Restart of Armed Conflict after the Fall of the Peace and Resolution Process:
An Assessment of Five Years
24 July 2020
The Peace and Resolution Process, which was initiated in 2013 and lasted for two years only to end in 2015, provided Turkey with a breathing space in every case imaginable and was supported by the majority of the population. Abdullah Öcalan, who was recognized by the state as the “leader of the latest rebellion” for the first time in the history of Turkey, wrote a text prescribing ten articles for the democratic resolution of the Kurdish issue. This text was read on 28 February 2015 in the presence of the ruling AKP, opposition party HDP that was the addressee in the Kurdish issue, the Deputy Prime Minister representing the government, and the Undersecretary for Public Order and Security representing the state and it was televised live on Turkish televisions. The date 28 February 2015 essentially bears historical and symbolic significance in the history of the Republic of Turkey, a continuation of the Ottomans, and for the Kurdish people.
The unease created by the Kurds’ achievement of a de facto status in Syria in spite of the 28 February 2015 declaration, the reluctance of the political power in Turkey to transition from dialogue to negotiation, the failure of international powers to extend support to the Kurds for the recognition of their status by Turkey and other countries in the region along with the competition and tension in domestic politics brought about by the 7 June 2015 general elections process in Turkey withheld AKP and HDP from getting involved in close cooperation. The impacts of such competition first trivialized the 28 February declaration, then the decision to form a monitoring delegation to sit at the peace table that was proposed to be set up in İmralı Island was backed down from.
What followed was Turkey took another step towards authoritarianism closing down the short-lived democratization period following the last meeting of the delegation known as the İmralı Delegation on 5 April 2015 with Abdullah Öcalan in İmralı Island and the entry into force of a law described as the Domestic Security Package on the very same day.
In spite of all these negative developments, peoples of Turkey took a crystal clear stand for peace and democracy as revealed by the 7 June 2015 general election results. Yet, neither AKP nor HDP was able to do what was necessary to meet the conditions of such a stand. AKP established a de facto alliance with nationalist and statist groups that defended the official ideology for the sake of staying in power and initiated a rather dark and bloody process taking Turkey to the 1 November 2015 election re-runs by refusing to accept the former results.
Within less than a week the following happened in Turkey: an attack by a suicide bomber on 20 July 2015 against young people affiliated with the Revolutionary Youth Federation who wanted to go to Kobane in order to be in solidarity with children in Kobane, execution of two police officers on 22 July 2015 in Ceylanpınar that has not been solved yet, and an extensive air bombardment launched on 24 July 2015 that brought about a new period of armed conflict.
Numerous reports have been drawn up regarding the incidents of the last five years. It would, however, be useful to provide an overview of certain significant incidents and gross human rights violations.
Following the restart of armed conflict:
- On 1 August 2015, a statement issued by 20 individuals from the “Wise People Committee” called on the parties to re-embrace a non-conflict process and sustain the peace process.
- On 16 August 2015, a period of long-term blanket curfews exceeding 24 hours was initiated for the first time in the history of Turkey. The updated HRFT report provides extensive detail on such curfews.
- A new bloody process, during which deadly armed conflict broke out and claimed the lives of many civilians, began in residential areas where curfews were declared.
- On 10 October 2015 at 10.04 am the deadliest suicide bomber attack in the history of Turkey was carried out against people who got together for a Peace Meeting before Ankara train station although KCK declared a unilateral non-conflict decision the same day. The call for peace was virtually answered with a bomb.
- On 1 November 2015, AKP claimed power once again on its own following the re-run of general elections.
- On 14 December 2015, blanket curfews that would last for months were declared in Diyarbakır’s Sur and Şırnak’s Cizre provinces; military troops were granted the opportunity to launch operations with all kinds of heavy weapons.
- Between 20 January 2016 and 12 February 2016, gross violations of the right to life were committed against an estimated number of 140 to 170 individuals at the basements of three buildings in Cizre under curfew. The exact figure is still unknown.
