Be they soldiers or police, the new spirit embraced by Turkey’s security forces is unabashedly Islamic. Video footage of Turkish soldiers in Syria and police cadets in Istanbul chanting Islamist slogans is increasingly commonplace.
Therefore, news that police officers were under the influence of alcohol when they accidentally drove their armored vehicle into a family's home in the mainly Kurdish southeastern town of Silopi on May 3, killing two children, has had something of a man-bites-dog effect.
Seven-year-old Muhammet Yildirim and his six-year-old brother Furkan were asleep when the vehicle struck their house in the Karsiyaka neighborhood at 11:30 p.m., bringing the wall of their bedroom crashing down on them. The boys were rushed to a local hospital but did not survive. The police manning the vehicle reportedly fled the scene. Nedim Oruc, a Silopi-based reporter for the Dihaber news agency, told Al-Monitor that eyewitnesses who saw their flight claimed that they were intoxicated. The men were said to have been parked earlier outside the local headquarters of the far-right Nationalist Action Party, which they were protecting.
Angry residents clashed with police who came to investigate. Sirnak Governor Ali Ihsan Su reportedly told the grieving family the tragedy was “fate.” And in a statement the governor's office denied reports that the policemen were drunk, saying the driver of the vehicle had been subjected to alcohol and blood tests and that he came out clean. The incident was being investigated "administratively" and "legally", it noted.
Nusirevan Elci, the president of the Sirnak bar association, told Al-Monitor that it wasn’t clear if the perpetrators had been arrested. “Impunity is not limited to political cases; it’s across the board and justice is rarely delivered if at all,” he said.
In October, a five-year-old boy was struck and killed by an armored police vehicle while playing on the street in the town of Cizre, which is also in Sirnak province.
A doctor in the neighboring city of Mardin was asked to perform an autopsy and refused to do so upon learning the cause of the boy’s death. “I cannot undertake such a responsibility,” he was reported as saying, and the child’s body was carted off to another hospital in Diyarbakir.
Repression has intensified and the rule of law further slackened in the wake of last summer’s failed putsch and nowhere as much as in the restive Kurdish-majority provinces. “People are gripped with fear and a sense of helplessness,” Elci said. Echoing a common refrain Elci said many are furious with the state but also with the Kurdistan Workers Party (Pkk) for carrying its fight for self-rule into urban areas and putting civilians directly in the line of fire. “They no longer know whom to trust.”
Raci Bilici, the deputy president of Turkey’s Human Rights Association, told Al-Monitor that children in the southeast have paid a heavy price. At least five minors were killed by security forces and 22 others died in clashes in the southeast last year.
But alleged perpetrators are shielded from prosecution, thus “emboldening them to continue their crimes,” the HRA concluded in a recent report. Bilici was detained on March 14 for his role in gathering such information, which was deemed “terrorist activity” by authorities.
He was set free a week later but faces prosecution on terror charges. An indictment is in the works and Bilici said he expects to be back behind bars for “the crime of defending human rights.”
On April 26, schoolteacher Ayse Celik was sentenced to one year and three months in prison for calling into Beyazit Ozturk’s popular live TV show from Diyarbakir and saying “Are you aware of what is happening in the country’s east? Events here are not being relayed accurately by the media. Unborn children, mothers, people are being killed. Do not remain silent. Children must not die.” Her cri de coeur delivered at the height of the violence was construed as PKK propaganda. Celik’s sentence was commuted.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.