Children: The smallest victims of Turkey’s Kurdish peace process failure

A peace process to solve the three-decade conflict between the Turkish military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) came to an abrupt halt in the summer of 2015.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) began the process 2.5 years before. Its end killed hopes that Turkey would finally reconcile with its Kurdish community, constituting roughly 15 percent of the country’s population. It also laid the ground for a spate of further injustices against the ethnic group that continue until today.

A report written by Ebru Ergin and Ezgi Koman of the Ankara-based NGO Fisa Children’s Rights Centre sheds light on the plight of Kurdish children, the smallest victims of the collapse of the peace process.

A total of 123 children were killed in Kurdish-majority cities in Turkey’s east and southeast between 2015 and 2020. Many children living in conflict zones experienced psychological side effects, according to the study entitled, “Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Role of Art in Providing Psychosocial Help to Children During Times of Conflict”.

Violence in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish areas surged after the ceasefire collapsed. Heavy fighting between Turkish forces and groups affiliated with the PKK left some urban centres in Turkey’s southeast in ruin, with civilians trapped in their homes under strict curfews, some of which continue until today.

Thousands of children were displaced during the clashes and then denied their basic rights, including schooling, according to the study. Some two million people were affected by the violence, Ergin and Koman said.

A total of 381 curfews were implemented in 11 provinces and 51 towns across Kurdish majority regions during the rekindled conflict, they said, citing a report by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

Clashes between the PKK and the Turkish security forces were concentrated in the Sur district of the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. Twenty-seven percent of the historic quarter’s resident children were separated from a parent during the clashes, while 15 percent were separated from both, according to the report.

The renewed conflict displaced as much as 15.4 percent of Sur’s children, while up to 80 percent had to either move or change schools. Over 70 percent changed schools twice or more.

The 7,000 -year-old district of Sur was effectively destroyed, and has been reduced to a shell of its former self over the last seven years, through an urban transformation project that has left local residents with no traces of the neighbourhoods they knew, Nurcan Baysal, a columnist for Ahval, said in February.

Parks and spaces for children were destroyed in Sur, along with 3,569 buildings out of a total of 4,985, Ergin and Koman said.

In the neighbouring Şırnak province, at least 78 children lost their lives during the rekindled conflict. Minors comprise nearly half of the province’s 500,000-strong population, and fighting displaced at least 55,000 people, they said citing the human rights report.

Children also suffered in the Mardin province, whose population of minors is some 337,000 out of a total of 829,000, the study found. Intense clashes took place in the towns of Dargeçit, Derik and Nusaybin, leading to long-term curfews, Ergin and Koman said.

The study also found that children in the region who lived through the conflict experienced problems that included communication problems and were more introverted. Some lost their hair as a stress response, and many have intense and lucid recollections of clashes.

Many children responded negatively to communication efforts by teachers, while showing signs of regression in their self-expression. They are less likely to open up about their feelings and have developed intense sensitivity to stimulants such as noise, according to the study.

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