- On 20 May 2016, a provisional article amended to the Constitution revoked the parliamentary immunity of deputies.
- On 15 July 2016, a military coup d’état was attempted but it was quenched merely a day after.
- On 20 July 2016, state of emergency was declared lasting non-stop for two years in a virtual counter-coup. While what happened during the state of emergency was at a level on par with the period of martial rule, the cases of unlawfulness and gross human rights violations can be found in the updated HRJP report.
- On 25 August 2016, Turkey launched a military offensive into Syria through Jarablus covering Al Bab and Azez and took this region under its de facto control.
- On 25 October 2016, Diyarbakır’s elected co-mayors, Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, were taken under police custody in a series of arrest and detention operations against elected representatives. These operations gave way to a period of state trustee appointments to remove from office and replace elected co-mayors along with members of city councils and general provincial assemblies. Reports drafted by Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities offer extensive information on the issue.
- On 4 November 2016, HDP Co-Chairpersons Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ and many other deputies were arrested following the removal of their parliamentary immunity. This process is still ongoing.
- On 16 April 2017, proposed amendments to the Constitution were declared to be approved by voters in the constitutional referendum through the Higher Board of Elections’ unlawful decision to accept unstamped ballots. The 1982 Constitution drawn up by military putschists was thus rendered even more authoritarian through these amendments put forth by those claiming to be civilians and Turkey regressed to an authoritarian constitution level dependent on a single-person governance defined as the Presidential Government System.
- On 20 January 2018, Turkey launched a military offensive into Syria’s Afrin region and took this region under its full control on 18 March 2018. Turkey organized paramilitary groups in Syria while conducting this offensive and included them in its operations under the name of the Free Syrian Army.
- On 24 June 2018, Turkey held presidential and parliamentary elections under the state of emergency conditions. AKP failed to win the majority of the seats in the parliament and formed a de facto coalition with the ultranationalist MHP in an alliance that it called the People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı). We would especially like to state that this coalition included all kinds of structures within the state that we call the “deep state” and see as illegal entities. The support particularly extended by the former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller and former Interior Minister Mehmet Ağar, who were responsible for the 1990s, to the People’s Alliance during the elections process is still imprinted on our memories. Further, groups that self-identified as nationalitarians (ulusalcı) also supported this alliance.
- On 19 July 2018, the state of emergency was lifted but amendments were introduced to the legislation through Law No. 7145 so as to extend the de facto state of emergency for another three years. Turkey is still being governed in this extended state of emergency regime.
- On 7 November 2018, jailed HDP deputy Leyla Güven announced in the court room that she was on an indefinite and non-alternate hunger strike in order to get authorities lift the isolation on Abdullah Öcalan.
- On 31 March 2019, AKP lost the major metropolitan cities in the local elections to the main opposition party suffering a major setback. HDP’s strategy to support pro-democracy forces during this process was a determinant factor in the local election results and the 23 June 2019 İstanbul mayoral re-run especially revealed that if pro-democracy and pro-peace groups in Turkey voted in the same direction they would form the majority according to the election results.
- On 2 May 2019, the government permitted Abdullah Öcalan to confer with his lawyers, whom he had not been allowed to see since 27 June 2011, as a result of the impact of hunger strikes, effective campaigns by human rights and legal organizations, Peace Mothers, political activities by HDP in the parliament and pro-democracy groups.
- On 26 May 2019, indefinite and non-alternate hunger strikes maintained by Leyla Güven and 3,065 prisoners in 90 prisons in Turkey ended following Abdullah Öcalan’s letter released by his lawyers on the 200th
- On 19 August 2019, appointing state trustees to replace elected co-mayors after removing them from office was initiated again. Within this process Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality Co-Mayor Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı was taken into police custody and released but he was subsequently detained and convicted on a bogus witness account. The case is still pending before the Court of Cassation. Further information can be found in reports by HDP and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
- On 9 October 2019, Turkey this time launched another military offensive into northeast Syria incorporating the paramilitary group Syrian National Army, formerly known as the Free Syrian Army, into its operations. Turkey had to recognize the Kurdish political and military presence in Syria by signing memorandums of understanding firstly with the US then with Russia that meant ceasefire.
