Syriacs in southeast Turkey under threat: “We won’t let you, your wives, or your daughters live!”

ANKARA - In the 1990s, some 3,000 villages in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast were emptied and destroyed and around 312,000 people were forced to move elsewhere. The government used this as a tactic in fighting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Some villagers who remember the frightening, forced, village evacuations of the past, are concerned once more. Events in the village of Derkube (Karagöl), linked to the ancient city of Midyat, in Mardin province, have made residents fearful that just like in the 1990s, they will once again be forced be out of their homes and have their lands and belongings taken by the government.  

Journalist Nurcan Baysal said Syriac Christian villagers in Derkube had been threatened by soldiers and state-backed Kurdish village guard militiamen. Baysal quoted one villager as saying:

In the past two years, there have been many military operations and incursions in the area, including in Syriac villages. The soldiers out on these military operations and patrols have been frequently coming to our villages. Actually, we haven’t had any big problems from soldiers and the military until recently. A few weeks ago, they came to the village in armored vehicles. ‘Can we have some water?’ They asked, and we gave them water. There is a 1,600-year old church in the village, which they asked to see. We took them there. They looked through the door and left.  But, last week, this happened. I have a close friend who is handicapped. He was feeding his goats in the village fields. A group of soldiers and guards came up to him, and asked, ‘have you seen any PKK members here?’ My friend said, ‘No, I haven’t seen anything.’ One of the guards put a pistol to my friend’s head and said, ‘We will kill you!’ They came to the village, and my friend’s older brother was called to meet them.

The guards said, "you all are protecting and housing militants here. We won’t let you, your wives or your daughters live! We will get rid of all of you!", they threatened, making frightening gestures. The commander also came, and he also acted threateningly. The guards said, "if we ever find a trace of a single PKK member, we will come back and shoot you all down!" then left.