Cizre Is Like Kobanê and Sinjar Now
KQ Exclusive Interview With Faysal Sariyildiz
Peoples’ Democratic Party Şırnak deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız has been the only source of information from inside the besieged district of Cızre for the past two months. He has informed public opinion through social media and made many appeals to International organisations to end the siege in Cizre and prevent the massacre of civilians.
Sarıyıldız was first elected to Parliament in 2011 as a candidate of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the predecessor of the HDP, while he was in prison for alleged membership of a terrorist organisation. He was arrested in 2009 as part of the KCK operations and released in 2014 without being tried or sentenced. He was re-elected to parliament in 2015.
Kurdish Question interviewed Mr. Sarıyıldız in the aftermath of the basement massacres to get a clearer, uncensored and immediate picture of the situation in Cizre.
Where are you now Mr. Sarıyıldız?
I’m in Şırnak’s Cizre district, where there has been a curfew for 62 days on the orders of the AKP government and the decision taken by the Şırnak Governorate.
In which neighbourhoods are operations and sieges taking place?
Operations and sieges aren’t limited to certain neighbourhoods. The siege is being implemented in every corner of the district centre. However there is a concentration in the Nur, Cudi, Sur and Yafes neighbourhoods, which are under intense attack and siege.
What is the population living in these neighbourhoods at the moment?
According to the 2015 consensus the population of Cizre is 131, 816. The four neighbourhoods I mentioned make up 2/3 of this figure. Due to the state’s devastating and extra-legal attacks, the people living in the Cudi, Nur and Sur neighbourhoods have been entirely displaced, while more than half of the population in Yafes have also left their homes. Furthermore, the state’s forced displacement policy was also implemented in neighbourhoods where attacks are not concentrated. We can say that more than 100,000 people have been displaced.
For more than 2 months Cizre has been under siege; what are people eating, drinking, in short, how are they living?
People have consumed all they had stocked during this time. In Cizre, social and neighbourly relations are strong. Moreover there is collective solidarity because the people belong to the same political identity. However there is serious hardship because of the length of the siege. For example the state allowed only a couple of shops to remain open on certain days. But only the people living close to these shops could take advantage of this. The people living far away from these shops in neighbourhoods under heavy attack can in no way access necessities. Because leaving your home to buy bread can result in being shot at or being hit by the shrapnel of a mortar; in short, dying. The price of coming out onto the street is death. Moreover the police recently prevented these shops from opening.
At the same time state forces have prevented tens of trucks containing foodstuffs and other necessities sent from across the country as aid from entering the district.
Because of attacks the district’s infrastructure has been destroyed. State forces consciously targeted the water and sewage system as well as the electricity transformers. There was shortage of water for days. A workman from the municipality went to fix the damaged water tanks but was shot in the arm by state forces; his arm had to be cut off.
Do the people call you asking for help? What kind of things do they request?
The most common request during the siege has been for corpses and the wounded to be taken to hospitals. Cries for help from people trapped in buildings, people who are under threat of death and people whose houses have been burnt down are also common. This is because the state has shut down all channels of communication between institutions and the people; there is no channel for dialogue. Municipalities are not able to take services to the people due to the siege and curfew.
People think because I’m an MP I will be able to satisfy their requests. However because of my oppositional stance and the political line I represent, the requests I relay are not taken into consideration. Corpses and the wounded were left on streets for days despite repeated calls for them to be retrieved. Requests like these would be attended to immediately in countries where there is an entrenched democracy and justice and law is in effect. But the most humane requests are overlooked in Turkey, which is administered by an antidemocratic and totalitarian government.
Where did the people who migrated from Cizre go to? Do you have any information about their situation?
People had to leave their homes and livelihoods because of sustained and severe attacks by state forces. When Kurds talk of devastation and disaster they reference Kobanê and Sinjar. Two thirds of Cizre now is in fact no different from Kobanê and Sinjar. Houses have been turned to rubble. There are almost no houses tank shells and mortars haven’t hit. This was a conscious policy to displace people. State forces violated the right to life.
There was internal migration in the first month of the siege. Attacks were concentrated on the Cudi, Nur, Yafes and Sur neighbourhoods. The people forced to move from these areas migrated to the district centre or neighbourhoods where attacks were less severe. Some moved in with relatives and others were hosted by the people. However when attacks began to spread to these neighourhoods as well, people once again migrated, this time to nearby villages, Şırnak centre, Idil, Diyarbakır and Turkish cities. In the 1990s state attacks resulted in Kurds migrating from rural to urban areas, now the opposite is happening; because the state is turning Kurdish cities into hell.
