Sil­van, the ur­ban flash­point in Tur­key’s Kur­dish con­flict

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

DI­YARBAKIR: Tanks and ar­mored ve­hi­cles pa­trol the largely de­serted streets, snipers are sta­tioned on rooftops of bul­let-rid­dled build­ings. Shops are shut­tered and food is be­com­ing scarce as a cur­few en­ters its sec­ond week. Ur­ban war­fare has be­come the bloody new face of Tur­key’s Kur­dish con­flict in the flash­point south­east­ern town of Sil­van.

At least seven peo­ple, in­clud­ing two civil­ians and a po­lice­man, have been killed as Turk­ish forces bat­tle to wrest con­trol of three dis­tricts of Sil­van from mil­i­tants be­long­ing to the youth wing of the banned Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK). “There is no safety in the neigh­bor­hoods un­der cur­few. Peo­ple are scared of go­ing out be­cause they don’t know where the bul­lets will come from,” said lo­cal jour­nal­ist Ibrahim Bakhti­yar. “Peo­ple are get­ting shot even in the neigh­bor­hoods where there is no cur­few.”

The rebels dug trenches and set up road­blocks in Sil­van af­ter the Novem­ber 1 elec­tion that saw Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s party tighten its hold on Tur­key while the pro-Kur­dish Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP) was al­most voted out of par­lia­ment. Se­cu­rity forces re­tal­i­ated by im­pos­ing a strict cur­few and launch­ing sweep­ing se­cu­rity oper­a­tions in three neigh­bor­hoods of Sil­van, a provin­cial town of about 90,000 peo­ple. HDP law­maker Si­bel Yig­i­talp claimed that the Turk­ish forces were ran­domly shelling civil­ian homes in Sil­van. “If you are us­ing tanks in res­i­den­tial ar­eas, it means you have launched a war on your own peo­ple,” she said on Mon­day.

‘Risk of star­va­tion’

In the neigh­bor­hoods of Tekel, Mescit and Konak, scars of fierce street bat­tles are clearly ev­i­dent in bul­let-rid­dled build­ings. The streets are mostly de­serted, but strewn with rub­ble, shat­tered glass and rub­bish, with many res­i­dents holed up in­side their apart­ments. Mem­bers of Tur­key’s spe­cial po­lice units armed with ri­fles and ba­tons, some wear­ing masks, en­sure no one crosses them or makes an at­tempt to defy the cur­few.

A 45-year-old taxi driver was shot dead out­side a tea house on Mon­day and an el­derly man was wounded when his house was hit by a rocket. “Wit­nesses said the po­lice had started shoot­ing at the tea house out of the blue,” said Omer Onen, the co-chair of HDP’s Di­yarbakir of­fice. “There is no ac­cess to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, peo­ple are at risk of star­va­tion,” he said af­ter vis­it­ing the ar­eas un­der cur­few as part of an HDP del­e­ga­tion. “They didn’t give us any per­mis­sion to dis­trib­ute food.” On Tues­day a Turk­ish sol­dier was killed af­ter a tank fell on him in Sil­van, se­cu­rity sources said.

Ur­ban fight­ers

The PKK ini­tially took up arms in 1984 with the aim of es­tab­lish­ing an in­de­pen­dent state for Tur­key’s Kur­dish mi­nor­ity, al­though lately the de­mands have fo­cused on greater au­ton­omy and rights. As prime min­is­ter, Er­do­gan launched se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions with jailed PKK leader Ab­dul­lah Ocalan and a land­mark cease­fire was agreed in 2013. But the truce fell apart in July this year af­ter at­tacks on pro-Kur­dish activists blamed on Is­lamic State ji­hadists trig­gered a wave of tit-for-tat violence. Since then, a new gen­er­a­tion of ur­ban fight­ers has taken cen­tre stage in the con­flict, at­tack­ing se­cu­rity forces in cities with heavy weaponry, set­ting up street bar­ri­cades and dig­ging trenches.

The gov­ern­ment says more than 150 po­lice and sol­diers have been killed in at­tacks blamed on the PKK, most of them in cities, a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from the group’s em­pha­sis on fight­ing in ru­ral ar­eas. Cizre, a mainly Kur­dish town near the border with Syria and Iraq, be­came a sym­bol of the re­newed con­flict af­ter the army im­posed a con­tro­ver­sial nine-day cur­few dur­ing vi­o­lent clashes with the PKK youth wing in Septem­ber. Rights groups said 21 civil­ians were killed dur­ing the mil­i­tary lock­down but the gov­ern­ment says all the dead were “ter­ror­ists” and claimed killing up to 32.

In fresh fight­ing this week, a rocket fired by the mil­i­tants hit a pub­lic hos­pi­tal in Cizre, hit­ting the morgue and a dial­y­sis unit. An­a­lysts say Turks’ con­cerns about se­cu­rity were a ma­jor fac­tor in the Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP) win­ning back its ma­jor­ity in a ma­jor vic­tory for Er­do­gan, who has vowed to “liq­ui­date” the rebels. And in oper­a­tions un­leashed just a day af­ter the elec­tion, Turk­ish war planes pounded PKK tar­gets in the coun­try’s south­east and in north­ern Iraq, killing more than 30 rebels ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures. —AFP

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