‘Democracy has already left Turkey’

Ahval news and the Centre for Turkey Studies (CEFTUS) hosted a joint panel discussing Turkey in light of the latest developments unfolding in its troubled region.

Nurcan Baysal, Ahval columnist, was one of the panelists. Here is the text of her talk:

I am a Kurdish activist and a writer coming from Diyarbakır.

Today I would like to briefly talk about the situation in the Kurdish region of Turkey.

Let me begin by telling you about our experiences as Kurds in the last three years in Turkey.

The peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party collapsed in July of 2015. In August of 2015, clashes began in Kurdish cities. This time though, the clashes were in the city centres, a characteristic that was different from what typically happened in the past 30 years. The state declared military curfews in Kurdish cities. At the beginning, these were curfews that lasted for a couple of days. After a while, the curfews became regular and month-long.

When the governor’s office would declare a curfew, bombardment would begin. Days went on under bombs and gunfire. No one could enter the curfew area. People in the curfew areas were trapped in their houses; as they continued their life with the limited food and water they had stockpiled before the curfew. Although people didn’t even go outside, they still died inside their homes as shrapnel hit their houses. The state did not even allow families to bury the dead bodies. In some cities, like Cizre, mothers put the dead bodies of their children in their refrigerators to prevent them decomposing. In some curfew areas, people carrying white flags to leave the area or to bury dead bodies were also shot. In my hometown Diyarbakır, dead bodies remained in the streets for months.

We witnessed terrible human rights violations and war crimes.

Unfortunately the Turkish media and international community have closed their eyes to the ongoing war and war crimes in our region.

After the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, a state of emergency was declared. The government has used emergency rule to stifle all opposition. Hundreds of thousands of people have been fired from their jobs or arrested without reason. Civil society organisations and media outlets have been closed. More than 170 journalists and writers have been imprisoned. Turkey remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

The situation in the Kurdish region of Turkey is even worse. Kurdish mayors have been imprisoned and state administrators have been appointed to replace the elected Kurdish mayors. Almost all Kurdish media, even the Kurdish children’s channel has been shut down. Kurdish civil society organisations were closed by the government on allegations of supporting terrorist groups. Thousands of Kurdish teachers and doctors were fired from their jobs in the region (accused of having links with Kurdish militants). All political access has been cut off for Kurdish people. Hundreds of Kurdish politicians and activists have been detained. Even the co-chairs of the HDP have been detained. There is a constant threat of detention of Kurdish people. Every morning we regularly check to see who has been detained.

With these policies, the government is sending a message to the Kurdish people. They have closed all political access to Kurdish people in this country. How can the young generation believe that there is a legal way to gain rights for the Kurdish people?

After two years, in July 2018, the state of emergency was lifted. During these two years, 36 statutory decrees were issued. At least 126,000 people were fired from their jobs and at least 220,000 were arrested.

All of the institutions, especially the judiciary, armed forces, universities and media structures were no longer independent. Everything revolves around just one man, just one voice.

Before lifting the state of emergency, the government passed a law on July 25 that effectively extended the state of emergency for at least another three years. With amendments made in many law articles including those within the Turkish Anti-Terror Law, the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations and the Law for Provincial Administration; the state of emergency effectively continues in Turkey.

The state of emergency has never ended in Turkey, it has continued as a permanent situation.

Due to the results of last June elections, the new laws replicating state of emergency special provisions and Turkey’s offensive policies against Kurds in Rojava and Iraq, despair dominates the Kurds in Turkey. Kurds have no expectations from the Turkish state.

Today, if you go to Kurdish cities, you will see police barricades in front of municipal buildings, police stations and official buildings. You will see tanks, armoured vehicles, police, and soldiers with heavy weapons in the streets.

You will see demolished cities and homeless people. You will see people living in tents in the rural areas of Şırnak and Hakkari. You will see thousands of teachers, doctors, academics, writers and journalists out of work. You will see check points everywhere. Inside the prisons, you will see four to six people trying to sleep in one bed because of how crowded it is.

You will enter Şırnak, Cizre, Nusaybin as if you were passing border control into a different country.

Today it is even hard to bury your loved ones if you are a Kurd in Turkey. The state does not give permission to bury members of Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

The curfews continue in different rural parts of the region and in the heart of my city.

All of these changes have happened in three years. Democracy has already left Turkey.

Let me finish with the words of a young Kurdish man from Silvan (called Farqin in Kurdish) during the military curfew:

“It is burning right next to us… The youths of Cizre are dying, the youths of Farqin are dying, the youths of Bismil are dying. Are they not worth anything? Today Farqin is standing up for everyone. But no one is standing up for Farqin. We will not forget this. We swear on the blood of our martyrs that we will not give up our struggle. Our sisters are dying today. Our brothers are dying today, our brothers. We are not even worth a tree today? (a reference to the Gezi protests). For a tree in Istanbul everyone stood up. We have now been under the rain of bullets for seven days. There is nothing here. No bread, no food… Are we not human beings? We are human, human!

… Why are people not supporting us? … They are attacking us with snipers, with tanks. It is unbearable. Someone hear our voices. Where are you revolutionaries? Where are you spiritual ones? Where is the European Court of Human Rights?… It is enough. We are dying. Is it because we are Kurds? They are killing us every day, in every place … enough.”

We’ve had enough!