Press confusion and conflicting reports of events persist in the Cizre district of the Şırnak province in Turkey’s southeast. Recent reports from the area have indicated that a large scale government operation occurred on Saturday evening, February 6, with a possible connection to the situation of the trapped civilians in the area. However, the number of resulting casualties and the precise location of the operation still remains unclear and a matter of dispute.
Cizre has been one among many districts in Turkey’s southeast where there have been month-long, round-the-clock curfews enforced by state forces in an effort to combat armed members of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)
The PKK’s main strategy in the region has been to erect barricades and dig a network of trenches, effectively portioning off entire neighbourhoods under Kurdish self-rule. In the Cizre district, a joint police-military operation has been ongoing since December 14, tasked with removing the barricades, filling in the trenches, and neutralizing the threat of PKK militants in the area.
On January 23, a group of around 30 civilians took cover from government shelling in the basement of building No. 23 on Bostancı Avenue, in the Cudi neighborhood of Cizre. The majority of the group was injured from the shelling and awaited medical attention in the basement, with little access to water and medical care. Seven of the injured civilians have reportedly died of untreated injuries, and the remaining injured civilians are still awaiting the arrival of medical assistance however have not been heard from for many days.
On Sunday night, February 7, the state-sponsored media organization TRT posted a breaking news report on the situation in Cizre, which claimed that during the course of the recent operations 60 PKK terrorists had been killed. The report was removed from TRT’s website several hours later, but the “60 terrorist” figure began to circulate in national and international news.
Cumhuriyet newspaper released a report corroborating the “60 terrorist” figure, and also claimed that the operations were conducted in connection with the 28 trapped civilians on Bostancı Avenue. The report claimed that according to military sources, No. 23 building on Bostancı Avenue was connected to as many as 5 other buildings in the area through an elaborate network of underground tunnels functioning as a PKK stronghold.
Other sources reported much more conservative figures. The Şırnak Governorship’s office reported on Monday, February 8, that 10 PKK terrorists had been “neutralized” during the operation. According to an Anadolu Ajans report citing security sources, only 8 “terrorist” casualties had yet been confirmed.
Responding to the conflicting reports, HDP party deputies operating in the area stated that they were struggling to establish contact with their sources in the area and that the situation remains largely unclear.
HDP Şırnak deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız commented on the reports, stating “There is another building nearby with 60 people in it. An operation may have been organized in connection with this house. I am still trying to collect information.”
Following reports of the “60 terrorist” figure, The Democratic Regions Party (DBP) and the HDP held a joint press conference on Monday to respond to the situation. The DBP co-leader Kamuran Yüksek re-affirmed Sarıyıldız’s comments and claimed that the operations in Cizre were targeting another nearby building with 60 people in it, aside from the situation of the injured civilians in No. 23, whose condition still remains unclear.
Speaking at the press conference, Yüksek stated: “We don’t know what is going on in the other houses. There are no clarifying developments. We are unable to contact anyone in the neighbourhood. Because members of the medical teams have been locked up in their rooms they have not had the opportunity to share any information with us yet. All sources of information are being blocked. For this reason it’s an extremely clouded situation.”
Following the emerging situation of conflicting reports, the Human Rights Association, The Turkish Human Rights Foundation, and the Health and Social Labourers Union have called for the formation of an independent, neutral, third party investigative task force to investigate the events of the operation in Cizre.