Faysal Sarıyıldız, former MP for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at the Turkish parliament, now a political exile and eyewitness to the 79-day-siege by the Turkish military in the south-eastern city of Cizre, testified before an international panel of judges in Geneva, Switzerland.
After the collapse of the so-called ‘solution process’ that had temporarily halted clashes between the Turkish armed forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Cizre was one of a number of Kurdish-majority cities in the autumn and winter of 2015 which had become a target for the Turkish forces as barricades were set up by members of the youth wing of the PKK to defend the city against a massive Turkish military attack.
Stating that the events, which could be defined as war crimes or crimes against humanity, occurred during the 24-hours-a-day, curfew between 14 December 2015 and 2 March 2016, Sarıyıldız expressed strong criticism of the international community’s indifference regarding the events.
“It is assumed that the centre of the progressive world and civilization is here,” he said. “But there’s no political will in the world yet that is capable of intervening in such a horrible situation, a war crime in anyone’s judgement. This is awful… In the process under investigation, 288 individuals were massacred. We have all the names. Most of them were children and women.
Sarıyıldız noted that a message was sent by state authorities to civil servants in the city on 13 December 2015:
“The National Ministry of Education sent the message. There were thousands of civil servants living in the city. The authorities asked them to leave the city.
Explaining that all the schools and some other public buildings were turned into military barracks, Sarıyıldız said that eventually the city of 120,000 was completely encircled with tanks and armoured cars placed on the surrounding hills, and that the tanks then started shelling the city centre with high explosive shells.
“During the first 40 days of the curfew two or three people were being killed every day, as dozens were wounded. They wanted the people to leave the city as the people had insisted on staying with a political will. But since all power and water had been cut off, with fatalities following, the people were left with no choice other than having to leave. A handful of people were then left. There were university students, people from the people’s council. There were women and artists. These people insisted on staying and declared that this was a political decision. They stated that they would act as human shields to prevent a massacre by the state. And the tanks continued shelling the city for days.”
Sarıyıldız then tesfified about an event on 22 January 2016 when they were targeted by machine-gun fire:
“A group of people called me. I was in the municipality building, 150-200 metres away from them. The Silkroad highway ran between us, passing through the city centre. Military vehicles were placed around it. We weren’t able to advance much. We tried to, in order to evacuate a group of the wounded, but we were fired at with machine-guns. Out of the 40 people concerned, there were 20 casualties. Two lost their lives, and 15-20 were wounded.”
Reminding the tribunal that a request by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to investigate the situation in Cizre was rejected by the Turkish administration, Sarıyıldız also explained that the people left in the city eventually took shelter in the basements of buildings while the wounded were in urgent need of emergency access to medical treatment.
“The Erdoğan administration repeatedly say that facts were distorted and that the military operations were carried out against terrorists,” he said.
Presenting a photo showing an ambulance that was being used for delivery of gasoline to the tanks instead of for medical transportation services, Sarıyıldız emphasised that the international media was fed with false government information that the wounded were provided medical treatment.
“On 20 January, we received information that there were four or five wounded in one of the neighbourhoods. We went to that neighbourhood. A municipality worker, a university student and a 55-year old man, who had been wounded days before… but they had already died of blood loss by the time we arrived. And now there were seven or eight other people who were wounded more recently.”