Stop the Ethnic Cleansing in Turkey

There was a barbaric massacre in Turkey last week. There might be another one this week. It’s the latest in a series of shocking crimes to which the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has subjected members of Turkey’s Kurdish minority population since the end of the summer. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Turkish state is engaged in ethnic mass-displacement and other forms of ethnic cleansing.

This must be stopped, yet the international community has so far done appallingly little to stop it. The United States in particular has a responsibility here, because of the prominent role it occupies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Turkey also a member. Diplomatic pressure from the United States could make a real difference – and it is shamefully overdue.

Since last summer, the Erdoğan government has imposed over 50 around-the-clock curfews – in some cases for weeks or months on end – in Kurdish villages and cities in east and southeast Turkey as part of a large-scale crackdown on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK). Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled their homes to escape the escalating violence and harsh conditions of the (probably illegal) curfews. Those who have stayed behind have endured or witnessed grave human rights violations and terrible suffering.

Erdoğan insists that his forces target only PKK fighters, but (as if previous evidence to the contrary were not enough) last week’s massacre in Cizre certainly disconfirms it. The killing continued for days on end, even after official claims to the effect that the “operation” in Cizre was complete, and despite both clear and urgent calls for action and desperate last-minute pleas from the victims themselves. The victims – the vast majority (if not all) of whom were civilians – were trapped in three basements, where they had sought shelter and waited for rescue and medical aid. But the rescue never came: ambulances were turned away, and family members detained when they tried to reach the victims. Some victims accordingly died of blood loss, others likely of thirst and many were ultimately burned alivewhen government forces attacked the buildings last week. It was a mass execution by fire.

At the time of writing, the confirmed death toll from the Cizre massacre stands at 158, and the city is in ruins. Meanwhile, true to previous form, the Erdoğan government is engaged in a massive campaign to conceal the truth. And now fears are rising that a similar slaughter is imminent in the Sur district of Diyarbakir, where approximately 200 people are waiting for evacuation in the basements of crumbling buildings, understandably fearing for their lives. The situation is quickly deteriorating in Nusaybin and Idil as well.

This cannot go on. It is intolerable for any government, purporting to govern in the name of a national citizenry, to single out minorities for collective punishment and ethnic cleansing. It is all the more troubling that this is occurring right on the border with fragmented Syria and in the vicinity of fragmented Iraq. (Indeed there are also indications that Erdoğan intends to blame Syrian Kurds for recent unrest at home and to use such accusations as pretexts for further attacks into Syria – which would bring him into direct conflict with simultaneously operating Russian and NATO air forces.) The Erdoğan government is effectively asking for a massive worsening of what already are horrifying regional conditions.

In light of these dangers – and of our disgust at the Erdoğan government’s war on its own Kurdish citizens – we have written an open letter to President Obama, asking that he remonstrate with the Erdoğan government. (It was written before the last round of violence in Cizre and Diyarbakir; it’s made all the more urgent by that.)

We hope that you will read the letter – posted in full here – and add your signature to ours, as well as to those of our co-signatories. It goes to the White House at the end of this week.