Like many Kurds in Turkey's southeast, Sevgi Gezici, 22, believed
President Tayyip Erdogan would relent in a violent clampdown against
Kurdish militants after his party won back its majority in an
election in November.
Three days after the vote, her husband, just back from seven months
tending sheep, was shot dead in the street, caught in the crossfire
as he ventured out of their house to find help for their children
during a curfew, she said. His aunt was fatally shot minutes later
after rushing to him.
"I used to pray for peace, for God to help Turks and Kurds," said
Gezici cradling their two-year-old daughter beneath her husband's
portrait, which was covered in a thin scarf.
"After this, I have no hope. God can do what he wants. We are
forsaken," she said.
Before the Nov. 1 vote, the view among Turkey's Kurds was that
Erdogan had engineered a new conflict with the Kurdistan Workers
Party (PKK) to win over Turkish nationalist voters and help the AK
Party he founded return to the single party rule it had lost in an
earlier vote in June. Erdogan rejects such a plot.
But nearly two months after the second election achieved a
stronger-than-expected single party majority for the AKP, swathes of
Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast are still under curfew. Battles
once fought in the countryside are now waged in densely populated
Instead of relaxing the crackdown, Erdogan vowed this week security
forces would "annihilate" militants in their "houses."
'WOLF'S TEETH HAVE TASTED BLOOD'
Armoured police vehicles guard the entrance to Tekel, the Gezicis'
working-class neighborhood in the town of Silvan.
Facades of apartment blocks are riddled with bullet holes, and
interiors are charred black from fire.
Graffiti legible beneath whitewash reads: "The wolf's teeth have
tasted blood. Be afraid."
Residents say the threat was written by the police.
More than 130 civilians have been killed in the southeast since the
PKK abandoned a two-year ceasefire in July, according to the Human
Rights Association (IHD). The government has not given a civilian
death toll, but says 3,000 rebels have been "neutralized" in Turkey
and rebel camps in northern Iraq.
Raci Bilici, head of the IHD in Diyarbakir, the southeast's largest
city, said that rather than use the power gained from its election
victory to restart the peace process, the government took it as a
mandate to crack down harder.
"Voters said: 'Fight.' The election showed the government has
support for its crackdown, so why relent?" he said. "But with
violence spreading to cities, the fear is we may cross the threshold
of civil war."
As he spoke, gunfire could be heard ringing out from Sur, a district
of the city that has been under curfew for two weeks.
While the lockdown made it impossible to enter Sur, the view from a
police barrier on the edge showed garbage piled up in the street and
Police in fatigues and masks carried assault rifles, prowling past
Diyarbakir's massive 4th century Roman walled fortress, part of a
UNESCO World Heritage site whose monuments are now badly damaged.
Last month, lawyer Tahir Elci was gunned down at a historic mosque
in the district.
'THEY'RE COMING THROUGH THE WALLS'
The conflict in Turkey has complicated the international campaign
against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Syria.
Turkey's 15 million Kurds identify closely with their Syrian Kurdish
kin, who have proven the most capable allies on the ground of the
U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State. Turkey is a member
of the coalition against Islamic State, but hostile to the Syrian
Kurds, believing they inspire separatism at home.
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The spasm of violence wrecked peace talks once touted by the AKP as
the best chance yet to end one of Europe's longest-running
insurgencies. Some 40,000 people have died since the
autonomy-seeking PKK took up arms against the state in 1984.
This time, the PKK has largely abandoned its traditional rural
battleground to take the fight to the city, recruiting a new
generation of militants who dig trenches and use heavy weapons in
populated areas to keep police at bay.
If the PKK's shift to urban warfare sought to force a return to
talks, it has so far failed. Authorities have imposed curfews and
cut power, water and phone coverage to root out militants.
On his way to Brussels this week, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
vowed to pursue the PKK until the area is "cleansed". Turkey aspires
to join the European Union.
"Gross human rights violations are happening on both sides," said
Kati Piri, European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey after a visit
last week. She called the building of barricades by the PKK
"unacceptable" and the response "excessive".
"It seems like mass punishment. The danger is it will only
radicalize more people," she said.
Some 1.3 million people in 17 towns and cities have been affected by
52 curfews so far, according to official figures.
Up to 200,000 people are displaced by the fighting, the pro-Kurdish
HDP party says. In Silvan, 11,000 people fled, said Mayor Kerem
He took office after his predecessor became one of two dozen mayors
jailed for "undermining state unity" for backing calls for Kurdish
autonomy. The new mayor himself spent a decade in jail, beginning in
1992 at age 16, on terrorism charges during an earlier phase of the
"Prison taught me the solution to the Kurdish matter has to be
political. This war will only end in peace," he said.
Silvan's municipal government says 15 civilians aged 9 to 75 died in
six separate curfews since August in the town of 85,000.
The last curfew began two days after the election. Engin Gezici, 24,
had returned from pastures 100 km (60 miles) north.
The couple spent a night sheltering their three children in the
kitchen as a firefight raged outside. In the morning, Engin told
Sevgi he would find help. Minutes later, he lay dead, and his aunt
Ismet, 63, was also hit. With roads shut, it was impossible to reach
"The children saw everything," the widow said.
"They wake at night, screaming, 'They're coming through the walls.'"
(This story has been refiled to remove typo and extraneous word in
(Editing by Peter Graff)
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