His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki Moon Secretary General,
United Nations United Nations Headquarters New York City, NY, USA
Dear Secretary General,
We are closely following preparations for the First World Humanitarian Summit called by his Excellency to convene in Istanbul on 23-24 May 2016 for the adjustment of the international humanitarian system to respond to new needs created by changing forms of war, conflict, and human suffering at a global scale.
This summit is taking place at a time when the foundations of democracy and social peace are heavily undermined by authoritarian state violence in Turkey; when the war and humanitarian destruction in the country’s Kurdish region are extremely aggravated; and when the country is witnessing in its southern borders one of the most massive refugee crises in our time.
We could only hope that this summit, which is to bring together the leaders of more than one hundred countries, humanitarian organizations, NGOs and business circles with the motto “One Humanity, Shared Responsibility,” would mobilize international mechanisms to also respond to alarming violations of universal human rights and humanitarian law within and around the borders of Turkey.
However, we remain deeply concerned about the possibility that hosting such a critical meeting might serve the Erdoğan regime to cover up the gross rights violations and crimes that it has been committing in Turkey with utter disregard of any humanitarian or legal accountability. With this reservation, we take it as our responsibility to share with you a brief account of the multifaceted political and humanitarian crises that Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule has engineered in our country.
Over the last few years, the AKP government in Turkey, which was initially shown as a model for the Middle East, has turned into a rogue force sabotaging the possibilities of peaceful coexistence and stability in the country and in the region at large. Mr Erdoğan’s interventionist sectarian foreign policy aggravated the Syrian crisis from the very beginning, gradually expanding the Syrian war into Turkey’s territory and the conflict in Turkey into Syria.
The regional conflict the Erdoğan regime fomented took a dramatic turn in April 2015, when Mr Erdoğan abruptly ended the peace process with the Kurdish movement that had been initiated in March 2013 to develop a sustainable peaceful solution for the Kurdish conflict in Turkey.
Since then, the government has been using a relentless “national security” and “anti-terror” discourse to criminalize and repress any opposition against its militarist policies within and outside the country. The prosecution of 1128 Academics for Peace with the charge of “supporting terrorism”, who, after years of supporting the government’s initiative of peaceful solution, criticized the government’s war policies against the Kurds, is only one example of the state-securitist witch-hunt that democratic peace activists are subjected to in the country today. The Erdoğan regime defines this familiar authoritarian state security logic in which there are no checks and balances and politics is replaced by “security operations” against the political parties, NGOs, media corporations, universities and business enterprises as New Turkey.
In this context, the Erdoğan regime punishes any reporting or criticism of the escalation of war in the Kurdish region as “terrorist propaganda”, arbitrarily and violently detaining and imprisoning activists and journalists, and criminalizes criticisms of its Syrian policy as act of “treason” or “spying,” as in the conviction of the journalists Can Dündar ve Erdem Gül for deciphering the trucks load of weapons transferred by the Government to jihadist groups in Syria, hiding this transfer as humanitarian transports.
The rise of totalitarianism in Turkey along with an escalation of the armed conflict does not only entail targeted attacks on human rights and freedoms but also massive scale humanitarian crises that afflict both the Kurdish population in the Southeast Region and the Syrian refugees.
As it is documented in successive reports by local and international human rights organizations, the military operations launched over the past year under the pretext of “war on terror” have turned into a targeted persecution of Kurds and destruction of their habitat. With the declaration of indefinite curfews and sieges in the Kurdish-populated cities and towns since July 2015, in explicit violation of both Turkey‘s Constitution and administrative law and the international conventions on human rights and armed conflict, the Erdoğan regime has turned the entire region into an open armed conflict zone.
Up to the present, indefinite and round-the-clock curfews are announced sixty-five times, which stretches from one day to a couple of months, in 7 cities and 22 towns whose population is around 1.7 million, and these towns are among those recorded the highest rate of vote for the HDP.
Continuous military and police operations complement the curfews, which are executed without giving any notification to the local people and who are deprived of basic goods and services, such as food, shelter and medicine. These operations comprise arbitrary and indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, which makes no distinction between civilians and armed militants. It is well documented that, during the curfews, the special paramilitary forces systematically invaded and destroyed private houses and declared their allegiance to Mr Erdoğan from the bedrooms of Kurdish families, posting evidence of destruction and racial hate on the social media.
As it is highlighted in the observations of UN Committee against Torture on 13 May 2016, widespread and systematic torture, arbitrary detention, and assaults on property are at issue in the areas under the grip of “military operations.” According to our records, more than 550 civilians, including local activists, women, children and older men and women are killed by the special paramilitary forces, 350 thousand people are displaced, and the cultural and commercials centres in the region, namely Sur (Diyarbakır), Cizre, Nusaybin and Silopi, as well as the surrounding residential areas are razed to the ground. It is also documented that the evidence of human and property destruction is systematically bulldozed and buried in areas where civilians are forbidden to enter, barring the collection of evidence. Many human rights activists and journalists have been attacked and detained in conflict zones.
