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Cizre: Two Years On Still Waiting
“For 79 days, the people of Cizre witnessed an exceptional massacre in history. For the sake of a humane and free life, they lost their daughters and sons during the resistance. Yet they have not surrendered, and have not asked for mercy.” (The Cizre Report, April 17, 2016, Peoples’ Democratic Party [HDP])
Two years ago, starting on the 13 December 2015, the second siege of Cizre, the predominantly Kurdish town (Cizîr) in south east Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), located on the banks of the Tigris River close to the Syrian Border and with a 130,000-strong population, began. Heavily armed units of the Turkish military and paramilitary apparatus including heavy weapons (tanks, artillery and mortars) took up positions and another curfew was declared. This followed the nine-day curfew that had been in place in September 2015.
“The Cizre Siege and how it has been experienced is one of the most important social and economic consequences of the termination of the Peace Process. It revealed how precious peace was and how conflicts lead to irrecoverable damages in all parts of society.” (The Cizre Report)
During the course of the next 79 days many civilians were to die, some horrifically, while those outside were refused entry, the media blacked out and all appeals, both local and international, to the Turkish State to exercise restraint fell on deaf ears. This 79 day siege lasted until March 2, 2016. On 7 February, a large-scale operation was conducted in the Cudi neighbourhood and a number of residential buildings were hit by artillery shells. This was a prelude to what has now come to be known as “The Basements of Horror.”
When the smoke began to settle (nearly 3 months later), a number of reports began to make their way out of this devastated city to set in motion an international demand for accountability from the Turkish regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that has still not borne any results.
One of these, THE CIZRE REPORT, (April 17, 2016) compiled by the 4 HDP members who visited Cizre for 10 days after the blockade was lifted, interviewed witnesses and survivors and attempted to document the list of atrocities perpetrated during the siege. Here is the list from the Report summary published by Global Rights two years ago:
First they ordered all the schoolteachers out of the city.
Then they attacked with tanks and artillery.
State forces did not let anyone enter or leave the town of Cizre.
People were not able to leave their homes and had to stay there for days.
Electricity and water, the two basic necessities of life, were denied.
People were condemned to hunger and thirst.
People had to face freezing cold.
They could not use their electric heaters.
In fear of the state forces, people were afraid of lighting wood and coal burning stoves.
The Cizre State Hospital was taken and used by the state forces as a base.
It was impossible to procure medication during the siege.
Medical attention to the injured was prevented.
People seeking to assist the wounded were shot and killed by Turkish sniper fire.
The children’s school buildings were turned into military bases.
Buildings, streets and avenues in the city center were attacked by tanks, mortars and other forms of heavy weapons.
27 children were killed.
Terror. Fear. Panic.
Thousands of homes and businesses were burnt, destroyed and have become unusable.
Animals and fruit trees were destroyed.
Most of the chickens and roosters in the courtyards of people’s homes have been killed.
Witnesses say state forces left their faeces on couches, beds and blankets, plates and pots and in entryways.
Valuable items that belonged to household members were stolen.
The cemeteries in Kale neighborhood were demolished.
Sexist, offensive and humiliating writings left on walls.
Other hate speech was written on walls.
Torture and killing of cats and chickens.
Women directly targeted, tortured, abused.
20 women murdered.
Psychological warfare such as the circulation of a photograph of a tortured female body through social media.
State forces played nationalist songs praising ‘Turkishness’ via loudspeakers.
State forces spray paint the interiors of houses with racist and sexist slogans.
The “Turkish flag” hung from homes.
The burning down of the 450-year-old Seyidan Mosque.
Burning of photos and books related to Kurdish history and culture.
People’s homes were forcefully converted into military quarters and looted.
Kitchen appliances, TVs, refrigerators, cabinets, mattresses, etc. were shot at, broken.
Snipers trapped people in buildings.
People were massacred in the “Basements of Horror”.
176 corpses, including those of 25 children, were unearthed from the ruins of three buildings.
Soldiers threw bottles full of gasoline inside the buildings, which they then set on fire with lighters they threw in.
Evidence of the crimes soldiers and police committed was destroyed.
