AKP Kurdish policy deepens wounds

AKP Kurdish policy deepens wounds

Imagine clashes in the heart of the historic district of Istanbul that took place for four months. From Fatih to Çapa, from Süleymaniye to Samatya, imagine soldiers fighting an insurgency and knocking down the old town. That is practically what happened in Diyarbakir’s Sur. And that is why the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attack in Vezneciler last week means more than just a bombing.

“We have been hearing about this nationalization process of the land since 2006,” said one young man who owns a coffee shop in Kadıköy, Istanbul. “They came with bags full of money to buy our houses and land. Most people shrugged, they did not want to sell. So these guys affiliated with former AKP [Justice and Development Party] politicians left. We never thought they would wait for the fighting to begin.”

Diyarbakir’s Sur district has been practically bulldozed to the ground except for the historic mosque and the churches. The assassination of Tahir Elçi, the late head of Diyarbakir’s Bar Association, was the opening act in the mass deportation process. My intelligence source told me why Sur has a different significance among Kurds.

“Most poor people that found refuge in these small houses in Sur had come from the villages that were burnt during the 1990s military and security operations in the mountains. They began living there under very difficult conditions but it was at least a shelter. Now two decades later, they have to leave their homes in the heart of the city once again.”

According to local sources, if you do not have a phone or electricity bill under your name in Sur, the government automatically declares the right to take over your house. No explanation needed. Just like that, you will be out on the street with nothing. 

Mr. Mehmet Özhaseki, the urbanization and environment minister and once the mighty mayor of Kayseri, took a group of journalists to Diyarbakır over the weekend. For the “modernization and cleaning” of Sur, he offered a three-option plan for its citizens.

1) Turn in your land registry and the government may give you a house elsewhere in Diyarbakır, Mardin or even Istanbul;

2) Turn in your land registry and you may be reimbursed by the government;

3) You may be put into debt by the government in return for building a house that was already yours. That means paying for the land you own for 30 years.

All of these options practically signal one certain thing. The AKP government has officially deported the citizens of Sur out of their homes with absolutely no way of returning. This procedure is a copy-paste modern version of the “Orient Reform Plan” of the 1920s and the post-Dersim Uprisings. The AKP government in return is pledging to create a “Sur à la 2016” by spending almost 7.5 million Turkish Liras. All this would go to the pockets of construction companies and pro-government subcontractors to create a money scheme for the next election.

We had all thought that it was a joke when the very pro-AKP newspaper Star published the headline “TOKİ for the mission.” Now we see it was exactly to the point. War and deportation can really be a construction business. 

Mr. Özhaseki at least objectively admits the fact that all this may in fact backfire if other ministries and institutions do not implement policies that would win the hearts and minds of Kurds. After this post-modern mass deportation, those may be too little and way too late.