Tag Archives: turkey

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A Human Rights Watch video, which contains graphic content, about Syrian people being shot by Turkish border police

You may recall how last month, The Times reported how eight Syrians were shot at the Syrian-Turkey border by Turkish border police.

Further to this…

In a new report, Human Rights Watch writes:

During March and April 2016, Turkish border guards used violence against Syrian asylum seekers and smugglers, killing five people, including a child, and seriously injuring 14 others, according to victims, witnesses, and Syrian locals interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Ministry maintains the country has an “open-door policy” for Syrian refugees, despite building a new border wall.

“While senior Turkish officials claim they are welcoming Syrian refugees with open borders and open arms, their border guards are killing and beating them,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Firing at traumatized men, women, and children fleeing fighting and indiscriminate warfare is truly appalling.”

…The hostilities continue to threaten Syrians already displaced by fighting. According to witnesses, at around 5 p.m. on May 5, three airstrikes hit the Kamuna camp sheltering 4,500 displaced Syrians near Sarmada in northern Idlib province, five kilometers from Turkey’s increasingly impenetrable border.

An independent humanitarian source in Turkey told Human Rights Watch that medics recovered 20 bodies, including two children, and that at least 37 people were injured, including 10 who lost one or more limbs and who were transferred to Turkey for medical care.

…Human Rights Watch interviewed victims and witnesses involved in seven incidents between the first week of March and April 17, in which Turkish border guards shot dead three asylum seekers (one man, one woman, and a 15-year-old boy) and one smuggler; beat to death one smuggler; shot and injured eight asylum seekers, including three children, aged 3, 5, and 9; and severely assaulted six asylum seekers.

Syrians living near the border also described the aftermaths of the shootings and beatings, including Turkish border guards firing at them as they tried to recover bodies at the border wall. One witness filmed a number of the dead and surviving victims and shared the videos with Human Rights Watch.

As of early April, Turkey had completed a third of its 911-kilometer rocket-resistant concrete wall along its border with Syria and was working to fortify the rest of its border.

Turkey is entitled to secure its border with Syria, but is obliged to respect the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits rejecting asylum seekers at borders when that would expose them to the threat of persecution, torture, and threats to life and freedom.

Turkey is also obliged to respect international norms on use of lethal force as well as the rights to life and bodily integrity, including the absolute prohibition on subjecting anyone to inhuman and degrading treatment.

…The violence against Syrian refugees, and Turkey’s refusal to allow them to cross the border, comes as the European Union has shut its own borders to asylum seekers.

In March, the EU concluded a controversial migration deal with Ankara to curb refugee and migration flows to Europe, committing €6 billion in aid to assist Syrians in Turkey, reinvigorating Turkey’s EU membership negotiations, and offering the prospect of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

The deal provides for Europe to return migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, including Syrians, who reach Greece by boat, on the grounds that Turkey is a safe country for them.

The deal also commits the EU to work with Turkey to create areas inside Syria that will be “more safe.”

The EU shouldn’t just stand by and watch as Turkey uses live ammunition and rifle butts to stem the refugee flow,” said Simpson. “EU officials should recognize that their red light for refugees to enter the EU gives Turkey a green light to close its border, exacting a heavy price on war-ravaged asylum seekers with nowhere else to go.”

Meanwhile, in The Guardian, Patrick Kingsley reports:

Hundreds of non-Syrian asylum seekers deported under the EU-Turkey migration deal were not allowed to claim asylum in either Greece or Turkey, a group of European politicians has claimed.

After interviewing 40 of the deportees, the three MEPs have concluded that, despite EU promises, the deal with Turkey is not being enacted according to international law.

“All refugees interviewed told us they were not given the opportunity to ask for asylum, neither in Greece nor in Turkey,” Cornelia Ernst, Marina Albiol and Josu Juaristi said in a report released to journalists after they visited two detention centres in northern Turkey. “All said they did not know what will happen to them, and had received no information since they had arrived in Turkey.”