Throughout the military operations the Erdoğan regime not only deprives people of humanitarian and medical aid, for which international law prescribes liability, but also prevents and incriminates local governments and human rights organizations in their attempts to assist civilians, including through mass detentions. 57 mayors and city council members are currently under arrest, while 28 mayors and 24 city council members have been suspended from duty by the Turkish Ministry of Interior.
The grave consequence of suspending the law and humanitarian responsibility is most dramatically observed in the town of Cizre, where at least thirty thousand people were displaced. During seventy-nine days of military siege of Cizre, more than two hundred civilians were massacred in the basements of residential buildings where they took shelter. Despite the continuous efforts of both the Cizre municipality and the human rights organizations in Turkey, i.e. Turkish Medical Association, the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, and Human Right Foundation of Turkey, to reach people under the siege in order to provide humanitarian and medical aid against the spread of epidemics and the danger of famine and deprivation of water, they were stopped at military check points and banned from entering the town.
As of now, the same procedure is in effect in Şırnak, Nusaybin and Yüksekova where the military operations on the ground complemented by aerial bombardments continue for more than sixty days. Turkish human rights organizations reporting on the situation have been personally attacked by Mr Erdoğan, who accused them of treason and terrorism.
The AKP Government’s declaration of an “urban transformation project” and “emergency expropriation” of the private property and heritage sites belonging to the Armenian and Assyrian minorities in Sur, as well as similar measures in other sieged towns, attest to the demographic engineering strategy of the Erdoğan regime. These measures were taken without any consultations with the local population or their representatives, and the local authorities elected by the population were explicitly excluded from any contact with the central government, as they were branded as terrorists by Mr Erdoğan himself. Internal displacement and the resulting humanitarian crisis remain unaddressed, with the affected population being left behind “with chronic needs and constant fear.”
The Government’s humanitarian refugee record fares no better than in the Kurdish region. Notwithstanding the effective role of the Erdoğan regime’s pro-Sunni and anti-Kurdish interventionism in Syria, the significance of maintaining open borders for the displaced Syrians cannot be underestimated. However, actual practices with regards to the protection of Syrian refugees, in particular minorities, women, children, refugees with disabilities and LGBTI refugees, are extremely worrying. While Turkey has incorporated important principles of refugee protection into the national law, there are very limited safeguards practically against discriminatory practices and widespread exploitation of refugees.
It is not a secret that many refugees are deliberately kept in an extremely vulnerable situation in Turkey. The international community observed how the vulnerability of refugees has been manipulated by the Government in threatening the EU with an influx of refugees. It is now common knowledge that the EU has agreed to keep silent in the face of systematic human rights violations against the Kurdish civilians in return for Erdoğan regime’s cooperation to take under control the onward movement of refugees that the regime itself has unleashed, with the humanitarian costs being paid by the refuge women and children washing away on the Aegean beaches.
When we examine what’s happening on the ground, we observe another opportunity that the Erdoğan regime has found in this crisis. The Government’s plans to establish refugee camps with EU support in Alevite districts has raised concerns among the local populations that militant Sunnis are being implanted in their habitats.
Instead of entering in a dialogue with the local population and addressing their concerns that are consistent with the Government’s demographic engineering practices, the Government has responded with violence and arbitrary detention of the local population. Given the record of the Erdoğan regime over the last few years, we are alarmed by the plausibility of the concerns that these projects could help import into Turkey the ethno-sectarian conflict in Syria, the flaring of which itself is a result of the relentless policies of the same regime.
In the report you have published on the occasion of the Istanbul Summit, you have declared your vision to be of, inter alia, restoring trust in global order and showing solidarity with millions of people “living in conflict with chronic needs and constant fear”.
Presently, millions of Kurdish citizens of Turkey and more than a million Syrian refugees are living exactly under the conditions you have described without effective protection. Everyday, Kurdish civilians and Syrian refuges are being killed in Turkey. The citizens in the bordering town of Kilis are being killed in rocket attacks by the Jihadist armed groups who have access to “humanitarian aid” from the Erdoğan regime.
As the People’s Democratic Party, the fundamental principle that inspires us in our struggle for democratization, justice and peace is to flourish potentialities of life and existence in our home in keeping with universal human rights and human dignity.
We firmly believe that the primary homework of the First Humanitarian Summit held by his Excellency in Istanbul is to reach an appropriate position with regards to the alarming situation in our home, among others, and contribute to the development of perspectives to resolve such humanitarian situations. Without addressing the very real humanitarian crises, including the one in this very homeland of peoples that we represent, the people experiencing the conditions described above in Turkey and in the region will once again see the humanitarian agenda being sacrificed to the geopolitical and economic calculations, deepening the existing lack of trust, disappointment and the sense of abandonment.
Finally, given the fact that the complex humanitarian crises in this ancient home of peoples and civilizations, in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Palestine, are direct results of geopolitical and economic calculations and trade-offs between governments, we believe that deepening democracy, embracing the principles of democratic accountability and democratic autonomy at the local level, is central to restoring future and preventing human-made humanitarian crises.
Selahattin Demirtas & Figen Yuksekdag