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Impressions from Cizre: `There is no PKK here, we are the people and we defend ourselves’ – Murat Bay

‘At the barricade a young person that we talk to next to one of the trenches says that “There is no PKK here, we are the people and we defend ourselves”. The young person indicates that he is a worker and says that “I work during day time and I stand guard at night”

While on my way to Cizre to follow the developments in the ongoing conflict, I met with the Halkevleri delegation in Adana. We hit the road with infant formulas collected for Cizre where the local population has been condemned to starvation for days. Our vehicle was stopped when exiting Adana by the police officers that had been following us from the moment that we set began our trip. The police officers, with automatic guns in their hands, surrounded us as they searched, conducted identity checks and recorded the whole “operation” with the police camera. At a moment when the country needs solidarity the most in the name of peace, even the infant formulas that were taken from the west to the east were being transported under the shadow of guns. May be the state was asking us – hundreds of kilometres away from Cizre – “are you sure about traveling there?”. We kept going…

After passing Urfa, from then on, we were in a different geography; armoured vehicles, heavy armed military personnel and special units… It is hard to believe that we were within the borders of the same country where I met friends at Taksim for tea a day ago. The soldiers that had stopped our car at the first search point, were kind, unlike the negative experience that we had at the hands of the police officers in Adana. The soldier that asked for our IDs, a very young kid at his twenties, with sun burned red cheeks apologises with a smile for making us wait. The soldier right next to him from Adana tries to chitchat with his fellow townsman from Adana. The excitement emerging on the soldier’s face transpires as if he comes across with an oasis in the middle of a desert. May be every familiar thing he encounters in the middle of the war reminds him of the life he misses remaining behind his uniform.

Following search points, we initially search for the town hall when we arrive in Cizre. Everyone on the street answers our questions and helps us along. On our way to hand over the aid materials to a warehouse in Cudi neighbourhood, we witness what is experienced there…

The youth are protecting the neighbourhood

Although the control of the main roads and surrounding hills of the city are in the hands of law enforcement, the neighbourhoods are held by local militia. The person from Cizre that is accompanying us in the car says that “the youth are protecting the neighbourhood, the police has shot many civilians around here”.

In the middle of Cudi neighbourhood, there is the condolence house of Cizre Municipality. Every day hundreds of women gather at the condolence house with photos of their lost ones in their arms. Rather than fear or anger, there is a certain grief dominating their face. The people want to be understood and they do not want the atrocities to be buried only in their memories. The mothers want to share their pain and and have an accounting for everything that has happened. There is no hate speech against neither the army nor the police and yet, they state that the only person responsible for everything is Erdogan. Everyone holds him responsible for everything that has happened and point to his lust for the presidency as the reason why Cizre has suffered so much bloodshed.

We went to Nur neighbourhood where the clashes were violent with a crowded delegation including representatives of United June Movement, EMEP and Halkevleri. Every journalist knows that it is boring to follow delegations, for that reason I take the necessary photographs and sneak out at the first street corner. Streets full of trenches, barricades, sheets stretched out in the streets, walls pierced by bullets, pieces of bombs … This scene that I was familiar with from the streets of Kobanê revealed the seriousness of the conflict.

At the muzzle of the gun, under the protection of the trenches

Nur neighbourhood is the last neighbourhood at the east end of the town. On the main road that we cross on our way to there, scorpion type armoured vehicles are following our moves with the cameras on their top. Because the camera is integrated to a heavy machine gun, I cannot predict whether it is the cameral or the muzzle of the gun following me. Even though the law enforcement tried to enter the neighbourhoods with these armoured vehicles and heavy guns, they were unable to proceed much further. For this reason, there has not been violent clashes in Cudi and other neighbourhoods. In all the streets there are barricades composed of trenches that are dug, rocks or sandbags. I have repeatedly been warned about explosives when I was passing over trenches. Although there has not been any incidents in the past two days, guard duties continue. Also many streets are closed in order to be protected from sniper fire. Although there has not been clashes in the streets of Cudi neighbourhood, the biggest number of civilian losses have arisen here. It is said that the snipers have been firing at everything that moves from a hill overlooking the town.

The police announcements that reminds ISIS

There is not a single wall in Nur neighbourhood that a bullet has not hit. In many houses there has been fires. Even the fire trucks and ambulances could not enter the streets and the people had to watch their houses turn into ashes. A woman that wanted to show her house while passing through the street expresses the horror she has experienced: “Bombs were dropping on us for days. They had cut off electricity, water and phone lines. We were hiding at a room in the back of the house, the bullets were raining down on the garden and finally our wall was struck by a rocket bullet. Together with the neighbours we opened a hole on the wall and with my children we entered the neighbour’s home which opened up to the back alley and we escaped from there.”

Another woman expressed that they were subject to all types of psychological harassment and indicated that there was an attempt to suppress the people though fear, she said: “They swore at us saying that we are Armenian bastards. Although there are no Arabs in the region they were making announcements in Arabic, some police officers had long beards, this is the DAIS mentality.”

Everyone on the inside express that thousands of special operations officers were brought from out of the city. A young person states behind the barricades that “their aim was to carry out a massacre but these people have resisted them”. One of the most interesting claims I encountered was about what a police chief said during a dialogue with the special operation units: “You came here and started a war and tomorrow or the day after you will go away, we live here and you have drawn us in a war”

Work during day, resistance at night

At the barricade a young person that we talk to next to one of the trenches says that “There is no PKK here, we are the people and we defend ourselves”. The young person indicates that he is a worker and says that “I work during day time and I stand guard at night”. The young person states that before the elections all was good and continues: “Erdogan started this war, before the elections the police officers could walk around on the streets comfortably with their families, I had my own costumers, may be you will not believe it but we would even play football with the police. No one here has a problem with the police.  They killed infants, elderly, they deprived food and water, we defend ourselves here”. As for the man next to him, he says that “There were always incidents, police would throw tear gas and the youth would throw fireworks but these men came to kill and it is for this reason that these young people are holding guns”. As a matter of fact, here, the attitude of the people towards the state is determined by the state itself.

The silence that falls at night

At night although the streets are not completely emptied, silence pervades. During the first night that we arrived, every so often gunshots could be heard but for the last two days there has not been any clashes. This situation normalises life, even if just a bit. Here the people want an end to civilian losses and everyone we have talked to – including the youth at the barricades – do not want soldiers or police officers to die either. The fundamental plea is that the state comes to terms with the will of the people… But in Cizre, where the elected representatives are unseated, the state is represented by armoured vehicles and snipers.

In the face of all the traumas that have been experienced, nevertheless the children are still on the streets. Everyone we meet are inviting and sharing, with all their hearts. You are welcomed at every house you greet. Journalists and activists from the west where the Kurdish people are subject to lynches through racist attacks, where their houses are being burned down, are welcomed with open arms and are bidden farewell safe and sound.

In Cizre the solidarity that we, the large city-dwellers, try to organise but yet have not been able to turn into a sustainable practice, is being experienced and kept alive. What is present here is not a feudal solidarity of a clan, but the product of an organised life based on its own philosophy of life. All the people, young and old alike, know what they want. They accept freedom as a universal value and demand it for everyone. While describing self-defence, they also defend the right to life of the tree that have been knocked down by a rocket, a cat that has been killed during the clashes. The thing that will teach coexistence is the will put forward by the demand for peace that the people have not abandoned despite the incidents in Cizre. The peace that this will bear is the peace of the people.

[Translated to English from the Turkish original at by Faika Deniz Paşa]

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