Residents of Cizre try to put their lives back in order after a three-month siege as they struggle to come to grips with the havoc wrought on their houses by police forces seemingly intent on humiliating them
“I opened the door and I cried,” Rojda says. “How am I going to clean all this up?”
Rojda stepped through the smashed-in doorway of her flat in Cizre’s Yafes neighborhood to the detritus left behind by a retreating occupational army: Scattered clothing, used condoms, human feces and threatening messages.
“You’re really beautiful; we wish you were here right now,” police wrote on her picture that she left in her room, she told Sendika.Org. “I couldn’t sleep the first night; it was as if I was going to choke. What if they know me? What if they come for me again?”
Rojda’s home is just one of thousands in Cizre to bear witness to a three-month-long siege by Turkish government forces, who enforced a 24-hour curfew in the southeastern district to – in a government euphemism that channels the very best of George Orwell – “ensure the safety of the public and the security of their possessions.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s war machine has descended on Cizre, the nearby district of Silopi, the UNESCO-recognized district of Sur in Diyarbakır and other areas over the past half-year to eliminate members of the “Separatist Terror Organization” – government-speak for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – and remove barricades that had been erected by locals attempting to protect themselves from government security forces whom they accuse of committing gross human rights abuses.
The government response to the barricades was to deploy thousands of soldiers, who fired tank shells at populated neighborhoods to beat the town into submission. Unsurprisingly, the town now resembles those pulverized across the border in Syria.
The siege in Cizre alone resulted in hundreds of deaths; in at least three different sites in the town, government forces are accused of using chemical weapons on residents and solidarity activists marooned in basements in damaged buildings. The dead have included men, women, children, journalists, politicians, students and people from all other walks of life.
Naturally, the destruction accompanies the death. In Cizre’s Cudi, Yafes, Sur and Nur neighborhoods, no home escaped the Turkish government forces’ sweep “for terrorists.” The ostensible counter-terrorism operation, however, appears to have far exceeded a simple security operation, having metamorphosed into a mission to humiliate the local Kurdish population in their own homes.
“They shat in the toilet and just left it there,” says Rojda, a teacher from southern Turkey. “But I suppose I’m lucky; in other houses, they put their feces in the fridge.”
“They defecated on my bed. Then they took it, and spread it in the kitchen, the salon, the walls and the doors,” Mümine told Evrim Kurdoğlu of Haberdar. “They urinated over my plates and crockery that I had received as a dowry. They cut our clothes with a knife; we have nothing left to wear. They took my bathrobe and other clothes, put them into the toilet and then defecated on top of them. They broke my oven, which had remained unopened in its package. They opened fire on our television and AC unit, and took our tablets, computer and unopened plasma TV.”
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has promised to compensate residents for any losses incurred during the curfew, but many have balked at the conditions, which include signing a document accusing the PKK of causing the damage.
Amid the inconceivable mess, Rojda hastens to call those responsible for the destruction animals. “That would just be an insult to animals.” Unsurprisingly, animals took their share of the police’s startling cruelty as well, with many returning to Cizre finding their birds in cages decapitated and their chickens hanged by the neck from the ceiling.
“I opened my cupboard and there were used condoms in it. There was also a woman’s sunglasses left in the apartment. At least I hope they brought a woman along with them rather than raping someone [they found],” she says.
Rojda’s story is a common one. All over the town, police displayed a fetish-like fascination with women’s clothing, often leaving behind pornography and universally displaying women’s underwear wherever they found it.
Often, they seemed to go out of their way to cause destruction. “They had a key to my flat, but they still bashed the door in with a sledgehammer,” another teacher, Berivan, told Sendika.Org. In another flat, the police went to the trouble of removing the cover to a washing machine so that it would no longer work. Clearly, it would have been easier to just leave the washing machine as is, but the security forces expended the energy to remove the door.
Apart from no door and a few days of cleaning, Berivan was relatively lucky, as the police only stole her computer and a small piece of gold jewelry. “There were important documents on the table, but they probably didn’t even look at them. They were just after the spoils of war.”
And then there is the graffiti. “The homeland is a whole that is indivisible – PÖH/JÖH,” police wrote next to Berivan’s building in the Sur neighborhood, with PÖH standing for Police Special Forces and JÖH for Gendarmerie Special Forces. By the mark set elsewhere in Cizre, the ultranationalist, etatist rhetoric is relatively tame, although it stands out in Cizre for its grammatical correctness in Turkish, something that was typically absent in other writings penned by the Turkish soldiers around the city.
“For a clean future, don’t abet these [terrorists] among you!!!” one JÖH soldier said. “The commandoes are here, where are the ‘heval’ [guerrillas]?” said another advertisement for state tolerance and dialogue. Other messages included “Girls, we’re here,” “We came, but you weren’t here” and “There’s love in the basement” a play on a popular song and a reference to the hundreds who died under government attack in the three aforementioned basements in town.
After previous curfews elsewhere in Southeast Anatolia, police made sure locals were clear on their place in society with their graffiti. “If you are a Turkey, be proud. If not, obey.”
Other police, meanwhile, left scarcely comprehensible notes inside houses notifying the house’s normal occupants that they were “mujahids” in a holy war – while also leaving five liras ($1.70) to help cover the expenses of the damage incurred.
The ostensible holy warriors were more generous than some colleagues: “In exchange for staying in your house while discharging are obligatory duties, I’m leaving some humble compensation,” one officer wrote, presenting the princely sum of 1 lira.
Loss of humanity
The thoughts of one victim of the destruction, however, were elsewhere. “I really feel sorry for the people who have to live with this mob of murderers who occupied and soiled my house and urinated or defecated on the plates they ate from and the bed they slept in,” said one woman upon returning home, according to the Jin News Agency (JINHA).
“They’ve just come to hurt us once, but here, as I stand in the ruins of my home, I think of the women that have to live with them their whole lives,” she said.
*Some names have been changed in this story to protect people’s identities.
Sendika.Org, JINHA, Bianet, Haberdar