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Turkey's Pro-Kurdish Party Accuses Security Forces of Massacre

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - Militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, stand in a bunker in Sirnak, Turkey, Dec. 23, 2015.

FILE - Militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, stand in a bunker in Sirnak, Turkey, Dec. 23, 2015.

Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party is calling for an investigation into what it says was a massacre of dozens of people by Turkish forces during recent security operations against the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, in the densely populated town of Cizre.

The government has dismissed such allegations and pledged to continue its operations against the PKK in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, blames the security forces for the deaths of more than 150 people who were trapped in basements in Cizre at the end of a two-month-long operation against the youth wing of the PKK.

Parliamentary deputy Ertugrul Kurkcu, the HDP's honorary president, acknowledged that PKK members were among the casualties, but said they had posed no threat.

FILE - People emerge from their homes following the lifting of a curfew in the mainly Kurdish town of Cizre, Turkey, Sept. 12, 2015.

FILE - People emerge from their homes following the lifting of a curfew in the mainly Kurdish town of Cizre, Turkey, Sept. 12, 2015.

"From those basements, people were waiting for medical aid, in groups as big as 30, 40, 70, but instead they were summarily executed,” Kurkcu said. “And there is evidence [from] people who've seen the bodies … that these people were generally burned to death, or they were shot one by one."

Turkey's government dismisses the claims, saying security forces are battling a terrorist organization. During the operation in Cizre, tanks were used to destroy several neighborhoods. The army claims to have killed more than 600 rebels, but has not given figures for civilian casualties.

Cizre remains under a curfew and access is severely restricted.

But Emma Sinclair Webb, senior Turkey researcher for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said there is an urgent need for clarity over what happened.

"It's very important that, basically, full autopsies are conducted and the circumstances of these deaths are established,” Sinclair Webb said. “In order to answer the questions that are being raised at the moment among the Kurdish community, it will be essential that there is a full and independent investigation into the deaths."

The government has rejected calls for an independent inquiry, while human rights lawyers say their legal right to attend the autopsies is being denied.

The HDP is voicing concerns for the plight of civilians trapped in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, where security forces are intensifying a crackdown.

The HDP's Kurkcu warns that the ongoing crackdown could ultimately threaten the future of the country.

"The belief in living together is very severely damaged,” Kurkcu said, “Therefore this creates a big difficulty in working out a political plan for a common future for the Kurds and Turks, particularly in the war-torn areas."

The government insists the PKK threat is as potent as that of Islamic State. Last week, a Kurdish rebel group linked to the PKK bombed a military bus in the capital, Ankara, killing 28 people.

Observers warn that the conflict looks likely to escalate.

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