CIZRE, TURKEY —
A reported 10,000 Turkish troops and police are carrying out operations in Cizre and Silopi, two largely Kurdish areas in southeastern Turkey's Sirnak province. While the government says the campaign is targeting members of the outlawed PKK Kurdish militant group and its supporters, civilians in the regions, both under curfew, say they are suffering and living in fear.
A week ago, by an official decision of the Education Ministry, about 3,000 teachers in Cizre and Silopi were ordered to leave. Now the security forces are using these schools for their bases of operation and as places to sleep.
Many Kurds in Turkey's southeast believed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might relent in a clampdown against Kurdish militants after his party won back its majority in an election in November.
Before the November 1 vote, the view among some of Turkey's Kurds was that Erdogan had engineered a new conflict with the PKK to win over Turkish nationalist voters and help the AK Party he founded, but no longer formally leads, return to the single-party rule it had lost in an earlier vote in June. Erdogan rejects such a plot.
Today, seven weeks after the second election achieved a stronger-than-expected single party majority for the AKP, swaths of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast are still under lockdown. But battles once fought in the countryside are now waged in densely populated urban areas.
Erdogan vowed this week that security forces would "annihilate" militants in the trenches. "Until those places are cleared, there will be no pause and operations will continue,” he said.
An armed Kurdish militant walks in the Okmeydani district of Istanbul during a demonstration against recent curfews imposed on Kurdish towns, Dec. 15, 2015.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed those remarks: “I call upon the residents of the areas to rise against the terrorists and defend their quarters and cities.”
Army tanks are on the streets in Silopi, and Turkish soldiers are using sledgehammers to break down doors and enter houses to arrest PKK members and those who belong to the YDG-H, known as a PKK-affiliated youth group.
Throughout the region, from Sirnak to Diyarbakir, people have protested the government's operations and curfews that include Sur, Dargecit, Silopi, Cizre and elsewhere.
Caglar Demirel, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, voiced concerns about the security measures.
“All towns and cities in the region must support the residents of those areas who are under the military operation," Demirel said. "Everyone should react to the situation and arrange demonstrations.”
More protests were expected in the coming days.