While Turkey and the EU were reaching their agreement, the Turkish army and security forces were dramatically ramping up their activity in the country’s southeast.
A military operation that Ankara unfailingly referred to as a «counter-terrorism» activity was launched in the Kurdish regions. The battle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey, has mushroomed into a clampdown on Kurdish resistance. But ever since Brussels struck its deal with Ankara it has been doing its utmost not to notice the conflagration that has erupted in Turkish Kurdistan.
Europe is choking on the influx of migrants and has neither the strength nor the desire to raise its voice in defense of the Kurdish people in Turkey.
On March 24 reports emerged that the Russian Foreign Ministry was examining materials provided by the TV channel Russia Today (RT), showing crimes committed by the Turkish military and police in the town of Cizre, in the Şırnak province. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova emphasized that the «letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein... expressed perplexity at the absence of the UNHRC Office’s comment on the events in Cizre... We believe that these assessments will be provided in the near future. In our view, failing to react to the tragedy, which, according to the information available to us, claimed about 150 victims who were burned to death, is unacceptable».
In Cizre, which lies in ruins, as well as another town in the Şırnak province – Silopi, the Turkish army’s counter-insurgency units have committed acts that bear all the hallmarks of war crimes. And, in addition to the burned alive Kurds shown by RT journalists, we are also aware of an incident in which insurgents were killed en masse in a cellar in Cizre. Knowing that wounded PKK fighters were in there along with unarmed civilians, the Turkish military decided to take no prisoners. They threw grenades into the basement, murdering about 70 people.
Turkey’s Kurdish-populated regions have been overrun with military operations since August 2015. By late last year the Turkish army and security forces had «secured» the Sur neighborhood of Diyarbakır, the largest city in this region of the country. Street battles were raging at the same time in Cizre and Silopi. By January, the PKK fighters had abandoned those towns, but a pocket of resistance remained in Sur. The tactical operation has crept closer to Turkey’s borders with Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
The cities under martial law were an easy target for the Turkish army, which is not choosy about its means or methods for suppressing the Kurdish rebellion. In Cizre, Silopi, and Diyarbakır the Turks fired on residential neighborhoods from tanks and cannons. Approximately 90,000 local residents fled the newest theater of this «counter-terrorism» operation during the first week of the fighting. Anyone who is able is racing out of the cities that have been invaded by the Turkish army. Approximately 40,000 of the 70,000 residents of Yüksekova have taken flight, as have 50,000 of the 90,000 inhabitants of Nusaybin.
In total, more than 400,000 people have fled their homes since August 2015. The tally of civilian victims alone is entering the hundreds.
«Half of Cizre is not fit for living anymore, and the other half is damaged, too», claims Raci Bilici, a Turkish lawyer who heads the Diyarbakır branch of Turkey’s Human Rights Association. The devastation in the city is equal to that of Kobanî in Syria, which was gutted by Daesh militants in the summer of 2014.
But Europe keeps silent, afraid of getting a new wave of refugees if it offers any criticism.
The statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry, as well as some critical reports in the media, are forcing a few international organizations to react, but that reaction is taking an odd form. For example, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein has expressed his unease that the European Union might embark upon a «collective expulsion» of refugees. But while he is sharing his concerns, the Turkish authorities are hiding behind their agreement with the EU and committing war crimes against the Kurds.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also appears to be taking a one-sided stance on the refugee situation in Turkey. The ongoing human-rights abuses there are going unnoticed by international officials. For example, a few days ago it came to light that the Turkish authorities had forcibly deported a group of Afghan citizens. Turkish authorities did not allow the refugees to pass through all the steps needed to obtain refugee status, but immediately returned them to Afghanistan, although they had fled that country due to Taliban threats.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia, commented: «The ink wasn’t even dry on the EU-Turkey deal when several dozen Afghans were forced back to a country where their lives could be in danger».
Of course the EU and Turkey have recently agreed that illegal migrants arriving from Turkey will be sent back there, in exchange for Europe’s promise to keep those refugees to whom the EU is prepared to grant asylum. The plan will provide Ankara with financial aid and political concessions (Turkish citizens will see a relaxation of visa regulations, plus the negotiations over Turkey’s membership in the EU will be revived).
And as a result? Turkey has shrewdly taken advantage of a weak Europe in a panic over the terrorist threat. Turkey is seeking recognition for its role as a frontline outpost of the EU when it comes to containing threats from the Middle East. The Turkish government is subtly insinuating that it will not be possible to resolve this problem unless Turkey is a member of the EU.
Of course, Europeans are in no rush to try to integrate a country of 78 million Muslims that is encumbered with complicated domestic problems, but the EU is ready to turn a blind eye to the Turkish army’s brutal suppression of the Kurdish resistance, as well as to the Turkish government’s so-called «expanded interpretation» of the concept of «terrorism» – which now includes the activities of all the forces of the opposition, including journalist, etc. – and Turkey’s blossoming administrative branch for enforcing repression, which is being hastily augmented with 15,000 new employees.
Stoked by fear, Europeans’ desire to buy Ankara’s loyalty by offering a «tolerant» attitude toward the Turkish authorities’ war crimes and repression is actually capable of decimating Western civilization from within, perhaps even faster than if new throngs of refugees were to physically make inroads into Europe.