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In Turkey’s Own Calais Moment, Kurdish Families Were Left Homeless


On Monday, three-day notice ended. Anti-riot police, backed by armored vehicles and water cannons, were given the green light. It was Turkey’s own Calais.

The police moved to dismantle a small tent camp on the outskirts of Cudi mountain in the southeastern province of Sirnak, dooming its near 2,000 residents into abject despair and homelessness as the winter conditions reign in the region.

Bulldozers and construction machines removed tents of 250 families who fled the urban fighting between the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish security forces in the provincial capital, now a virtual war zone. The families had been living the in the makeshift tents set up in an area that contains emergency housing units in case of a mining disaster near Sirnak highway since March. They moved there after security forces launched operations in urban areas of Sirnak to dismantle PKK elements who brought the fighting against the Turkish state to cities, towns.

Sullen-looking people whose homes were reduced to rubble during fierce clashes between the army and PKK militants in Bahcelievler and several other neighborhoods in the provincial capital now saw their tents, which had been their homes for eight months, were demolished by the authorities.

Three days ago, the office of Sirnak Governor announced the demolishment of the camp, citing security reasons. The camp was located on the outskirts of Cudi mountain, a notorious geographical area that contains dozens of hideouts of militants.

The ongoing fighting in urban areas marks a new episode in the three-decade fighting between the Turkish security forces and the PKK insurgents. Until 2015 summer, the militant insurgency mostly took place in rural areas and the mountains, saw the periodical army operations to root out militant hideouts in the mountainous area, and hit-and-run assaults by the PKK against remote border posts or military bases.

After the collapse of a two-year fragile truce that was declared in March 21, 2013, last summer, the PKK brought the fighting to the cities, to the dismay and opposition of local residents. The earth-scorching policies of the government leveled many cities, including Diyarbakir’s Sur district, Lice, Sirnak’s Cizre, Mardin’s Nusaybin, to the ground, evoked gruesome war imagery of the Syrian cities.

The urban fighting has left more than 300,000 displaced and homeless during clashes.

After the end of curfews, the majority of the displaced were shocked to see that their houses were destroyed in Sur, Cizre, Nusaybin and many parts of the provincial capital of Sirnak when they returned to their neighborhoods.

In early September, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim paid a visit to Diyarbakir to announce a $3.4 billion development and reconstruction plan to rebuild the damaged urban areas. He pledged to rebuild 67,000 houses in 23 towns and some cities across the region.

But completion of the program will take time and people will have to take care of themselves until then. It would bring the social life in the region to the boiling point as winter approaches.

On Monday, Ferhat Encu, a lawmaker with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), was at the scene during the demolition to protest the decision. He told reporters that people were given only two hours to collect their belongings before machines dismantled tents, home for residents of Sirnak for eight months. Offering a different number from the figure provided by the authorities, the lawmaker told BBC’s Turkish service that there were 700 families live at the site. It was not immediately clear why there is a discrepancy between the two figures.

“These were the poorest people of those who were evicted from homes, and live in the tent city. These people have no place to go,” Encu noted.

Sirnak Mayor Serhat Kadirhan told media that the municipality provided vehicles to transfer people with their belongings to nearby towns and villages. There were only two families behind, he said.

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