Turkey's AKP frames Kurdish citizens as terrorists

Turkey's AKP frames Kurdish citizens as terrorists
Comment: As the peace process between Turkish government and Kurds' PKK breaks down, Turkish nationalists and Erdogan's ruling party legitimise disproportionate violence against Kurds through systematic dehumanisation of Kurdish civilians.
5 min read
21 Sep, 2015
International organisations and countries condemned Turkish attacks on Kurds as being disproportionate [Getty]

Over the last week, Kurds have faced attacks across Turkey.

In the south east, the city of Cizre has been besieged by the government, allowing no journalists or politicians to enter the city as Turkish police reportedly shot at any civilians that dared to break the curfew that had been put in place.

Alongside this brutal assault on Cizre, Kurds living in western Turkey have been targeted in a spate of attacks by Turkish nationalists. One incident took place in the south-western city of Muğla last week, where a Kurdish man was severely beaten and forced to kiss a statue of Atatürk.

His crime was simply wearing traditional Kurdish clothes.

The spate of attacks by Turkish nationalists coincides with the breakdown of the peace process between the government and the PKK. In fact, the attacks started early last Monday when "anti-terrorism" demonstrations were organised to protest the killing of 16 security forces by the PKK in early September in the south-eastern province of Dağlıca.

The protests quickly spiralled into anti-Kurdish mobs, and invariably ended at HDP offices, the pro-Kurdish party which won 13% of the national vote in the June elections.

Over 250 HDP offices were attacked, including the burning of their central office in Ankara. Such attacks have led many Kurds to blame Turkey's security forces, who have been accused of allowing such attacks to take place.

The fact that Turkish police have refused to defend the attack on Kurdish businesses and the HDP offices is inimitably linked to the language Erdogan and his ruling AK Party have resorted to since the peace process fell through; accusing the HDP, and by extension anybody who supports them, as "terrorists".

Cizre under attack

In Cizre, the Turkish police besieged the city and imposed a week-long curfew, thereby blocking all entry to the town and reportedly making it difficult for ambulances to take wounded civilians to the hospital.

     Kurds living in western Turkey have been targeted in a spate of attacks by Turkish nationalists.

One victim of the police's brutality was a ten-year-old girl, Cemile Cizir Çagırga, whose corpse was left in a refrigerator because the restrictions of the curfew did not allow her family members to take her to the morgue.

"Killing the citizens of Cizre is seen as the same as killing the terrorists in the mountains," a lawyer living in Cizre, who asked to remain anonymous for her own safety, told me.

"Even when they kill a little child they see it as ok because they think that when this kid grows up it will become a terrorist", she added.

Cizre, with its strong Kurdish identity and close proximity to the Syrian border, made headlines when citizens dug trenches and stopped police from entering their neighbourhoods in August. YDG-H, who are often described as the youth wing of the PKK although they remain largely autonomous from them, quickly organised "self-defence neighbourhoods" and declared themselves autonomous from the state, soon after the peace process fell through.

When two Vice journalists reported on this in August, the State arrested and subsequently deported them.

In the June election, 92% of Cizre voted for the HDP, the highest in the district and one of the highest in the whole of Turkey. "The other 8% who didn't vote for HDP aren't even Kurdish," one citizen explained on the phone, "they are Turkish civil servants who work here."

"Every vote for HDP is seen as support for terrorism by the government," the Cizre lawyer explained, "that's why any amount of brutality is permissible under the guise of fighting terrorism."

In this context, the attack on Cizre is an attempt to not only crush the Kurdish forces, but also to frame passive Kurdish citizens as "terrorists" that need to be defeated.

While news has reached the outside world of the damage inflicted on Cizre, the Turkish state has defended its actions by claiming that out of the 21 lives that have been lost, all but one were PKK terrorists.

However, due to the clear support that HDP have in the city, the government is making it known that all citizens of Cizre are terrorists for supporting HDP.

The dangero of ethnic dehumanisation

Just like before, the flare-up of violence between the PKK and the Turkish government has led to the criminalisation of Kurdish citizens across Turkey. The PKK has stepped up its operations against Turkey's security forces, making it increasingly hard for the civil direction of the Kurdish struggle to continue.

Whilst such an assault must be condemned, the government's response of turning all who actively support the HDP as terrorists in their eyes is a dangerous road to follow.

"Not one of the police officers who killed the 21 citizens of Cizre will be punished," the Cizre lawyer predicted, "until police face prosecution for killing Kurds, this will never stop."

Therefore, with the state clearly pursuing a policy against anyone who openly supports the HDP, which are the vast majority of Kurds in this country, Kurds will continue to feel aggrieved that Turkey's police force will not protect their basic rights.

     The flare-up of violence between the PKK and the Turkish government has led to the criminalisation of Kurdish citizens across Turkey.

When AKP rose to power in 2002, they quickly became popular with Kurds who saw them as a welcome alternative to the military regimes that dominated the 1990s in Turkey.

The peace process started, and Kurds were active participants within Turkey's democratic system. It also offered them protection from the army, and an element of trust, which gave hope to the peace process.

With the upstart in violence between the PKK and the government, Kurds now face police brutality in the south east as well as attacks from nationalist groups in west Turkey.

The Kurds are being transformed from friend to foe in the eyes of the AKP, leaving them with no option but to pick up arms again. This will simply lead to more blood.

And for the peace process to be resumed, if it can anymore, Kurds need to be perceived as a legitimate voice within Turkey's pluralistic democracy, irrespective of which party they vote for.

Yvo Fitzherbert is a freelance journalist based in Turkey. He has written on Kurdish politics, the Syrian war and the refugee crisis for a variety of Turkish and English publications. Twitter handle: @yvofitz.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.