Police and Kurds clash in Diyarbakir

Police and Kurds clash in Diyarbakir

Karasanserai Diyarbakir before the conflict. Much of the Unesco World Heritage Site has been destroyed. Source: Wikimedia

Police have harshly cracked down on groups who tried to break a months-long curfew in six neighbourhoods of the Sur district in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir following a call from pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş.

Protesters faced water canon, teargas and plastic bullets and 33 people were arrested. Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast has suffered its most intense violence in two decades since a ceasefire between the authorities and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fell apart in July, ending a three-year peace process and reviving a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people since 1984.

Last August, Kurdish activists announced administrative autonomy for the old town of Sur and in other parts of the region.

Ankara, uneasy about more Kurdish autonomy similar to the areas on the other side of the borders with Syria and Iraq, responded with violence. Hundreds of militants, security forces and civilians have died since the summer.

Curfews were imposed across the region, with most of Sur put under lockdown since December 3 as the authorities move to drive the Kurdish militants from urban areas. The PKK responded by digging trenches and establishing checkpoints.

Entire neighbourhoods have been flattened.

Human rights groups, NGOs, trade organisations and MEPs have asked Ankara to suspend the curfew and set up a humanitarian corridor so civilians trapped inside war-torn areas of Sur can leave.

Diyarbakir’s governor, Hüseyin Aksoy, agreed to suspend bombardment for 90 minutes while the police with loudspeakers ordered everyone to leave.

“My brothers are afraid to come out, they don’t trust the police not to kill them,” said resident Mehmet Karatay. “Why should they surrender? They are civilians, their houses are there. They did not want to abandon them because they were afraid of losing everything they have. They never thought that this siege would go on for this long, none of us thought that it would get this bad.”

Residents, trapped in the crossfire, are the main victims. The HDP estimated that 290 had been killed across southeast Turkey since because of the curfews since August. “It’s hell here,” says a young police officer, standing guard at a checkpoint. “I have been here for three months, since the beginning of the curfew, in mud and ice. They killed many of our brothers.”

Many Kurds in Diyarbakir say they are being punished for Kurdish success in Syria, where the Turks have failed to convince western allies to label the YPG, the PKK’s Syrian sister group, as terrorists. But Sur residents also blame the PKK for bringing their fight into urban areas.

“I am very angry at the PKK. Why did they bring the war to our doorstep? If these militants wouldn’t have dug the trenches, if they wouldn’t have started this autonomy business, the police would have never come here,” said a minibus driver, 35, from Bingöl. “We are the only ones suffering now. I believed in the Kurdish cause before, but I voted for the AKP [the ruling party] in November. I’m fed up.”

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