Turkish state official stated everyone killed was a “terrorist”.
Other voices (not in the Report) added:
Soldiers trapped people in burning buildings.
People were burned alive in the basements.
Bodies were decapitated.
Ammunition was left by the murdered bodies by Turkish soldiers.
Relatives were given piles of bones of their loved ones.
These are some of the details the Report complied.
“During the Cizre Siege, 251 people, including 176 who died in the basements of horror, were slaughtered mercilessly. Among the dead there were 27 children, 20 women, and 79 people who have not been identified yet.”
Now no matter what has happened since for the majority of Turkey’s citizens there still remains, reminiscent of the unspeakable cruelty of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, the massacres that took place now knows as the “Basements of Horror” where between 130 and 180 citizens seeking shelter were either burned alive or shot (with some of their corpses decapitated) despite having reached out (in one recorded instance via mobile phone) seeking help and assistance (“Desperate pleas were made by the people in the basements, some of whom were seriously wounded, but emergency personnel were blocked from entering the neighbourhoods by Turkish authorities.” Rudaw Media Network)
“While an average of 3 to 4 people were killed in Cizre on a daily basis up to the 41st day of the curfew, starting on January 22, 2016, security forces have staged attacks that qualify as massacres. Basements that housed civilians, including injured individuals, who had taken refuge from the attacks in town (which was within the knowledge of security forces) have been hit with tanks, mortars and other heavy weapons. These basements where citizens took refuge, and which exemplified the merciless behaviour of the state towards the injured have been named “basements of horror”… (The Cizre Report)
On the massacres in the ‘Basements’, Human Rights Watch had this to say:
“So far, the picture of what happened in the three basements is incomplete. The evidence suggests, however, that the basements were fully surrounded by the security forces at the time the alleged killings took place. Furthermore, the authorities have given no compelling explanation as to why it was not possible in these circumstances to detain individuals alive or to evacuate allegedly injured people and civilians who were among those sheltering in the basements. The government has not claimed that those sheltering in the basements violently resisted while being evacuated.
The picture of what happened after the alleged killings is also incomplete. Municipal workers told Human Rights Watch that they transported the bodies to the morgue in body bags after the military and police ordered them to collect the bodies from streets near the buildings where the three basements were located.
The municipal workers also said some of the bodies were burned, in some cases so charred as to be unrecognizable, and that others were missing limbs and heads. An imam who saw some of the bodies gave a similar account. Human Rights Watch also saw eight of the autopsy reports on the recovered bodies, which indicated that six bodies lacked body parts and four were burned. The autopsy reports note that such findings could be consistent with an explosion though it did not explain why some were partially “carbonized”, and in three cases determined people had been shot dead.
The Istanbul Forensic Medical Institute is conducting DNA testing to establish the identity of the dead. Of the around 130 people who died in the basements it remains unclear how many were civilians and how many were injured combatants. It is also unclear how many uninjured armed combatants had taken refuge in the basements.”
Despite the now-documented suffering of the children, women and men of this ancient town, old and young, and the many senseless civilian deaths, the Turkish Government has seen fit to ignore all pressure to hold responsible those accountable for this cold-blooded massacre of innocent people…
Instead: “State officials have claimed that everyone who was killed during the 79 day Cizre siege were “terrorists“. Even Prime Minister Davutoğlu has said that there were no civilians killed amongst those in Cizre. The fact that the AKP government has deemed babies and children “terrorists” is not new. In 2006, the prime minister of the time Tayyip Erdoğan made clear his opinion and the ultimate power given to state forces by saying that against those who were, ‘whether woman or child, necessary action will be taken.‘” (The Cizre Report)
Despite the Turkish interior minister announcing on February 11 that the security operations in Cizre had been successfully concluded, the curfew in Cizre was maintained until March 2.
