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We are the people of village G, near Pervari, Siirt province. The PKK and soldiers clashed near our village. After this, on orders from the major from village K near Pervari the soldiers started to burn our goods. The women of the village tried to intervene. The soldiers threw them to one side. Our property that was burned included more than five thousand poplar trees, more than four tons of wheat, all the forests and pasture around the village, more than twenty buildings. Now the village is evacuated and we know as well as we know our names that our houses will be burned.... As we were being driven from the village, the soldiers were machine-gunning our livestock. In the neighboring village M, they burned the village and all the houses including the goods inside them. Even the beehives were burned. They gave us two choices: Either we were to become village guards and be killed. Or we were to leave and be hungry. There were forty-seven houses in the village and a population of more than five hundred. Where and how can we shelter? How can we feed our children? We respectfully submit our situation in the hope that it will be considered and the necessary assistance given.
-Petition of Mehmet M, February 12, 1991, distributed to the Siirt Governorate, Emergency Region Governorate, Human Rights Commission of the Turkish Parliament, Office of the Prime Minister, Office of the President of the Republic, press, Human Rights Association, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, heads of Turkish political parties.

We are the people of village L, near Eruh, Siirt province. Our village consists of twenty-two families with good income.... But because we have been driven from our village, we are in difficulties. We are hungry, unclothed, homeless and destitute. We do not know who could be made happy by our being in this situation. Our only skills are in agriculture, so what work can we find in towns we do not know and have never seen? We are faced with poverty and laboring work. Because the villages are being emptied and the cities filling up, it will be impossible for us to find work.

All the steps we have made to protect our property in the villages and to continue our former lives have been in vain. We have repeatedly applied to the authorities. In the reply we received from the Public Relations Office of the Prime Ministry, we were told that the issue had been passed to the Siirt governor. They said the governor would give us information, but until today, we have received nothing.

If we do not return to our villages, others will take possession of our property. Permission should be given for us to return to our property, or we should be compensated for our material loss.

At the gendarmerie station at village H, the soldiers told us "You cannot return to your village. Bring a document to say that you can return. If you do not bring a document, we have received orders to kill you. It is of no interest to us where you go."
-Undated petition of Abdulkadir A, distributed to the Public Prosecutor, local parliamentary deputies, embassies, Office of the Prime Minister, Office of the President of the Republic, domestic and foreign press, Human Rights Association, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, heads of Turkish political parties.

In 1990, a lawyer in Siirt bought a fax machine and began to send scores of petitions from communities who had been burned out of their homes to Turkish prosecutors, government authorities, and the outside world, including Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch). The petitions touched on many details that are still distinctive elements of the displacement picture: the villagers' economic difficulties in the cities, the authorities' impassive refusal to respond to their complaints, the theft of villagers' lands, and the frustrated longing to return home. In July 2001, a decade later, still banished from their homes and living in poverty, the authors of the two petitions cited above met a representative of Human Rights Watch in the office of the nongovernmental Siirt Human Rights Association. They asked for their names and the names of their villages not to be revealed in any publications for fear of reprisals at the hands of the authorities. The police were watching the premises and during the course of interviews, entered and questioned the association's staff.

When Abdulkadir A1 from village L sent out his original petition to return to his village he was summoned to the police station and reprimanded. "I was afraid, but continued applying to the authorities for a year. I went to the provincial governor (vali) and the soldiers repeatedly. They told me that I could not return unless I brought twenty men ready to take up arms as village guards." He returned to the village and tried to resettle three times, but was moved out each time. "The village guards from the neighboring village had their eyes on our land, made constant complaints about us, saying that PKK2 militants were visiting us."3 Finally, in 1995 the soldiers told him that he should leave within seven days because the village was to be burned. He left for Siirt and the village was destroyed.

He now lives with his eight children, one of whom is disabled, in two rooms in Siirt. He survives with the help of a disability payment and handouts of fuel and food from the city council, currently run by the People's Democracy Party (HADEP), which has a largely Kurdish membership. He told Human Rights Watch: "I have fields in the village but they are being used by the village guards. I have legal title to my land, but I am afraid to open a case in the courts." He was detained and tortured in 1990 because of complaints made by neighboring village guards, and he is not keen to repeat the experience. "The village guards have suggested that if I do not open a case, they will give me access to a bit of my land."

He had never received any news from the authorities about the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, the government return program that is supposedly the solution to his problems. Two members of his village went to inquire about possible return but the local governor (kaymakam) told them that they could not return "until the order comes." The local governor would not promise him anything in writing.

Mehmet M,4 displaced from village G, has also tried to use official and legal channels of redress, with a similar lack of success. In 1990, he and his wife put the youngest of his eight children into sacks on donkeys and walked from the scene of the burning village to Şırnak, a day's march. He took the registration number of the vehicles of the soldiers who burned his village, and made a complaint to the local prosecutor, but heard nothing more: "Perhaps the prosecutor gave a decision not to prosecute. We do not know."5 His wife recently died, and he and the remaining family now live in Van in a house he built on waste ground. They live a meager existence supported largely by their eldest son, who works on construction sites in Istanbul. He told Human Rights Watch, "We cannot eat well or go to the doctor."6 He is keen to receive the official go-ahead to return to their village and has repeatedly submitted petitions. He showed Human Rights Watch a copy of an application he submitted to the Interior Ministry in April 2000, to which he has received no reply.

1 Interviewee's real name withheld to protect his safety.

2 Kurdish Workers' Party, an illegal armed organization.

3 Human Rights Watch interview, Siirt, June 27, 2001.

4 Interviewee's real name withheld to protect his safety.

5 Human Rights Watch interview, Siirt, June 27, 2001.

6 Human Rights Watch interview, Siirt, June 27, 2001.

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