding Qandil Mountain where PKK camps are located. PKK made a statement which said the “ceasefire no longer has any meaning.”

This statement indicated the end of the 2013 ceasefire between the Turkish state and the Kurdish guerilla. After two years of hope for a permanent peace in the region, war and armed-conflicts became the reality of the region again. Shortly after these developments in July, violent conflicts escalated into catastrophic levels affecting thousands of civilians in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey - which later, with the suicide attacks by the Kurdish guerilla, spread to the Western part of the country, too.9

Curfews and urban warfare

The first curfew was declared on 16 August 2015 in Varto (Muş), initially “until further notice in order to provide security10. This curfew lasted 20 hours11, and was the first taste of what was to follow. Since then “there have been 58 officially confirmed, open-ended and round-the-clock [all day long] curfews in at least 19 districts of 7 cities in Southeastern Turkey. These cities are as follow; Diyarbakır (32 times), Şırnak (7 times) and Mardin (11 times), Hakkâri (4 times), Muş (1 time), Elazığ (1 time) and Batman (2 times)”, according to a report by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) from early February 201612. More curfews have been declared since.

At the time of writing, curfews are still in force in three cities/districts;

  • Sur (the very centre of Diyarbakir): The first curfew was declared on 16 October 2015. Since then, a total of six curfews have been declared. A day-long curfew is still in force since the declaration of last curfew on 11 December 2015.

  • Cizre (Şırnak); Curfews have been declared a total of five times since 4 September 2015. The last one, declared on 14 September 2015, continues since 2 March 2016 as a night-time curfew.

  • İdil (Şırnak); Day-long curfew, declared on 16 February 2016, is still in force..

  • Nusaybin (Mardin): Round-the-clock curfew declared on 13 March 2016.

  • Yuksekova (Hakkari): Round-the-clock curfew declared on 13 March 201613.

During the curfews, Special Operations Police teams and other security forces conduct counter-terrorism operations against the armed Kurdish youth movement, using armoured vehicles and sometimes tanks and heavy artillery against their barricades. The supporters of the Kurdish armed group have dug trenches, often planted with explosives and erected barricades to seal off neighbourhoods14.

According to Parliamentarians from the Republican People's Party (CHP) 24-hour curfews lasting several weeks have never before been used in the history of Turkey. They also underline that such a practice was not even used during times of a military coup or during emergency rule15.

Amnesty International has claimed the government's military response was marred by "gross human-rights violations" and amounted to a "collective punishment" against the Kurdish population. 16

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) estimated that at least 1,377,000 residents have been affected by the curfews, with fundamental rights such as the right to life and the right to health being violated. From 16 August 2015 (the date of first declared curfew) until 5 February 2016 at least 224 civilians (42 children, 31 women, 30 people over the age 60) lost their lives in the regions and during officially declared curfews”17.The Turkish government claims routinely that civilians killed were “terrorists”.

The renewed fighting and oppression also has caused a new wave of internal displacement. According to a report by the intelligence and anti-terror departments of the police, more than 100,000 people have been displaced in five towns in the region, with 1.3 million people being affected by the repeated curfews18. NGOs and opposition parties put the figure of internally displaced persons much higherand estimate that as many as 200,000 civilians had to leave their homes19. The number of people affected by the curfews they give coincides with the calculations of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

It has not been easy to get information on what was going on in the areas under curfew. The first information received from the region was the lack of access to basic needs such as food, electricity, water and health services. During the curfews many people - from 35 days20 to 75 years old - have lost their lives. The circumstances vary: from the people who went out onto the street to buy bread21 or to rush beloved ones to an ambulance22 who were shot by snipers to the dead body of a 10-years-old child23 and on another occasion that of a 53 years old woman24 kept in refrigerators for days since it was not allowed to bury corpses.

Another case is that of three female politicians who were trying to call for help using their cell phones just before they were shot dead25. The public have hopelessly witnessed residents, including children and injured people, trappedin basements in Cizre, since the government denies access to emergency services. Turkey's Constitutional Court even rejected a petition to allow the evacuation of a building, and as a consequence people in the basements died either of loss of blood or as a result of the operation conducted by security forces.26 The exact number of the civilians who died in the basements is still not clear, but the figures given by the locally organised crises group is 17827.

