On the night of 7 February, the official state media, TRT, raised doubts over a reported mass murder in Kurdish cities, where a curfew has been imposed for months. The news report claimed that security forces had been conducting a military operation in a basement floor in Cizre, which had been held by “terrorists” for 12 days, and that as a result of the operation 60 people were killed. Such developments show that the war carried out against the Kurds in Turkey has reached new levels.
President Erdoğan and his government ended a ‘peace resolution’ process and started a war, in which all kinds of heavy weapons have been used against the Kurdish movement’s efforts to build “self-rule” after the June 7 elections, last year. Following the curfew, which has been implemented for five months, a military operation was unleashed by police special operation forces and the military. In numerous districts, such as Sur and Silopi, the curfew is still going on. In Sur, a central district in Diyarbakır, the curfew is over two months old.
Hundreds of civilians, including women and children, have already been killed. Hundreds of buildings and houses have been destroyed or made uninhabitable. Tens of thousands of people had to flee their homes. Daily public services, such as education and healthcare, are defunct.
What is happening in Cizre?
Likewise the Cizre district of Şırnak has been turned into a wreckage, similar to Syrian war torn cities. On 23 January, on the 41st day of the curfew, a group of people (28 of whom were injured and who fled due to missile hitting their homes) took shelter in a basement floor. The following day, HDP (People’s Democratic Pary) representatives made demands to the Ministry of the Interior and immediately three of the injured were pronounced dead. Yet neither the injured nor the dead were taken out of the basement. HDP representatives staged a hunger strike in response, demanding their evacuation. The Şırnak governorship claimed that ambulances had been sent to but that the injured did not give any “positive reaction”. In the meantime, the Supreme Court announced the rejection of the HDP’s appeal on the basis of the fact that legislative and security rights of the injured were being violated and torture was used.
As the days went by, reaction to the increasing number of dead mounted. A team from the TTB (Turkish Medical Association) and SES (Union of Health and Social Service Workers) was denied entry to Cizre, under the accusation of being “activists”. Efforts by people who were trying to reach the basement floor were hindered and 11 people trying to access the basement with a white flag were taken into custody. Furthermore, despite of audio and visual records from the basement, the government falsely claimed that gun shots came from the basement towards an ambulance, and claimed “maybe there is no injured in the basement”.
After the TRT news report stating that “60 people were captured dead”, Prime Minister Davutoğlu immediately denied it and revised the number down to 10, based on the information that the local governor released. The TRT rapidly removed this news from its website. It is suspected that this correction was done due to the fear of a mass wave of indignation. In 2014, a revolt erupted, especially in the Kurdish areas, because of ISIS’ siege on Kobane and due to President Erdoğan’s role in encouraging it.
The co-chair of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, told his party: “For almost 20 days, Cizre has been the subject of atrocities. In spite of all the false information, here is the situation: on that street there are 70-90 people in a few buildings. Most of them are civilians. Some of them are university students who are there for solidarity, and some of them are people from Cizre. For 20 days, special operations forces are attacking them with tanks and cannon, 24 hours a day. There is no ‘conflict’. Those buildings are shot ex-parte. There are some citizens who have made calls from those buildings. ‘There are injured civilians here’, they say; ‘we want to get out’, they say; ‘they start to shoot the second we try to reach out to the window’, they say...
Demirtaş added: “Our opinion is that all of those people were murdered. They [the state] don’t explain it. We had explained that they were alive. There are 32 minutes of recordings. They went live on TV. They were alive. Now they [the state] made a mass massacre and they can’t explain it. They are trying to obscure it. The military operation is over in Cizre but they deliver bodies to the streets. They deliver bodies killed by mass murder in demolished buildings, they were killed right there.”
Danger of civil war
It seems that the government has managed to cover their murders by reacting rapidly and barred a possible explosion of discontent, for now. But, at the same time, it is also clear that the AKP government is stuck in a swamp in the Kurdish cities. Government officials have been stating that the five-month-operation was planned to be a Blitzkrieg, short but effective. However it was not as short as planned. And the latest Cizre incident points out that explosive discontent is accumulating in the country.
The working class in the western part of Turkey has been under the influence of strong nationalist propaganda since June, and this has come to a dangerous stage. A large part of society prefers to turn their heads away and pretend that such incidents do not happen. Some support the state and have a Turkish nationalist approach. For the moment, only socialists and parts of the left actively oppose those government’s policies and they are overwhelmed by state pressure. The one-sided, manipulative and demagogical language of the media continues to fuel nationalism and hatred. It is in this kind of climate that saw Kurds in the west facing violent attacks last September.
However the hope that the government will, at some point, sit down and re-start negotiations with the Kurds still exists amongst many of them. This is one of the reasons why an ethnic civil war has not yet erupted. This is also why the Kurds did not go for an all-out revolt, like the Kobane-related revolt on 6-7 October, in spite of all the attacks they have been victims of. The fact that the HDP and the Kurdish movement are still holding the door open for negotiations, even in their most radical speeches and during the most brutal incidents of state repression, is another reason for this patience. However, massacres like Cizre, and the prolonged military operations, will change this attitude drastically in the Kurdish cities.
An interview of a mother of a shooting victim at Cizre, carried on 10 February in the Cumhuriyet newspaper, reveals the level of atrocity, disappointment and anger: “They are all gangsters engaged in a dirty war. We screamed for peace but from now on I don’t want peace anymore. What did those people in the basement do to deserve attacks with tanks and chemical weapons? And they [the state] put their [the dead] pictures on the internet, just to torture us. They are torturing the people… We don’t want peace any more, the more we burst for peace, the more they overrun with tanks and cannon, and they burnt our children, now it is time for war.”
The country has turned into a cluster of two clouds, one in the east and one in the west, which are getting charged day by day and have a high risk of collision. It is certain that the only winner of this collision would be Erdoğan and the magnates he represents.
The Turkish working class has no interest in the Kurds getting deprived of their democratic and civil rights. On the contrary, they have to unite with the Kurdish workers and poor against state pressure and exploitation. For that it is necessary for the Turkish workers to back the Kurds’ democratic demands, and for the Kurds to consciously appeal to their class brothers and sisters in the west, with the aim of building a joint struggle against Erdoğan’s state rampage and anti-worker economic policies. The current anti-Kurds operations will be a threat for everybody in the future. Considering the level of danger we are facing, in spite of all the pressure and the complicated situation which we have inherited from, there is no other way out than by the building of a united front based upon the unity of the working class and all the oppressed. What happened in Iraq and Syria has major lessons and warnings for the working class of Turkey. The choice is between a common and equal struggle against the capitalist system, or chaos, civil war and more state violence.