'Europe, we don't hold our breath for you anymore'
As the Turkish military bombarded parts of its own cities in the mainly Kurdish southeast of the country in January 2016, I was moderating a panel in a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.
After welcoming the audience that included parliamentarians, I called Mehmet Tunç, who was sheltering in a basement in the southeastern town of Cizre from fighting between the youth wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkish troops backed by tanks and artillery.
I connected my mobile phone to the microphone in the room. Tunç said:
This is certainly a tragedy in Cizre. Twenty-eight people were injured in a house in Cizre, five of the wounded died of blood loss. There is no water left. We leave the building to get water and are shot by snipers. We cannot exit. The four-storey building has been completely destroyed with mortar attacks. I am inside that building now. The situation is critical. That’s why I am calling on our friends there. Please stop this savagery. You are strong enough to stop this massacre in Cizre. You are strong enough to warn the AKP government and lift the siege on Cizre. Failing that you will also become accomplices to the massacre here.
European Parliament members listened, but did nothing for the people trapped in the Cizre basements.
Ten days after the conference, on Feb. 8 2016, Tunç was burnt alive with others. More than 150 people were burnt to death in the Cizre basements. The European Parliament watched the deaths of the people, who appealed to them, who asked for help.
The Sur district of my hometown Diyarbakır was among the areas under bombardment by the state between December 2015 and March 2016. Human rights associations and activists asked the European Parliament and European countries to do something to stop the bombardment, the military curfew and the other pressures.
Again we waited. No one came. Half of Sur, the historical centre of Diyarbakır, more than 5,000 years old, was totally destroyed.
Curfews and military operations were launched in the southeastern towns of Nusaybin, Şırnak and Yüksekova soon after. I visited these cities after the curfews were lifted. Half of Nusaybin and Yüksekova were totally destroyed. There were dead bodies under the rubble. Mothers were looking for the bodies of their children. Şırnak was the worst. After eight months of curfew, 70 percent of the city was totally destroyed. Eight of the city’s 12 districts do not exist anymore. I was shocked. I could not find familiar places. I could not find the city centre. It was hard for me to believe I was in Şırnak.
There were a few voices of protest from the European Union, the United Nations and some European countries. That is it. Again we waited. No one came, nothing happened.
Everything got worse after the July 15 coup attempt. Just five days after, a state of emergency was declared. It still continues. The country is governed by decrees that have the force of law. The government has used the coup and emergency rule to stifle all opposition. More than 150,000 have been fired from their jobs, over 50,000 people have been imprisoned. Nearly 2,000 civil society organisations have been closed, 177 media outlets, television stations, newspapers have been shut down. More than 150 journalists and writers were jailed.
In the Kurdish region, it is worse. State administrators were appointed to replace pro-Kurdish elected mayors in dozens of municipalities. Almost all Kurdish media, even the Kurdish children’s channel, have been shuttered. Thousands of Kurdish teachers were fired from their jobs. Kurdish mayors and parliamentarians have been put in prison. Political access for Kurdish people has been closed.
Again we waited. No one came, nothing happened.
Turkey’s parliament is out of work. Its legislative function has been shut down. The channels for democratic opposition have been totally closed. Critical voices are silenced each day. Turkey is now a big prison, especially for those who demand peace, democracy, justice, freedom and equality.
The country has been divided into two: supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the rest. Those who do not support AKP policies are no longer citizens in the eyes of the state. To be honest, I am not sure if Turkey is a state anymore. The new Decree 696 grants immunity to civilians who “fought against last year’s coup attempt and terrorist acts that follow it”. The decree has been interpreted to mean that some armed civilians who kill people labelled as terrorists will not be prosecuted. It is the end of the modern state and this takes us back to primitive times, a state of nature where one person may kill another without consequences.
We, the citizens of Turkey, who criticise AKP policies, can easily be declared terrorists. We can be killed, we can be put in prison, and we can be forced to leave the country. Even in taxis, if you criticise President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, you can be reported and police can raid your house. There are many examples like this in Turkey. It seems it will be hard to find anyone left to struggle for peace, democracy, freedom and justice in this country in a few years.
Europe is still watching the cruelty committed against supporters of peace, democracy and freedom.
We are not waiting anymore. We know we really are alone.