The trio are the first independent observers to corroborate the UN refugee agency’s earlier claims that some of the refugees were sent back to Turkey by mistake.

Turkey: Border Guards Kill and Injure Asylum Seekers (Human Rights Watch)

Non-Syrians denied asylum claims under EU-Turkey deal – MEPs (Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian)

Previously: One Love

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From top: A still from mobile phone footage obtained by The Times of a Syrian man carrying his son, who was shot in both legs, by Turkish border police; Bono with Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu 

You may recall reports in The Times yesterday detailing how eight Syrians were shot at the Syrian-Turkey border by Turkish border police, as they attempted to reach Turkey on Sunday.

The newspaper reported:

Abdmunem Kashkash, a lawyer from Aleppo who was with the group but managed to cross into Turkey unharmed, said that they had been waiting in the border area for several days while trying to cross and had come under fire from the Turks every day.

“They are killing unarmed people,” Mr Kashkash said. “There was one little girl who was shot and we could not do more for her for four hours, until nightfall. An old man and woman are missing — they have probably been killed too.”

The wounded have been taken to a hospital in Azaz, a rebel-held Syrian town next to the Turkish border that is sheltering 100,000 displaced people who have fled the regime and Isis advances since February. Isis is closing in on the town from the east, but despite calls from aid agencies the Turkish government is refusing to open the border gate.

Readers may also recall how earlier this month – before the deportations from Greece to Turkey began on April 4 – Bono and a delegation of US senators and congressmen visited a Syrian refugee camp in Gaziantep province, in southeast Turkey.

After the visit, Bono paid to tribute to Turkey for hosting 2.7million Syrian refugees, telling Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu:

“I am very humbled by the generosity of the Turkish people. It is extraordinary. It is a lesson in grace.”

Bono’s comments came just a week after Amnesty International reported that, hours after the EU-Turkey deal on Friday, March 18, Turkey forcibly returned around 30 Afghan asylum seekers to Afghanistan – without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum.

Further to this…

Harry Browne writes:

Bono’s concern for the plight of refugees, while undoubtedly genuine, would be more credible if he weren’t simultaneously offering cover to European leaders who deny asylum-seekers their basic legal rights.

Recently Turkey was rightly criticized for taking payments to accept refugees who should have been in the hands of the EU asylum system.

The same week, Bono was photographed with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and called the Turkish role “a lesson in grace,” even while Amnesty International was accusing Turkey of forcing other refugees back into Syria.

It’s getting to be a habit with Bono, who warmly embraced George W. Bush and Tony Blair while they waged an illegal, immoral war on Iraq.

Bono has quite a voice: what a shame he so often uses it to sing the praises of powerful, disingenuous leaders.

Harry Browne is a lecturer at the School of Media, Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power)

Syrian children shot dead by Turkish border guards (The Times, April 20, 2016)

Related: Bono: Time to Think Bigger About the Refugee Crisis (New York Times)

Previously: Return To Sender

Human Rights Watch released a report today in relation to the deportations that have taken place from Greece to Turkey, as part of the EU/Turkey deal – of which Ireland has contributed €22million.

The report paid particular attention to Chios island where the UN claimed 13 people – 11 people from Afghanistan, and two people from the Democratic Republic of Congo – were wrongly deported on April 4.

The report states:

In visits to the VIAL detention center on Chios on April 7 and 8, Human Rights Watch spoke with 12 friends and one relative of 19 Afghans who were deported from Chios on April 4.

Based on those interviews and text messages exchanged between those interviewed and the deportees, Human Rights Watch documented an array of irregularities and violations.

The authorities did not inform people that they were going to be deported, did not tell them where they were being taken, and did not allow some of them to take their personal possessions.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, thirteen of those deported from Chios had expressed a desire to seek asylum in Greece, and that number could be higher,

The Greek authorities appear to have hurried the forced returns from Chios, and the 136 other deportations that day from the nearby island of Lesbos, to meet a publicized deadline for the start of returns under the ill-conceived EU-Turkey deal that went into effect on March 20, 2016.

