Heightened fighting between Ankara and PKK-linked groups has been witnessed in the Kurdish-majority city of Nusaybin, where clashes have been ongoing between Turkish security forces and the Civil Protection Units (YBŞ). The YBŞ, who are considered as the urban, youth wing of the PKK, have been battling the Turkish military in Nusaybin for the last month.
Reports circulated last week on the TV channel IMC that, after a period of heavy ground bombardment on Nusaybin, aerial operations will begin. However, the mayor of Nusaybin, Sara Kaya, confirmed to Independent Turkey that such claims are so far baseless.
“There have been rumours about air operations on social media, but they are simply rumours,” Kaya explained over the phone. “We are monitoring the neighbourhoods [under curfew] because we are very close to them. But every military weapon besides air operations is being used for bombing and demolishing buildings.”
The six neighbourhoods under curfew have been under heavy bombardment from tanks operated by the military. “Already more than 200 buildings have been demolished and many families with children and elders have fled from these areas because of the bombing,” Kaya said. “For more than 30 days there hasn’t been electricity in these neighbourhoods, so we don’t have any way of reaching the people, we don’t know how many have fled, and how many have stayed.”
The battle for Nusaybin follows months of activities across Kurdish cities in the south-east of the country. After various neighbourhoods’ declarations of autonomy, complete with barricades set up by the PKK-linked youth groups, Ankara has imposed month-long curfews and continued operations in an attempt to regain control over these areas.
In Sur and Cizre, where the fighting has been most intense, Ankara have managed to neutralise the armed Kurdish militants and taken full control of the neighbourhoods. But such a victory has come at a high price: Nearly 100,000 residents have been displaced from Sur, Silopi and Cizre, and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation has said that at least 310 citizens have died as a result of the clashes.
Until now, the Turkish army has relied heavily on artillery to take back such affected areas. The battle in Nusaybin appears to have followed a similar pattern, with Syrian-based journalists tweeting videos of tanks continuously bombarding the city of Nusaybin.
The Syrian-based outfit, No More Silence, has been reporting from the city of Qamishlo which lies just across the border form Nusaybin. With journalists unable to report from within Nusaybin, Turkey has reportedly even threatened to shell the Kurdish city of Qamishlo in retaliation.
On Monday, two journalists, Meltem Oktay and Uğur Akgül, from the pro-Kurdish DIHA news agency were reportedly detained for reporting from the city of Nusaybin. “People cannot go out on the streets in the neighbourhoods under curfew, meaning there is no way to do reporting on the ground,” Kaya explained. “So we are getting our news from sounds, relatives and people calling from these neighbourhoods. Social media helps spread the news, as people share what little they hear.”
With the operations showing no sign of reprieve, Kaya feels desperate and powerless to control events destroying the city she represents. “As it continues, people in the world are starting to treat this situation as normal, and this disturbs us for the future,” Kaya said. “The government should be protecting these people. We are a city with a history. In the face of this viciousness and this violence, for the world to stay silent is a disgrace. We need a neutral third party observer group. Innocent people are becoming victims.”
With the continuing bombing attacks against Turkish security forces conducting operations in the area however, the government and President Erdoğan have taken a seemingly intractable stance against this, supporting the ongoing military campaign to root out all PKK-linked groups from the volatile south-east. “We said ‘resolution process’, and they deceived us, their word cannot be trusted”, the President said in a televised speech to the state-run Red Crescent humanitarian organisation. “That’s over now; we are going to finish this off.”
Kaya also commented on reports that a conflict between the governor of Nusaybin and the military has resulted in the imposition of military rule; “Actually they have been working together on these operations from the beginning. Currently we are unable to reach the governorship’s office or any administrative officials, we are not in communication with them. This suggests that, like various government and independent media outlets have been saying, that Nusaybin seems completely under the control of the military.”
Additional reporting by Deniz Umutlu.