Solidarity for Local Democracy in Southeast Turkey
Since last year, HIC-HLRN has been alerted and alerting on the situation of violence and conflict in southeast Turkey, the predominantly Kurdish region, and its effects on the population’s human rights, in particular housing, land and cultural property rights. Recent developments and events are not reassuring.
After being alerted by Turkish human rights activists, in June 2016, HIC-HLRN elaborated and disseminated an Urgent Action on the urban destruction and mass expropriation of the entire walled area of Diyarbakır, which UNESCO has inscribed on the World Heritage List. Following large-scale military operations since December 2015 that displaced 23,000 inhabitants in the historic fortress area, Turkey’s Council of Ministers issued a decree ordering the immediate expropriation of all non-state-owned parcels of the district, which would entail the forced eviction and dispossession of another 27,000 inhabitants of area, affecting 14,764 households and a population of 50,341 people. The Urgent Action occasioned introduction of the wider regional context of the situation—the death of hundreds of civilians, displacement of at least 355,000 people, curfews and confinements affecting more than 1.5 million residents—and the background of the historic conflict and tensions in Turkey between its government and the mainly Kurdish population. available at HLRN in English and. The Urgent Action was sent to more than 2,000 contacts and received wide support and coverage in the news media.
Furthermore, HIC-HLRN developed a proposal to undertake a fact-finding mission to Diyarbakır and other cities of the region, responding to an appeal from the Diyarbakır Municipality. The timely fact-finding mission was foreseen to take place in September 2016, in order to present its preliminary report at the Habitat III Conference (Quito, Ecuador) on 17–20 October 2016. This would have HIC revisiting its fact finding in Turkey’s southeast already conducted in 1996 following the mass destruction of some 3,500 rural Kurdish villages. At that time, 20 years ago, HIC recounted the insurgency, military operations, mass displacement and destruction in a detailed report, Impact of War and Forced Evictions on Urbanization in Turkey: Violations of Housing Rights (also in Turkish) during the Habitat II Conference (Istanbul, June 1996).
The current destruction of human habitat reveals a horrific repetition in the pattern of conflict in the region. However, this time the military operations have targeted urban centers, where many of those displaced in the 1990s had fled.
The proposed the fact-finding mission of 2016 was conceived as a first stage of longer-term study to evaluate the impact and count to costs and losses that the eviction and siege have wrought on the local population. The attempted coup d’état on 15 July 2016 and the subsequent instability and insecurity impeded that fact-finding mission on September. Nevertheless, HIC-HLRN developed an interim report, Forced Eviction and Urban Transformation as Tools of War: The Case of Diyarbakır, which was presented and distributed on several occasions within the Habitat III Conference. In that context, the HIC-HLRN report recounted the country’s conflictual history and corresponding violations of housing and land related rights, among others, while recalling the ominous warning of previous United Nations Habitat Conferences about how state ideologies, reflected in their housing and human settlements policies, “must not be used to dispossess people from their homes and their land, or to entrench privilege and exploitation.”
Diyarbakır Municipality’s co-Mayor Ms. Gültan Kışanak and International Relations Director Harun Ercan attended the Habitat III Conference at Quito, after attending the 5th United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Congress World Summit of local and regional leaders in Bogotá, Colombia (12–15 October 2016). During Habitat III Conference, HIC-HLRN had the opportunity to organize a joint presentation with the co-mayor on the situation of Diyarbakır in the “World Stage” at the Habitat III exhibition center. HIC-HLRN facilitated the Diyarbakır delegation’s meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha during Habitat III, and the HIC-HLRN team held extensive discussions with the delegation on the situation developments until that moment, October 2016.
The mayor described the military blockade and urban destruction that was still going on in Şırnak, Cizre and the walled Suriçi area of Diyarbakır. With winter approaching, the housing situation was becoming very serious after the operations that caused huge displacement and tens of thousands who had been living in tents since June.
At political level, the Turkish Council of Ministers dismissed the elected mayors of 25 Kurdish municipalities, replacing them with central government “trustees.” A ministerial decree adopted during the state of emergency reportedly led to the arrest of 69 municipal co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), the jailing of 22 mayors on charges of terrorism and the dismissal of 58 mayors by the end of December 2016.
The central government also shut down some 160 media outlets by the end of 2016. Moreover, Turkish and Kurdish academics, journalists, writers and activists demonstrating support for imprisoned politicians and concern about the situation were also arrested. Diyarbakır’s co-mayor feared that she would be the next to be arrested and, in that context, chose not to hold a press conference or deliver a statement before the UN Conference plenary. However, the mayor did explain that the Turkish Ministry of Interior tried to prevent her attending the international events, first by removing two Kurdish members (her the co-mayor of Van) from the Turkish Union of Municipalities delegation three days before their travel to the UCLG Congress and Habitat III. Nevertheless, Ms. Kışanak traveled in her capacity as chair of the Union of Southeastern Anatolia Region Municipalities and member of the UCLG Executive Bureau. By the time the travel ban travel was announced, she was already in Bogotá.
When Ms. Kışanak returned to Turkey on 20 October, and she and the other co-mayor, Mr. Firat Anlı were arrested 25 October on charges of terrorism. In November, the Turkish prosecutor sought 230-year jail sentence for Mrs. Kışanak.
The arrests sparked a wave of condemnation from democratic local governments. Among the cities expressing solidarity were the mayors of Barcelona (Spain), Rennes (France) and 30 cities in Sweden, as well as UCLG’s Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights. Turkey’s Minister of the Interior Süleiman Soylu labelled several European ambassadors in Turkey as “supporters of terrorism,” after they expressed solidarity with the jailed Kurdish mayors.
In support of the Diyarbakır residents and co-mayors, and all the detained and prosecuted mayors, public servants and political and civil entities that struggle for peace, democracy and human rights, HIC issued a statement calling for the restoration and respect of human rights and democracy in Turkey. HIC-HLRN continues to explore the possibility to undertake a fact-finding mission with experts and to develop the long-term loss-assessment project in Diyarbakır and the affected region.