That deal allows the return of asylum seekers to Turkey on the presumption that Turkey is safe for asylum seekers and refugees.

…The deportations from Chios began around midday on April 3, when Greek police at the VIAL detention facility took dozens of people to the main building [Tabakika] where police and Frontex register new arrivals, and where the Greek asylum service is located.

The authorities separated the 66 people they had identified for return, witnesses said. The 12 friends and one relative of the 19 deportees, who did not want their names published, told Human Rights Watch that the police had called people on the false pretext that they were to be registered, including for asylum.

“Salim,” a 24-year-old man from Afghanistan, said the police took three of his Afghan friends, Ilias Haqjo, Mohammad, and Reza (full names unknown), all between 20 and 25 years old, without their possessions.

“They came here and told them they have to go to register,” he said. “They left happy and when they came out the police were waiting for them…. If the guys knew they were going to be deported, they would have taken their bags, their papers, their money.”

On the other side, in Dikili, Turkey, the authorities hung blue tarps on the fence around the registration tents to block journalists and human rights monitors from contacting the deportees. The police commander at the area denied a Human Rights Watch request to access the site.

The deportees were then loaded onto buses and driven away. Police at the site told Human Rights Watch that they were headed to Kirklareli, near Edirne, and the media subsequently reported that the people deported from Greece were being held at the Pehlivankoy removal center in that town.

The deportees on the buses in Turkey, however, seemed not to know where exactly they were going. “Now we’re in the bus, they’re taking us to a camp,” Mohsen Ahmadi wrote his friend “Amir” around 3 p.m. “Why there?” “Amir” asked. “I don’t know, the camp is near Istanbul,” Ahmadi replied.

“When you arrive, let us know,” “Amir” wrote. “OK,” Ahmadi wrote back at 8:28 p.m., but that was the last message that “Amir” received.

Human Rights Watch collected the phone numbers of four of the people who were deported from Chios on April 4. As of April 18, none of them had replied to messages on Viber, the application they had been using. When called, three of the phones appeared to be shut off and one of the numbers was not working.

The legal basis of confiscating phones from people being deported, if any, remains unclear. Given that asylum seekers and migrants rely on their phones to stay informed and to keep in touch with family, such measures appear unnecessary and cruel, as well as a violation of the individuals’ personal property rights, Human Rights Watch said.

EU/Greece: First Turkey Deportations Riddled With Abuse (Human Rights Watch)

Previously: Meanwhile, On Chios

‘Is Our Response To Be Defined By Barbed Wire, Tear Gas And Rubber Bullets?’

UPDATE:

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The amount of powdered baby milk each infant in Vial allegedly gets every day

Further to the picture (above) circulating on social media last Thursday…

Patrick Kingsley, of The Guardian, reports:

Babies detained in Greece under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal are being denied access to adequate supplies of milk formula, refugees and aid workers have alleged.

Approximately 25 babies under the age of six months, whose mothers are unable to breastfeed, are being given roughly 100ml of milk formula just once a day on the island of Chios, according to photographs sent by detained refugees and testimonies provided by phone.

… A 35-year-old Afghan construction manager, detained in a detention centre on Chios since 21 March, said he had been forced to mix water with bread to stop his five-month-old daughter going hungry.

The man, who said he worked as a contractor for the British army in Afghanistan but asked not to named for fear of victimisation, said: “They are only giving us half a cup of milk for all 24 hours – but that’s not enough. There’s no more milk for lunch or dinner or during the night. This is a big problem. There are maybe 24 or 25 babies under six months.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which maintains a presence on Chios, confirmed the claim and said the number of infant children may even be higher. “It’s clear that baby milk [formula] is not being routinely distributed,” said Dan Tyler, the NRC’s protection and advocacy officer on Chios. “I did a series of meetings with refugees last week, and mothers brought up [the issue of] baby milk all the time.

