Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is extremely concerned by the ongoing violence between state security forces and the PKK in Turkey, urges an immediate resolution to the crisis, and a resumption of the peace process.
‘Both sides in the conflict need to declare a ceasefire before many more people lose their lives. The Turkish government must also turn the current dialogue with the PKK into official negotiations, with a view to resuming the peace process, and preserving a ceasefire,’ says Nurcan Kaya, MRG’s Turkey Project Coordinator.
In mid-July, the PKK announced that it was intensifying attacks over what it said were violations by Turkish security forces of the 2013 cease-fire, which had sustained hopes of ending a decades-long conflict. The violence worsened after a bombing in the south-eastern, mainly Kurdish town of Suruç on 20 July killed at least 30 people. Turkey then launched airstrikes against PKK bases within the country, and in northern Iraq, which the government claims is part of expanding its role in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.
As well as airstrikes, the Turkish government’s response to the crisis has been to conduct ‘counterterrorism raids’ across the country, as well as banning protests and blocking websites. According to media reports, Turkish forces regularly launch operations inside close-knit Kurdish neighbourhoods in the country’s south-eastern towns. Security forces have clashed with PKK youth movements in Silvan for instance, forcing shops to close and civilians to flee to avoid injury or death.
According to a report released by the Human Rights Association of Turkey, between 21 July and 28 August, 47 civilians have been killed and 2544 people have been detained. Only 136 of these were apprehended in connection with Islamic State, most of the rest were detained for being members of the PKK.
‘Despite having been found by the European Court of Human Rights to have violated the right to life many times, Turkey continues to conduct military operations in a manner which places civilians at grave risk,’ adds Kaya.
The report says 144 demonstrations have been banned or attacked by security forces, with 130 people injured in clashes. Kurds have been subject to racist attacks in towns throughout the country and access to 96 websites and news agencies has been blocked. As of 26 August, 130 areas have been declared by the state as ‘special security zones’, where there are limitations on travel and villages can be ordered to be vacated.
The hostilities are also playing out against a backdrop of political harassment by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led government against the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), following the June general elections. HDP gained 13% of the vote and 80 seats in the Turkish parliament, preventing the AKP from controlling a majority.
HDP is seen to represent Kurdish interests, and plays a critical role in peace negotiations with the PKK, but the party also includes MPs from Turkey’s other numerous but less visible minorities, such as Armenians, Ezidis, Alevis and Assyrians.
Since the elections, the human rights commission of HDP claims that 1620 members of the party have been detained. They include co-mayors from the towns of Hakkari, Sur, Silvan and Edremit, village headmen, members of district and provincial branches of HDP, minors, and students. In the last few weeks, 9 offices of HDP have been attacked.
Turkey’s election board has recently confirmed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s request for a new election, setting 1 November as the date for the poll.
‘Free and fair elections can only take place safely if the violence stops, attacks against HDP are prevented, and effectively investigated. The government needs to ensure that all of Turkey’s citizens’ right to vote and representation in political affairs is secured,’ says Nurcan Kaya.