13 February 2016
Peoples' Democratic Party Şırnak deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız has been the only source of information from inside the besieged district of Cızre for the past two months. He has informed public opinion through social media and made many appeals to International organisations to end the siege in Cizre and prevent the massacre of civilians.
Sarıyıldız was first elected to Parliament in 2011 as a candidate of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the predecessor of the HDP, while he was in prison for alleged membership of a terrorist organisation. He was arrested in 2009 as part of the KCK operations and released in 2014 without being tried or sentenced. He was re-elected to parliament in 2015.
Kurdish Question interviewed Mr. Sarıyıldız in the aftermath of the basement massacres to get a clearer, uncensored and immediate picture of the situation in Cizre.
We are publishing the first part of this exclusive interview below.
Where are you now Mr. Sarıyıldız?
I’m in Şırnak’s Cizre district, where there has been a curfew for 62 days on the orders of the AKP government and the decision taken by the Şırnak Governorate.
In which neighbourhoods are operations and sieges taking place?
Operations and sieges aren’t limited to certain neighbourhoods. The siege is being implemented in every corner of the district centre. However there is a concentration in the Nur, Cudi, Sur and Yafes neighbourhoods, which are under intense attack and siege.
What is the population living in these neighbourhoods at the moment?
According to the 2015 consensus the population of Cizre is 131, 816. The four neighbourhoods I mentioned make up 2/3 of this figure. Due to the state’s devastating and extra-legal attacks, the people living in the Cudi, Nur and Sur neighbourhoods have been entirely displaced, while more than half of the population in Yafes have also left their homes. Furthermore, the state’s forced displacement policy was also implemented in neighbourhoods where attacks are not concentrated. We can say that more than 100,000 people have been displaced.
For more than 2 months Cizre has been under siege; what are people eating, drinking, in short, how are they living?
People have consumed all they had stocked during this time. In Cizre, social and neighbourly relations are strong. Moreover there is collective solidarity because the people belong to the same political identity. However there is serious hardship because of the length of the siege. For example the state allowed only a couple of shops to remain open on certain days. But only the people living close to these shops could take advantage of this. The people living far away from these shops in neighbourhoods under heavy attack can in no way access necessities. Because leaving your home to buy bread can result in being shot at or being hit by the shrapnel of a mortar; in short, dying. The price of coming out onto the street is death. Moreover the police recently prevented these shops from opening.
At the same time state forces have prevented tens of trucks containing foodstuffs and other necessities sent from across the country as aid from entering the district.
Because of attacks the district’s infrastructure has been destroyed. State forces consciously targeted the water and sewage system as well as the electricity transformers. There was shortage of water for days. A workman from the municipality went to fix the damaged water tanks but was shot in the arm by state forces; his arm had to be cut off.
Do the people call you asking for help? What kind of things do they request?
The most common request during the siege has been for corpses and the wounded to be taken to hospitals. Cries for help from people trapped in buildings, people who are under threat of death and people whose houses have been burnt down are also common. This is because the state has shut down all channels of communication between institutions and the people; there is no channel for dialogue. Municipalities are not able to take services to the people due to the siege and curfew.
Poeple think because I’m an MP I will be able to satisfy their requests. However because of my oppositional stance and the political line I represent, the requests I relay are not taken into consideration. Corpses and the wounded were left on streets for days despite repeated calls for them to be retrieved. Requests like these would be attended to immediately in countries where there is an entrenched democracy and justice and law is in effect. But the most humane requests are overlooked in Turkey, which is administered by an antidemocratic and totalitarian government.
Where did the people who migrated from Cizre go to? Do you have any information about their situation?
People had to leave their homes and livelihoods because of sustained and severe attacks by state forces. When Kurds talk of devastation and disaster they reference Kobanê and Sinjar. Two thirds of Cizre now is in fact no different from Kobanê and Sinjar. Houses have been turned to rubble. There are almost no houses tank shells and mortars haven’t hit. This was a conscious policy to displace people. State forces violated the right to life.
There was internal migration in the first month of the siege. Attacks were concentrated on the Cudi, Nur, Yafes and Sur neighbourhoods. The people forced to move from these areas migrated to the district centre or neighbourhoods where attacks were less severe. Some moved in with relatives and others were hosted by the people. However when attacks began to spread to these neighourhoods as well, people once again migrated, this time to nearby villages, Şırnak centre, Idil, Diyarbakır and Turkish cities. In the 1990s state attacks resulted in Kurds migrating from rural to urban areas, now the opposite is happening; because the state is turning Kurdish cities into hell.
Why is the state attacking Cizre so severely?
If one looks at the historical and political significance of Cizre, one can see that it has a symbolic quality for both the state and also the Kurdish people. To comprehend why the state has declared the longest siege and curfew and committed atrocities by preventing people from burying their loved ones and by burning people alive, one must look at the history of resistance in Cizre.
All through the 90s Cizre was the site of the greatest tyranny and suppression. The events at the Newroz (Kurdish New Year) celebrations in 1992 are still fresh in our memory. Over 100 civilians were gunned down and hundreds wounded in attacks to prevent Newroz celebrations. In the same years villages were razed to the ground, forced migrations, extrajudicial killings and mass graves were everyday fare for Cizre. The state saw basic human rights and freedoms as being luxuries for the people of this district.
However despite all the violence and suppression, then and now, the people of Cizre did not give any concessions and did not kneel down. Cizre’s demand for freedom and equality and it’s resistance against the Turkish state’s policies of denial and assimilation has always been unbreakable. In spite of the state’s assimilation policy Cizre has resisted Turkification and protected its authentic and independent cultural and political identity. This is why it has always been a target for those in power. Just as Cizre was at the heart of the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1847, it became the symbol of resistance for the Kurdish people in the 1990s.
Therefore the state believes that if Cizre, as one of the centres of resistance, is liquidated, then it can strengthen its sovereignty in the other cities of Kurdistan. But I believe that the barbarity of the state in Cizre during the siege has been etched into the collective memory of the people so deeply that it is going to create an organised reaction and anger. The people here were put through an inhumane and tyrannous experience that is going to be pass from generation to generation.
What do the barricade and trench signify?
It signifies a form of self-defence against the denial and annihilation policy of the state. Of course the Kurdish people are not happy about living behind trenches, in the middle of battles, leaving their homes and burying loved ones everyday. However there is an insistence that Kurds live as slaves. Those behind the trenches are objecting to this. The majority of them have been discriminated against by the state; detained, imprisoned and tortured or else lost a relative in the war or had their village burnt down. They don’t trust the state. I know this because I met with the youth last year when negotiations (between the state and Kurdish movement) were still continuing, so they could close the trenches. They heeded Mr. Öcalan’s call and did this. However on the same day state forces shot and killed a child, Nihat Kazanhan, from an armoured vehicle. It is the state’s war concept that has compelled Cizre to dig trenches.
To be continued tomorrow...