Village of 500 in Kurdish area suffers abuse
ISTANBUL – Allegations of major human rights violations have emerged from Koruköy, a village of perhaps 500 in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast that’s been under military blockade since February 11.
“Five helicopters and lots of soldiers came to the village and we heard them come into our neighbors’ homes,” Newal Aygül (not her real name), a Koruköy resident told The Media Line, speaking secretly over the phone.
“They took nearly all of the men out of the village, and some of the women. We don’t know where.”
Soldiers cut off access to and from Koruköy, confined the villagers to their homes, and reportedly took all of their telephones, though Aygül managed to hold on to hers.
She says soldiers have abused the villagers, harassed the women and scared the children.
“My husband was beaten by soldiers in front of our children. They also took him to the village square in front of the neighbors and beat him there,” Aygül said.
“I saw soldiers beating a boy, maybe 15 or 16, just for using his phone, maybe because of the sounds or pictures. Then they took him and dunked him in the well.”
Their livestock, crucial for their rural livelihood, have died.
“All the animals died because the soldiers don’t let us take them out. ‘If you let them out, we’ll kill you,’ they tell us,” Aygül says.
Water was cut off for two months until recently being turned back on, and Aygül thinks dirty well water made many villagers ill.
“There are lots of children here, and probably most are sick. We don’t know how to treat them. There’s an ambulance, but when we take them there, the doctors and nurses don’t care for them properly.”
The Mardin Governor’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Koruköy, denies any abuse has occurred. Publicly, it says the military operations aim to “neutralize the terrorists” and arrest collaborators.
The Turkish government has been fighting a four-decade-long war against the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.
Fighting restarted after a two and a half year ceasefire was broken in July 2015, and since then intense urban and rural warfare has left entire cities in ruins and 2,571 dead, including at least 385 civilians, according to Crisis Group. Activists say major human rights violations have been committed by both sides.
Aygül’s claims of abuse in Koruköy have been echoed by others in the region.
Gülseren Yoleri, a lawyer with the Turkish Human Rights Association (İHD), was barred from entering Koruköy with a delegation, but talked to several local residents who made similar claims of abuse.
“We are of the opinion after combining our information that there’s a high possibility of torture, killings, and houses being burned down,” Yoleri told The Media Line.
“One witness told us they put some people in a yard and tortured them. Some women saw this torture and had a heart attack or fainted,” Yoleri says. “More than one witness told us [soldiers] set some houses on fire.”
She also says detainees’ legal rights are being violated.
“Lawyers are saying they’re prevented from meeting with people in custody.”
Photos shared on social media claim to show dead bodies and abuse.
Member of Parliament from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP, a secularist party that is the largest in opposition) Sezgin Tanrıkulu shared one picture of a badly beaten man from Koruköy with Parliament.
“We researched whether or not it’s real and found that the subject (in the photo) is in the Mardin State Hospital,” Tanrıkulu told The Media Line.
A delegation from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was also barred entry into the village.
“What is it that they’re trying to hide there?” HDP assembly member Ayşe Berktay said to The Media Line.
She says the government is giving them almost no information.
“We are very worried and we are very angry about this.”
Berktay says 38 people have been detained and two are missing. There are also reports of deaths.
On Monday, she declared that, “three bodies were taken to the morgue in Mardin. We do not know who they are yet.”
The Mardin Governor’s Office issued a statement later in the week saying that four high level PKK members had been killed. On Wednesday military operations and curfews expanded into two more villages in the region, Doğanlı and Kuyular.
Tensions with large segments of Turkey’s Kurdish population have been high since the resumption and escalation of the conflict.
This week Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the pro-Kurd HDP party, who was already under arrest was sentenced to five months in prison for “insulting” the Turkish people and state. The other co-chair, Figen Yüksekdağ, also in custody, lost her Parliamentary seat for attending the funeral of a PKK fighter.
Eleven other HDP MPs, comprising the core of the party’s leadership, have also been in custody since November, and the party says 5,471 of its members and supporters have been detained and 1,482 arrested in recent months.
“I don’t find it right that any parliamentarians be arrested,” says CHP MP Tanrıkulu, who says it’s against the constitution.
Turkish journalist and public policy fellow at the Wilson Center Amberin Zaman says this crackdown against the pro-Kurdish HDP and other Kurdish elements sends a message that peaceful politics don’t work and that “Turkish attitudes and the Turkish state are rigidly opposed to granting the Kurds constitutionally enshrined political and cultural rights.”
“The blotting of all expressions of Kurdish identity–from removing Kurdish language signs in municipalities in the southeast to the shuttering of the Kurdish Institute in Istanbul – suggest that this is not only about the PKK and its affiliates. It’s a reaffirmation of the long held establishment view that Turkey belongs to the Turks,” Zaman told The Media Line.
Harun Armağan, a spokesperson for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), says the crackdown against the HDP is for security reasons and has nothing to do with being anti-Kurdish.
He explained to The Media Line that, “Not all HDP politicians are terrorists, however it’s obvious that some MP’s have significant ties with [a] terrorist group and even do propaganda for it.”
“It would be absurd and wrong to claim that the state has become anti-Kurdish.”