Irreparable damage and the destruction of communities

As a consequence of the use of heavy weapons, many buildings and monuments of historical and cultural heritage have been destroyed and damaged28.

Residential areas have been burned down, or destroyed by shelling, artillery and bombs.29 Following days of bombardment, thousands of civilians were forced to leave their homes and communities. The population of the Sur district in Diyarbakır has decreased from 25,000 to 5-6,000. Some media reports suggest that the government is preparing for “urban regeneration projects” in the Suriçi region, which has also been evacuated30. These projects aim at changing the social-demographic make-up of the city, destroying its historical and cultural tissue, and destroying its social memory.

Residents started to return to Cizre following the partial lifting of the curfew. However, the first wave of residents that reached Cizre on 2 March in vehicles loaded with personal belongings and their children had to endure a police inspection of their documents as well as a search of the contents of their cars and bags. Finally arriving in Cizre, what they found shocked them: totally destroyed buildings, corpses under the ruins, body parts in different places and even in debris of the Tigris River. People describe the situation in Cizre as “a mass grave”.31 In what was left of their of their homes, they could not find any of their personal belongings and personal history32, As a report in Deutsche Welle puts it: “The city has experienced a kind of destruction without parallel in Western Europe since World War II: street after street has been reduced to rubble, houses with holes in their sides the size of articulated lorries, multi-story apartment buildings burned out leaving only hollow shells, the rooms within them now a trichrome scheme of black, grey, and white ash”33. According to a report by an investigative committee of the Party of Democratic Regions (DBP) after the lifting of the curfew in Cizre, “80 percent of the district was damaged due to state forces’ tank shelling”. In total, “nearly 500 buildings”.

Legality of the curfews

The curfews put in place by the government are based on Article 11/c of Law for Provincial Administration with the justification of “apprehending the members of the terrorist organization” and “ensuring the physical safety of the people and their properties”. However, jurists agree that the law in question does not confer upon the local governor the power to impose a measure that affects the rights and liberties of the all inhabitants of a province (city) or a district. According to Article 13 of the Turkish Constitution, such a restriction can only be imposed through a law agreed by parliament. Curfews declared bythe governor’s orders contradict the Constitution. It is concerning that a measure - impacting on a large number of citizens residing in a particular region of the country - is completely hidden from parliamentary and legal supervision.

Except in times of war, security forces cannot legally use heavy weapons and hardware in settlements where martial law or state of emergency has not been declared, without first evacuating civilians. During the planning, command and control of operations alleged to serve the purpose of protecting the lives of civilians from unlawful violence, it is unacceptable to perpetrate arbitrary and disproportionate force which does not accord to the duty of care expected from the state in a democratic society. The lethal force used by the government of Turkey in the aforementioned provinces and districts is currently in gross violation of the principle of proportionality to be ensured between the intended objective and the force used for this purpose in a democratic society.

Conclusion

Although the Turkish government claims to be combating terrorists with the aim of “ensuring the security of it citizens”, what it is actually taking place is a war against its own population. This has led to gross human rights violations in the country. Meanwhile, violent attacks by the Kurdish guerilla in cities like Ankara and Istanbul increase the number of victims of this war and exacerbate the conflict even further. This cycle of violence needs to stop immediately, and the international community can no longer be silent.

It is with this aim that War Resisters' International, with the contribution of other peace organisations in the region and Europe, has initiated a petition addressing the European Union and several European governments, urging European politicians to break their silence on the deteriorating situation in Turkey.

Further reports and statements

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*This document was prepared by War Resisters' International (WRI) with the contribution of WRI activists based in Europe and Turkey. 