Refugee babies detained on Greek island ‘not getting adequate milk’ (Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian)

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Moria detention centre on Lesbos island this morning

You may recall yesterday’s deportation of 202 migrants from Lesbos and Chios islands in Greece to Turkey, with the assistance of 180 Frontex officers.

The deportations are a part of the €3billion EU/Turkey deal, of which Ireland is contributing €22million.

Last week the Department of Justice announced it will send three case workers from the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), and two members of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to the Greek islands.

The department said it is also considering a request from Frontex for border guards to assist them with the deportations – even though Ireland is not a member of Frontex.

Last night on RTÉ One’s Drivetime, Lesbos-based journalist Andrew Connolly spoke with Mary Wilson.

Mr Connolly said:

“I’ve just been at the Moria detention centre talking to Pakistanis… based on my conversations with some of them, it’s very, I find it difficult to believe that some of the deportees this morning might have even understood the concept of asylum.

Again it’s being claimed by the Greek authorities and the European Asylum Office and also the UNHCR they seem to be satisfied that everyone was told their rights but they didn’t claim asylum in Greece.”

Further to this, Patrick Kingsley, in The Guardian reports this afternoon that the UN has told how 13 of the 202 deported yesterday may not have been given the opportunity to seek asylum before they were deported – as police officers “forgot”.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to seek asylum. Mr Kingsley reports:

Some of the first people to be deported from Greece under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal may not have been given the chance to claim for asylum, the UN refugee agency has said.

Police “forgot” to process the asylum claims of 13 of the 202 asylum seekers sent back to Turkey on Monday, the first day the deal was put into practice, according to Vincent Cochetel, director of UNHCR’s Europe bureau.

… Cochetel said on Tuesday that 13 Afghans and Congolese asylum seekers – who reached the Greek island of Chios after 20 March, and who were deported back to Turkey on Monday – were not allowed to formally register their asylum claims, due to administrative chaos on the island.

… Cochetel told the Guardian: “For four days after the 20th, the Greek police did not register any intention to seek asylum as they were no prepared [or] equipped for this, so we started providing forms to people who had declared their intention to seek asylum.”

“The police received most of the people with these forms and … forgot some apparently. It is more a mistake than anything else, we hope.”

…On Monday, more asylum seekers landed in Greece from Turkey (228) than were deported in the opposite direction (202).

Meanwhile…

UPATE:

Listen back to Drivetime interview in full here

Greece may have deported asylum seekers by mistake, says UN (Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian)

Pic: Andrew Connolly

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Deportations from Greece to Turkey by Frontex officials under way this morning

The deportations under the EU/Turkey deal in relation to refugees began this morning with boats leaving the island of Lesbos and Chios for Turkey.

The Guardian reports:

Two boats carrying the first migrants to be deported from Greece to Turkey under an EU deal with Ankara have arrived in the Turkish port of Dikili.

Officials from the EU border agency Frontex said the boats, which departed from Lesbos, were carrying 131 deportees, mostly Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Moroccans who were already being deported to Turkey before the deal’s creation. This means Monday’s deportations are not a true test of whether the agreement can stop the flow of mainly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis to Greece.

…Eva Moncure, a Frontex spokeswoman, said there were no children on the first two boats. Two Syrians were onboard, including a woman who had volunteered to return.

The deportations on Lebsos were calmly carried out at dawn, several hours ahead of schedule… Disembarkation was delayed while officials erected a white tarpaulin on the boat to block the media’s view.

A Turkish catamaran was also transporting refugees from Chios, a Greek island near Lesbos, on Monday morning. Local TV reported that 60 migrants and refugees were on board. Volunteers on the island alleged that they saw police beating deportees at the quay.

…Anas al-Bakhr, a Syrian engineer from Homs who is among those stuck on Chios, said police marked his arrival date as 20 March – when the deal came into force – even though he arrived the day before.

