Nusaybin is a majority Kurdish city in south-eastern Turkey. It is currently being sieged by the Turkish army, which wants to prevent local people from exercising their right to self-rule. But what toll is this battle taking on the inhabitants of Nusaybin? And why should it matter for us in Britain?
The deteriorating situation in Turkey
Since July 2015, the AKP government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has waged war on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It has also blockaded and attacked the PKK’s allies in northern Syria (Rojava), where a secular and gender-egalitarian experiment in direct democracy has been underway since 2012. Here, defence forces are currently waging a large offensive against Daesh (Isis/Isil).
By destroying a promising peace process with the Kurdish movement, Erdoğan chose to sink Turkey once again into a civil war that would only make tensions in the country worse. Claiming PKK members are both separatists and terrorists, the president hides from Turkish citizens the fact that the PKK has consistently condemned attacks on civilian targets and insisted:
The Kurds are not dividing anyone’s homeland; they want to live freely and democratically in their own homeland. The resistance to achieve self-governance is to make Turkey a joint-homeland… within a democratic nation.
In recent months, the state’s war on Kurdish communities has seen over 100,000 civilians displaced and roughly 1,100 killed – all under the pretext of fighting the PKK. Nusaybin is just one of the cities which have been slowly destroyed by tanks, snipers, and heavy artillery in recent months.
According to ARA News, around 35,000 civilians are currently trapped in Nusaybin. A number of their houses have allegedly been burned to the ground by the Turkish army. Due to the curfews and fighting – which haven’t stopped since 14 March – citizens lack sufficient water, food, electricity, and medicine.
Although siege journalists have not been allowed into the city, reports and video footage came to light on 4 May suggesting that the Turkish army has been bombing Nusaybin with phosphorous gas. Evidence emerged again on 19 May, with medical sources confirming the use of phosphorus bombs on civilians.
In spite of these reports, there is still hunger in the Turkish parliament for stronger action. For instance, the leader of ultra-nationalist MHP, Devlet Bahçeli, said on 5 April that the AKP government should give citizens in Nusaybin three days to evacuate and then:
level Nusaybin to the ground and leave nobody alive.
President Erdoğan recently moved to purge the Turkish parliament of the most vocal opponents of his war, removing MPs’ parliamentary immunity on 20 May. This will see 51 of 59 ministers from the pro-peace Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation”.
The voices of local civilians
One man in his forties – who managed to escape from Nusaybin before the curfews began – told The Canary:
In the last year, we have suffered so much in Turkey. Our town has been destroyed in front of our eyes, but we cannot do anything except protect our lives… The Turkish army just wants to destroy all Kurdish cities and cultures. They cannot tolerate that we are Kurds.
And even army members are failing to see the point of this campaign, he said:
I have recently heard some words about Nusaybin from a Turkish commander. He said that even they did not know why they were fighting, but they had just received an order to destroy the town.
A 35-year-old woman from Nusaybin insisted:
I have spent all my life in this neighbourhood… Everything has been destroyed and burnt… Even if all Kurdish militants are killed or Kurdistan gains autonomy, it would mean nothing for a poor fellow whose thirty years of gains have been destroyed… Who can understand how it feels to be unemployed or a refugee? Only one who witnesses a woman selling her wedding ring behind her husband’s back for money can understand… Not only have they destroyed our city – they have also demolished our dreams, hopes and beliefs in brotherhood.
Below are some scenes from Turkey’s assault on Nusaybin:
Turkey’s NATO allies have failed to act
There is no longer freedom of speech in Turkey, and those calling for democracy or peace have consistently been labelled terrorists by an AKP government which one professor has called a fascist movement. This regime’s toxic brand of pseudo-religious chauvinism has seen it collaborate with Daesh and other jihadi movements in Syria while ramping up Turkey’s military coordination with Saudi Arabia (which is currently massacring civilians in Yemen).
As if this wasn’t enough for Western governments to wake up to the destructive nature of the current Turkish regime, the PKK has also been one of the most effective forces on the ground in the fight against Daesh in both Syria and Iraq. This means Ankara’s abandonment of the peace process with the PKK effectively weakens international efforts to defeat Daesh.