Why is the state attacking Cizre so severely?
If one looks at the historical and political significance of Cizre, one can see that it has a symbolic quality for both the state and also the Kurdish people. To comprehend why the state has declared the longest siege and curfew and committed atrocities by preventing people from burying their loved ones and by burning people alive, one must look at the history of resistance in Cizre.
All through the 90s Cizre was the site of the greatest tyranny and suppression. The events at the Newroz (Kurdish New Year) celebrations in 1992 are still fresh in our memory. Over 100 civilians were gunned down and hundreds wounded in attacks to prevent Newroz celebrations. In the same years villages were razed to the ground, forced migrations, extrajudicial killings and mass graves were everyday fare for Cizre. The state saw basic human rights and freedoms as being luxuries for the people of this district.
However despite all the violence and suppression, then and now, the people of Cizre did not give any concessions and did not kneel down. Cizre’s demand for freedom and equality and it’s resistance against the Turkish state’s policies of denial and assimilation has always been unbreakable. In spite of the state’s assimilation policy Cizre has resisted Turkification and protected its authentic and independent cultural and political identity. This is why it has always been a target for those in power. Just as Cizre was at the heart of the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1847, it became the symbol of resistance for the Kurdish people in the 1990s.
Therefore the state believes that if Cizre, as one of the centres of resistance, is liquidated, then it can strengthen its sovereignty in the other cities of Kurdistan. But I believe that the barbarity of the state in Cizre during the siege has been etched into the collective memory of the people so deeply that it is going to create an organised reaction and anger. The people here were put through an inhumane and tyrannous experience that is going to be pass from generation to generation.
What do the barricade and trench signify?
It signifies a form of self-defence against the denial and annihilation policy of the state. Of course the Kurdish people are not happy about living behind trenches, in the middle of battles, leaving their homes and burying loved ones everyday. However there is an insistence that Kurds live as slaves. Those behind the trenches are objecting to this. The majority of them have been discriminated against by the state; detained, imprisoned and tortured or else lost a relative in the war or had their village burnt down. They don’t trust the state. I know this because I met with the youth last year when negotiations (between the state and Kurdish movement) were still continuing, so they could close the trenches. They heeded Mr. Öcalan’s call and did this. However on the same day state forces shot and killed a child, Nihat Kazanhan, from an armoured vehicle. It is the state’s war concept that has compelled Cizre to dig trenches.
Resistance is Life, Silence is Death
Is there a dialogue between you and state officials/institutions?
Despite many attempts to make contact and meet throughout the siege, the Cizre district governor has not answered his phone or responded to our requests for a meeting. Our dialogue with the local Gendarme Command and the Cizre Police Headquarters has not evolved beyond them constantly threatening us.
Who do you think is commanding the military operations in Cizre? Ankara or local forces? How many Special Forces teams, soldiers, police officers etc. are there in Cizre at the moment?
What has happened in Cizre isn’t a local matter. The same has happened and continues to happen in many other Kurdish cities and towns. Government officials have also stated on many occasions that this is a comprehensive operation. Therefore it is clear that these operations are being planned and put into effect using all the state’s bureaucratic institutions and political instruments. In March 2015, when the resolution process was still ongoing, the AKP government passed the “Internal Security Package” bill in Parliament as preparation for what is happening today. All the operations being implemented here are supported, incited, and directed by state and government officials including the president, prime minister, interior minister, defence minister, chief of staff, province governors, district governors etc. Those implementing the operation on the ground are state personnel. They are paid by the state and are using the state’s military equipment. There are over 10,000 soldiers and Special Forces police officers actively participating in operations in Cizre. If we also take into account that they have all kinds of heavy artillery, there are enough soldiers and Special Forces to check every single house in Cizre.
There have been massacres in 3 basements. Could you give us some concrete information regarding these massacres?
There were approximately 130 people in the ‘3 basements of death,’ half of them either dead or wounded. I and the families of those trapped spoke with Cizre police headquarters and the state’s healthcare team countless times to get them to hospital. But every single this request was refused on the grounds of “security”. The buildings the wounded people were trapped in were attacked for days. They were left under rubble, without food and water for days. The state violated all humane and legal norms and massacred the wounded in a savage way.
We do not have concrete information about the first basement. But municipality ambulances retrieved the corpses that were thrown into the street by state forces 50m away from the basement. We don’t know for certain if they were taken out of that building. However we know for sure that at least 110 people who took refuge in the buildings have been massacred, most of them burned alive. There are at least another 28 people who we cannot account for. It is a likely that they have also been killed. (Since the interview it has been confirmed that at least 145 people have been killed)
Since the martial lockdown began 62 days ago 209 people have been killed, 80 people’s identities have been confirmed while the rest are still not clear. We believe the number of casualties will rise. There are many more corpses on the streets and in houses.
