Is Esedullah team a new JİTEM?

What happened after this “declaration” is quite unique to Turkey. A curfew is declared by the relevant governor, the security forces storm in and the cities are cut off from the world for a week or more. During this period, civilians cannot leave their homes. They cannot bring their sick relatives to hospital. They cannot even buy a loaf of bread. When the curfew is lifted and the media is allowed to enter, the scene is like a war-wrecked city, with walls torn down and houses riddled with bullets and mortar shrapnel.

We are witnessing all sorts of grave human rights violations during these curfews and armed conflicts. In this sense, Turkey is quickly turning back to the ’90s. One could conclude that the Turkish state has reverted to its familiar, heavy-handed style of “problem solving.”

However, there is a brand new and horrifying element in all these destructive practices that we have not seen before.

When the operations come to an end, the walls of these conflict zones have the same phrases written on them: “The Esedullah team is here” or “the team has arrived.” “Esedullah” means “Lion of God.”

Not only this graffiti, but also the narratives of eyewitnesses and the observations of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) representatives indicate that a new group, which is somehow religiously motivated, is gaining prominence within the security forces.

Diyarbakır deputy Caglar Demirel from the HDP, on his observations about the behavior of the security forces, said the following: “They point guns at women and children. They force men to lie face down and then stamp on their hands, feet and backs. They recognize no law. Their faces are covered and no one knows who they are.”

Some of the residents of Diyarbakır’s Sur district were also telling a chilling story about these masked men.

“They cover their faces. Some have long beards and look as if they’ve been drugged,” one resident said. Another man expressed doubt that the men were police at all. He said, “The police here are not the normal police of the state. They have long black beards and don’t look like policemen at all. I don’t believe they actually are the police. With their long beards, they look more like ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] militants than the police of the state.”

Two deputies, one from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the other from the HDP, submitted written questions to Parliament about these so called Esedullah teams to be answered by the interior minister and the prime minister. In the HDP deputy’s question, there were quite interesting definitions of the security forces. The HDP lawmaker for Diyarbakır claimed that “the masked men who call themselves the Esedullah team” looked like ISIL militants and chanted “ISIL slogans,” they spoke a language that was not Turkish or Kurdish, used force on the civilians “mercilessly” while chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and appeared “to take inspiration from the methods used by ISIL.

The CHP deputy’s written question to the prime minister asked, “who created the Esedullah teams and for what purpose?” and demanded an explanation for the allegations that the security forces “acted with feelings of vengeance.”

So who are these Esedullah teams? Are they a new kind of JİTEM, an illegal counterterrorism unit that committed atrocities in the ’90s? Is there a special unit within the security forces that is religiously motivated and hostile to Kurds?

We do not know the answers of these questions. However, it is really concerning that, whether there is any truth in it or not, the people in those regions seem to believe that a certain unit within the police force has an ISIL mindset and that they are extremely hostile to them. And it is obvious that this belief, this perception, will serve no one in the region.


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