“During this period a lot of demolition was also carried out in the town and rubble carried from the area in trucks to a site on the edge of the Dicle River. Lawyers and a forensic pathologist showed Human Rights Watch the decayed remains of a human arm discovered among the rubble dumped by the Dicle River and partially dug up again after children had buried it. That was also reported to the prosecutor and raises concerns that there may be other body parts and evidence among the rubble removed from the Cudi and Sur neighborhoods.” (Human Rights Watch)
Figen YÜKSEKDAĞ and Selahattin DEMİRTAŞ, (Co-chairs of Peoples’ Democratic Party):
“One hundred and seventy-eight bodies have so far been collected from the “Savage Basements” in the Cizre district of Sirnak. Yet, the family members who were asked to identify the deceased report that the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. Furthermore, bodies have been intentionally transported to various other cities in Turkey for autopsy procedures, which in turn have aggravated the suffering of the family members…The curfew in Sur has to be immediately lifted. This is the only way to prevent the recurrence of the Cizre Massacre, which, with its all cruelty, happened right in front of the world’s indifferent eyes.” (01 March 2016)
Who are the people who perpetrated these crimes against humanity? And why have they not been held accountable?
Will we ever know? Especially now since the Turkish assembly has granted amnesty to any soldier for acts committed during the assault on the Kurdish towns:
“In June, the government introduced a law making any prosecution of the military and public officials, including the police, engaged in counterterrorism operations dependent on administrative permission. The law effectively grants immunity from prosecution to the security forces for abuses committed in the recent operations in the southeast in violation of Turkey’s duty to investigate such abuses.” (Human Rights Watch)
Human Rights Watch:
“Concern that blocking the UN and local and international human rights groups from documenting the events in the region indicates efforts to cover up abuses and prevent accountability for serious crimes is compounded by parliament passing a new law on June 23. The law will require pre-authorization from the prime minister’s office or the local district governor’s office (depending on the rank of the implicated soldier or official) to investigate and prosecute soldiers and public officials alleged to have committed crimes in the course of counterterrorism operations. Similar frameworks tying the prosecution of public officials to administrative permission (Law No. 4483), and others introduced during the state of emergency in the southeast in the 1990s (Statutory decree No. 430), contributed to the systematic impunity enjoyed by security forces despite widespread violations of the most serious kind including extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and the unlawful destruction of thousands of homes.”
“THE WORLD’S INDIFFERENT EYES”
In December 2016, after many appeals to the international community, the
Council of Europe said:
“In a statement released on Friday, Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks called on Turkey to stop imposing curfews in the manner they are being used and to address human rights violations caused by counterterrorism operations in the country’s Southeast.
Sharing findings of two visits in April and September to Turkey and the country’s predominantly Kurdish-populated areas, which have been heavily damaged in antiterrorism operations conducted since August 2015, Muižnieks asked Turkey to “stop using curfews in such a manner, investigate all allegations of human rights violations by state agents in an effective manner.¨
…According to Muižnieks, the curfews imposed since August 2015 were based on administrative decisions that infringed on requirements of legality according to the Venice Commission.
…Criticizing the way the Turkish government undertakes investigations of complaints, Commissioner Muižnieks further said that investigations so far seem largely ineffective because they have not been immediate, diligent and thorough.
“I call on the government of Turkey to acknowledge publicly the mistakes and human rights violations,” the commissioner also said regarding the impact of the clashes in the Southeast.”
Amnesty International said:
“Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, expressed concern about the situation in Turkey’s southeast, particularly Cizre, and urged Turkey to allow his office access to the region, pointing to a lack of information on what exactly was happening in the mainly Kurdish cities and towns.
‘In 2016, to have such a lack of information about what is happening in such a large and geographically accessible area is both extraordinary and deeply worrying,’ Zeid said. ‘This black-out simply fuels suspicions about what has been going on. I therefore renew my call for access for UN staff and other impartial observers and investigators, including civil society organizations and journalists.’”
Human Rights Watch (July 16, 2016):
“The Turkish government is blocking access for independent investigations into alleged mass abuses against civilians across southeast Turkey, Human Rights Watch said today. The alleged abuses include unlawful killings of civilians, mass forced civilian displacement, and widespread unlawful destruction of private property. The government should promptly grant the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights permission to enter the area and investigate according to its standards.
‘The Turkish government’s effective blockade of areas of the southeast fuels concerns of a major cover-up,’ said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. ‘The Turkish government should give the UN and nongovernmental groups immediate access to the area to document what’s going on there.’