Although NATO claims it wants to defeat Daesh, and Turkey has the organisation’s second-biggest army, it has done next to nothing to encourage the AKP regime to re-enter peace talks with the PKK and focus its efforts on Daesh instead. Erdoğan and co. have exploited this silence by waging all-out war against Kurdish communities in Turkey.
But why have NATO nations been so silent about Turkey’s war crimes at home? According to investigative journalist Dr Nafeez Ahmed, Turkey has a pivotal position in a US-EU plan for a “new energy map” in the Middle East, which aims to decrease Western dependency on Russian resources.
In the EU, meanwhile, human rights violations in Turkey have been trumped by the importance of Turkish support in stemming the flow of refugees into Europe. The EU called in January 2016 for a ceasefire in Turkey, after over five months of fighting, but its efforts were timid. The reason for this timidity was revealed in leaked documents of discussions between Erdoğan and EU officials – which showed the Turkish leader manipulating Europe’s refugee crisis in order to buy the continent’s silence on his anti-Kurdish war.
The importance of the Turkish arms trade
Another reason why western governments may be ignoring Kurdish suffering in Turkey is its powerful arms industry. According to the Turkish Exporters’ Union (TIM), the country’s ‘defence’ industry is one of the only sectors which has bucked a trend of economic decline in recent months. The TIM has revealed that exports from Turkish defence companies reached $556 million in the first four months of 2016, and that the revenues of these corporations have risen from $800m to $1.6bn in the last five years.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Turkey is the world’s seventh-largest arms importer and 16th-largest exporter. Erdoğan, meanwhile, has recently said his aim is to become the “main supplier” of arms to “friendly and brotherly countries” by 2023.
In April 2016, activists in the UK attempted to block the roads leading to the DSEI arms fair in London. According to Red Pepper, one activist spoke about wanting to prevent the mass killings of Kurds in Turkey – a country which was welcomed to the arms fair with open arms. The protesters were soon arrested and found not guilty of committing any crimes. But with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) now appealing this ruling, it seems the British establishment’s sympathies may lie not with those hoping to save lives but with oppressive states like Turkey, whose arms deals help to fuel their war crimes in Kurdish communities.
A transformation is already underway
The political system in Rojava is an example of what the PKK is fighting for and what the Turkish State is fighting against. In the region’s ‘Charter of Social Contract’, published in January 2014, emphasis was placed on the right of all ethnic and religious groups living in the region to self-determination, self-defence, religious freedom, and gender equality. The document also sought environment protection and the universal provision of education, healthcare, and housing. Opposing the concept of centralised rule, activists in the region began to forge an assembly-based democracy based on citizens making decisions for themselves. They also encouraged the formation of trade unions, local cooperatives, and collectives.
ROAR Magazine described in 2014 how the PKK hoped to replace the rule of powerful political and economic elites with a “democratic nation, communal economy, and ecological industry”. In Rojava, this would manifest itself as autonomous and sustainable economics, cooperation between diverse communities, and democracy throughout Syria.
This project is not just a Kurdish one, but one based on humanity, self-rule and multicultural cooperation. It is easily the biggest transformation which has occurred in the Middle East since 2010, and it has come to represent a search for freedom, social justice, and peaceful coexistence. And most of all, its pluralistic and directly-democratic model is the best option on the ground for ending sectarian conflicts in the region. Simply speaking, this fight for an alternative future to that designed by arms dealers, warmongers and anti-democratic political elites must not be ignored.
- For more information and background on the situation in Turkey, see related Canary articles here.
- Write to David Cameron and your MP to ask them to push the Turkish regime to stop its war on Kurdish communities.
- Join at least 400,000 Brits who have cancelled holidays in Turkey, and support the boycott campaign here.
- Only by accepting the PKK as a legitimate representative of Kurdish communities in Turkey will peace negotiations be possible. Ask the British government to change its stance towards the PKK by signing this petition.
- And sign this petition aimed at preventing further state massacres in Kurdish communities.
Featured images via anonymous Canary sources.
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