 

1 Nigar Göksel: A New Cycle Begins in Turkey-PKK Conflict, blog.crisisgroup.org, 11 August 2015, http://blog.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/2015/08/11/a-new-cycle-begins-in-turkey-pkk-conflict/

2 Daily Sabah: Erdoğan renounces Dolmabahçe declaration, says HDP should try its best for PKK’s disarmament, 17 July 2015, http://www.dailysabah.com/kurdish-issue/2015/07/17/erdogan-renounces-dolmabahce-declaration-says-hdp-should-try-its-best-for-pkks-disarmament

3 Nigar Göksel: A New Cycle Begins in Turkey-PKK Conflict, blog.crisisgroup.org, 11 August 2015, http://blog.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/2015/08/11/a-new-cycle-begins-in-turkey-pkk-conflict/

4 According to Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) , 417 HDP offices were attacked throughout 2015. In the same period there were 11 attacks against the ruling party AKP and 4 against the main opposition party, CHP. Between 6-8 September 2015, there were more than 100 simultaneous, widespread and systematic attacks against HDP offices orchestrated by the members of Osmanlı Ocaklari, a far-right Islamist and nationalist pro-government organisation.

7 See: Suruc massacre: 'Turkish student' was suicide bomber, BBC News, 22 July 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33619043, accessed on 6 February 2016

8 PKK claimed responsibility for this attack and stated that it was a retaliation for the suicide bomber attack in Suruç. Later on this statement was withdrawn with a claim that the murders were committed by a group called Apocu Fedailer which is not formally linked to PKK. http://www.diken.com.tr/pkk-yoneticisi-karayilan-ceylanpinardaki-iki-polis-resmi-birimlerimizce-oldurulmedi/

9 So far in 2016, Ankara has been hit by two suicide attacks in 17 February and 13 March respectively. Both attacks, resulting in more than 60 casualties and tens of injured, were claimed by the Kurdish armed group TAK (Kurdish Freedom Hawks). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35829231 & http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/ankara-explosion-turkey-injures-large-number-of-people-reports-say

The group, also claiming the responsibility for the Istanbul Airport attack in December 2015, declares itself independent from PKK. http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-turkey-airport-kurds-idUKKBN0U90BF20151226

Although the PKK denies link with TAK too, one of its leaders stated that the Ankara attack (took place in February) was “to be embraced and honourable”. http://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/kck-den-ankara-saldirisi-aciklamasi-her-acidan-sahiplenilecek-bir-eylem-106056.html

It is also noteworthy that another prominent figure within the PKK leadership, Cemil Bayik, has recently told the British newspaper Times that “Until recently, battle against Turkish army was only in the mountains. Later on, it spread to towns and cities. Now it will be everywhere… At this stage of the fight, any order to be instructed to our guerillas will be legitimate”. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/article4712984.ece http://bianet.org/english/politics/173007-bayik-there-will-be-war-everywhere-now

10 See: Curfew declared in Turkey’s east over clashes with PKK militants, Hürriyet Daily News, 16 August 2015, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/curfew-declared-in-turkeys-east-over-clashes-with-pkk-militants.aspx?PageID=238&NID=87012&NewsCatID=341, accessed 8 March 2016

11 See: Curfew in Eastern Province is Over, Bianet, 17 August 2015, http://bianet.org/english/people/166874-curfew-in-eastern-province-is-over, accessed 8 March 2016

13 See: Curfews declared in two southeastern Turkish towns before large operations, Hurriyet Daily News, 13 March 2016, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/fresh-curfew-declared-in-southeast-turkeys-yuksekova.aspx?pageID=238&nID=96363&NewsCatID=341, accessed 19 March 2016

14 Human Rights Watch: Turkey: Mounting Security Operation Deaths, 22 December 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/22/turkey-mounting-security-operation-deaths, accessed 8 March 2016

15 “Diyarbakır-Mardin” Değerlendirme Raporu (“Diyarbakır-Mardin” Evaluation Report), p.34 (the report is written upon the visit on 9-10 February 2016 and publicized on 1 March 2016); also see; http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/chp-report-says-locals-in-southeast-turkey-torn-between-pkk-unlawful-practices-of-govt.aspx?pageID=238&nID=95871&NewsCatID=339, accessed 8 March 2016

16 See: Amnesty International: Turkey: Onslaught on Kurdish areas putting tens of thousands of lives at risk, 21 January 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/01/turkey-onslaught-on-kurdish-areas-putting-tens-of-thousands-of-lives-at-risk/, accessed 16 March 2016

17 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey: RECENT Fact Sheet on Curfews in Turkey Between the dates 16 August 2015-5 February 2016, http://en.tihv.org.tr/recent-fact-sheet-on-curfews-in-turkey-between-the-dates-16-august-2015-5-february-2016/, accessed 13 March 2016

