Death toll rises among Kurds trapped in Cizre basement amid heavy fighting
More than 20 people with injuries remain stuck in a basement in Cizre, as the government denies emergency amublance access. Turkey’s Constitutional Court even rejected a petition to evacuate the building.
At least 20 injured people have been trapped in the basement of a building in Cizre for almost a week, with six people dying of their injuries. Faysal Sariyildiz, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told the dpa news agency that the death toll was rising almost daily, saying that ambulances intended to help those trapped had been denied access on 11 occasions.
“The wounded are confined in a tight space along with those who have died,” Sariyildiz said, pointing out that he had been in contact with the basement’s occupants via text messages. Leyla Birlik, HDP legislator for Sirnak province, which the embattled town of Cizre is part of, confirmed that the bodies of the dead had not been removed.
Three HDP members of parliament, the third-largest party in Turkey, have meanwhile gone on hunger strike in protest at the conditions on the ground in Cizre and elsewhere in south-eastern Turkey, where the population is predominantly Kurdish.
Government denies emergency services access
Turkey’s Health Ministry said the ambulances were unable to proceed because of alleged attacks by the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the area, adding that trenches, barricades and land mines were suspected to be scattered across Cizre. The country’s Constitutional Court meanwhile confirmed that it had intervened and had ordered the army to halt an envoy of ambulances as there was no information available on whether the injured had weapons.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile said that reports about the denial of medical service being allowed to the embattled town of Cizre were “all lies,” suggesting that Kurdish militants were hoping to gain a military advantage this way.
“There are always ambulances there. They are deliberately not bringing the wounded out,” Erdogan told reporters.
“Maybe they are not even injured,” the state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan as saying, refuting previous statements made by the Health Ministry and the Constitutional Court.
Cizre has been under curfew for the past six weeks , resulting in civilians being cut off from receiving medical supplies, water and electricity. Several human rights groups have strongly condemned the state of affairs in Cizre, which had been subjected to severe curfews last year as well.
The New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concerns over the civilian casualties, faulting the government for not releasing numbers or facilitating urgent medical evacuations for trapped civilians.
“Many people have died in circumstances which are extremely difficult to scrutinize because of the curfews,” HRW senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb said.
Thousands of people have also fled the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey after authorities fighting Kurdish militants expanded a 24-hour curfew there to include five more neighborhoods in the city. Three soldiers had been killed in Diyarbakir in recent days.
These curfews were reportedly intended to expel militants from urban areas in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast, but have resulted in mass migrations across cities in that part of Turkey. In Diyarbakir’s Sur district, people were seen moving bedding, heaters and washing machines on carts, pulling suitcases behind them and taking their pets with them.
Escalating numbers of casualties
A two-year ceasefire between the state and the PKK had broken down in July 2015 after peace talks had stagnated and the issue of terrorism had turned into a bargaining tool in two successive elections in the country. Clashes between the Turkish government and Kurdish insurgents have claimed more than 40,000 lives since the mid-1980s. In the past six months alone, at least 243 Turkish security forces have been killed while the PKK has confirmed that 257 of its fighters had died.
The HDP claimed about 200 civilians have also been killed in the process, the majority of them in the past six weeks since the military stepped up its operations in the region. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation confirmed that at least 198 civilians, including 39 children, had died in combat areas under curfew since last August.
President Erdogan said that he would continue to fight PKK insurgents until every last one of them had been killed. He has also previously stated that he would never negotiate with the PKK again – even if this meant a full-out civil war.