Turkey’s Renewed War on the Kurds

Special for the Armenian Weekly

A view from Van's Akhtamar Island (Photo: Rupen Janbazian)
A view from Van’s Akhtamar Island (Photo: Rupen Janbazian)

In June 2014, during an Armenian Heritage Trip with seasoned guide Armen Aroyan, I was part of a group that traveled throughout Turkey, covering perhaps one-third of the country, including parts of the Kurdish region in the southeast. We visited the predominantly Kurdish cities of Mush, Van, and Diyarbakir, and the drive from Mush to Varto was the most beautiful landscape I had seen in a country full of spectacular scenery. As we made our way through the Bingol Mountains towards the end of day, past valleys and hills, fields and pastures, shepherds were guiding their flocks, goatherds driving their goats, and the cows were heading home seemingly on their own as the sun went down.

In Diyarbakir—called Dikranagerd by Armenians and Amed by Kurds—we saw street signs in Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian. We accompanied three people in our group—a brother and sister and their cousin—on a pilgrimage to their family home in the Sur district, a place they were seeing for the first time since the early 1960’s, when the family had relocated to Bolis before eventually immigrating to the United States and Australia. On Sunday we attended a special service at the Sourp Giragos Church, also in Sur, which was recently restored through cooperation between local Kurdish officials and Armenians from Turkey and the diaspora. After the service, a dance troupe and some folk musicians from Yerevan performed in the courtyard, while Kurdish kids danced on a rooftop nearby.

This past summer, when the Turkish government reignited its war against the Kurds, I saw photos and videos of terrible violence in Sur, on the very same streets we had walked in 2014. My academic friends in Turkey—whom I had met through participation in Columbia University’s Women Mobilizing Memory Workshop—were sending updates about the worsening aggression and the rising anti-Kurdish sentiment in Turkey.

Since Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) lost its super-majority in the June 2015 elections, when the progressive, pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) crossed the 10-percent threshold to be seated in parliament, the situation in Turkey’s Kurdish region has deteriorated. The peace process that had been initiated in 2013 is now in shambles.

Noam Chomsky described it thus: “The responsibility for the present self-inflicted crisis in the country must lie squarely with Erdogan, who perceives the Kurds—whether it is the HDP [the pro-Kurdish, left-leaning party which gained 81 seats at the last election], the PYD in Syria, or the PKK [the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party]—as obstacles to his plan to establish supreme rule for the Turkish presidency.”

It is beyond my expertise and the scope of this piece to analyze the complicated underlying political maneuvering that gave rise to the new round of violence—with many of the political actors playing double and triple games. My focus here is on the way that the Turkish government’s renewed war against the PKK has had a terrible impact on civilians in the Kurdish regions of Turkey.

The Turkish government has mobilized its war machine in Kurdish cities, towns, and villages, resulting in great suffering by the civilian population in these places. They have imposed 24-hour military curfews, some of which have lasted for weeks at a time, on neighborhoods and towns. These lockdowns mean that civilians have little access to food or water, and that when people do venture out for supplies or to attempt to find medical assistance, they risk being shot by snipers. Turkish police have also arrested a number of local HDP officials and parliamentarians, accusing them of being members of the once-again demonized PKK. There is an undercurrent of anti-Armenian rhetoric being deployed by Turkish nationalists in which the killing of Kurds is justified by saying that they—the “bad” Kurds who belong to or who support the PKK—are actually “hidden” Armenians. This rhetoric is further meant to foment divisions among the Kurds themselves. (It also brings to mind William Faulkner’s famous lines, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”)

A Turkish friend sent this update last week:

“We receive the news of civilians, politicians, children, elderly people dying under horrifying attacks and tortures (not to mention the armed people who are involved in the fight). More than half of the country prefers to ignore, or to believe in the news reports that are provided by the government. Some want to believe that the armed forces of the state would only commit such violence to protect the unity of the country. The rest of the people are suppressed, and begin to feel almost helpless. We keep signing petitions, posting things on social media, and the ones who support the peace loudly, get arrested, tortured, or just like the human rights defender, Kurdish lawyer and the chairman of Diyarbakır Bar Association Tahir Elci, get killed.

