Turkey lifts nine-day curfew in devastated Cizre

Friday 11/09/2015
Curfew triggered food shortages

CIZRE (Turkey) - Turkey on Saturday lifted a nine-day curfew in the southeastern city of Cizre, revealing the devastating damage sustained during a massive military operation against suspected Kurdish rebels.

A correspondent found several buildings had been destroyed and others pock-marked with bullet holes during the curfew, which was imposed late on September 4.

People were being allowed to move in and out of the city despite continued army checks at roadblocks, said the correspondent who entered the city after the restriction was lifted at 7:00 am (0400 GMT).

The government had said the curfew was necessary for a military "anti-terror" operation in the city against suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

But the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has said 21 civilians were killed during the curfew, which deprived residents access to essential amenities and triggered food shortages.

Telephone and Internet communications were still severely limited as residents ventured outside for the first time to inspect the extent of the damage.

Several people were seen entering the city -- largely to check up on residents inside -- but very few could were leaving.

"Our children were dying of fear and their psychology was broken," said Mehmet Guler, a local official.

During the curfew, outsiders had not been allowed to enter in what Kurdish activists termed a blockade akin to Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip.

"There is no water, electricity and our provisions are running out," Guler added, saying that even the call to prayer had stopped for the duration of the curfew.

The remnants of the fighting were still apparent in Cizre, with barricades and trenches blocking streets scattered with empty shell casings and the wrecks of burned-out cars.

However the police presence was now low key, the correspondent said.

The length of the curfew in Cizre -- meaning that citizens were unable to move freely outside their homes for over a week -- also caused international concern.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, on Friday expressed alarm over the "very distressing information" from Cizre, urging that independent observers be allowed into the city.

The operation in Cizre, a city of 120,000 on the border with Syria and close to Iraq, was a key part of the government's drive to cripple the PKK in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, which started in late July and shows no sign of abating.

Interior Minister Selami Altinok said Thursday that up to 32 PKK militants had been killed in Cizre, adding just one civilian had died in the clashes.

The HDP has however challenged the government to prove if a single PKK militant has been killed in Cizre and accused the army of shooting on civilians.

"We had 10 people in our home," said Mahmut Gur, a concierge. "They shot on any heads that came out of the building. They did not ask if we were human."

Hasim Kalkan, a student, said the curfew was marked by "hate and bitterness" and repeated claims that residents had been forced to put corpses of children in the freezer as burials were not allowed.

Some streets still bear traces of blood in what activists say is proof of the extent of the bloodshed under the curfew.

Residents surveyed buildings reduced to rubble by the operation and shops with their windows blown out.

With tensions flaring between locals and the authorities, the Turkish interior ministry had earlier removed the popular young female co-mayor of Cizre, Leyla Imret, over remarks made to US-based media outlet Vice News.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation against Imret, 28, on allegations of "making propaganda for a terror organisation" and "inciting insurgency".

The operation in Cizre came at a febrile time in Turkey ahead of snap November 1 elections, where the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will seek to eat into the HDP's votes to win back an overall majority.