Images recently obtained by Nordic Monitor show yet again that the Turkish military used heavy weapons including artillery in the densely populated Kurdish city of Şırnak in large-scale counterterrorism operations in 2016, leaving a large number of structures including houses and public buildings in ruins.
The images were circulated among top commanders at General Staff headquarters, confirming that the military was well aware of the destruction that was caused by the much-criticized operation in an urban area. Dozens of images, some taken by drones, revealed the total leveling of the buildings.
Turkish security forces launched an operation to drive out members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who had set up barricades and declared autonomy in the southeastern city of Şırnak on March 14, 2016 as part of ongoing operations in the region following the breakdown of a ceasefire between the Turkish military and the PKK in July 2015.
Named after an officer killed in Şırnak, Operation Martyr First Lieutenant Mehmet Çiftçi lasted 81 days and ended on June 3, 2016 with the participation of 10,000 security force members. According to the official account 489 PKK terrorists were killed, while 22 security force members died in skirmishes. Two hundred two barricades were removed, and 4,131 homes and flats were searched. The security forces reportedly seized 1,501 improvised explosive devices.
Drone images taken on May 7, 2016 indicate that districts where PKK members had gathered, namely Yeşilyurt, Bahçelievler, Cumhuriyet and İsmet İnönü, witnessed clashes and were devastated, with hundreds of buildings destroyed. Many of them were wiped off the map given the fact that the wreckage in some areas, clearly seen in the images, demonstrates that artillery or heavy weapons were used by the security forces.
It can also be seen that some buildings were carefully numbered and coded after the drone images were taken, showing that the operation was carried out according to a roadmap and that each target had undergone a security threat analysis. An expert who spoke to Nordic Monitor stated that the codes were for the purpose of identifying buildings as targets when necessary as well as for directing troops in the field.
Apart from the drone images, archived photos taken by soldiers in the streets during the operation are included. The field photos show that security forces and the PKK engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the city-turned-battlefield.
A curfew that was imposed on March 14, 2016 was partially lifted on November 14, 2016, when some residents were allowed to return to their properties. The curfew was lifted completely in April 2017.
The Turkish government claimed there were no civilian casualties in Şırnak, whereas pro-Kurdish sources said that a significant number of what the government called “terrorists” were in fact civilians. Göç-Der, the Association of Cultural and Social Solidarity with Migrants, claims that almost the entire population of Şırnak left the city prior to the military operation.
Nordic Monitor recently revealed that then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on February 16, 2016 ordered the General Staff to launch a security operation in the center of Şırnak using full operational capability, signaling that the government would turn a blind eye to civilian casualties and human rights violations.
A report drafted by the Diyarbakır branch of the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects Chambers (TMMOB) in November 2019 stated that some 400,000 people were displaced from predominantly Kurdish cities during military operations in 2015 and 2016. The report also indicated that the remaining population in those cities has become poorer as some of them have lost their homes and properties.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning was constructing 5,716 houses in Şırnak, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported last July. A total of 3,756 houses had been fully completed at the time, of which 304 had been delivered to the their owners, according to Anadolu.
In February 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) declined to consider complaints regarding incidents in the region during Turkish military operations on the grounds that domestic legal remedies had not yet been exhausted.
In the last local elections, on March 31, 2019, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which had won in Şırnak for almost 20 consecutive years in landslide electoral victories, lost. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) garnered around 62 percent of the vote, while the HDP received only 35 percent. Experts claim that the widespread destruction in southeastern cities and the state-originated violence between 2015 and 2016 scared many of the voters in the region away from supporting the pro-Kurdish party, adding that people also considered the risk of cancellation of the construction projects in the event the governing party did not win.
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