“They said the computers were broken that day,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Dikili, Turkey…

UPDATE:

First boats returning migrants and refugees from Greece arrive in Turkey (The Guardian)

Previously: Return To Sender

Pic: AA

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Turkey/Syria border 

Readers may recall how, last week, Amnesty International reported that, just hours after the EU-Turkey deal on Friday, March 18, Turkey forcibly returned around 30 Afghan asylum seekers to Afghanistan – without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum.

Ireland is contributing €22million to the €3billion EU-Turkey deal.

Further to this, Amnesty reports today…

New research carried out by the organisation [Amnesty International] in Turkey’s southern border provinces suggests that Turkish authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children to Syria on a near-daily basis since mid-January.

Over three days last week, Amnesty International researchers gathered multiple testimonies of large-scale returns from Hatay province, confirming a practice that is an open secret in the region.

All forced returns to Syria are illegal under Turkish, EU and international law.

“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“The large-scale returns of Syrian refugees we have documented highlight the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law.”

The EU-Turkey deal paves the way for the immediate return to Turkey of Syrian refugees arriving on the Greek islands, on the grounds that it is safe country of asylum. EU officials have expressed the hope that returns could start as of Monday 4 April.

The EU’s extended courting of Turkey that preceded the deal has already had disastrous knock-on effects on Turkey’s own policies towards Syrian refugees.

“Far from pressuring Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees, the EU is in fact incentivizing the opposite,” said John Dalhuisen.

“It seems highly likely that Turkey has returned several thousand refugees to Syria in the last seven to nine weeks. If the agreement proceeds as planned, there is a very real risk that some of those the EU sends back to Turkey will suffer the same fate.”

One of the cases uncovered by Amnesty International is of three young children forced back into Syria without their parents; another is of the forced return of an eight-month pregnant woman.

Turkey: Illegal mass returns of Syrian refugees expose fatal flaws in EU-Turkey deal (Amnesty International)

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Brussels this morning

In Brussels.

Several Irish journalists asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny questions as he arrived for a meeting between Turkey and the EU’s heads of states or government – to discuss the numbers of refugees reaching Europe.

It’s being reported that Turkey is now seeking €20billion in return for Turkey taking back all non-Syrian refugees from Europe.

In addition, Turkey wants faster accession talks and quicker visa-free travel for its citizens within Europe.

Readers may wish to note that Ireland’s naval service rescued more than 8,000 people from Italy-bound boats off the coast of Libya and haven’t been present in the Aegean Sea to date, where boats of refugees, leaving Turkey, are bound for the Greek islands.

Ann Cahill (Irish Examiner):Can Ireland not do any more? In terms of helping the situation. I mean we have very few of the EU’s first-time asylum-seekers last year and I know we’re taking some but could we not do more?

Enda Kenny: “The problem is not only on the Irish side, we’re actually not, as you know, part of the protocol, Ann, but the thing is that we’ve taken some from resettlement and relocation. We’re committed to taking 4,000 and we’re working towards that with the personnel that we have, from Ireland, coming to both Greece and to Italy and with the hotspots and the personnel working there.”

Cahill: “Can we not take more from Turkey?”

Kenny: “Well I think we should first of all be able to deal with what we’ve got with the commitment that we’ve entered into. I might say, I spoke this morning as well to the Minister for Defence [Simon Coveney], I expect that it’s our intention to send one of our vessels down to the Mediterranean again, in order to help with the situation there, in so far as humanitarian assistance is concerned whether that be as part of the formally, of the European response or on a bi-lateral basis will be worked out. But it’s our intention to send a further vessel down.”

Cahill: “And will they take people back to Turkey if…”

Kenny: “Well that has to be worked out in respect of sending them down first of all and in what role they’ll play there either as part of a formal European, humanitarian response or as a bi-lateral arrangement as we had before.”

Cahill: “And would you favour that, would you..”

Kenny: “I’m fully in support of the call and the intention of sending a further vessel down, they did rescue 8,000 people on the last occasion.”