'The responsibility for the present self-inflicted crisis in the country must lie squarely with Erdogan, who perceives the Kurds—whether it is the HDP, the PYD in Syria, or the PKK—as obstacles to his plan to establish supreme rule for the Turkish presidency.' (Photo: Aaron Spagnolo)
‘The responsibility for the present self-inflicted crisis in the country must lie squarely with Erdogan, who perceives the Kurds—whether it is the HDP, the PYD in Syria, or the PKK—as obstacles to his plan to establish supreme rule for the Turkish presidency.’ (Photo: Aaron Spagnolo)

“There’s a systematic and organized killing of a particular group, the Kurdish people, right in front of our eyes, and we see hundreds of them being forcibly displaced by the state. We hear that they cannot collect the dead bodies of their mothers, or their children from the street, while they lie there for 10 days, rotting right before their eyes, in front of their windows. They cannot go out to retrieve the dead bodies due to the bombardment and the snipers. We hear of a grandfather getting killed on the way to hospital, while carrying a white flag in one hand and in the other hand a 3-month-old baby who was hit when their house was shelled. We hear about a father seeing his son’s eye carved out when he finds him at the mortuary. It has become a horror story, and I am afraid, we are not well organized enough to come together, understand what is happening, and stop this crime. Most people are helplessly waiting for it to end by itself. An artist friend in Diyarbakir, with whom I am in correspondence every day, said, ‘Everything will become ‘normal’ again, once there are enough people who have been killed.’”

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey issued a fact sheet outlining the devastating effects of recently imposed curfews, with accompanying military actions. The report states:

“Since 16 August 2015, there have been 58 officially confirmed, open-ended, and round-the-clock curfews in at least 19 districts of 7 cities (primarily Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Mardin and Hakkâri) where approximately 1 million 377 thousand people reside (according to the 2014 population census). During these officially declared curfews, fundamental rights of people such as Right to Life and Right to Health have been violated and 162 civilians (29 women, 32 children, 24 people over the age 60) lost their lives according to the data of HRFT Documentation Center.”

In response to the violence and to the suffering of Kurdish civilians, a group of Turkish academics began circulating a petition entitled, “We Will Not Be Party to this Crime.” The text, which you can read in full here, summarizes what the authors see as Turkey’s human rights violations against its citizen in the Kurdish region. (The petition website has been hacked by right-wing Turkish nationalists multiple times; if you cannot access it at the link above, try this one.)

It reads, in part:

“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.”

The petition concludes:

“We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met.”

In response to the petition, which garnered more than 1,600 signatures, including the names of many international academic celebrities including Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, Erdogan has called the signers in Turkey “traitors,” saying, “You are either on the side of the state or of the terror organization and terrorists.”

A scene from Tahir Elci's funeral
A scene from Tahir Elci’s funeral

The Turkish Council of Education has suggested it might take legal action against the professors who have signed the petition, and the inflammatory rhetoric dropped to a new low when a notorious gangster threatened violence against academics calling for peace negotiations. On Jan. 14, Turkish federal prosecutors launched an investigation into whether the signatories had violated Article 301 of the penal code against “insulting Turkishness” and Article 7 of the Anti-Terror law. If convicted, the signatories could face up to five years in prison. On Fri., Jan. 15, Turkish police detained some of the academics who had signed the petition, causing international outrage. The next day, the far-right Turkish newspaper Akit ran a headline saying, “Treasonous Signatories [of peace petition] Turn Out to be Armenian-Lovers.”

In the face of this brutality and repression, it is important that the international community spread awareness about what is happening in the Kurdish region and in Turkey. If you would like to take action, you can sign this petition from Amnesty  calling for an end to Turkey’s arbitrary restrictions on movement. If you are an academic or a graduate student, you can add your name to “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime” by sending an e-mail with your name and institutional affiliation to info@barisicinakademisyenler.net. Journalists, writers, students, and other professional groups in Turkey and abroad have issued statements in support of the scholars. You can find these and other updates on the Bianet site.

There is an old Kurdish proverb that says, “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” Now is a good time to show that people who care about justice care about the Kurds and those who support them.

Nancy Kricorian
Nancy Kricorian is the author of the novels Zabelle, Dreams of Bread and Fire, and All the Light There Was. She is currently working on a novel about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.


  1. who cares about the Kurds? Not this Armenian. These same Kurds are the same actors that raped, sodomized, brutalized, murdered, dismembered burned, sex slaved and stole Armenian property during the AG? Of course it is. Only now to be the next on the Turkish chopping block and we are to feel sympathy? Sorry no sympathy.