The state and national media claimed that these people did not evacuate the basements despite calls. Why did these people not leave the basements?
Claims by state officials and the media that the people did not evacuate the basements despite given the chance are to mislead international public opinion. If this was true they could have proven it. I had contact over the phone with the trapped people and spoke to them many times. I know many of them from the work they do in the social, political and women’s sphere. Almost 50 university students who had travelled to Cizre for solidarity were also among the wounded. Each time ambulances tried to reach the basement state forces created a staged gunfight and didn’t allow entrance to the area on “security” grounds. Rather than allow them to be taken to hospital, from the beginning the state abandoned them to their deaths and wanted to massacre them. They did this by burning them alive.
With this massacre the state, in its own way, wanted to teach those resisting a lesson and also chasten and intimidate the people in other Kurdish cities; this was also a threat to those against the state in the western cities of Turkey. Using the rhetoric “We are losing the country to terrorists,” the government has tried to hide its extra-legal practices and consolidate the nationalist and conservative bloc.
Furthermore due to the increasing suppression of the media in the past few years, it is impossible to talk of a free media that will report what is happening here. The current media outlets are in place to legitimise all the actions of the government and state. A small group of free media outlets are constantly suppressed with their reporters being killed, imprisoned and prevented from doing their work. So it is not possible to get impartial or detailed information about what is happening in Kurdish cities from the media. In short the state is implementing every psychological warfare method at its disposal.
We know that basements in Cizre have a special meaning. Since the 90s people have been taking refuge in basements. Could you tell us more about this?
A basement or cellar is a space where people take refuge from the state’s attacks. This space is, especially for Cizre, historical. Having experienced the tyranny of the state, Cizre’s solution has been basements. If the people of Cizre had not built basements to defend and protect themselves bigger massacres could have occurred.
You are an MP for Şırnak. A child of this city. We know you have lost many friends recently. How would you describe your state of mind? Could you tell us the moment you most struggled?
The suffering in Cizre has been indescribable. How can I distinguish between the pain caused by the death of Mother Hediye, who after asking me for help for a week, was killed by a tank shell, or the murder of 3-month-old baby Miray and her grandfather in a bloody ambush, or the death of my friend Aziz, who was killed by a single bullet to the head while on his way to save an injured woman, or the loss of my comrade Sévé, who hid her belief in the revolution in her smile? But a child writing ‘Resistance is life, silence is death’ on a wall with charcoal amid the shelling by tanks also affected me deeply. Because this was the scream of Cizre…
I think these words and phrases explain Cizre and my state of mind; silence, heartbreaking screams, resistance, life, wreckage, water, tyranny, migration, courage, freedom, bloody faces, youths with luminous faces, hope…
You made appeals to many international organisations recently. Did you recieve any responses?
There has been no meaningful response or action taken in response to the letters written and appeals made by myself and the Peoples’ Democratic Party so far.
How can the state’s attacks be stopped?
As far as we can tell state forces have no intention of ceasing attacks in the near future. The state wants to cover-up its political failure in Syria and Rojava with these attacks. Furthermore it wants to discredit, criminalise and suppress the motivation created by the developments in Rojava, as well as the demands made by the Kurds during the solution process, which have been seen by the world to be legitimate. A unified and organised opposition formed of democratic forces is the only thing that can weaken the state’s attacks. Support by international public opinion is also very important.
Where do you think developments are taking us?
The current situation capitalist economy is in means energy resources and their pathways have become important issues. Imperialist powers are constantly making new moves due to the considerable oil and gas reserves in the region. Developments here, especially since the first Gulf War, are creating new contradictions, new alliances, new problems and new opportunities every day. Furthermore sectarianism is being deepened using Daesh (ISIS). Alongside this we also have the democratic desires and struggles of the region’s people against authoritarian regimes.
One of the most important examples of this is the Kurds. The Kurds want democracy and self-governance. There is an active struggle for this in Rojava. In Turkey Kurds’ demands are being refused; their struggle criminalised, suppressed and delegitimised. However in this age of communication it will not be easy like it once was to deny the people’s demand for democracy, equality and freedom. Kurds will continue struggling for this; their demand for “equal and free citizenship” in Turkey is meaningful and precious. It is a universal, legitimate and democratic demand. So until a democratic regime in which Kurds have a status and say is constructed Kurds will continue this struggle.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview and your time.