Watch in full here

Previously: Cannon Fodder

Ireland And The Turkey Refugee Facility

‘We Can Bus The Refugees To Greece’

Choice Would Be A Fine Thing

Related: EU migration summit stalls as Turkey ups demands – live (The Guardian)

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=OzZHL3JXzVE&app=desktop

A video of the Turkish Coastguard water cannoning a dinghy full of refugees as it attempted to travel from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece last October

You’ll recall the €22.9million that Ireland is contributing to the €3billion the European Council is giving Turkey to “stem the flow of migrants to Europe”.

Further to this…

Solidarity group Platanos, which is based on the north of Lesbos island, Greece, reports:

The refugees that arrived Wednesday at Platanos Camp, were soaking wet and in shock because, as they explained to us, the Turkish coastguard tried to force them to return to the Turkish coast with the use of threats, by creating artificial waves and by the extensive use of water cannons.

Two of the boats returned to the Turkish coast with all the passengers in shock. The remaining two boats managed to break through and reached Skala Sykamias, Lesvos.

[On Thursday] at 3 o’clock in the morning, the Greek Coastguard attempted to stop a new boat from reaching the coast at Skala Sykamia resulting in havoc, and the boat almost crashed on sharp rocks. The accident was prevented at the last moment by the intervention of the rescue boat belonging to the team ‘Sea Rescue’.

[On Thursday] morning, the Turkish coastguard was sighted from the ‘Korakas’ Observation Post repeating its deliberate attacks against boats in the middle of the sea, again by the use of water cannons.

Previously: Ireland And The Turkey Refugee Facility

We Can Bus The Refugees To Greece 

Video: Daphne Tolis

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Leaked documents published today by Euro2day.gr showing the minutes of a meeting between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President of the European Council Donald Tusk 

You’ll recall the EU/Turkey deal on November 29, 2015.

In return for €3billion, visa-free access to Schengen zone countries for the citizens of Turkey and a speeding up of the process of allowing Turkey into the EU, Turkey promised to stem the flow of refugees travelling from Turkey to Greece.

Last week it was revealed that Ireland will be giving €22.9million to the so-called Turkey Refugee Facility.

Before this deal on November 29, 2015, there was a meeting between the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President of the European Council Donald Tusk.

Leaked minutes of the meeting have been published by Euro2day.gr and purport to show at least some of the negotiations between the three men.

They discussed, among other things, the Schengen project, Turkey becoming a part of the EU, support for this among the EU member states, and the amount of money Turkey should receive to curb the number of refugees leaving Turkey’s shores.

After Mr Erdoğan asked Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk if Turkey would receive €6billion or €3billion, Mr Erdoğan apparently said:

We [Turkey] can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria any time, and we can put the refugees on buses.”

A 12-kilometre fence was built along Turkey and Greece’s land border in 2011.

In addition, the minutes state:

Erdogan says that the EU will be confronted with more than a dead boy on the shores of Turkey. There will be 10,000 or 15,000. How will you deal with that?”

Meanwhile, it’s being reported that 33 people drowned off the Turkish coast this morning as they attempted to reach Lesbos island.

Leak reveals tense moments during Erdoğan-Juncker meeting (Today’s Zaman)

Previously: Ireland And The Turkey Refugee Facility

Hide And Seek

‘Greece Is A Scapegoat For The Disintegration Of The EU’

Pawns In The Game

H/T: Damian Mac Con Uladh

 

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From top: Academics and students in a recent stand-off with police at Turkey’s Kocaeli University; and researchers Francis O’Connor and Semih Celik

Limerick researcher Francis O’Connor, along with friend and colleague Semih Celik, have co-written an article in Roar magazine about the recent arrest, detention and, in some cases, violence inflicted upon certain academics in Turkey.

The measures carried out by the Turkish authorities follow the signing of an open letter – by 1,128 professors, researchers and students from Turkey and around the world – calling for an end to state violence in the Kurdish region of south east Turkey.

