The unreasonable hostility of the Turkish state towards any representation of Kurdish identity was the focal point of the defence of jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş in the ongoing Kobani trial on Tuesday.
Resuming his defence in the high-profile Kobani trial, Demirtaş, who was a co-chair of the now defunct pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), highlighted deep-rooted issues in Kurdish-Turkish relations, illustrating the extent of the Turkish state’s opposition to the Kurdish identity. “If the Kurds obtained a home at the poles, the Turkish state would oppose it,” he said.
Demirtaş also addressed tragic events in the Kurdish-majority Cizre (Cizîr) and Sur districts of southeast Turkey during the winter of 2015-2016, referring to graffiti put up there indicative of the prevailing attitudes of Turkish nationalism. The graffiti was put up by security forces who later shared pictures of the act on social media. Demirtaş read out some of the graffiti: “‘If you’re Turkish, take pride; if not, obey,'” adding, “This summarises the century. I don’t know if you take pride in being Turkish, but we Kurds do not obey,” and remarking that the Kurds are committed to coexistence and resistance against oppression.
Demirtaş also delved into historical aspects of Kurdish-Turkish relations, including the division of Kurdistan and the autonomy the Kurds had had during the Ottoman era. His defence touched upon significant historical events like the Battle of Çaldıran and the subsequent treaties which split Kurdistan geographically. He also spoke about the role of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in shaping the modern borders in the Middle East.
Highlighting the evolution of Kemalism, Turkey’s official state ideology, Demirtaş said, “Mustafa Kemal himself might not recognise the current interpretation of Kemalism.” He criticised the Turkish government’s fluctuating definitions of Turkishness, saying that they changed according to political need of the time.
Referring to the military coup of 1980, Demirtaş asserted the enduring impact of the coup on Turkey’s institutions and mindset. He condemned the prohibition of the Kurdish and Syriac languages in the Turkish parliament as racist and fascist.
The Kobani trial, which began in April 2021, implicates 108 individuals, including several former leaders and central executive board members of the HDP. The trial focuses on events from October 2014, particularly the protests over the Turkish government’s inaction during the ISIS siege of Kobani. The trial seeks aggravated life imprisonment for the defendants on various charges, and is perceived by many as a political move to suppress the HDP and the broader Kurdish political movement in Turkey.
The Kurdish liberation movement characterises the period of conflict during the winter of 2015-16 in Cizre and Sur as “historically significant resistance of democratic self-governance”.
Reports from several human rights organisations and the HDP provide a detailed account of human rights violations and atrocities that occurred in Cizre during the 2015-16 period of conflict and state-imposed curfew and blockade. Key points from the report include:
Many people were killed inside their own homes in Cizre during the blockade. People died on balconies, in gardens and kitchens, often due to blood loss, with no medical intervention. Homes that called the emergency services were more intensely targeted.
Individuals carrying white flags were killed. Residents of Cizre described soldiers and special police forces as “occupying forces.”
Bodies could not be buried according to custom, and were mistreated. Until burial, nationalist songs like “Ölürüm Türkiyem” (Turkey, I would die for you) and military marches were played. Bodies were often burned or mutilated, with many showing signs of torture.
Special forces reportedly used people’s homes as headquarters, leaving behind desecrated interiors with underwear, used condoms and faeces left lying around. Houses were looted and turned into ruins.
Water depots were intentionally targeted to deprive the population of water, and dead cats were thrown into water channels and wells.
Looting of homes and shops was noted in all reports as being a common occurrence. , In people’s homes, white goods and televisions in particular were deliberately destroyed, demonstrating targeted damage to the possessions of Cizre residents.
The interior walls of homes and streets were covered with extensive racist and sexist graffiti, to which Demirtaş referred in his defence.