Tension high in Southeast after three killed in clashes

ISTANBUL: Tensions ran high in the southeastern province of Sırnak over the weekend, with shops remaining closed on Sunday following armed clashes in which three people were killed on Saturday.

Teams of police officers reinforced with armed vehicles stood guard during the day on hilltops that oversee the neighborhood in Cizre where the fighting took place between sympathizers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and those of Huda-Par, a Kurdish Sunni Islamist party.

Many others were wounded in the clashes, which broke out in Cizre after midnight on Friday, between members of the Patriotic Revolutionist Youth Movement (YDG-H), an affiliate of the PKK, and Huda-Par, which is also known as the Turkish Hizbullah and has no affiliation with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The conflict spread later in the day on Saturday to Silopi, another district of the province on the Syrian border. Two YDG-H members who tried to block a main road were wounded during clashes with police.

The first police teams arrived in Cizre’s Nur neighborhood, where the fighting took place, in armed vehicles seven hours after the clashes began. Ditches dug during the previous week around the neighborhood by members of the YDG-H made it difficult for the police to intervene.

—PM blames Hizmet for clashes

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed the clashes, which took place as a settlement process to resolve the country’s decades-old Kurdish issue is ongoing, on outside provocateurs who aim to derail the settlement process.

Davutoglu said during a meeting in Hatay on Sunday, “We have taken all measures against such provocations.”

During an earlier speech in Konya on the same day, Davutoglu said provocateurs had been taken into custody. However, he also claimed that a “parallel structure” — a term used by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to refer to the faith-based Hizmet movement — alleged on social media that the state’s control of Cizre had been lost and that the city was in chaos when the clashes began.

He accused the Hizmet movement, inspired by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar, of triggering the tension. “We also noticed that this [parallel] structure is part of an effort to bring unrest to the nation by exaggerating the events [clashes],” he told reporters in Konya.

Huda-Par Deputy Chairman Huseyin Yılmaz said the government cannot evade responsibility by putting the blame on Hizmet.

Criticizing the police for intervening in the clashes in Cizre seven hours after they began, Yılmaz said during a press conference in Diyarbakır on Saturday: “Members of the PKK-YDG-H attacked the houses of members of Huda-Par with guns. And this went on for hours. […] Neither the government nor the PKK can evade responsibility by putting the blame only on the ‘parallel’ structure.”

— Many wounded, 3 killed

The fighting in Cizre claimed the lives of Abdullah Deniz, a 65-year-old sympathizer of Huda-Par, Yasin Ozer, a 19-year-old who is believed to be a member of the YDG-H, and Barıs Dalmıs, 15.

Among the many wounded in Cizre, Nedim Kultur, Hakim Budak and Hekim Kasırga were seriously wounded and are being treated in hospital. Among those wounded in Silopi are Musa Azma, 25, and Mahsun Bilen.

Azma, wounded by a bullet that hit him in the stomach late on Saturday night, is being treated in the intensive care unit of Silopi State Hospital. Bilen was reportedly injured after being electrocuted during the protests.

Yalcın Akdogan, deputy prime minister in charge of the settlement process, has said the clashes and protests represent a challenge to the PKK’s leadership.

The PKK leadership based in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq just recently released a statement which said that those who would use petrol bombs, cover their faces in protests should not be considered as PKK sympathizers, but provocateurs.

Drawing attention to the statement, Akdogan said on Sunday: “A day after [the PKK’s statement], clashes in Cizre took place. Some people covered up their faces, threw petrol bombs. This is clearly cocking a snook at Kandil.”

[ARABASLIK] Opposition says sovereignty in jeopardy in the region

Haluk Koc, spokesperson of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), criticized Prime Minister Davutoglu at a press meeting on Saturday for having failed to prevent clashes between armed groups.

The clashes in the town of Cizre were apparently sparked by the arrival of the bodies of four PKK terrorists who were killed in Syria’s Kobani town and in Iraq in clashes against the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

A dispute that erupted between members of the YDG-H members who stood guard around a tent set up to accept condolences for the four PKK members and sympathizers of the Huda-Par turned into an armed clash.

The tension was already high between the two rival groups in the Southeast, as Huda-Par, which has no affiliation with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, was considered to be ideologically aligned with some radical Islamist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

During the fighting that lasted on and off until late in the day in Cizre, members of the YDG-H encircled the houses of Huda-Par members in the Nur neighborhood while shooting at them. Several houses were put on fire.

In Silopi, sympathizers of the PKK, which is recognized as terrorist by Turkey, the US and the EU, tried to block the Silk Road in the early evening hours on Saturday. Protesters attacked the police, which tried to disperse the crowd by using tear gas and water cannons, with petrol bombs, stones and fireworks. The protests continued till late in the night on Saturday in several neighborhoods of the town.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), which is closely affiliated with the PKK, put the blame on the government and Huda-Par for the clashes, which it also described as provocation.

Claiming that the government seeks to politically benefit from the tension ahead of the upcoming general elections scheduled for June, Kamuran Yuksek, co-chair of the DBP, said at a press meeting in Diyarbakır on Saturday: “We are aware that the state and the Huda-Par are positioned to attack. We know that the AKP [ruling AK Party] also wants to politically benefit from that.”

— HDP warns against provocations

Hasip Kaplan, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is also closely affiliated with the PKK, has also warned against provocations.

During a press conference in Canakkale on Sunday, he said: “We are currently faced with a big provocation. We need to be on the alert against that.”

Kemal Basol contributed to this report.