Hundreds of villages in Turkey’s south-eastern province of Şırnak, bordering Iraq, were burnt down during the 1990s as Kurdish villagers living in these regions were forcibly displaced as part of the scorched-earth policies of Turkey.
Despite the fact that years have passed and Turkish authorities claim that they do allow people to return, the villages in Şırnak still mostly remain ’empty’ as villagers face countless obstacles from military officers as they just try to enter their villages, even for just one day.
Ali Hamza Pehlivan, Şırnak’s governor, who is known for his commitment to “security policies,” which he has on many occasions explained with the motto of “secure Judi,” has repeatedly claimed that the region around Mount Judi (Cûdî ) in Şırnak has turned into a “secure zone” where former residents can return.
However, the reality on the ground conflicts with the Governor’s statements as what the Governor calls ‘security,’ returns back to the Kurdish villagers as increased military control, survelliance and loss of peace, Mezopotamya News Agency has reported.
The increased militarisation in the region not only disturbs the daily lives of the residents, but has also led to the systematic destruction of Şırnak’s ecosystems.
Thousands of trees have been cut down in order to build police stations and military bases in the Judi, Gabar and Besta regions in Şırnak.
More recently, 22 watchtowers and two military bases have been built in the Judi region.
Kurdish villagers from Ballıkaya (Bilikan), a small village on the foothills of Mount Judi, complain that increased militarisation and extreme security practices that feel like martial law have returned and ruined their daily lives and the peace they had.
“Our lands are fertile, we have orchards and walnut trees, but we are not allowed to enter our village,” said Huryete Bilikan, a former resident of Ballıkaya, who now lives in the town centre.
“When I lived in my village, I used to work in our orchards. But now they do not let us into the village. Any villager who wants to go, needs to register their name,” she said.
She explained the procedures that are imposed on villagers in order for them to enter the Ballıkaya village: “Your name has to be approved by Ankara. Then, they give you a piece of paper as an ‘entry permit.’ You have to hand your ID card to the soldiers and then you can enter the village.”
Hanım Deniz, who has witnessed the times during the 1990s when Kurdish villages were burned down to the ground by Turkish military forces, also reacted to the current repression of the Kurdish villagers.
“Before, they had placed restrictions on all entrances to our village. Now, they control the entries by permit procedures,” she said.
Villagers who want to enter their village have to form a group of at least five-six people for the military and police officers to give them an appointment, she explained.
“When there are five-six people who want to enter the village, they need to go to the Besta police station at 6 am in the morning. If the forces in the station allow them,” she said, adding that the entrance permission comes with one condition. That condition is not to spend the night in the village.
“If we spend the night in the village, they charge us or they jail us,” she said.