Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu issued a 17-point, secret written order that led to the unlawful killing of civilians, mass forced displacement of the local population, widespread destruction of private property and various human rights violations in Turkey’s Southeast in 2016, the classified government document, obtained by Nordic Monitor, has revealed.
The document issued by then-Prime Minister Davutoğlu, stamped secret and dated February 16, 2016, officially launched security operations in the Idil district and the center of Şırnak province, the Nusaybin district of Mardin province and the Yüksekova district of Hakkari province in Turkey’s southeastern region.
A postscript in the document showed that the order was circulated to the General Staff, then-Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, who was in charge of public broadcaster TRT and the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Public Diplomacy Coordination Office, the Public Order and Security Undersecretariat, the National Police General Directorate, the Gendarmerie General Command and the governor’s offices of Şırnak, Mardin and Hakkari provinces.
Following the breakdown of a peace process in July 2015 between the Turkish state and the the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US, violence and armed clashes in the Southeast had escalated. Between July 2015 and December 2016, Turkish security forces carried out sweeping operations and imposed blanket, round-the-clock curfews on 22 towns and city neighborhoods, prohibiting all movement without permission.
The Prime Ministry document was the highest-level order expanding security operations in urban areas and allowing Turkish authorities excessive use of force, killings, enforced disappearances, torture, destruction of neighborhoods and the prevention of access to emergency medical care, food, water and livelihoods in order to “restore order and security in the region.” To this end Davutoğlu, as the head of the government, authorized the governors of the provinces to coordinate local operations in the region and urged Turkish prosecutors and the public broadcaster to contribute to the operations. The document also exposed that preparations and the strategic planning of security operations were conducted systematically by the Prime Ministry and that the Turkish government was well aware of the possible consequences, planning contingencies.
These operations drove an estimated 355,000 people from their homes and since then have displaced large parts of the populations of İdil, Şırnak, Nusaybin and Yüksekova. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) claimed that 338 civilians including 78 children, 69 women and 30 people over the age of 60 lost their lives during the security operations.
According to the document, Davutoğlu authorized the relevant Turkish authorities to conduct security operations in urban and rural areas in response to the PKK’s “violent terrorist attacks,” “killings,” “kidnappings,” and “bomb traps, barricades and trenches aiming to stop Turkish security forces from entering neighborhoods in the region”. He also asked them and to eliminate PKK terrorist threats to national security and the constitutional order of Turkey.
Paragraph 2 of the document underlined the fact that the local governors of Şırnak, Mardin and Hakkari provinces would be responsible for carrying out security operations and setting up a coordination mechanism in each province in line with the Provincial Administration Law, No. 5442, and that these operations would be led by military personnel assigned by the Turkish Armed Forces. Moreover, paragraph 3 stressed that operation centers to be established under the responsibility of the provincial and district governors should be composed of intelligence officers from MIT, the national police and gendarmerie and representatives of public prosecutor’s offices.
The second page of the secret document:order1
The correspondence also put forward that a curfew would be declared during such operations (paragraph 4;, local public prosecutor’s offices and courts would be provided additional staff by the Justice Ministry (paragraph 5); officers and equipment from the police and MIT would be sent to the region for technical investigation of mobile phones, memory sticks and computers to be seized in the region (paragraph 6); construction machinery and equipment would be procured in accordance with the operational planning (paragraph 7); state hospitals in İdil, Nusaybin and Yüksekova would be provided additional physicians other medical personnel and equipment in order to operate at full capacity 24 hours a day (paragraph 8); schools would be closed (paragraph 9); the Şerafettin Elçi, Ferit Melen and Mardin airports located in the area would operate 24 hour a day (paragraph 10); representatives of the Turkish Red Crescent and AFAD, the disaster and emergency management agency, would be present at the operation centers (paragraph 11); and governor’s offices would be provided funds for additional costs by the Finance Ministry (paragraph 13).
The third page of the secret document:order2
In paragraph 15, Davutoğlu asked the public diplomacy office, Turkish public broadcaster TRT and other parts of the state apparatus for a coordinated propaganda campaign regarding the security operations and urged TRT to “assign correspondents who will report from the region.”
While Davutoğlu instructed authorities to “carry out preemptive actions and security operations to make the state authority be felt in the region,” he reminded them to respect the safety and private properties of the local population in paragraph 17.
The peace process broke down within weeks of the June 2015 elections following a deadly bombing targeting mainly Kurdish activists in Suruc near the Syrian border. The attack was attributed to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, but some Kurds blamed the government for failing to tackle the ISIS threat. On July 22 the PKK allegedly killed two off-duty police officers at their homes in Sanliurfa in an attack it claimed was “revenge” for the Suruc bombing.
During the two-and-a-half-year PKK-Turkish state ceasefire and peace process (March 2013-April 2015), the PKK deepened its presence in the urban districts of Turkey’s Southeast. Urban warfare followed the ceasefire’s collapse in July 2015. The PKK ensured that guns, ammunition, rockets and improved explosive devices were stockpiled, according to government reports. From August 2015, a number of regional mayors from the Kurdish parties announced their autonomy from Ankara. The PKK set up barricades and dug trenches to keep state security forces out.
The last page of the Prime Ministry’s order:order4
In response to the sealing off of neighborhoods by the PKK, the government authorized police and military operations that involved the use of armored personnel carriers and increasingly heavy artillery. These operations were conducted under extended strict curfews. A total of 1,642,000 residents were affected by these curfews, and the fundamental rights of these people were explicitly violated, international human rights organizations and the TİHV reported.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the security operations caused substantive damage to housing, business and public buildings and spaces in Nusaybin, Derik and Dargeçit (Mardin); Sur, Bismil and Dicle (Diyarbakır); and Cizre and Silopi (Şırnak) under government orders. For instance, the OHCHR identified “1,786 damaged buildings, 398 of which were completely destroyed, 383 severely damaged, and 1,005 moderately damaged” in Nusaybin. Similarly, Human Rights Watch reported that “the majority of building demolition in Cizre occurred between late February and late May, and was concentrated in the neighborhoods of Cudi and Sur. A second, smaller round of building demolition occurred between late May and early June in the Nur neighborhood.”
In February 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) declined to consider complaints regarding curfew incidents in Cizre in which 137 people were killed during counterterrorism operations on the grounds that domestic legal remedies had not yet been exhausted. The appeal had previously been submitted by Ahmet Tunç, Zeynep Tunç and Güler Yerbasan for their relative Orhan Tunç, who died after sustaining a fatal injury allegedly caused by security force fire. The applicant pointed out that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the protection of the right to life, had been violated for Orhan Tunç and that no independent investigation was launched into his death. The secret document confirmed that Turkish prosecutors had been involved in the security operations and acted in accordance with the Prime Ministry circular.