UK activists’ report on the struggle for autonomy in Silvan

“Autonomy means that we will live in our own way, with our own
rules, our own culture and our own identity. I support this from my
heart.”  – Narin, resident of Farqîn

All images: Kurdish Solidarity Network. All rights reserved.In
August 2015, the city of Farqîn (Silvan in Turkish) declared autonomy from the
state. Barricades were erected on the streets of three neighbourhoods of the
city—Mescit, Tekel and Konak—defended by armed people’s protection teams. The
Turkish state responded by using intense violence and imposing a series of
curfews, culminating in a 12-day siege of the neighbourhoods in November. An
official from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) threatened that “the security forces will erase the three
Silvan neighbourhoods from the map”.

On 20 and 21 November 2015, we
travelled to Farqîn in solidarity with the residents of the city. The intention
of our visit was to document the police and military violence (in contrast to biased reports in the Turkish media, depicting the people of Farqîn as
terrorists), to see firsthand the destruction that was caused, and to let our
Kurdish friends know that we support them in their struggle for autonomy.

On 10 August, the residents of Farqîn erected barricades in the city.
On 15 August, Barış Güleryüz of the DBP (Democratic Regions Party) read
out a statement on behalf of the people of Farqîn, declaring themselves
autonomous from the state. Since then, Barış has been forced into hiding and
the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) co-mayor, who was present at the
declaration of autonomy, has been imprisoned.

Between August and
October there were five different curfews, and finally, between 3 and 14 November,
there was a 12-day curfew, ending when the state brought the military onto the
streets and used heavy weaponry on the people of Farqîn.

When
we arrived, the barricades had been destroyed and bulldozers were clearing up
the rubble. Most of the military had left, but the police certainly hadn’t. As
we walked through the neighbourhoods that had been affected by state violence,
armoured police vehicles circled the streets and a drone flew overhead.

We
asked Narin, a resident of the city, why the people of Farqîn had declared
autonomy.

“There were different reasons. In October
2014 there was a big uprising in solidarity with Kobane. The state made new
security laws giving greater powers to the police. Tensions remained high since
then. Another reason for the declaration of autonomy was because of the Suruç and Amed bombings. Even the people who
were wounded in those bombings were attacked with tear gas by
the police. Everything is related. People on the barricades in Farqîn said that
‘we are the children of the city. We have grown up here and we will defend
our city. We are the people’s protection units.’”

During the 12-day curfew
in November, armed special forces police wearing balaclavas—the Özel Harekatterrorised
the city, whilst military tanks fired from the surrounding hills. We were told
that that the Özel
Harekat used M32 multiple
grenade launchers on civilians. Snipers shot at people from rooftops. People
said that the snipers came to houses, broke down the doors and forced people to
leave so that they could shoot from their buildings. Helicopters circled in the
sky and were used to fire on people. A resident said, “because of our declaration of autonomy,
they attacked us as if we were Daesh (ISIS).”

Meanwhile,
people who lived outside of the barricades were bombarded with tear gas and
water cannons. One resident told us, “they put something like pepper inside the water cannons. My ear
swelled up like a balloon.”

Nine year-old Hasan.Fourteen
civilians were killed by state forces between August and November; four were
under eighteen years old. Nine year-old Hasan Yılmaz was killed after he found
an unexploded grenade. Three other children were injured. Hayriye Hüdaverdi was
seventy-five years old when she was killed by a sniper. The police also shot people
who came to help the wounded. Fifty-five year-old İsmet Gezici was killed when
he tried to help his twenty-four year-old nephew Engin after he was shot.

After
we left Farqîn, a new media report stated that seventy-eight year-old Latif
Nangir died of brain damage after a bomb exploded near him. When his wife tried
to take him to hospital, state forces fired on them. Narin
told us,

“During the curfew, we helped each other.
People had to stay inside to protect themselves. They found safe areas like
under the stairs. People took in their neighbours. We didn’t have electricity.
Twenty-four pylons had been attacked. People were running out of food, and some
people didn’t have water.”

People in Farqîn
have been trying to organise themselves independently of the state, on the
basis of a system of direct democracy, called democratic confederalism or democratic autonomy. Narin
told us:

“Even though the
barricades have gone we still consider that we have declared autonomy. I never
use state things. With our language and culture we have our own programmes and
make our own political decisions. In every neighbourhood you have an assembly.
These are all steps towards democratic conferderalism. We are learning and
giving ourselves time to work well, like in Rojava…The neighbourhood assemblies
started here in 2014. Each neighbourhood assembly has two heads, a man and a
woman. we have commissions that solve problems without going to the courts,
such as disputes over money or violence against women.” 