- On 4 June 2020, HDP Hakkari Deputy Leyla Güven’s, HDP Diyarbakır Deputy Musa Farisoğulları’s and CHP İstanbul Deputy Enis Berberoğlu’s memberships in the parliament were terminated as their prison sentence convictions were finalized.
- On 16 June 2020, Turkey has launched another extensive military offensive into northern Iraq that is still ongoing.
A devastating scene is revealed when one studies the balance sheets on violations of the right to life covering this five-year process based on data collected by İHD’s Documentation Center. The violations committed qualify as those that one can simply see in a medium-sized war. It should, therefore, be acknowledged that armed conflict has transitioned into a regional war at the end of these five years. Indeed, the military operations launched by the Turkish army in northern Iraq are ongoing.
İHD’s balance sheets incorporate violations committed within Turkey’s borders. Thus these balance sheets do not cover data on civilian, security forces and armed militant casualties during the military operations launched by Turkey in Syria and Iraq within the last five years.
The table presented below incorporate data that İHD was able to ascertain. Among these figures, it is İHD’s estimate that particularly the number of soldiers, police officers, village guards and armed militants who lost their lives in armed conflict is in fact much higher.
İHD would like to reiterate that it is imperative to put an end to the pending armed conflict and war and to rebuild a peace process. The steps to be taken towards this end should firstly take into account the following points:
- The political power should recognize the existence of the Kurdish issue and be willing to accept democratic and peaceful ways to solve this problem, which is at least of the same age with the republic, and to assert a concordant political will to this end.
- Everyone should understand that this ongoing armed conflict and war did not and could not brought about a final settlement within these long five years. Thus a climate of non-conflict should immediately be maintained. Everyone should discharge their own responsibility to achieve this goal.
- Isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently being held under isolation in İmralı Prison, should be ended and he should be able to confer with his lawyers, see his family and requesting delegations by granting him his legal rights.
- The political addressee in the Kurdish issue before the Grand National Assembly of Turkey is the ruling party and opposition parties. The policy based on the exclusion of HDP should be dropped and the political power should engage in a constructive dialogue with HDP.
- Elected representatives held in prisons and other political prisoners, notably Kurdish politicians, should be released as soon as possible.
- The political power should stop removing elected co-mayors from office and appointing state trustees to replace them; all the elected representatives should be reinstated to their posts.
- Turkey needs to start a genuine conflict resolution process in order to solve the Kurdish issue, as was the case in other countries.
It is a right for human rights defenders to defend the right to peace. Human rights defenders will continue to defend the right to peace and to speak out the fact that peace is Turkey’s most important and primary demand.
Turkey needs a novel rebuilding of the peace process. İHD believes that a novel peace process can be rebuild through the acceptance of the above-mentioned recommendations.
Human Rights Association
Table 1. Violations of the Right to Life between 2015 and 2019 according to Data Collected by İHD’s Documentation Center
|Armed Conflict||Summary Execution||Attacks|
|Civilian||Soldier||Police||Village Guard||Armed Militant||Attacked||Illegal organization attacks in civilian residential areas|
|2016||37||153||629||1146||included in the soldier data||included in the soldier data||included in the soldier data||included in the soldier data||1003||21||594||437||63||256||316||1700|
|2019||18||26||98||206||included in the soldier data||included in the soldier data||included in the soldier data||included in the soldier data||324||1||38||93||24||175||1||—|
Total number of people killed: 5,365
Total number of people injured: 7,986
Note: The above figures do not cover 246 persons who lost their lives and 2,146 persons who were injured during the coup d’état attempt of 15 July 2016.