At least 338 civilians have been killed in places where security forces and the Civil Protection Units (YPS), the armed group linked to the PKK, have clashed.
‘Credible accounts of Turkish security forces deliberately killing civilians, including children, when they were carrying white flags or trapped in basements should be ringing loud alarm bells,’ said Sinclair-Webb. ‘The prosecutor in Cizre should conduct a full, effective, independent investigation capable of delivering justice for the victims.’
Despite these lone calls for accountability the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said:
“People of all ages, and especially women, have expressed during interviews their deep hurt at the public’s silence in the face of the state’s massacre of mostly injured civilians in the basements…”
Cizre is not a stranger to horror and brutality.
In the early 20th century the Armenian population of Cizre was estimated at around 3,000. In June 1915, as part of the Armenian Genocide, all
“…were arrested, tortured, and subsequently murdered. Many of the victims had their throat slit and were then thrown into the river Tigris. The women were deported on rafts towards Mosul. A few survived through the means of adoption by local Kurds; however, most were raped and/or drowned. The remaining Armenian population, located in the rural parts of Cizre, was massacred on 8 August 1915. Few managed to survive.” (Wikipedia)
DECEMBER 2017, CIZRE
Now, in December 2017, as the 2 year anniversary arrives, it appears that despite all the publicity in Turkey and abroad, despite the passing of this significant time of mourning, it seems there are still 16 families left without the remains of their dead to bury in a marked grave. 16 families without a grave to visit, or a lost loved-one to grieve over.
This, despite numerous requests from the families and the giving of DNA samples to Turkish authorities in order to retrieve and bury their dead..
It has now gone beyond sorrow and sadness…
Yet Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirm in his recent unannounced visit to Cizre, (while meeting with Turkish troops in Sirnak Province on November 17), has the bad taste to say:
“PKK terrorists will not harm this nation anymore, they will be eliminated soon…You can be sure of that as long as we keep our province, our country, our children and our future together. I hope we will have better days ahead of us,” he said.
We can only hope that Prime Minister Yildirm’s words will come back to haunt him (along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the whole AKP establishment currently convulsing the country in a nightmare of dungeons and perceived enemies) – like the ghosts of those violently murdered by this regime…
“It has been two years since the curfews in Cizre between December 15, 2015 and March 2, 2016, but many bodies have still not been accounted for. 16 out of the 130 people burned to death while they waited for ambulances in the basements they were trapped in have not been accounted for. The families have submitted blood and DNA samples various times through the Forensic Medicine Institution lawyers, but they haven’t received any response. The families have been trying for two years, and demand gravestones where they can mourn their children…..Families state that the bodies are in the area where public housing authority TOKİ construction is underway, and 3 bodies have been discovered on site to date. All legal appeals by the families to halt construction are rejected.”
We can only hope also, that the ghosts of these dead still unaccounted for and so unable to rest in this imposed Turkish ‘oblivion’, will still stand as an indictment to all those in power as well as a reminder that their time, too, is passing…
The 16 people who lost their lives during the curfew but still haven’t been accounted for are:
(“Hezne Aslan lost two of her children during the curfews, and still cries for another child whose body hasn’t been accounted for despite the two years that have passed. Aslan said the body of her son Sait has been discovered, but her daughter Hacer’s body hasn’t. She has submitted blood samples twice. Aslan said her daughter lost her life in the first basement…”)
and Osman Gökhan,
(“Taybet Gökhan, wife of Osman Gökhan whose body still hasn’t been accounted for, stated that her children want a gravestone for their father. Gökhan said her husband was listed in the first basement…Gökhan said many bodies had been lost in the rubble…”)
Hezne Aslan (mother of Hacer Aslan):
“I sometimes see my daughter in my dreams. The authorities must determine the fate of the bodies at once.”
Taybet Gökhan: (wife of Osman Gökhan)
“For the last two years, I relive those moments every day. I am waiting for my husband to turn up every morning with my 7 children…Before my mother in law passed away, she submitted blood samples. My son did too. But my husband still hasn’t been found.”
…And so, as another violent year comes to an end,
…despite all, our wishes:
May they rest in peace..