Nearly 300 Kurdish rebels, members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), were killed in raids conducted by the Turkish military in three districts in southeast Turkey, the Turkish General Staff said on Saturday.
The military said in a statement on its website that 179 militants were killed in Sirnak province’s Cizre district, 27 in Silopi, and 55 in the Sur district of the southeastern province of Diyarbakir province, adding that they had also defused dozens of improvised explosive devices in the three districts, which have been under curfew since December. They also destroyed a school that was allegedly being used by militants for training.
Ankara has been stepping up its military operations on the border with Syria and Iraq since December. The area is a stronghold of the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to continue the operation until the area is cleansed of Kurdish militants.
About 100,000 have been displaced since the start of the operation, according to Turkey’s General Directorate of Security. Businesses have suffered in the southeastern Turkish towns, leaving many workers without income in the country’s most impoverished region, leaving it even poorer.
Melek Gumus from the town of Dargecit, located between Cizre and Diyarbakir, told RT that all of her warehouses and a stock were recently destroyed by the Turkish army.
“There my warehouses…as you can see these are all lost, there is nothing I can do. In fact, the whole district is like this. We were stuck at home for 20 days and there was nothing to eat. It was torture for everybody,” she said. “…we want freedom, we want peace. We don’t want them to be unfair to us.”
“It was about half past three at night, we were sleeping. Suddenly we felt like the building was collapsing. When we came back in the morning we saw the situation like this. There is nothing left, we are scared,” said a local man describing one of the nights when the Turkish army was conducting its operations.
A local woman doubted Ankara’s accusations that PKK is responsible for the wreckage.
“They wrecked the house and said that terrorists have done this. How could terrorists have done that? Do terrorists have armored vehicles or mortars? The government has done this. I hope God will punish Erdogan,” she said.
The government has vowed to help the region and address the needs of people who have been displaced or lost businesses.
We have never left any citizen to fend for themselves and uncared for, and neither will we do so in the future … Anyone forced to relocate due to terrorism can apply to the governor’s office for assistance,” said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in an address to his party’s lawmakers in parliament on December 22.
However, Ankara is doing little to help the Kurds because it is essentially at war with them, Ronald Grigor Suny Jr., professor of History at the University of Michigan, told RT.
“In fact, it’s a kind of open war in certain cities – Cizre, for instance, part of Diyarbakir – it’s going on right now. The government of Turkey has surrounded some areas with tanks. There are reports that there are snipers on roofs, if people go out after curfew they can be shot. And they have been. That region in the southeast now is having trouble supporting itself, people are out of work, businesses are closing. Erdogan and his government have decided to take open warfare as their policy against the Kurds in the southeast and destabilize one more country in the Middle East.”
Kurds have long been campaigning for the right to self-determination and greater autonomy in Turkey, where they are the largest ethnic minority. In late December, a congress of Kurdish non-governmental organizations called for Turkey’s southeastern regions to be granted autonomy via constitutional reforms.