Amnesty International release their report “DISPLACED AND DISPOSSESSED: SUR RESIDENTS’ RIGHT TO RETURN HOME”.
“This briefing focuses on the forced displacement of around 24,000 people from Sur, the historic central district of Diyarbakır; it documents the circumstances of their displacement, the ongoing violations of their rights, notably to adequate housing, and the increasingly remote prospect of their being able to return to their homes or the district they lived in.” (Amnesty International)
Sur – (“…one of the poorest districts in Diyarbakir, itself at the centre of the south-east of Turkey, the poorest region in Turkey…) – is the central district of the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir (Amed) in Northern Kurdistan. It is a historic district in a city with a recorded history going back to 1,300 BCE. UNESCO tells us:
“Located on an escarpment of the Upper Tigris River Basin that is part of the so-called Fertile Crescent, the fortified city of Diyarbakır and the landscape around has been an important centre since the Hellenistic period, through the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman times to the present.”
Not for much longer it appears…
,,,despite its World Heritage status and the United Nations Agency’s commitment to protect it. Not since the June 2015 elections (where the AKP & President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lost their majority) and the July 2015 collapse of the peace talks between the Turkish State and the PKK, (the Kurdistan Workers Party) and the violent military assault on “Turkish” Kurdistan that followed. By early September 2015 curfews had been imposed on the area, electricity and other basic services were cut and by December 2015 those who had not fled or been ordered out by the military were trapped in their homes under an indefinite military curfew; often unable to get food and surrounded by the sound of heavy artillery and machine gun fire as the curfew served as a cover for an extended assault on the different districts of eastern Diyarbakir: “… in early December Turkey’s military went in with tanks, urban assault vehicles and waves of troops to root out the young Kurdish militants. Recent photos and video footage from Sur show scenes of devastation reminiscent of present-day Syria…” Amnesty tells us.
The ‘Displaced & Dispossessed: SUR Residents’ Right to Return Home’ report was released to coincide with the first anniversary of the curfew, December 11, 2015 when an indefinite curfew was extended over 6 of the 15 neighbourhoods of Sur.
By February 2016, two months into the curfew, the British Guardian newspaper reported:
“Sur has about 120,000 residents – or did before the fighting began – more than 30,000 have now fled.”
That figure has since been revised upwards by Amnesty’s current count:
“The number of people displaced from Sur was estimated by the municipal authorities to be 40,000.”
This figure is part of the overall figure of 500,00 civilians estimated by the Rights organisation to have ben displaced in the entire Kurdish region in response to the level of military force used against both PKK militants and the civilian population.
“Until now, an estimated 2,360 people have died, including at least 368 people who were unarmed residents. It is likely that at least half a million people have been forcibly displaced by the violence, large-scale destruction of property and by ongoing curfews in areas across the south-east. This briefing focuses on the forced displacement of around 24,000 people from Sur, the historic central district of Diyarbakır; it documents the circumstances of their displacement, the ongoing violations of their rights, notably to adequate housing, and the increasingly remote prospect of their being able to return to their homes or the district they lived in.” (Amnesty, page 5)
The result of this in the 6 key areas of Sur targeted was almost complete destruction, displacement and a widespread exodus of its people many of whom had been forcibly displaced from the surrounding countryside during earlier periods of military activity.
“In light of the disproportionate use of lethal force and the difficulties of surviving under curfew conditions, including the frequent deprivation of water and electricity, all or nearly all of the roughly 24,000 residents of the six neighbourhoods of Sur under curfew have left their homes. The majority remain empty and under curfew to this day.” (Amnesty, Page 5)
“Like in Sur, in each of the cities where long-term round-the-clock curfews were imposed, the use of heavy artillery and the huge destruction of infrastructure and buildings during and after operations by security forces was accompanied by the forced displacement of almost the entire population. Following the cessation of the clashes in Sur, almost all property has been expropriated and many buildings already demolished, with a view to the district’s redevelopment. “ (Amnesty, Page 8)
On the 9 March 2016, Turkish authorities announce that the military operation in Sur has concluded. “Armed clashes are over, but the curfew is still in force.” On the 21 March 2016: “The government orders the “emergency expropriation” of most of the land in Sur. The possession of the land passes to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning.”
What was the reason for this, other than the military objective of pacifying the activists of the PKK and punishing the rest of the population?
