Death toll rises among Kurds trapped in Turkey’s southeastern Cizre district amid govt crackdown

More than 20 injured people have been trapped in a basement for over a week in the Cizre district of Turkey’s Sirnak Province, where the Turkish military is fighting Kurdish militants. Reports say ambulances have been denied access and six people have died.

Faysal Sariyildiz, Sirnak deputy of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third biggest in the Turkish parliament, told the Cihan news agency on Saturday that 31 people had been trapped in a basement of a building in the Kurdish town of Cizre for over a week, with six already succumbing to their injuries.

On Friday, Sariyildiz told the German DPA news agency that the death toll was rising almost daily, as ambulances dispatched to help those trapped had been denied access on 11 separate occasions.

“The wounded are confined in a tight space along with those who have died,” Sariyildiz told the agency.

Nedim Turfent, English news editor for the Dicle News Agency, told RT that seven of the wounded have died and 15 others are suffering from injuries, “some in critical condition.”

“No news has been received from the basement since yesterday afternoon. Dozens of people including women and children remain trapped,” he said. “The wounded are waiting to die,” he said, adding that there is lack of water or other “basic means to survive.”

HDP’s Sariyildiz has been in contact with the people in basement via text and has been updating his Twitter with the names of the trapped Kurds and posting photos of the injured.

As of Friday, the bodies of the dead had not been removed, Leyla Birlik, HDP legislator for Sirnak province, told DPA.

Dicle News Agency has posted photos allegedly showing the injured and the dead in the basement.

Some HDP members went on a hunger strike on Thursday to protest the actions of the Turkish government, which has imposed curfews and cut off access to medics. Cizre has been under curfew for the past six weeks.

On Sunday, a group of volunteer medical workers from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services (SES) were denied entry to the district.

A physician from the group told the media that the volunteers had been denied entry to the area because they lacked an official document.

“We were denied entry despite explaining to them that the prevention was in violation of the Geneva Conventions, of which Turkey is a signatory, and that vehicles and volunteer personnel carrying the symbol of the Red Cross need to be allowed into conflict zones,” Dr. Vahhac Alp said, as quoted by the Hurriyet Daily.

“Our ambulances have been sent to the closest [safe] location and have asked for any wounded people to be brought to this location. But despite all our efforts our call has been ignored,” the Sirnak Governor’s Office stated on Thursday.

“This is a desperate situation: injured individuals, some of whom are apparently bleeding heavily, are at grave risk of dying if they do not urgently receive medical care,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey, on Thursday.

According to the human rights group, an estimated 23 people are stranded in the basement.

Speaking to those trapped on Thursday, Amnesty was able to confirm that four had died and another 12 were seriously injured. Communications have since been cut off due to shelling, but it is believed that six people have now died, said the human rights group.  

“The refusal of the Turkish authorities to ensure access to medical care is indefensible. While it is perfectly legitimate for them to take measures to ensure security and arrest suspects, this operation shows a callous disregard for human life,” said Gardner.

On Friday, the Constitutional Court confirmed that it had issued an order to halt ambulance crews on the grounds that it was too dangerous to reach the injured. In its decision, the court cited ongoing “ambiguity over whether the people in Cizre are injured or not, whether they are in critical condition, why they were injured, whether they are armed or not and where they actually are,” Today’s Zaman reported.

The decision came after the injured appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on January 23, asking it to impose interim measures requiring Ankara to make every possible effort to provide medical care. On Tuesday, the ECHR urged the Turkish government to take appropriate measures to protect the lives of the applicants.

READ MORE: Turkey detains 12 academics for criticizing military campaign against Kurds

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected the allegations claiming that the state has denied medical workers access to the area, calling them “all lies.”

“They are deliberately not bringing the wounded out,” he said. He also blamed the hunger striking MPs for supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, who are considered to be terrorists by Erdogan and his government.

The Kurds have long been campaigning for the right to self-determination and greater autonomy in Turkey, where they are the largest ethnic minority.  

Ankara has been stepping up its military operations in the predominantly Kurdish areas located near Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq since December. Erdogan has vowed to continue the military campaign until the area is cleansed of PKK militants.

On Monday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated region. At the same time, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn added that the EU has an “imminent interest on that because it can affect the security in the region, and in the broader sense, the EU.”

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