Eylül Deniz Yaşar – Ankara
There has been a lot of mounting speculation and rumours regarding Turkish army operations in the Lice (pronounced Leejay) region in the past week. In an exclusive interview, Medya News has finally been able to reach a resident in a village in the Lice region, whose home was recently raided by the Turkish military forces. Communications were difficult due to military operations around her house but during the interview she detailed the mistreatment and humiliation she and her family was subjected to by Turkish soldiers.
There had been one death and 3 injured soldiers following clashes between the Peoples’ Defence Units (HPG) and the Turkish army in the Lice district of Diyarbakır (Amed) on 9 January 2020. Following these clashes, a widespread military operation was launched by the Turkish Army on villages in the Lice region.
Meanwhile, civilians in the area have reportedly been prohibited from leaving their homes. According to other claims, soldiers raided some villages and tortured the inhabitants. Other villages have reportedly been encircled by armored vehicles. The Diyarbakır Governorate issued a statement regarding the claims of torture, denying all claims.
Mehmet Şah Bozkuş was detained alongside with his wife Aziza Bozkuş by the soldiers on the night of the 9 January in a raid to their house in Lice’s Bağlan (Mişref) neighborhood. Whilst Azize Bozkuş was released, Mehmet Şah Bozkuş was sent to prison on the same day on the grounds of “being a member of a terrorist organisation”.
The daughter Mehmet Şah Bozkuş, Seçil Bozkuş, who was present at home when the soldiers raided, explained to Medya News the mistreatment and pressure that they had been subjected to in a video-call, which Bozkuş had trouble with due to the ongoing military blockade around her home that caused constant breaks in the internet communication.
Special forces first came for a tea, then they raided our home
Bozkuş first explained the extraordinary conversation they had with the Turkish military special forces on 8 January, Friday, one day before their home was raided. “We suffer from all kinds of psychological violence. The police, who call themselves the narco-terror unit, came to our home the day before the raid. They came with white Dacia cars. When they came to our home, we asked them if they have an official search warrant. They replied, “Why do you ask us for an official warrant each time we come? When you ask us this, we get suspicious of you.” They did not have an official search warrant; but they searched the garden of the home anyway. Then they sat in front of our home and asked for tea,” she said.
Since citizens in the western side of Turkey are not really used to special operation troops knocking on their doors and asking for tea, we ask Bozkuş more on how this tea conversation took place. “We feel forced to treat them kindly, because we are afraid. When they ask tea from us, we feel forced to serve them tea. So we gave them tea,” she said. “They told me, ‘Come, drink tea with us.” I told them, ‘I would not drink tea with you, because I know tomorrow you may come to detain me as well.’ They confirmed, ‘We are like this. We can drink your tea today, but tomorrow we can come to detain you’ This conversation took place just one day before they raided our home.”
Bozkuş: “Tens of military vehicles surrounded our home”
“The next day, it was Saturday, my father and my mother went to the police station to give their weekly signature for judicial control. In those hours, some events took place around the village, which have absolutely no connection with my family. When we were sitting with our neighbors in their home, we suddenly saw people running, saying that soldiers have come. People were so afraid,” Bozkuş continued to explain the assault they faced the next day. “I ran to our home immediately, because I saw they had surrounded our home with military vehicles. There were so much military vehicles that I could count tens of them. With panzers and all…”
She explained that when they first came, they didn’t let her father and mother stand together. “They forced my mother into a military vehicle immediately. They interrogated my mother in the vehicle, questioned her right there. There were so many soldiers in our home. They could have planted something in our home as well, how could we know that? They began to yell at the other villagers, “Close your windows,” they yelled,” she said.
“The forced us wait on our knees, our hands on top of our heads”
The young woman continued sharing more details of the moments her whole family was subjected to humilation and mistreatment. “They forced us to wait on our knees on the cold ground in front of our house. Then they told us, “Lift your hands like this on top your heads.” Then I tried to explain to them that my father has health issues…”
At this point in our interview, Seçil’s eyes filled up with tears for the first time in the interview, she hardly spoke, “I told them, he has just got out from the hospital… Only then, they let my father’s hand down… I told them my father had an infection in his lungs.”
