Tanks and house-to-house fighting as Turkey fights the PKK in cities

Teargas wafts over the police checkpoint, as helicopters clatter over the roofs of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey. Shots can be heard as the security forces battle fighters of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

A 24-hour curfew has been in force in much of the Old City since December 2, with only a brief interruption.

Earlier this year, the Turkish government and the PKK were engaged in peace talks, but now conditions characteristic of a civil war prevail in much of south-eastern Turkey, where hundreds have been killed since July.

Fighters from the PKK's youth wing, the YDG-H, dig trenches, erect barricades and battle the security forces.

Apart from Sur - Diyarbakir's Old City that was made a World Heritage Site in the summer - curfews have been in force in four other areas over the past week.

According to army sources, dozens of PKK guerrillas have been killed. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has pledged to combat the PKK "district by district, house by house and street by street."

"The people in these houses are civilians, not terrorists," says Abdusselam Inceoren of the IHD human rights group in Diyarbakir.

He sees the curfews that last for days as illegal and accuses the security forces of human rights violations. "They are deploying rockets and tanks. They pay no heed to women, children and the elderly."

"These attacks are aimed at the Kurdish people," Inceoren says. He is astounded that there has been no reaction from the European Union, which has not even condemned the violence.

EU criticism of Turkey - a candidate for accession and a member of NATO - has been muted since Ankara has been courted as a partner in dealing with the refugee crisis that Europe is facing.

Angry police officers prevent anyone from approaching the entrance to the Sur area under curfew, and the army has stationed armoured vehicles on the access roads.

Journalists are temporarily detained. Security forces in civilian clothes carrying automatic rifles refuse to be photographed. The atmosphere is palpably tense.

The garbage has not been collected for days. A black flag flies over the municipal offices, which are dominated by the pro-Kurdish HDP.

Almost all the businesses are closed, with the traders standing around in groups. Kurdish residents refuse to provide their names if they talk to the press out of fear of the authorities.

"I don't care about the lost business, but in there humanity is dying," one says pointing to the area cordoned off by the security forces. "They're enjoying life in western Turkey, while people are dying in the east."

Serdil Cengiz, a 21-year-old student, was shot dead by security forces during a protest against the Sur curfew that turned violent on Monday last week. At his funeral, a relative insisted that the bullet had been aimed directly at his head.

He rejected police reports that Cengiz had been armed at the time. "The state killed him," the relative said. He accused the government of perpetrating a "massacre" of Kurds, whom they saw as little better than animals "We are not even second-class citizens."

A day after Cengiz and another protestor died, the PKK detonated a bomb in the town of Silvan, some 80 kilometres away from Diyarbakir, claiming the lives of three policemen. Armoured cars are now patrolling the road to the town.

The authorities have imposed six curfews in Silvan since August. In some parts of the town, entire streets look like war zones, with bullet holes in every wall and many buildings damaged by heavy weapons.

"We had no electricity, no water, no mobile phone reception, no phones and no internet," a baker says, charging that snipers were targeting civilians trying to clear bodies from the streets.

"Doesn't the EU know that the government is attacking the people with tanks? Why don't they intervene?" another resident asks.

A neighbour adds: "The police have even shot cows and dogs. What crime did they commit? It merely demonstrates their hatred."

Graffiti on the walls left by the special forces read: "If you are a Turk, be proud. If not, obey." Residents of the town have begun to paint over the slogans and to repair their homes.

Hamdiye Bilgic of the Silvan town council says that 800 houses have been damaged, with 100 of them uninhabitable. Over 13 days, eight civilians were killed by the security forces, she says.

Like many other Kurds she expresses understanding for the YDG-H fighters, whom the government sees as terrorists.

"They are merely people defending themselves," Bilgic says, noting that during the fighting in the 1990s government forces killed hundreds of people in Silvan.

"Those fighting now are their children," she says, adding that she does not believe that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants peace.

"He merely says that. Imagine a country that uses tanks against its own citizens," the town councillor says. "This is the start of a civil war."

Last update: Sat, 19/12/2015 - 13:40

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