Electioneering in Turkish Kurdistan

Masters of the blame game

With elections imminent, the Turkish government and the Kurdish opposition are emphasising their peaceful intentions, yet the Kurdish conflict remains entrenched. A visit to Diyarbakir and Cizre on the Syrian border reveals the deep-seated antagonism and just how far both sides are from a reconciliation. By Ulrich von Schwerin

Behind a facade peppered with bullet holes, Nuran Imir receives her guests in a barren room that has been hastily restored. The headquarters of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) sustained heavy damage in the siege of Cizre two and a half years ago, while all other buildings belonging to the pro-Kurdish party were destroyed in the fighting during the autumn and winter of 2015, the local HDP candidate explains. In the meantime, the town on the Syrian border bears few traces of the damage wrought by weeks of battles with the PKK guerrillas. But there are a striking number of new buildings.

In the run-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 June the government is trying to show that it is doing something for Cizre, says Imir. However, many families still have to share an apartment and a third of the population has not returned. "The animosity still runs deep here," says the HDP candidate. "You cannot imagine what people went through during the siege." Some districts in Cizre were nearly three-quarters destroyed and 10,000 families lost their homes in the 2015 conflict, she points out.

Collapse of the peace process

After the two-year peace process with the PKK broke down in July 2015, the Kurdish rebel group dug trenches around towns such as Cizre, Sirnak, Nusaybin and Diyarbakir and proclaimed them "autonomous zones". The government set out to crush the uprising with an iron fist and after weeks of fighting brought the cities back under control. In Cizre alone, dozens of PKK fighters were killed, many of them teenagers, while numerous civilians lost their lives in burning cellars. The siege left behind urban districts in ruins.

Large swathes of the old town of Diyarbakir sustained massive damage during the fighting that raged here during the autumn and winter of 2015. Having quelled the uprising, the Turkish government razed the remaining buildings – except the mosque – to the ground
"We see the elections as the last chance, not only for the Kurds but also for millions of other Turks," says HDP candidate Nuran Imir in Cizre. "We have no choice but to hope"

The people wanted peace, they wanted change, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party brought only more oppression for the Kurds, Imir says in German. The 41-year-old has been active in the Kurdish movement since her youth. In 2003 she had to flee to Germany because of her political work, but for the 2015 elections she returned to Turkey. She is now a running in the parliamentary elections as the HDP candidate for Cizre. "We see the elections as the last chance, not only for the Kurds but also for millions of other Turks," says Imir.

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