“My father went into a health crisis, he could not breathe. I was trying to help him. We connected to his ventilation machine in the house. The soldiers did not want to believe that my father was actually ill,” she stated. “They were full of hatred and this was reflected by their attitude to us.”
She then asked the soldiers, “Why do you do this? What have we done to you?” The answer was, “You will learn why. One of our friends became a martyr, the other two got injured,” she said. “They messed up the house, they pulled everything down. The pots, the blankets… They searched our home again and again, they were full of hatred and anger. And they reflected this anger upon us.”
“They always ask us to be informants for the state”
What happened during the 1990s in Lice, is happening again right now in Lice according to Bozkuş, recalling how in those years, back in 1990s, the Turkish state directly or indirectly imposed the ‘Village Guard’ (koruculuk) system on Kurdish villagers. “They pressurised my father to be a village guard. Since my father refused, my family had to move to Bolu (western Turkey). My family was forced to migrate there due to the pressures,” she said.
This is not the first raid the Bozkuş family has experienced. “Our family is a labeled family in Lice. The state criminalised our family. Our home was raided before, either on criminal or political pretences. In the solution process, it was a bit more comfortable living in here. However, since 2016 we have again been constantly under pressure. I was imprisoned back in 2010 and spend 6 years in prison. After I was released, they began to raid our home like they did the first home in their narcotic operations. They have been raiding our home whenever some political issues arise, as well,” Bozkuş said. “Whenever they detain my father, they ask him political questions. They always ask us to be informants. They tell us, “Help us, we will let you go.” They said the same thing to my brother, to my mother and to my father in custody. They give us their telephone numbers, want us to inform them who is doing what around the village etc.”
A box of chocolate is suspicious for the soldiers
“Why do you have this? To whom you are serving these chocolates? Why do you have so many pots? Why do you have so much chocolate, so much canned food?” These were the questions asked by the soldiers when they raided the home of Bozkuş family, she said. “We feel intimidated when we cook something, because they ask us “Why did you cook this?” This is actually a very desperate process we are going through.”
“The blockade around our home still continues”
The phone conversation is interrupted and cut repeatedly. After our connection was broken and manage to make a connection on another call, Bozkuş continued, “One of the reasons why we lose the connection all the time is that we are still surrounded by the soldiers. We have been surrounded by a military blockade for the last three to four days. The forest nearby is full of soldiers. That is why the network connection gets interrupted. We are not able to communicate in a normal way, even with our relatives in Diyarbakır.”
This kind of a blockade is nothing new in Lice as Bozkuş emphasises. “Every 15 days, an operation is launched in our villages in Lice. They search our homes about every 15 days. We cannot live comfortably here anymore. We cannot earn our living. We want to escape, but where? My sisters and brothers are afraid to sleep at home, thinking that there can be another raid at any moment,” she said. Bozkuş has 13 siblings, currently with their mother and father the population of the home has been 6-7 family members. So when their home is raided, the seven members of the family are directly affected by it.
Villagers have had to migrate from Lice due to state pressure
I ask: Are there other residents of the villages who have had to migrate due to these pressures? “Yes,” she answered, “Most people living in the village actually resides in the village only for around three months and leave then the village. Our villagers cannot stay in our village due to fear. Normally, all the villagers would be here because of the pandemic, but due to the political pressure they choose to stay in the cities.”
“Turkish media does not reflect our stories”
Bozkuş is a young, educated Kurdish woman, who studied journalism, but she says she is afraid to tell that she has studied journalism, because she says journalism is reflected as a crime. “They have emptied the concept of journalism in Turkey. The Turkish press has never shared our stories, the incidents actually that are taking place here. The only media institutions who reflect these kinds of violations we experience are those that we call the free press, like Sterk TV, Medya Haber TV and Mesopotamia Agency, but no other media organs talk about any of this.
A person, who only follows the Turkish media, cannot be aware or have any knowledge about the general situation or the political situation in Turkey.” she said.