Historian Draws Parallels with Past
Special for the Armenian Weekly
The Kurds in Turkey seem to have committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the Turkish regime: They were born Kurds. Despite all the pressure on the part of the state, they continue to resist attempts at forced assimilation; to demand national rights in their ancient homeland; to demand equal rights for non-Muslims, as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has done; and to resist Islamist jihadist groups. For these reasons, they have been forced to pay a horrible price: Their towns are exposed to constant bombing and destruction by Turkish security forces.
Turkey has started an all-out attack against the Kurds because they demand their right to self-rule.
First, the pro-Kurdish HDP successfully passed the 10-percent electoral threshold and entered Turkey’s Parliament at the national election held on June 7, 2015, making the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose its single-party government—a blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s autocratic ambitions.
Since August 2015, Kurdish mayors and politicians in some Kurdish districts have declared their desire for self-rule and having their own administration, which they call “democratic autonomy.” Wherever this declaration was made has been targeted by Turkish heavy weaponry.
Between Aug. 16, 2015, and Feb. 5, 2016, there were 58 officially confirmed and round-the-clock curfews in at least 19 Kurdish districts where about 1,377,000 people reside, according to the 2014 population census. The curfews were accompanied by constant military attacks against entire neighborhoods.
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) reported that during this period, at least 224 civilians—42 children, 31 women, and 30 people over the age 60—lost their lives. (Read the full report here: http://en.tihv.org.tr/recent-fact-sheet-on-curfews-in-turkey-between-the-dates-16-august-2015-5-february-2016/#_ftn2.)
On Dec. 27, 2015, the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Congress (DTK), which is affiliated with the HDP, issued a manifesto stating that they support the decision to seek Kurdish self-rule and that autonomous districts could be established in many parts of Turkey where cities and towns share cultural, economic, and geographical identities.
The declaration also emphasized that this new system should allow the participation of all ethnic and religious communities, of women and youth, in autonomous administrations, where all native languages in Turkey function as official languages. The system would encourage research in all areas of languages, history, and culture, without prohibitions.
“Our struggle for democratic autonomy is a struggle for democracy and liberty not only for Kurds, but also for Turks and all other ethnicities, religious groups, and for those who have been cast out, oppressed, or ignored,” read the statement.
The demands of the HDP, DTK, and DBP (Democratic Regions Party) consist of very basic and fundamental human rights, such as the right to be fully educated in one’s language. But the Turkish state cannot even tolerate such basic and simple demands. And—as it has never been held responsible for its massacres of the past—it keeps on applying the same destructive methods to exterminate members of minority communities.
Kurdish districts are now being devastated with bombs, tanks, and shells because of Kurdish political demands. Thousands of soldiers and special operations police have been deployed in Kurdish neighborhoods, murdering people indiscriminately. Turkish authorities seem to think that if the Kurds are not subjugated and silenced now, they might in fact be free soon.
The authorities keep saying that this is Turkey’s “struggle against terrorism,” and targets only armed terrorists that dig trenches or set up barricades. That is simply untrue. Entire Kurdish districts are being bombed and destroyed. Scores of civilians have lost their lives. People continue to find it nearly impossible to take the wounded to the hospital; ambulances are rarely allowed in areas under curfew.
On Dec. 21, 2015, for instance, 11-year-old Mehmet Mete was injured in his home by tank fire. His family took Mehmet’s wounded body—wrapped in a blanket in their arms—and ran through the narrow streets of Silopi with a white flag in their hands. But the military assaults were so intense that they were not able to make it to the hospital. Their child died. (See the video of his family’s struggle at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNmCdYwFM7Q.)
Even health personnel are targeted: On Dec. 30, Aziz Yural, a health worker at Cizre State Hospital and a board member of the Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services (SES), was shot in the head by special operations police while he was trying to help a wounded woman. He died from his wound.
Faysal Sariyildiz, a member of parliament (MP) of the HDP based in Sirnak, said that the population of Cizre, which recently numbered at least 120,000, has now dropped to around 20,000 following the start of curfews and military assaults.
The population of all of the Kurdish towns that have been exposed to a military siege is dropping tremendously. In December 2015, the Confederation of Village Guards and Martyrs’ Families claimed that at least 300,000 people had fled the region in the previous 3 months. The towns of Cizre, Silopi, and Sur, which have been under a military curfew for more than two months, have mostly been emptied.