    • Joe , I feel sorry for your lack of any empathy. As a human being to remain ambivilent(at best) to suffering of others is sad. Second, these are not the same people. They have expressed public remorse for their ancestors, taken steps to reach out to the Armenians( do you really think that St. Giragos would have been restored with the support of the Kurds) and saved the lives of hundreds of Armenians in Syria and Iraq. Also your anger is presently you from seeing the importance of connecting to the Kurds as it relates to western Armenia.
      Perhaps it feels good to be bitter, but those emotions do nothing to help your people(assuming you are Armenian). No room for hatred, racism or bitterness. It does not advance our cause.

    • I do not know if you are an Armenian. However, you are wrong in blaming the Kurds. If you read my comments you will understand. Thousands of Kurds have Armenian blood in them because Armenian children were adopted by Kurds and grew up not knowing they are Armenians. My brother, be reasonable and not emotional. LONG LIVE ARMENIANS AND KURDS

  2. YES, Turkey is for Turks only! This policy has not changed in the past century. NATO reply would be: They have a right to defend themselves.
    We all know the script, and know what to expect from the international community. Just as in Iraq, Libya, Syria…etc. just sit back and watch the death toll rise while we are fed B.S.
    The power seems to find it’s way into the hands of criminals.
    Signing petitions only facilitates Turkey’s criminal government to collect and dispose of the activists.

  3. Turkey is a member of NATO. It is despicable and extremely wicked that the U.S. and other NATO members have not fiercely condemned Turkey and declared that if Turkey does not immediately end its barbarism and genocide against the Kurds, that Turkey will be kicked out of NATO, in addition to placing sanctions against Turkey.

    The Kurds are the only ones helping the persecuted Yazidis. Our nations have a moral obligation to provide every weapon of war to the Kurds to help them defend the Yazidis and rescue the thousands of Yazidi and Christian girls who have been captured for sex slaves by satanic ISIS monsters and who are constantly gang raped and tortured, including little children.

  4. The far-right Turkish newspaper Akit ran a headline saying, “Treasonous Signatories [of peace petition] Turn Out to be Armenian-Lovers.”

    Unrepentant Turkey has never asked for forgiveness for the dreadful Armenian Genocide and seizes every opportunity to spout forth venom and hate for Armenian Christians.

    In addition, warmonger Turkey invaded and occupies Christian Cyprus and is still allowed to be a NATO member. What a disgrace.

  5. Good article.

    As for the commenter still being angry about the kurdish role in the genocide of 1915, I can only advise to let it go.

    The pepretators are all long dead. Their childrens children are old and or dead.

    Let it go. They were just calaborators and acknowledged the wrong they did, other than Turkey.

    Let it go.

  6. Dear Nancy,
    Thank you for this article. Armenians, we are more connected to the Kurds that even the Turks know. Reverend Tovmas K. Mugriditchian was British Counselar Aid in Diarbekir, before and during the 1915 Turkish genocide. In the book he wrote in Armenian entitled: “THE MASSACRES OF DIKRANAGERD PROVINCE AND THE BARBARITY OF THE KURDS,” there was an important section on Kurdish Armenians. He claimed that a large number of Armenian clans or tribes were forced by their Turkish-Tartar oppressors in 1517, to become Mohammedans. In return, they would retain their lands and domains.
    Here are the names of the Armenian-Kurdish tribes listed in the book: RESHKOTA (Rushdounik), MAMUGA (Mamigonian),
    ALUKA (Alans), MOTKA (Mogats), ASHITI (Ashdik or Hashdiank), DOO-DER (Yegeghyatz), HOON, GESOO-GESAN, TAYAN, DERSIM, KHALTA. This information was taken from the wonderful book that you can order from the AMAA.
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF ARMENIA by the Rev. Sarkis Papajian.
    Ellen Sarkisian Chesnut

    • {Armenians, we are more connected to the Kurds that even the Turks know.}

      Did the Kurds remember this connection when they were mass murdering the Armenians? Curious to know…

    • Hi Ellen,
      Thomas Mugerditchian was my great great grandfather and he himself was from one of these Armeno-Kurdish tribes, the Khalta.

      And in reply to John, not all of the Kurdish tribes massacred Armenians. Some tribes hid Armenians or smuggled them out of the country.