Mr O’Connor and Mr Celik write:

Since August last year, the Turkish government has imposed intermittent open-ended military curfews on an array of Kurdish cities in its campaign against young militants in the YDG-H, which is linked to the PKK. These have been dramatically scaled up since mid-December, however, when a number of cities — most notably the Sur district of Diyarbakir, Cizre, Silwan, Şırnak and Silopi — were put under military siege.

In these cities, around 200,000 civilians are trapped in what remains of their houses, in some cases for up to 30 days — many without electricity, water or even food in some places. Injured civilians have been prevented from accessing medical attention and have subsequently died of their wounds. Families have been prevented from reclaiming the bodies of their loved ones.

According to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, the civilian death toll as of January 8 is 162 civilians, including 32 children, 29 women and 24 victims over 60 years of age. These extensive sieges involve enormous deployments of soldiers and police officers encircling urban centers before targeting them with heavy artillery, oblivious to the presence of local residents.

In light of Turkey’s flagrant disregard for both its own laws and international human rights protocols, more than a thousand Kurdish and Turkish academics signed a letter declaring that they would not pay silent witness to the ongoing atrocities. They announced: “we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state.”

The letter further called for an immediate end to the curfew, the presence of international monitors in the affected districts and a restoration of the peace negotiations which Erdoğan deliberately scuppered in an effort to restore the AKP’s electoral dominance last summer.

In response to the call for an end to the violence, Erdoğan decried the signatories’ ignorance, accused them of favoring colonialism and ultimately of treason. In the immediate aftermath, state prosecutors initiated legal proceeding against all the original signatories of the declaration, charging them with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” and “overtly insulting the Turkish nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the Government of Republic of Turkey and the judicial organs of the state.” These charges can result in sentences of up to five years in prison. Twenty-two of the signatories have already been taken into custody.

In addition to these legal proceedings, the Council of Higher Education (Yükseköğretim Kurumuo, or YÖK) has vowed to take further punitive measures against the signatories. YÖK has demanded that Prof. Bülent Tanju from Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri resign, while individual university administrations — contrary to all legal protocols — have suspended or fired their own staff members, such as in the case of Professor Latife Akyüz in Düzce University.

In cities like Bolu and Kocaeli in northwestern Turkey, police have raided the houses of signatories. Incidentally YÖK was established by the military government in 1982 as a means to limit universities’ autonomy and restrict their capacity to serve as sources of opposition to the state.

In parallel to this blatant suppression of freedom of expression, a concerted media and political campaign is trying to further demonize the signatories. Turkey’s far-right MHP party has been to the forefront these efforts: one of its Istanbul deputies, İzzet Ulvi Yönter, declared that “the government should immediately take action and fight as it does in the districts of Sur, Cizre, Dargeçit and Silopi against the terrorists in universities.”

Meanwhile, other figures with links to fascist or Turkish nationalist organizations such as the criminal Sedat Peker have threatened: “at that moment, the bell will toll for you all … I would like to say it again: we will spill your blood and we will shower in it!

This cannot be dismissed as an idle threat. Turkey has a long and shameful history of murdering intellectuals, critical academics and journalists. Calls like these are seized upon by university students of extreme right-wing political organizations like the Grey Wolves, responding with insults and threats to the signatories, mostly by marking and sticking threatening letters on their office doors promising to “make the city hell” for their own professors.

Tonight, thousands of brave academics, journalists and activists across Turkey are anxiously awaiting a knock at the door — a knock that could potentially escort them to years in prison or add them to the tragic list of great minds murdered for views considered impermissible by the state. Similarly, tens of thousands of civilians are cowered down in the basements of Silopi, Cizre and Sur, parents attempting to lull hungry children to sleep while being bombarded by their own government.

Francis O’Connor is from Monagea, close to Newcastle West in Co. Limerick, and he has completed a PhD at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He has worked on the conflict in Turkey between the PKK and the Turkish state and is currently an external collaborator of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence. His research interests include social movements and political violence.

Semih Celik is from Istanbul and is a historian working on famines in 19th century Anatolia.

Academics for Peace: “enemies of the state” in Turkey (Roar magazine)

Pic: ODA TV