Amnesty International has just issued an extensive and deeply researched 31 page report detailing “the desperate plight of families forced out of the historical centre of Diyarbakir” through massive security operations and round-the-clock curfews. “Homes in the once-bustling district have been destroyed by shelling, demolished and expropriated to pave the way for a redevelopment project that very few former residents are likely to benefit from,” the report says.
“On the bitter anniversary of the curfew in Sur, much of the population of this world heritage site have been forced to look on as their own heritage has been bulldozed,” said John Dalhuisen.
Shockingly, the desperate situation facing the displaced residents of Sur is mirrored in dozens of other districts across south-east Turkey. The government must act urgently to lift the curfew, ensure affected communities are fully compensated and either helped to return to what remains of their homes or, at the very least, to their neighbourhoods.
Even as the worst violence in Sur has subsided, the repercussions for its residents have not.
On 11 December 2015, an indefinite 24 hour curfew was declared in six of Sur’s 15 neighbourhoods preventing people from leaving their homes even to buy essential food or medical supplies. Police reportedly used loudspeakers to order people to leave. Water and electricity were cut for extended periods, while homes were rocked by army shells and peppered with bullets.
Four-legged Minaret, Sur, #Diyarbakir. Then/now. We needed permission. No one else allowed behind the screen. pic.twitter.com/K4nLSnjYtx
— John Dalhuisen (@DalhuisenJJ) May 21, 2016
One woman who attempted to stay in her home told Amnesty International: “I was in the house with two children, we didn’t drink water for one week. One day a [tear] gas capsule was fired into the house. We didn’t have electricity for 20 days. I wanted to leave but I had nowhere to go.”
The clashes in Sur ended in March 2016, but the curfew has remained in large parts of the district. Following the forced evictions almost all properties have been expropriated by Turkish authorities with many buildings also demolished. Although return has been made almost impossible by the curfew and the destruction, some residents have ventured back only to find their homes ransacked and possessions looted or destroyed.
One man returned to his home eight months after being displaced to find all of its walls had collapsed. He told Amnesty International: “I can’t even cry any more. I have cried so much over losing my house.”
Systematic elimination of dissent in south-east by trustees/detentions continues. Today elder statesman Ahmet Türk. https://t.co/q1fsEsnYZJ
— Andrew Gardner (@andrewegardner) November 21, 2016
Amnesty’s report also highlights that Turkey has broadened its attack on Kurdish opposition voices since then, particularly after the failed coup of July 15.
Under the state of emergency introduced following the July coup-attempt, the human rights situation in the south-east of Turkey has deteriorated. A series of executive decrees has all but eliminated opposition Kurdish voices, shutting down media and NGOs. Elected mayors, including those for Sur and Diyarbakir, were replaced with government appointed trustees.
In November, hundreds of NGOs across Turkey were closed on the unspecified grounds of “links to terrorist organizations or threats to national security. Among the NGOs that were closed were the main ones providing assistance to families displaced from Sur.
The crackdown continues with no end in sight. But already its costs have been far, far too high.