  7. A very constructive and informative article, Nancy Kricorian. You’ve done an effective job of shining a light on this current round of atrocities. Armenians are singularly well positioned to understand the anguish and suffering that contemporary Kurds are experiencing. Our histories during the genocide years, and during the previous centuries of oppressive co-existence with Kurdish tribes in the six Armenian vilayets has taught us that repression, theft, assault,and sexual violence accomplish nothing but lasting trauma.

    Many of us carry the inherited memories of our ancestors, and can feel compassion for others subjected to similarly terrible fates, whoever or wherever they are.

    But for one human being to tell another to “let it go” is deeply disrespectful. By placing that statement in the imperative (particularly when the writer most likely lacks any significant knowledge of Armenian history in the Ottoman Empire), one robs the recipient of the most basic human right: the right to feel what is appropriate to one’s own experience. Unresolved grief can last for generations. One cannot demand that it stop. (And I suspect that dutchnational would not order a Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors to “let it go.”)

    At the least, we can show respect for the painful memories the current conflict brings to the surface for many of us. And at best, we can use the pain of our history to generate empathy for those who are suffering now.

  8. Yes it is true that Kurds collaborated with the Turks in 1915. However, now in 2016 we are friends since they admitted their mistakes and apologized. I am an Armenian nationalist and I forgive them. We are brothers and sisters with the Kurds and have a common enemy- the TURKS. There are thousands (may be millions ) of hidden Armenians among the Kurds. They are our own blood. LONG LIVE ARMENIANS AND KURDS. PROUD ARMENIAN

    • {However, now in 2016 we are friends since they admitted their mistakes and apologized.}

      Yet, they might have admitted their mistakes and apologized because they know they represent no state entity that’s endowed with a capacity to make material compensations and land retributions to the Armenians whom they, in league with the Turks, have mass murdered. Try to demand back the historical Armenian lands that Kurds now live on, and you may revise your opinion about Kurds being friends as of 2016.

    • {“I forgive them.”}

      Mr. Hagopian: your forgiveness is worth zilch.
      You, or I, or anybody else has neither the legal nor the moral right to forgive anyone for the Armenian Genocide.

      If someone beats you (generic you) to a pulp, and you survive, you have the perfect moral right to forgive the criminal. The State will press assault and battery charges anyway, but that is a different matter.

      When someone is _murdered_, no one else has the moral right to forgive the criminal. Even if the victim is your own child, you have no right. Only the victim can forgive the victimizer, and obviously he/she is not alive to do that.

      And the hidden Armenians amongst Kurds did not participate in the genocide of their compatriots: isn’t that obvious ?
      Were not talking about hidden Armenians: we are talking about Kurd-Kurds.

      Turks _are_ a common enemy, and several prominent Kurds have expressed regret and remorse for what their ancestors did.
      Thank you very much.
      But regret and remorse have no value, unless there are tangible “offerings”. What are we getting in return if we stick our necks out for Kurds? Armenians don’t owe anything to Kurds. And not every Kurd in Turkey is against Turks, even today. Large numbers of Kurds in Turkey work for the criminal State against Kurds. Tens of thousands of so-called “village guards” work for Turks to kill fellow Kurds.

  9. let’s see you say the same thing when they rape your grandmother. Then I’ll tell you let it go.
    You insensitive ignorant. let me tell you what it did to us Armenians. It took away all our resources, food, education, shelter family love, our future, trust in justice, trust in god, trust in the system of humanity that all humans should follow. Otherwise you are saying that I could rape your mom, sister daughter and then kill your dad brother and you and your son after sodimizing them.

    Do you hear what are you saying. just shut up. unless you have some kind of sympathy and empathy to all those who perished. you lack any feeling of humanity.

  10. We must always remember that it was the Kurds who, at the instigation of the Turks and in league with them, participated in murdering, raping, mutilating, and looting the Armenians during the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1897 and the genocide in 1915. Frankly, I don’t understand why some authors publishing here, and some posters, too, solicit sympathy for the Kurds. In mass killings of the Armenians, along with major perpetrators, the Turks, other Muslim groups, namely: Kurds and Circassians, were complicit. Kurds were not just collaborators of the Turks, as poster “dutchnational” here misrepresents. They were long-time oppressors, extorters, double tax collectors, abductors, and murderers of the Armenians. We must also remember that mostly Kurds now reside on the historical Armenian lands which they consider theirs after these lands were emptied of the Armenians.

  11. Deciding that groups of people–including their children, women, and elders–are unworthy of our compassion is the kind of logic that countenances mass political violence such as the Armenian Genocide.

