Destroyed Kurdish village near Lice, Turkey, 2006 From the series “Forbidden people”
“Lice is everywhere, resistance is everywhere!”
A couple of hours south of the marinas of Istanbul in the middle of the Sea of Marmara sits Imrali island, a no-go area sealed off by the Turkish state. The island is Turkey’s most high-security prison – its the equivalent of Alcatraz or Robben Island in South Africa – adapted to incarcerate one man, Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) – an armed group of Kurdish fighters engaged in an insurrection against the Turkish state for 30 years.
Public enemy No 1 to the Turks, lionised by the Kurds, Öcalan has been demonised by Ankara for most of the 14 years he has been in solitary confinement on the island. The prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even said recently he would have liked to have seen Öcalan executed.
Kurds Are Finally Heard: Turkey Burned Our Villages
The climate between the Turks and Kurds has changed sharply in recent months, as the country’s leaders have eagerly pushed for entry into the European Union. At the insistence of the Union, the Turkish government has enacted measures to expand the rights of its 14 million Kurds, who have long been denied the legal and cultural freedoms enjoyed by other Turkish citizens.
Since last year, the Turkish Parliament has passed laws allowing Kurdish parents to give their children Kurdish names, Kurdish teachers to hold classes on the Kurdish language, and Kurdish broadcasters to set up their own television station. Earlier this year, the government lifted emergency rule in the areas where it remained in the southeastern part of the country.
Human rights groups here say Turkish security forces destroyed as many as 4,000 villages and hamlets and displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurds. The villages were burned during the ferocious war between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels. More than 30,000 people died.
But until last week, according to Kurdish lawyers, the scorched-earth practices of the Turkish government were too sensitive a topic to speak about in Turkey itself. Claiming that Turkish forces had burned a Kurdish village, they said, was often tantamount to a death sentence.
Kurdish people who filed claims for their burned homes often disappeared, said Selhattin Demirtas, the chairman of the Human Rights Association of Diyarbakir, as did, sometimes, the lawyers themselves.
Nusret Miroglu, the governor of Diyarbakir, denied the accusations. ”The Turkish army does not burn villages — this is a lie,” he said ”We are a country of laws.”
”It is quite possible,” Governor Miroglu continued, ”that the terrorists burned this village.” He was referring to Kurdish rebels.
One after another, the villagers stepped forward in their tattered clothes, took the courtroom oath and spoke of a previously unutterable crimes.
One of the first was Emine Toprak, an elderly Kurdish woman whose cracked and withered face hinted at her story to come.
”I was sitting in the house with my children, and they came and said we are going to burn your house, and so we got out,” Ms. Toprak told a row of silk-robbed Turkish judges seated before her.
”Who burned your village?” one of the Turkish judges asked.
”The government forces,” Ms. Toprak answered.
So it was in a third-floor Turkish courtroom last month that a handful of Kurdish villagers broke the silence that has prevailed in this country over what human rights groups here say was one of the most violent secrets of the 1990’s: the systematic campaign by Turkish security forces to burn down villages of Kurds suspected of harboring separatist guerrillas.
Turkish policy toward the Kurds has since become conciliatory. But the courtroom scene was a powerful reminder of how much bad history hangs over Turkish plans — initially encouraged by the Bush administration — to deploy troops in Iraq, where four to five million Kurds live in the northern part of the country.
The changing relationship between the Turkish government and its Kurdish subjects was evident in the very fact that the court hearings took place. ”What you saw today could never have happened four years ago,” Meral Bestas, a Kurdish lawyer, said after last week’s court hearing. ”People were too afraid.”
But the new Turkish policy extends only so far. Despite the testimony of 20 villagers, each of whom told much the same story, the judge in the case, Mithat Ozcakmaktasi, ruled that more time was needed for a verdict.
Soldat: Vi begik forbrydelser. Bagefter fik vi soldater, der kunne tale kurdisk, iklædt lokalt tøj og fik dem til at fortælle pressen, at PKK stod bag forbrydelserne.
En tidligere tyrkisk soldat fortæller en statslig anklager, at han var del af en militærenhed, som nedbrændte 3000 landsbyer i Diyarbekir.
“Det tilfaldt vores enhed at nedbrænde landsbyer. I vores tidsperiode brændte vi 3000 landsbyer ned i distrikterne Hazro, Lice, Hani og Kulp.”
Soldaten, der ønsker at være anonym af sikkerhedshensyn, fortæller endvidere til avisen Taraf, at nedbrændingerne foregik så hurtigt, at folk knap nok fik tid til at pakke deres ting.
”Vi kontrollerede heller ikke om der var dyre i deres stalde, inden vi satte ild til det.”
Efterfølgende blev soldater i enheden, som kunne kurdisk, iklædt traditionelt og lokalt kurdisk tøj og udtalte foran international presse: ”PKK har nedbrændt Lice”.
Den tyrkiske hær menes at have nedbrændt ca. 3500 landsbyer i jagten på PKK. Det fordrev op til tre millioner kurdere fra deres hjem.
Tidligere har Amnesty International dokumenteret, at flere hændelser, som blev tilskrevet PKK, i virkeligheden var begået af den tyrkiske stat selv.