Kurds insist on peace, but don’t keep their hopes up

Kurds insist on peace, but don’t keep their hopes up

Life was at a standstill yesterday in Diyarbakır, the biggest city and de facto political capital of the southeastern region, after the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) made a call to protest the security operations in Sivan and Lice districts. All shops were closed, buses and taxis were not working, and only a few people were on the streets.

A shop owner sitting in front of his shut down grocery said it was the least “[he could] do to show solidarity with the people” in the two districts.

An indefinite curfew declared on Aug. 24 was still in place in Silvan district Aug. 26, as police operations in four neighborhoods home to the two-thirds of the district’s population continued. Journalists were not allowed into the operation area and it was not possible to hear a word about the situation in those neighborhoods.

Neighboring Lice was like a ghost town, with people staying in their homes unless there was an emergency.

Although the police and soldiers were not visible in the district, locals said there were frequent home raids at night to detain “terror suspects,” often using disproportional force. A local police official acknowledged that there might be some problems during raids, since “our officers are devastated because their colleagues have been killed and they might act emotional.”

Communication in both districts was a major problem. There was no cellular service and municipal officials in Silvan said even landlines went off time to time, making using the Internet impossible.

This is part of the picture in the southeastern region that has become once again a circle of violence, since after June 7 elections President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the peace process was off the table and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) restarted attacks on security officers. 

Many Kurds believe the situation is the result of Erdoğan’s personal decision, and perceive it as “the palace’s war” and not as a state policy as it was in the past. Many mayors in the region have been detained and arrested in the last couple of weeks, prompting reactions among the locals for “violating our right to choose.”

Hundreds of people are at a campsite near Lice in the middle of a clash zone between soldiers and PKK militants. One of them, 80-year-old Sakine Arat, put it straight. 

“Being born to a Kurdish mother is the only thing we are guilty of,” she said. We want to live as human beings from now on. “We have no more patience, either exterminate us or give us our rights.”

Locals, politicians, and even some state officials in Diyarbakır highlighted the need for urgent peace, but so few were hopeful that the guns could silence soon.

“The situation can easily get out of hand, and reach a point where even a central decision to calm things down may not be enough,” said Diyarbakır co-Mayor Fırat Anlı.

A major concern for the people in the region is the anger of the Kurdish youth, who have been the main force behind the clashes in the town centers. 

A local journalist, who traveled to all tense towns, said the group of young people in districts such as Silvan, Silopi, Cizre were equipped with heavy weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) systems. 

“Many say they are members of YDG-H [Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, the youth wing of the PKK], but they recognize no authority, not even that of Kandil,” he said. “The only voice they will listen to is Apo [Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK].”

Raci Bilici, head of the Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Diyarbakır branch, noted the same concern.

“Our generation knows how to sit at a negotiation table, how talks should be carried out,” he said Aug. 26.

“If the current state polices of denial continue, nobody can control these young people.”

The atrocities of the military junta in Diyarbakır prison after the Sept. 12 1980 coup d’état created the environment where the PKK flourished in. 

The children raised in the southeast in the 1990s, when hundreds were killed in unsolved  murders and the security forces did not shy from setting villages and forests on fire or forcing villagers to eat shit (literally), grew up with an anger that we are paying for today.

If another generation of children grows up under the shadow of weapons, whether they belong to the security forces or the militants, we will lose the now-slim chances of achieving peace in the country for good.