Thousands of Turkish Civilians Stuck in War Zone

Thousands of Turkish Civilians Stuck in War ZoneThousands of Turkish Civilians Stuck in War Zone

Tens of thousands of civilians in southeast Turkey have been caught in the middle as government forces and Kurdish militants battle it out in urban areas, which violence has shattered hopes of reviving peace talks.

Turkish security forces launched a large-scale operation last week hoping to rout militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, and say more than 180 of them have been killed.

Thousands of troops and tanks have been sent to crush pockets of resistance across mainly Kurdish districts, where PKK fighters and youth have set up trenches to keep them at bay. Flashpoints have been under a 24-hour curfew since mid-December, according to AP.

While there have been repeated clashes and long curfews since the collapse of peace talks in July, many in the region had hoped the talks would resume after a November election gave a decisive majority to the Justice and Development Party founded by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Instead, the fighting has gotten worse.

“If things continue like this, we will become just like Syria,” says Mehmet Salih Bagata, a lawyer in the southeastern town of Cizre, the scene of the heaviest clashes and the highest reported fatalities since authorities stepped up military operations.

The leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, which made history when it entered parliament in June but lost seats in the November vote, has attempted to mediate the conflict with the PKK, repeatedly urging both sides to “silence their arms”.

Residents of Cizre say they are fast running out of food and water, and rights abuses have been rife. Shops have been shuttered for 11 days as a result of the government curfew. The fighting means many are stranded at home or in basements, and those in need of medical attention cannot reach hospitals.

The situation is similar in the southeastern town of Silopi, near the border with Syria and Iraq, where residents are struggling to survive the round-the-clock curfew, fighting and power cuts. One lawmaker said more than 11 civilians have been killed in Silopi since Dec. 14, when the curfew was imposed to aid security operations. She says the fighting is so intense that families are unable to bury their dead.

While Turkey has developed strong ties with the Kurds of Iraq, it views their brethren in Syria with distrust, a dynamic that complicates international efforts to fight IS terrorists. In the eyes of the western anti-IS coalition, both Syrian and Iraqi Kurds have proved reliable allies worthy of weapons and backup.

“The government was using light weapons in the beginning but now it’s using heavy weapons,” says Abdullah Ekinci, a human rights activist who left Cizre with his family just before the start of security operations. “You cannot use tanks in civilian areas. The government is using disproportionate force.”

The two sides have changed tactics and appear determined to fight to the death, Ekinci said, a strategy that has set the stage for rising civilian casualties and human rights violations. He faulted the PKK for placing bombs under barricades and for endangering civilians.

“Both parties are violating human rights right now,” he said.