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Mass murder in Cizre?

Tom Stevenson, IstanbulFebruary 12, 2016

The Turkish army has been accused of committing "mass murder" in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Cizre by the leader of one of the country's major political parties. Tom Stevenson reports from Istanbul.

Türkei Sicherheitskräfte in Cizre
Image: picture-alliance/abaca

Turkish security forces are currently locked in a brutal campaign against militants in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces, and have instituted round-the-clock military lockdowns in regional cities, including central Diyarbakir, Cizre, and Sirnak.

The accusations refer to an operation carried out on February 7 when security forces raided a building in the Cudi neighborhood of Cizre where dozens of wounded people were sheltering in the basement. Initial news reports from the state television broadcaster suggested that 60 people had been killed in the operation. The precise number of casualties is still unclear, with initial reports ranging from 10 to 30 to more than 60 killed.

"We believe that they have carried out a mass murder in Cizre and to cover it up they disclose it gradually everyday," said Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), on Thursday.

"They committed a massacre but they cannot announce it. They are scattering the dead bodies into side streets and ruined houses as if the dead bodies were already there," Demirtas added.

DW spoke to HDP MP Faysal Sarıyıldız, who has been in Cizre for the past two months, about the Cizre basements. According to Sarıyıldız, the death toll may be higher even than the upper estimates in the initial press reports.


He described how dozens of wounded had been trapped in three separate basements in the city by the security forces curfews, unable to receive medical treatment or even food from the outside.

people walking in destroyed town copyright: picture-alliance/AA/abaca
Along with Cizre, the south-eastern town of Sirnak has also been targeted by Turkish security forcesImage: picture-alliance/AA/abaca

"We knew there were more than 30 trapped in the first basement, and that seven had already died," Sarıyıldız told DW from Cizre, over the sound of gunfire. "Then there were another 110 in two other buildings. Since the army attacked these buildings we have seen 70 bodies, 39 from one of the basements and 31 from the two others, but frankly we believe that even more may have been killed," he said, adding that based on the evidence some sort of incendiary device may have been used "because many of the bodies were burned - they were totally unrecognizable they had been burned so badly."

Sarıyıldız said that he had personally seen nine of the burned bodies, and was conducting a fuller investigation but that he was currently being denied access to the state hospital by the Turkish army.

The office of the Cizre governorate was not available to comment on the incident.

The Firat news agency, a Kurdish news wire with links to the PKK, reported the response of Meliha Aktaş, the mother of Rohat Aktaş - one of the people trapped in the Cudi basement - to the news of the attack.

"They destroyed the basement where our children sought refuge, we haven't heard from our kids for the past week. We don't know if they're dead or alive. I don't want my children to die in that basement," she said.

"I call upon the prime minister; what would you do if your children were in that basement and you couldn't hear from them?"

Although Turkey's Interior Minister Efkan Ala today announced a "successful conclusion" of military operations in Cizre, 24-hour enforced lockdowns remain in place.

Upping the ante

Following the Cudi basements attack, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called an emergency security meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other leading cabinet ministers.

In its response to the operation, the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the umbrella organization of the Kurdish armed resistance, including the PKK, issued a statement in which it described the events in Cizre as showing a "genocidal mentality," and called for increased "resistance" against state forces.

Meanwhile Diyarbakir's besieged Sur district also experienced further deadly clashes, with three Turkish soldiers and one alleged PKK militant killed on Thursday. On February 10, hundreds marched in Diyarbakir at the funeral of Mohamed Bulak, a 16-year-old boy whom residents claim was killed by security forces.

destroyed houses Copyright: Murat Bayram
There appears to be no let-up to the fighting in DiyarbakirImage: Murat Bayram

According to the independent Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, the conflict has already claimed the lives of more than 224 civilians since mid-August.

The Turkish army claims to have killed more than 700 "terrorist separatists" since December.

Leaking across borders

Experts say that the conflict in the southeast is likely to exacerbate the crises in the wider region.

"Radicalization in southeast and the pressure of security policies co-exist simultaneously, however, there is an asymmetrical relation between security forces and trench groups," said Mehmet Alkış, a specialist on Kurdish politics in the Middle East region at Istanbul's Marmara University.

"In these conflicts, parties sometimes try to escalate conflicts and strengthen their positions. Government officials have declared that the campaign will continue in other cities and that may well lead to an even greater reaction and escalation of the conflict of all round," Alkış told DW.

The conflict in Turkey's southeast is connected to that in the wider Levant region, and has seen an increase in the severity of the violence that may be linked to that in Syria and Iraq. Alkış argues that peace will be hard to come by in Turkey so long as the government maintains its position on the Syrian Kurdish movement in the Syrian civil war.

"Now, both sides take a position with regard to the power configurations in the region. If Turkey can be persuaded by international actors to coexist with the Syrian Kurdish PYD, a peace process and ceasefire will start again, if not the conflict and tension in the southeast will be escalated."