People are not even allowed to bury their dead properly or on time. On Dec. 26, Hasan Sanir, 73, was murdered in his home in Silopi by Turkish armed forces. He was an imam at a local mosque. His son, Mahmut Sanir, said that the family stayed with Hasan’s body for nine days, but after Turkish forces ordered the residents to “evacuate their houses,” they evacuated immediately, leaving the body behind.
There are still families in Sur and Cizre who are waiting for Turkish authorities to allow them to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones from the streets, where they have been for the past 30 days or more.
Turkish state authorities claim that they attack Kurdish “terrorists” because they are terrorists. However, people demanding peace at anti-war protests are attacked and even murdered by the police.
According to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV), 8 Kurds were killed by arbitrary shooting from security forces during peaceful protests against the curfews in the streets or squares close to the curfew zones—where neither an ongoing operation was taking place, nor a curfew was imposed. (For more, see http://en.tihv.org.tr/recent-fact-sheet-on-curfews-in-turkey-between-the-dates-16-august-2015-5-february-2016/#_ftnref2.)
The massacres continue unabated. On Feb. 7, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, also known as TRT, reported that Turkish armed forces had conducted an operation in a basement in Cizre, resulting in “some 60 terrorists being neutralized.”
At least 30 people had been trapped in the basement of a building in the Cizre town of Sirnak for the past 16 days. Six of them have died due to blood loss. It has been days since contact was made with the wounded. (See http://www.kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/northkurdistan/turkishmedia60killedincizrebasement.html.)
The newspaper Cumhuriyet, quoting military sources, also reported that an operation was conducted targeting the basement where there were wounded people; five other basements were also targeted.
“About 30 dead bodies were found. They had been burnt to death. There are no signs of bullets on the bodies,” Faysal Sariyildiz, an MP of the HDP, said following the attacks.
The lawyer Emirhan Uysal, the head of the Sirnak branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD), attended the autopsies of four individuals and made a similar statement: “All of the dead had been burnt. There were no signs of bullets on them.”
TRT consequently retracted its report that claimed that those in the basements were “terrorists” and that they were killed in combat.
The truth is that there was already much evidence to the contrary. Photographs posted on social media showed that many bodies were completely burned and that many others were outright executions by the Turkish military. These are war crimes, and by deleting the story from the website, the TRT channel and the government hope to hide the criminal behavior that can put those in charge in jail.
Historian Draws Parallels
In an interview with Dicle News Agency (DIHA), Ayse Hur, a prominent Turkish historian, said that what is happening in Turkey today parallels the process of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
“In 1915, Armenians were also in a period of national awakening and expressed their political demands. But, things suddenly turned out to be the way they had never expected. In March, April, and May of 1915, a new period of tensions emerged. And that ended in deportations and genocide,” she said.
“The current situation in Turkey looks a lot like that process. Everything was going well between Turks and Armenians back then, and Armenians even entered the Ottoman Parliament in an alliance between the Dashnaktsutyun (the Armenian Revolutionary Federation) and the Turkish Committee of Union and Progress. The recent Turkish-Kurdish negotiation process resembled that alliance. It is significant to note that after the Armenian-Turkish alliance was formed, the Armenians were suddenly exposed to deportation and then genocide,” she added.
“Presently there is a government in Turkey that defines the Kurds as internal enemies,” said Hur. “The Turkish Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress (1889-1918), the Kemalist regime (1923-1950), and the Adnan Menderes government (1950-1960), including the rightist-conservative section of the society the Menderes government represented, also looked at the Kurds in the same way.”
“Many governments throughout the history of the Turkish Republic saw Kurds as a group that needed to be civilized. Those governments thought that if Kurds did not act in accordance with the criteria determined by the regime, that is, if Kurds did not speak Turkish, if they did not do their military service the way the regime wanted them to do it, if they did not approve of the central government as silent citizens, if they did not get Sunnified, or if they did not give up on going to Cem houses [Alevi places of worship], they needed to be punished. And if punishment was not sufficient, they needed to be annihilated,” said Hur, “We see that the same hatred and the same antipathy are still existent today, even if they are not openly expressed.”
A people’s demands for human rights and freedom are yet again violently being crushed by a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) army, but the West has been mostly silent. What kind of a world do we live in that legitimizes mass murder and extermination? What reason can there be for institutions like the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO to exist if not to defend the helpless against brutality?