    • Genocide cannot be expressly defined as mass political violence. Genocide is an intentional destruction of a group of people as a consequence of a national, ethnical, racial or religious prejudice of other group. Much as I would like to, I cannot show compassion to the Kurds, more so sign petitions or cry for justice for them, because from recollections of my own grandfather, who lived in one of the areas which you’ve visited, I know that Kurds were not just collaborators of the Turks. Most of them, not all of course, were oppressors, land appropriators, extorters, double tax collectors, abductors, rapists, and murderers of the Armenians, and that these crimes were committed not only during the massacres of the Armenians in 1894-1897 and 1915-1923, but throughout the times of Armenians’ forced coexistence with the Kurds. My lack of compassion is retaliatory in nature and is based on a firsthand account of my ancestors. But you can continue your efforts of soliciting compassion to a group of people who have no friends but the mountains and see how effectively you take back our ancestral lands which these mountain-loving people now inhabit.

  12. Why don’t you mention any single word about HUNDREDS OF BARRICADES built by PKK on the streets with thousands of BOOBY TRAPS, where were playgrounds of so many innocent children?

    I cannot understand the semi-blindness of Armenian writers. Operations are not inflicted on Kurds! They are inflicted on PKK terrorists who block the streets with tons of C-4 / TNT BOOBY TRAPS, who kills the innocent babies and elderlies carrying white flag (in order to blame Turkish officials like you do)!!!

    Can you imagine hundreds of Boston streets blocked by terrorists? BOOBY-TRAPPED? And an operation of US-Police commented as “The last war of the US on Bostoners!!!” Please took off your strictly one-sided glasses!!!

    • ‘Robert Vartanian ‘ ?
      How did you come up with that name, Turk guest ?
      Not only ‘Robert’, but ‘Vartanian’ to boot ?
      We have had some Turk guests that posted under ‘Robert’, ‘John’, etc. before.

      But ‘Robert Vartanian’ is a new one.
      Can’t say about others, but I am convinced you are Armenian.

    • And oppressing, land appropriating, extorting, freeloading, double tax collecting, abducting, raping, and mass murdering Armenians by Kurds is a crime against humanity and a genocide.

    • john,

      What Nancy is saying and what you’re saying are not mutually exclusive. Pointing out what’s happening to today’s Kurds does not undermine or belittle what their ancestors did to our families.

    • I would accept your point, Random, had this was not found in Nancy’s article:

      “If you would like to take action (read: spread awareness about brutality and repression happening in the Kurdish areas), you can sign this petition from Amnesty calling for an end to Turkey’s arbitrary restrictions on movement. If you are an academic or a graduate student, you can add your name to “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime” by sending an e-mail with your name and institutional affiliation to info@barisicinakademisyenler.net. Journalists, writers, students, and other professional groups in Turkey and abroad have issued statements in support of the scholars. You can find these and other updates on the Bianet site.”

      Excuse me, but this is not just “pointing out what’s happening to today’s Kurds”. This is a clear and unambiguous call to the various social groups among the readers of Armenian Weekly (mostly Armenians) and beyond to show advocacy for the Kurds. Exactly what is expected to accomplish by such calls? That Kurds will appreciate our sympathy, repent for their crimes nationally, and gratefully return the lands and properties belonging to the Armenians?

  13. As a person with no ties to this region, I know that history is complex. There are many viewpoints, and One could create justification for almost any personal position one would choose to take. One thing I do know, however, is that two wrongs do not make a right. The philosophy of “an eye for an eye” will make the whole world blind.

    • There could be many viewpoints, indeed, but in order to evince the truth there are people who fit for the job, the historians, who compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities and their behaviors, consider multiple perspectives of various groups by demonstrating their differing motives, beliefs, interests, and fears, and analyze cause-and-effect relationships bearing in mind multiple causation. Among historians there of course can be ones who have differing viewpoints, but on the subject of the Armenian Genocide most historians agree that it was a centrally planned and executed deliberate mass destruction of a group of people and, although the Turks bear full responsibility for the crime, Kurds were also complicit. No one here calls for “an eye for an eye.” As poster ‘Avery’ said, the regret and remorse of a few Kurdish leaders have no value unless there are tangible compensations for the losses suffered by the Armenians whom they, the Kurds, in league with major perpetrators, the Turks, have long oppressed and ultimately mass murdered. This is not at all “an eye for an eye”, but restoration of justice for the Armenians.

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