Over half a million Kurds have been forced out of their homes as a result of a brutal crackdown by Turkish authorities in the past year, which may amount to collective punishment, said Amnesty International in a new report about the UNESCO world heritage site of Sur.
Homes in the once-bustling Sur district of the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Kurdistan, have been destroyed by shelling, demolished and expropriated to pave the way for a redevelopment project that very few former residents are likely to benefit from.
“A year after a round-the-clock curfew was imposed in Sur, thousands of people remain displaced from their homes, struggling to make ends meet and facing an uncertain future in an increasingly repressive atmosphere,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
“Whilst the crackdown on civil society in south-eastern Turkey has been widely reported, there has been little coverage of the forced displacement which has devastated the lives of ordinary people under the pretext of security,” he said.
Following the breakdown of a ceasefire in July 2015, clashes broke out between people affiliated to the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish security forces. The clashes in UNESCO heritage site Sur ended in March 2016, but a military curfew has remained in large parts of the district.
Following the forced evictions, almost all properties have been expropriated by Turkish authorities with many buildings demolished. Although return has been made almost impossible by the curfew and the destruction, some residents have ventured back only to find their homes ransacked and possessions looted or destroyed.
“I can’t even cry any more. I have cried so much over losing my house,” said a Kurdish man who returned to his home eight months after being displaced, to find all of its walls had collapsed.
Police forced another man to leave his home, together with his father and brother, before detaining them. “They forced us to leave with guns to our heads,” he told Amnesty International. All three of them were initially charged with terrorism offences, but the charges have subsequently been dropped.
“We found all our belongings broken and piled up in in the courtyard,” a woman told Amnesty. She said she was harassed by the police when she visited her home six months after being forced to leave, and is not planning to go back. Her family were offered 3,000TL (around 800 Euro) compensation for the loss of their possessions, a fraction of what they were worth. “We were going to appeal but they said that this is all we would get, so we signed,” her daughter-in-law said.
To compound the situation, the targeting of Kurdish opposition voices following the coup attempt has meant that NGOs providing vital support for poor and displaced people have now been shut down in November for unspecified grounds of “links to terrorist organizations or threats to national security”.
Kurdish residents reject government claims that the ongoing curfew and house demolitions are being done in the interest of security, given that the clashes finished over eight months ago. Instead, they see them as part of a calculated plan to redevelop their neighbourhoods and resettle them elsewhere.
An urban regeneration project first aired in 2012 has been resurrected, but details remain scant and residents have not been consulted. This follows a pattern of such projects in Turkey, which have forcibly evicted residents who are never able to return home.
“On the bitter anniversary of the curfew in Sur, much of the population of this world heritage site have been forced to look on as their own heritage has been bulldozed,” said John Dalhuisen.
“Shockingly, the desperate situation facing the displaced residents of Sur is mirrored in dozens of other districts across south-east Turkey. The government must act urgently to lift the curfew, ensure affected communities are fully compensated and either helped to return to what remains of their homes or, at the very least, to their neighbourhoods,” he said.