We
asked a local journalist why the barricades were finally taken down. He told
us:

“For nine days the police could only move 300
metres, but then they began a new military strategy. The tanks had stayed on
the hills up until then, and then on the ninth day they came inside. On the
tenth day people retreated and the army and police stayed for two more days
arresting people and clearing away the bullets so that people wouldn’t see what
they had done. They graffitied all over the walls before they left.”

As we
walked through the streets of Farqîn, we were shocked by the amount of damage
that was done by the police and military, and we were amazed that more people
had not been killed. Police had told hospitals and staff who had wanted to help
the wounded, “you’re helping the
terrorists.” There were bullet holes everywhere; many buildings have
gaping holes in where they had been shelled. Other buildings had been set on
fire.

We were led up the
staircase into one building which had been set on fire. The rooms were charred
black, all of the windows were smashed, and childrens’ toys were strewn in the
middle of the floor amongst broken glass. The owner of the house took us up to a
room which had been shelled. The blood of Yakup Sinbağ covered the wall. He was
twenty-eight years old and was shot through the heart on 9 November.

Whilst walking through the streets, we met an older woman who told us,

“My husband died of a heart attack during the
clashes. Now I live alone with my daughter. My house was damaged. They just
left my soul inside me. They destroyed everything else.”

We
also met a man with a learning disability who showed us his injury. He was shot
in the back by a sniper as he walked on the street during a curfew.

Children
gathered around us, eager to show us some of the bullet and munition casings
littering the streets.

As we walked through the neighbourhoods, we saw a lot of graffiti that had been
painted over. We were told that the police had left fascist and threatening
messages on the walls. One piece of graffiti said, “In the teeth of the wolf there is blood.” The wolf is a symbol
of fascists in Turkey.

We
spoke to Zuhal Tekiner, co-Mayor of the municipality in Farqîn. She is only
thirty-five years old and has already been imprisoned twice by the Turkish
state. She told us:

“When you go home to the UK, please talk
about every bullet that they fired, about every person who is dead, and make
noise about this. Ask the state of Turkey to be accountable for every bullet
they use. Remind Turkey of human rights. They try to depict us as terrorists.
You can change this mindset. We are not terrorists. It’s not a war between
different countries. We are ready to give our own lives.”

Zuhal.We
asked her whether we should protest against the exporting of weapons to Turkey.
She replied,

“It would be beautiful if people tried to
stand against the selling of weapons to Turkey. The Turkish police and military
are using new guns and bullets. A 75 year old woman was killed. Just one bullet
is enough to kill. When it enters the body it causes a small hole and when it
comes out it is huge.”

The
damage done to people’s houses and shops in Farqîn is immense. According to
Zuhal:

“800-1000 houses were affected because of
gunfire. Some more, some less. There are no windows left in many houses. We
think the cost of reconstruction could be 5 million Turkish Lira. 12,000 people
now don’t have places to live because of the damage.”

We
also spoke to a man on the street who was helping with the reconstruction. He
told us: “We must be ready for winter
– there is no other choice. The reconstruction work needs to be finished in one
month’s time.” There is a campaign to help the families who have lost
their houses; money can be donated to the municipality to be given to them.

Cizre,
Silopi, Varto, Erciş, Siirt and Nusaybin have also declared autonomy over the
last few months. As we publish this report, residents of Nusaybin and Gever
(Yüksekova) are being murdered daily. In the Sur district of Amed (Diyarbakır),
young people are currently armed behind the barricades, protecting their
streets from the police.

Zuhal
told us,

“We have lived through very bad things. It
looks like we’re in a bad situation but for the future generation it will be
clearer. We believe we will achieve autonomy. When we were babies our parents
were in prison and tortured. Now we take their place. Thanks to their struggle
we take to the streets. And thanks to us our children will also do this. We
have hope for the future. We don’t want to live with their borders. We believe
that we can change things. When we struggle here we believe that all of
Kurdistan is with us…They said they wanted to erase us from the map. Now we
will draw the map again.”

First published on the Kurdish Solidarity Network blog on 23 November 2015.

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