18 See: 100,000 people displaced due to clashes with PKK, Hurriyet Daily News, 24 December 2015, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/100000-people-displaced-due-to-clashes-with-pkk.aspx?PageID=238&NID=92937&NewsCatID=341, accessed 13 March 2016

19 See: Turkey’s other refugee crisis: Kurds fleeing ‘terror’ in country’s south east, The Telegraph, 26 February 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/12173970/Turkeys-other-refugee-crisis-Kurds-fleeing-terror-in-countrys-south-east.html, accessed 13 March 2016

20 See: Curfew in Cizre Lifted for a Second Time, Bianet, 14 September 2015, http://m.bianet.org/bianet/people/167622-curfew-in-cizre-lifted-for-a-second-time, accessed 13 March 2016

21 Mehmet Erdoğan (75) was killed with a shot in the forehead by snipers as he was coming back from the bakery with a bag of bread in his hand. He had said “They will not shoot at the elderly” and insisted to go himself to get bread. Witnesses report that an armoured vehicle approached his body afterwards and shot yet another bullet into his head on 11 September 2015. http://www.yakayder.com/tr/haberler/report-on-the-nine-day-curfew-in-cizre-turkey/365, accessed 13 March 2016

22 A 3-month-old baby, Miray Ince, has been killed alongside her grandfather in the southeastern province of Şırnak after being struck by a bullet at home, after which her grandfather was also shot dead trying to rush the baby to an ambulance. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/3-month-old-baby-grandfather-shot-dead-in-turkeys-cizre.aspx?pageID=238&nID=93053&NewsCatID=509, accessed 13 March 2016

24 Meryem Sune, a 53-year-old mother of seven, could not be buried for two days and her body was first kept cold by ice bottles,. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34206924, accessed 13 March 2016

25 See: 3 Politician Women Killed in Silopi, Bianet, 6 January 2016, http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/170830-3-politician-women-killed-in-silopi, accessed 13 March 2016

26 See: Death toll rises among Kurds trapped in Cizre basement amid heavy fighting, Deutsche Welle, 29 January 2016, http://www.dw.com/en/death-toll-rises-among-kurds-trapped-in-cizre-basement-amid-heavy-fighting/a-19012447; Security raid kills 60 in southeast Turkey: Report, Press TV, 8 February 2016, http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/02/08/449182/Turkey-Sirnak-Cizre-PKK , accessed 17 March 2016

27 Figures are acquired personally by the authors.

28 The Kurşunlu Mosque (Lead Mosque), which had been built between 1516 and 1520 and named after its lead coated domes, situated in conflict zone in Sur, Diyarbakır, was burned. Surp Giragos Armenian Church and Armenian Catholic Church in Sur were damaged severely. Diyarbakır City Walls, which are on the UNESCO protection list, Four-legged Minaret and Caravanserai built during Grand Vizier Rustem Pasha’s time are also under threat. CHP report p.442. See also: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/blame-game-over-mosque-set-on-fire-in-diyarbakir.aspx?pageID=238&nID=92254&NewsCatID=341

29 See: Cizre residents return to destroyed Kurdish-majority town in Turkey, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/12180895/Cizre-residents-return-to-destroyed-Kurdish-majority-town-in-Turkey.html?frame=3587090, accessed 13 March 2016

31 See: Avukatlar AYM’ye başvurdu: Cizre’de ceset parçaları Dicle’ye atılıyor, Diken, 27 February 2016, http://www.diken.com.tr/avukatlar-aymye-basvurdu-cizrede-ceset-parcalari-dicleye-atiliyor/; 'Cizre koca bir mezarlığa dönmüş', BBC Turkish, 3 March 2016, http://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler/2016/03/160303_cizre_hatice_kamer_izlenim, accessed 17 March 2016

32 “Diyarbakır-Mardin” Evaluation Report, p

33 See: Kurds make ends meet in the ruins of Cizre, Deutsche Welle, 15 March 2016, http://www.dw.com/en/kurds-make-ends-meet-in-the-ruins-of-cizre/a-19115774, accessed 18 March 2016