In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, January 19, Prime Minister Davutoğlu revealed that the government plans to make the districts of Cizre and Yüksekova the provincial centers of the Şırnak and Hakkari provinces, respectively.
The Cizre district of the Şırnak province, and the Yüksekova district of the Hakkari province have been two of the epicenters of violent clashes between state forces and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in recent months.
The primary tactic of the PKK has been to create a network of trenches and barricades, effectively portioning off entire neighbourhoods under Kurdish self-rule. In an attempt to counter these operations, government forces have enforced highly controversial weeklong curfews which have resulted in the deaths of many civilians.
Speaking with journalists on the latest developments of the counter-terrorism operations ongoing in Turkey’s Southeast, the Prime Minister discussed the government’s urban renewal plans for the region;
“After we have completed our objectives, then we will focus on normalizing the flow of life, reviving the economic life of the region. For example you couldn’t even go to the Nur neighborhood of Cizre in the 80s and 90s. Not anymore. We are going to accomplish this in every neighborhood. We will build new police stations and security infrastructure.”
The Prime Minister continued; “There could also be some administrative reforms. For example making Cizre and Yüksekova the provincial centers, because their conditions are very convenient for this.”
The Prime Minister cited geographic, economic and practical factors as the rationale behind this administrative shift:
“Those who go to Şırnak [the current provincial center] will know this, it’s in a very narrow space. On the other hand Cizre is a very wide open space. In the same way it’s difficult for Hakkari to expand, but Yüksekova is expanding – it just needs the security infrastructure to support this expansion.”
However, political leaders in Şırnak and Hakkari, as well as members of the pro-Kurdish HDP party have criticized Prime Minister Davutoğlu’s proposed administrative reforms as insensitive and potentially underhanded.
The Cizre District mayor Kadir Konu reacted to Davutoğlu’s announcement stating “There are people dying here, bodies are lying in the street, and right now a debate about province centers will only further desensitize an already desensitized public, further corrode an already corroding humanity.”
Other commentators dismissed Davutoğlu’s reference to the economic and geographic factors at hand and instead suggested that political considerations and military strategy are more likely behind the administrative move.
Establishing Cizre and Yüksekova as provincial capitals would increase their public funding and likely be accompanied by the construction of government offices and buildings; including a fortified public security infrastructure.
HDP Co-Chair Figen Yüksekdağ criticized the move as failing to address the true underlying causes of the “Kurdish Problem”;
“Years ago Şırnak was made into a province also for security purposes. You jammed it with the army, with headquarters, with police stations. But the public reality, the democratic struggle, and the problems you couldn’t solve have emerged again. So you have moved a city and now you want to move another one. But where will you move the 6 million people who voted for HDP? Where will you move 20 million Kurds?”
In an interview with Sputnik Türkiye, HDP ex-parliament member Hasip Kaplan pointed to the geographic location of Cizre and Yüksekova as revealing the true intent behind the administrative move:
“Cizre is right on the Syria-Iraq border, and Yüksekova is right on the Iraq-Iran border…On the Iraqi side of the border there is the Kurdistan Regional Government, and on the Syrian side of the border there is Rojava…What Davutoğlu is talking about is really about the deployment of troops and building up the military infrastructure in the region.. It doesn’t have anything to do with those cities’ economic, social, or cultural development.”
However, many residents of Cizre and Hakkari expressed excitement and support for the administrative shift. Speaking with Anadolu Ajansı, the Cizre Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Süleyman Çağlı supported the government’s plan, noting that Cizre’s population is twice the size of the current provincial center Şırnak and that Cizre is much more suitable for an expanding economy; “Cizre has long deserved to become it’s own province. Even though this is coming quite late, this administrative move will make the people of Cizre happy.”
The President of the Cizre Muhtar’s Association also met the announcement with approval, stating “This move will greatly support the expansion of our district and provide very beneficial services to our community.”
According to an Anadolu Ajansı report, residents of Yüksekova also supported the government’s initiative as a practical decision, given the convenience of Yüksekova’s Selahaddin Eyyubi Airport, the only airport in the Hakkari province.