“The process across the region as a whole is suggestive of a premeditated plan to displace residents, destroy and rebuild the areas to ensure security through changes in infrastructure and transfers of population. Return to the areas has been prevented, either by continuing curfews, or by the sheer scale of the damage to housing and infrastructure” Amnesty tells us…
This now fits in with the ongoing assault on civil liberties following the July 2016 attempted coup:
“The Sur and Diyarbakır Metropolitan municipality mayors, key actors in providing support for displaced families in the city, have been replaced by government trustees and NGOs providing direct humanitarian and other assistance have been shut down.” (Amnesty, Page 5)
Thus the strategic goal of silencing the Kurdish opposition by the AKP (The Justice and Development Party of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) would now appear to be linked to the overall re-development of areas that appear problematic to the one party rule of President Erdoğan’s party:
“Sur residents are among an estimated half-million people displaced in the southeast of the country in what appears to be a deliberate policy to displace residents and destroy and rebuild urban areas to ensure security through changes in infrastructure and population transfers…” the report adds.
The irony here is, as already pointed out, that many of these recently displaced from Sur arrived there as a result of earlier purges by the Turkish military in the Kurdish countryside: “Many of the people in Sur came there after being forced to evacuate from rural villages during the conflict in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Forced relocations by Turkey’s security forces at that time resulted in Diyarbakır’s population more than doubling in size.”
Despite all this, Amnesty is insistent on affirming that – and alongside reminding the Turkish Authorities that Turkey is a signatory to various international human rights conventions – people have rights:
“International human rights law conventions to which Turkey is a party contain protections for the rights of internally displaced people. Displaced people retain the same civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights as anyone else within the country and must not be discriminated against due to their status.” (Amnesty, Page 10)
Not that this seems to matter to those currently in power in Turkey.
“The curfew areas from which people were forcibly displaced, were the scene of widespread human rights violations and accompanying impunity for perpetrators. Under the state of emergency the human rights situation in the south-east of Turkey has deteriorated still further. In a series of executive decrees issued under the state of emergency, the government, as part of a systematic attack on dissenting voices across the political spectrum, has acted to eliminate all opposition Kurdish voices.
This has included media, NGOs and political representatives supporting displaced people in the south-east. Government decrees have permanently shut down all opposition national Kurdish media outlets and many regional ones based in Diyarbakır and elsewhere in the south-east of Turkey, and replaced elected mayors, including those for Sur and Diyarbakır, with government appointed trustees.
In November, hundreds of NGOs across Turkey were first suspended, then permanently closed on the unspecified grounds of “links to terrorist organizations or threats to national security”. Among the NGOs that were closed were NGOs providing direct assistance to families displaced from Sur. These developments and the general deterioration in human rights under the state of emergency across the country make the prospect of IDPs being able to access and enjoy their rights even more remote…” (Amnesty, Page 11)
People who left usually left without their possessions, people who had little ended up with even less, leaving in fear and seeking shelter and refuge with relatives or in other low cost and overcrowded rented accommodation in other parts of Diyarbakir or where it was available. As one woman resident of Sur told Amnesty:
“All my life I have lived in poverty, all I had was the house, all I wanted was for my son to go to university. Now I have neither.”
Most lost their jobs, or their work in the informal economy and thus their income by being displaced. For those who had little and who lost all in being displaced the savagery wreaked on their homes after they left by the military would mean that the loss would remain permanent even if they managed to return to their places of residence:
“In June, Amnesty International accompanied families returning to their homes in the area of 14 streets where the curfew was lifted. Amnesty International observed that homes had been ransacked, possessions were often burnt or otherwise destroyed. Families told Amnesty International that valuable possessions such as white goods, and electrical equipment had been shot at and destroyed, apparently deliberately.
Families also reported that expensive items including jewellery, handmade wool mattresses, chests containing valuable items stored until daughters’ marriages and electrical items had been looted from their houses during the curfew. The impact on the families is compounded by the fact that for many their wealth consisted of their houses and their household possessions rather than in the form of savings.” (Amnesty, Page 18)
On the 4 September 2016, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced that the regional investment and reconstruction plan for east and south-east Turkey would include 7,000 new homes in Sur. Unfortunately “…the announcement makes no reference to consultation with residents. The return of displaced residents to Sur continues to appear unlikely.”
The prospects of displaced people returning home appears increasingly unlikely despite “..the government of Turkey [having] a duty to facilitate the voluntary return of displaced persons to their homes or places of habitual residence, derived from the right to freedom of movement and choose ones residence as set out in Article 12 of the ICCPR.” (Amnesty, Page 25)
Now in December 2016: “One year on, however, most of the 24,000 residents from the six neighbourhoods in Sur under the main curfew remain displaced, as do a minority of residents from other neighbourhoods within Sur. Worryingly, there is no concrete, publicly available or convincing government plan for return, nor has there been any genuine attempt to consult with or involve residents in the planning of their return.”
On December 23, 2015 Global Rights published a series of photographs from Sur showing the devastation already experienced as a result of the Turkish military’s incursion into Diyarbakir:
Sur (Diyarbakir) under attack