19 August 2015
Since Turkish President Erdoğan's new wave of attacks in Kurdistan in the wake of Turkey's June election, people of all ages have joined the effort to defend and govern themselves in the area.
Since the 1990s, the Turkish state has used tactics of denial, assimilation and annihilation in the Northern Kurdistan region. Although the promises of peace that the AKP made when it came to power awakened hope in many, 13 years later the promises have remained on paper.
In the June 7 elections, Kurds and people across Turkey rejected the AKP in a historic election. The election results crushed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's dreams to move Turkey to a system where power is concentrated in the president. Now, the President has virtually declared a personal war on the Kurds ahead of an early election, hoping to start a war ahead of the election.
In the spirit of the YPJ women who fought against Daesh in defense of their autonomy, Kurds in Northern Kurdistan have declared self-government in a number of areas. Among the towns and neighborhoods that have declared self-government are Silopi; Cizre; Batman's Bağlar neighborhood; Diyarbakır's Sur district; Lice; Silvan; Varto; Bulanık; Yüksekova; Şemdinli; Edremit; Van's Hacıbekir neighborhood; Istanbul's Gazi neighborhood; and Doğubeyazit.
The first declaration of self-government came on August 10 from the town of Silopi. Silopi is no stranger to state violence. Locals have witnessed assassinations in the middle of the street and victims thrown into acid wells during the 1990s. When the AKP intensified attacks in Kurdistan, Silopi was the first to take action. In Silopi, locals had dug trenches in their neighborhoods to prevent police and soldiers for entering. That was when police began a total attack.
Early in the morning on August 7, police opened fire on the Zap neighborhood, killing 58-year-old Hamdi Ulaş and 17-year-old Mehmet Hıdır Tanboğa. Police rained bullets on the homes and set six houses on fire. The attack wounded many, children among them.
Police began arresting all the wounded brought to the hospital. One resident was shot during an arrest attempt, brought to the city of Diyarbakır hours away by human rights volunteers, then arrested there. As the police mounted snipers on the roofs of buildings, locals set up curtains to block the snipers' views (a tactic famously used in the Kobanê resistance in Rojava). Today, it is hard to find a house without bullet holes in its walls or windows.
The town of Cizre, like Silopi located in Şırnak province, has witnessed years of massacres by police and soldiers. There, the local people joined Silopi in declaring self-government on August 10. The people of Cizre were well-equipped for self-defense. They declared in their statement of self-government that it was only by digging trenches that they could breathe easy again.
The AKP government's wave of assassinations, arrests and torture began to escalate, calling up images of the troubled 1990s for many. On August 13, the district of Varto, located in Muş province, joined the declarations of self-government. In response, the state virtually declared war on the people of Varto, starting with a wave of arrests and detentions in the town.
Clashes broke out on August 15, with HPG guerrillas (linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK) taking control of the entrance and exit to the town over the weekend. Armed volunteers set up trenches along all the main streets of Varto. With a strike targeting the district police station and military command, the guerrillas also secured control of the main streets and the roads into town. Guerrillas called on police and soldiers to remain inside for their own safety, leaving police and soldiers unable to leave their buildings.
A photograph began to spread on social media depicting YJA STAR guerrilla Kevser Eltürk (nom de guerre Ekin Wan), whose body police had stripped naked, dragged along the ground, and taken photographs with. Protests against the treatment of Ekin Wan spread across Kurdistan. On August 17, two dead bodies were found in Varto. The two were identified as volunteers named Andok Ekin and Demhat. Police had brutally assassinated one and dismembered the other, according to witnesses.
Varto quickly turned into a war zone as soldiers entered the town center in tanks and armored vehicles. Dozens of buildings were destroyed. A delegation led by Democratic Society Congress (DTK) co-chair Selma Irmak analyzed the damage and met with locals, but reported that government officials refused to meet with them.
The town of Bulanık, also in Muş province near Varto, declared self-government on August 13. Members of the political parties HDP and DBP, neighborhood assemblies and local co-mayors joined in the declaration. There, Zeynep Topçu of the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) spoke on behalf of the Democratic City Assembly, saying that as elected representatives of the people of Bulanık, they would govern themselves, as the regime did not represent them.
August 15, the anniversary of the day when the PKK fired its first bullet in the armed struggle years ago, was the day when the town of Silvan (Farqîn in Kurdish), located in Diyarbakır province, declared its autonomy. The resistance grew after the Farqîn People's Assembly declared self-government. Notably, women played a leading role in the struggle to defend the trenches in Silvan.
The Sur district, the oldest part of the city of Diyarbakır, declared its self-government on August 14. With the declaration of self-defense, police intensified their frequent attacks on the area. The Lalebey neighborhood became the scene of intense police violence as youth attempted to defend the neighborhood from their trenches. HDP and DBP elected officials held an overnight vigil in the neighborhood to prevent clashes.
The district of Lice, in Diyarbakır province, is a place where many youth have died over the years at the hands of the state--from 12-year-old Ceylan Önkol, killed by police, to 18-year-old Medeni Yıldırım, shot while protesting the building of a new police base. Recently, young men and women also took to the streets with a determination to defend their neighborhoods from police attack. Police have roamed the streets in armored vehicles opening fire indiscriminately on the neighborhoods, to which resistance members have been responding with guns and stun grenades.
In the town of Yüksekova, located in Hakkari province, the resistance has spread starting in the neighborhoods of Orman, Kışla and Dize. Youth managed to completely close off access to the neighborhoods with trenches. Locals formed Self-Defense Units to hold armed vigils overnight. Residents danced traditional dances around fires, singing songs to enliven the vigil. Following Yüksekova, the neighboring town of Şemdinli also declared self-government.
In the city of Batman, the neighborhood assembly in the Bağlar neighborhood declared self-government as "an urgent necessity against the state and the AKP government's total attack." Eastern Van province has seen autonomy declared in the district of Edremit, near the city of Van, where the Edremit Democratic People's Assembly declared their rejection of the state. In the neighborhood of Hacıbekir (Xaçort in Kurdish), located in the central İpekyolu area of Van, the neighborhood's Democratic People's Assembly also declared self-government.
Declarations of self-government and the commitment to self-defense are only spreading. Today, self-government has been declared in the Doğubeyazıt district of Ağrı province and in the Gazi neighborhood in Istanbul.