Tens of thousands of civilians in southeast Turkey have been caught in the middle as government forces and Kurdish militants battle it out in urban areas — violence that has shattered hopes of reviving peace talks, the Associated Press reports.
Turkish security forces launched a large-scale operation last week hoping to rout militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, and say more than 180 of them have been killed. Thousands of troops and tanks have been sent to crush pockets of resistance across mainly Kurdish districts, where PKK fighters and youth have set up trenches to keep them at bay. Flashpoints have been under a 24-hour curfew since mid-December.
While there have been repeated clashes and long curfews since the collapse of peace talks in July, many in the region had hoped the talks would resume after a November election gave a decisive majority to the Justice and Development Party founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“If things continue like this, we will become just like Syria,” says Mehmet Salih Bagata, a lawyer in the southeastern town of Cizre, the scene of the heaviest clashes and the highest reported fatalities since authorities stepped up military operations.
“The government was using light weapons in the beginning but now it’s using heavy weapons,” says Abdullah Ekinci, a human rights activist who left Cizre with his family just before the start of security operations. “You cannot use tanks in civilian areas. The government is using disproportionate force.”
He estimates that more than half a million people are stuck in lockdown areas across the southeast. Many families, especially large or poor ones, do not have the luxury of leaving.