Speaking in the European Parliament yesterday (20 January), Neighbourhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn expressed concern over growing tensions in Turkey between the government and the Kurdish community, and strongly appealed for a return to the peace process.
“The continued deterioration of the overall security situation in the southeast of Turkey is extremely disquieting,” said Hahn, who is also responsible for the EU-Turkey accession negotiations.
In December, Turkish security forces intensified operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which dug trenches and erected barricades inside towns and cities after the collapse of a ceasefire in July, reviving a 31-year conflict that has killed 40,000 people, mainly Kurds.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said last week that about 300 police officers and soldiers have died since July.
The PKK, which says it is fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds, took up arms in 1984. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
Seven people, including two civilians, were killed in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, security sources said on 18 January, as the death toll from operations launched by security forces last month climbs into the hundreds.
In Sirnak, two police officers were killed and three wounded when the bus they were on was hit by rocket fire, security sources said.
In the nearby town of Idil, three police officers were killed and seven wounded when a bomb ripped through an armored vehicle on Sunday near the municipality building, sources said.
Two towns near the Syrian and Iraqi borders, Silopi and Cizre, along with the Sur district of the regional capital Diyarbakir, have been subjected to round-the-clock curfew for more than a month amid operations by security forces.
Hahn said some of the political problems, on both sides, had also been exacerbated by the current crises, including the threat from Da’esh, as demonstrated by the latest attack in Istanbul on 12 January, and the attacks last year in Suruç and in the historic heart of Ankara on 12 January.
“However, a stable southeast is important not just for Turkey, from a political, economic and security perspective, but for the EU and the wider region as well,” he stated.
Hahn appealed for the international community to deal with the conflicts in the region in a united way, as the best way to effectively counter and defeat Da’esh in the wider region.
“We must be very careful not to allow the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process and current tensions in the southeast to fuel further tensions there,” he said.
“In all our interactions with Turkey, we continue to urge all parties to guarantee the rule of law in the country and to call for an immediate ceasefire and an urgent return to the Kurdish Peace process,” Hahn said, adding that the High Level Political Dialogue between the EU and Turkey on 25 January would be another opportunity to raise these issues.
“Important progress had been made over the past two years and this should not be thrown away. The peace process remains the best opportunity in a generation to solve a conflict that has claimed far too many lives,” said Hahn, who added that the EU has also been clear that the PKK must cease its attacks against Turkey.
“[PKK] must stop declaring autonomy in districts with the south east and reengage in political dialogue. Resuming talks and negotiations within the peace process is the only way forward,” Hahn said.
The Commissioner stated the EU would continue to reassure Turkey that the EU takes the PKK threat very seriously, and that the Union and its member states have also acted robustly against the PKK.
“The PKK has been a listed organisation for the purposes of EU sanctions since 2002. The Council unanimously endorsed this decision in March 2015 and it will remain so for the foreseeable future”, Hahn said.
“While we recognise Turkey’s legitimate right to defend itself against the PKK, we have also emphasised, and will continue to emphasise, in our dialogue with Turkish authorities that measures taken against the PKK, must be proportionate, targeted and should not endanger the democratic political dialogue”, he went further.
The Commissioner deplored that the measures currently being taken by the Turkish security services in the southeast have resulted in “extreme disruptions” to essential services such as healthcare, and means of communication.
The proportionality and legality of such operations must be ensured and should comply with international human rights standards, Hahn emphasised.
Academics to be punished for signing petition
Prosecutors have launched a major investigation against more than 1,200 Turkish academics who signed a petition denouncing the military operations against Kurdish rebels in the southeast.
At least 18 were then detained as part of the probe.
The US embassy warned the investigation risked having a “chilling effect” on political discourse in Turkey.
On Wednesday, Erdo?an launched a blistering attack on academics who criticised his policies in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, warning they would pay a price after falling into a “pit of treachery”.
Speaking during one of his regular and typically raucous meetings, to supportive local Turkish politicians at his presidential palace, Erdo?an said the academics had shown “real and ugly faces” after their “masks fell off”.
“They spit out their hatred of our nation’s values and history on every occasion and the petition has made this clearer,” said Erdo?an, who implied that the academics would face both criminal consequences and the loss of their posts.
Referring to the secular elite who ruled Turkey for many of the years before his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, Erdo?an said:
“Thrash about as long as you want: The old Turkey, where an entire country and nation were being run by a handful of so-called intellectuals… no longer exists.”