February 26, 2016
Guest blog post by MONICA FRASSONI
A cold wet wind is on us and on the soaked policemen, who in front of the makeshift barrier prevent our delegation of MEPs and Turkish ecologists to enter Derik a Kurdish village 70 km from Dijarbakir. Derik is the last on the list of locations suffering an amazing 24-hour curfew a day; who knows if Derik will become like Cizre, near the border with Syria, now completely destroyed and abandoned by its inhabitants and where many have died trying to escape from the siege, after the killing of a child by the police and the construction of trenches inside the city by the “militants” closer to the young wing of the PKK (YDG-H). It is estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 have had to flee and leave their homes in that area. These too are “refugees”, only that they are Turkish nationals.
Or perhaps Derik will become the new Sur, the historic center of Dyjarbakir, where 24.000 lived and where, after weeks of mortar shells and gunfire, there are still an estimated number of 20 militants and 130 people trapped; a group of 6 came out last Friday with the mediation of the Dutch draftperson on the accession process of Turkey, the MEP Kati Piri; of those six people, a lady of 55 years bled to death after waiting in vain for an ambulance for 2 hours (in the center of a city of one million inhabitants) and the other five were arrested on charges of being members the PKK. Not exactly an encouragement for other citizens to come out.
This was the context of a short (too short) trip to Mardin and Dijarbakir of a delegation of Greens/EFA MEPs and Turkish Greens that I was glad to accompany on the 21st/24th of February. Michel Raimon, MEP and member of the EGP committee, was also with us.
In our short stay in Mardin, historical city once destination of five millions tourists a year, we met the Co-mayors of Mardin, Nusaybin and Cizre. As we Greens, also the HDP party always has a double head, but applies it in an even more stringent way, since in municipal elections there are always two candidate-mayors, although officially only one is elected. This practice, as many others, is very disturbing to Erdogan, who has repeatedly stated that there is not such this as women’s issues, because women’s role is to cheer the home and have children. The Co-mayors of Cezre, Leyla Imret, and Nusaybin, Sara Kaya, have managed to get permission to go out after weeks of total curfew. Leyla, a sweet fair-haired young woman, explains life under 24H curfew and says that she was dismissed from her post for an interview whose meaning was completely distorted; she was happy to be with us after 78 days of “house arrest” extended to all its fellow-citizens. Sara, a beautiful lady full of energy, explains that she was in jail for three months, but at least she had electricity and hot water, unlike her 4 children, who stayed at home. Of course, in Mardin and Dijarbakir we also meet the leaders of the AKP ruling party, Mehment Dundar and Muhammed Akar as well ad the governors of the provinces of Mardin and Dyjarbakir, Omer Faruk Kokac and Huseyin Aksoy.
Very different environment in their offices: giant posters and photomontages of triumphant Erdogan and Prime Minister Davoutoglou, not a woman in sight (not even to serve the inevitable the) great cordiality but a large bla-bla of a copy-paste vocabulary, boiling down to the position that peace will be possible when terrorists will depose arms and surrender. No answer on the real reasons that led Erdogan to break the negotiations with the Kurds on the verge of the end of last year, or about what might convince the government to resume dialogue and stop the war, or about the use of “excessive” force denounced by all major international NGOs.
Erdogan’s government is under the illusion of winning through violence and moderate voices, like the head of the AKP of Djyatbakir, do not seem to have much space. Erdogan declares openly his will to eradicate the Kurdish resistance, Davoutouglou speaks to make Sur similar to Toledo after the bombing of Franco (!!), and ordinary citizens, terrorists, activists are often put in one lot. Not many outside here talk about this conflict and this is of course one of the reasons why we decided to come. Indeed we should not forget that it takes place in a NATO country, which in recent months has a key role in many fields, from the war in Syria to the tragedy of refugees, in a context of increasing restriction of freedom, repression of dissent and economic crisis.
We spent our day in Dijarbakir focusing on the issue of the siege of Sur; we meet various representatives of intellectuals and NGOs who came from Istanbul, several Members of the HDP and the DVK party and Djarbakir Co-mayors; they suggested us to speak with the Governor and to push him to grant a truce long enough to allow people to get out safely and without being systematically arrested.
The Governor, Huseyin Aksor, who behind the kind words and manners, deals with the issue without giving much space for compromise, promised that Wednesday 24th from 15h30 to 17 he will stop the mortar; he argued that the area is small and that hour and a half of the ceasefire would be enough to bring out those who want to get out; no, he will not allow either to medical personnel, nor to local deputies or Co-mayors, nor to us, not to anybody to come to take people barricaded in cellars. He concedes at most that a camera films everything, so as to show that special forces will behave. He noted that this is the last chance before the final attack because the terrorists who have built barriers and trenches through the city can not remain and if their families do not want to leave, that’s their problem. He asked us to let him know by which place the people will come out; after this strange conversation, we all went to the cultural center of Sur, in the middle of the still half open part of Sur, full of smoke, excellent bread, tea and worried people. The atmosphere similar to that of the communist “Case del Popolo” you can see in the neo-realist Italian movies of the 50ies. To enter we passed a check of relatively informal and unsmiling policemen. When opening the barrier to let us inside the ancient wall, one of them ironically said to our companions “and tell your foreign guests to be careful not to damage anything.” In the Center, a great discussion was going on around the possibility to accept or decline the invitation of the Governor, because everyone understood that the time was getting short and the final attack a real possibility.
