Kurds march for peace after warning Turkey heading to “civil war”


Turkey’s mainstream pro-Kurdish party warned Thursday that the country was “drifting into a civil war” as the party’s leaders staged a peaceful march in the country’s conflict-hit south-east to protest tight military curfews.

Security forces blocked the march outside of Cizre, a town of 120,000 people that has been under week-long movement restrictions by the Turkish military.

According to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the district has gone without sufficient basic supplies, such as food, drinking water and electricity.

The HDP also reported on 20 civilians killed in the area over the past week, including eight killed on Wednesday.

Violence has escalated in Turkey since a ceasefire between the state and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down in July.

“We want this illegally imposed blockade to be lifted. The curfew should be stopped,” said Selahattin Demirtas, an HDP leader joined by members of parliament and a government minister taking part in the march.

“There are dead babies who are waiting to be buried,” said Demirtas, who described severe restrictions preventing funerals from taking place.

Video footage from inside Cizre in recent days has shown deserted streets and signs of fighting.

“To guarantee their safety and quiet, it’s out of question for them [the marchers] to arrive in Cizre, we won’t allow that,” Interior Minister Selami Altinok told a press conference in Ankara.

Altinok added that security operations in the area have led to the detention of 10 alleged militants, along with the seizure of weapons, ammunitions and explosives.

“They are afraid things that are happening there will come to light. But it will come to light anyway, nothing can stay a secret,” Saruhan Oluc, an HDP member of parliament taking part in the march, told dpa by telephone.

Oluc said that HDP received 92 per cent of the vote in Cizre district in the June elections.

Violence against Kurds has risen in recent days, after a series of PKK attacks targeting Turkish security forces this week left 31 police and soldiers dead.

HDP offices have come under repeated attack from Turkish nationalists in recent days, with its headquarters in Ankara suffering severe fire damage.

“Over 128 party buildings all over the country have been attacked,” a statement from party read. “Moreover, the police and other security forces of the state did not do their job to prevent the attacks.”

The HDP this week also warned of a number of ethnic-based attacks targeting private Kurdish citizens. Kurdish shops have been damaged by mobs, according to footage posted on social media.

At least 180 people, including civilians, militants and members of the security forces, have been killed inside the country since the July breakdown of the two-year ceasefire, according to a dpa tally.

Turkey has also carried out airstrikes against PKK bases in northern Iraq, though it is unclear how many people have been killed there.

“We are trying to push both PKK and the Turkish state to end this armed conflict,” the HDP said in the Thursday statement, blaming the violence on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and calling for international help to impose a fresh ceasefire.

The HDP is seen as having denied the AKP a majority in parliament for the first time since 2002, by passing the 10 per cent threshold in June.

Both parties accuse the other of escalating tensions between Ankara and the armed PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

The peace march flies in the face of President Recep Tayyip, who has repeatedly slammed the HDP, insinuating it is allied to the PKK.

“If you are on the side of terror you have to expect that you will pay the price for this,” Erdogan said, apparently in reference to the HDP, after a meeting in Ankara with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.

Erdogan also slammed Demirtas for using “language used by terrorists.”

Tusk stressed the need to get the peace process back on track and denounced “terrorist attacks” in the country.

Turkey is headed for a snap election in November after the four parties in parliament failed to agree on a coalition government, raising concerns about political instability.

The AKP, which has condemned violence against the HDP, insists the country can hold elections despite the security situation.