On 27 July, there was an explosion as an armoured vehicle carrying military personnel was passing by in the Yuksekova (Gever) district of Hakkari (Colemerg) in Turkey.
Nineteen soldiers of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) were injured, eleven of them seriously, in the explosion at Aşağı Ölçek (Yêkmala Jêri) village along the Yüksekova-Şemdinli highway. After the explosion, all travel between the surrounding villages and the highways were closed for eight hours, according to MA.
After the explosion, soldiers inspecting the site of the explosion detained several villagers and also shepherds from the nearby villages of Çukurca (Pagê) and Aşağı Ölçek. Seven of the detained villagers were arrested for allegedly “disrupting the unity of the state and the integrity of the country.” Shepherds Levent Dere and Harun Örtas, who were reportedly subjected to severe torture in custody for days, were also arrested.
The people in the region live under the constant fear and threat of either being killed or injured – with bullets being fired from the station that is located along the border – or being arrested for just passing through pathways where clashes have taken place.
Almost every week, news reports from the region detail the manner in which civilians have been fired upon by soldiers under suspicion of being “terrorists,” whilst merely picnicking, tending to their sheep or even watering the gardens of their homes. Medya News has also published reports into such targeting incidents.
Despite all these risks, locals have continued with their professions such as shepherding, since there are no other viable alternatives. Shepherds Levent Dere and Harun Örtas are among the shepherds in the area.
MA interviewed the families of the two shepherds who are currently under detention. The mother of Harun Örtaş, Kadriye Örtaş, states that her son was going to stop shepherding just one week later.
“My son took his animals to the creek to meet their water needs. Meanwhile, he’s hungry, so he sits down and eats with his friend. How would my son and his friend know that there would be an explosion,” she repeatedly asks. “Would they have stood there if they knew about it beforehand? My son is innocent, he doesn’t know anything.”
Kadriye Örtaş was very concerned when her son was detained because neither the family nor the attorneys could meet with the detainees for eight days. “I could not sleep for days. The lawyers weren’t allowed to see our children.” She thinks that the reason for that is to buy time to erase the torture marks from the detainees bodies.
“What has been done is persecution, so let them stop this persecution. Let them stop this persecution. My son was shepherding because he had to. They beat him up, tortured him. They do not let us bring anything to him. This is cruelty,” she stated.
Another shepherd who was also arrested is Levent Dere. He has a family and children. His wife Ayfer Dere states that “he was shepherding to look after our children, since our children are suffering from various diseases and have hormone disorders.” Ayfer Dere states that her husband was threatened by the soldiers a couple of times before, but since the family needs the money, he did not give up shepherding.
She describes how her husband was detained: “At one point, shots were fired at them from the police station. The soldiers came at night and asked them why they had gone to that region. They answered that they were feeding their sheep by using the pastures.” But shepherding in that region is considered a ‘crime’ by the soldiers.
“After the incident, they came and arrested him, took off his clothes, tortured him naked,” she said.
Fuat Oyman, one of the shepherds who was released after being deposed at the Gendarmerie Command Station, confirms the basis of the statements that were made by Ayfer Dere. He said they were close to the village at the time of the explosion and even wanted to help the injured when the explosion occurred.
“We all ran away after they opened fire. After the explosion, soldiers came to the village and detained several people. They were severely tortured in custody. They had no evidence or anything. The people they arrested were shepherds. They’ve come and charged them and arrested them.”