A complete lack of confidence was dominating the conversations. They mentioned several times that in Sur the same pattern of Cizre was followed: in Cizre, HDP had trusted police and had asked people to come out, but some of them were shot. To our surprise, we became involved in the debate and I did spend some time on the phone with the governor office, HDP, the mayor offices to see if our presence could at all be useful. In this moment, I do not know how this will end; but I know they are all pessimistic: the Governor asked for the first time to the people still in Sur to surrender or face the consequences. On wednesday, during the time in which the cease-fire was supposed to take place, shootings were still going on. Green MEPs taking part to the mission together with other MEPs, including Richard Howitt, who was there a few days before us with Kati Piri just published an appeal for an immediate cease-fire open to the signature of all MEPs, on invitation of the mayors of Djiarbakir.
While aware of our impotence, we were happy to be there, at least to support the local authorities and to make the image of benevolent Europe somehow survive. Many of the people present were not very young, many were women, many had been in jail, but a lot mentioned to us the hope of a possible European intervention, and could not understand why it seemed so difficult to accept that the authoritarian trend of the AKP government, the renewed conflict in the south-east and the lack of interest in going back to negotiations, will indeed not help to limit the flow of migrants; indeed, Erdogan threatened to send them to us all, when the EU asked him to open the borders after the bombing in Aleppo: the answer Erdogan was clear and in a way well deserved: “I have not written “idiot” on my forehead” …
I finished the short mission with an action with the Turkish Greens in front of the prison of Silivri where journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul were detained, just a few hours before the Court accepted their appeal and stated that their rights were violated; as a consequence they were set free, but they are still awaiting trial!
Indeed, we were about the last ones to be present just in front the small tent where everyday activists and supporters came to support them and all the other silenced journalists. Can Dundar spoke about the “power” of a small tent in front of a palace, referring to the enormous 1150 rooms and 600 million euros presidential palace built by Erdogan.
Despite this excellent news, it seems obvious that the government of Erdogan and Davoutoglou feels confident and strong at home; they could be misguided, seen the declining economic situation and the heavy blow on tourism and investments. But it is a fact that they play the strong hand towards the EU, divided and weak, not interested in the conflict in the southeast and lenient to the ambiguous strategies of Erdogan; far from having given up the dream of becoming president changing the Constitution, he seems even to be preparing for new elections, to finally win the absolute majority that still eludes him, after putting on a leash the judiciary and allying with nationalists and the military, whom he for so long opposed.
After receiving the promise of 3 billion euro from the EU to “improve the living conditions of refugees”, Erdogan is using the refugee pressure to seek the approval of the EU to its strategy to create an anti-kurdish “safe zone” in the North of Syria and has for now no interest whatsoever in stopping the violence. This is no detail. A “safe zone” could entail a no-fly zone and the involvement of NATO.
It is also clear that Erdogan has a powerful ally in the toughest parts of the Kurdish resistance and extremists; some of our interlocutors told us clearly that the PKK is concerned that the situation could really get out of hand if there is no prospect of a resumption of dialogue. As just one example, the suicide bomber who blew himself up in the midst of young soldiers in central Ankara last week is not, as was thought at the beginning, a Syrian Kurd, but a young Kurdish Turk member of an obscure independent group. And the young Kurds who build trenches in the middle of towns and villages of their people do not seem to care too much in front of the risks to which they expose the inhabitants.
To sum up, a country that only a few years ago seemed to enjoy a positive stability, with a civil society increasingly vibrant and organized and economic growth definitely not particularly sustainable (certainly not!) but real, is now in a political, economic and social drift, which pushes back to poverty and unemployment increasing sectors of the population.
On March the 3rd Tusk will be in Ankara, to prepare the meeting of Heads of State and Government with Turkey scheduled for March 7 and probably to say YES to the safe zone.
Certainly, seen from the ruins of the ancient Sur district, this meeting does not appear particularly promising; the EU seems to continue to cultivate the illusion to stop the flow of refugees by focusing on the authoritarian government of Erdogan and his delusions of grandeur. Its member states are moving in random order, weakening the already unconvincing joint action. We’ll see, what the future will hold. But I do fear that, unfortunately, this illusion will cost very dear to in terms of human suffering and political credibility to the refugees, the Turkish people and the EU.
Brussels, 26 February 2016