The U.N. Guiding Principles state that all internally displaced persons have the right to an adequate standard of living, and that at a minimum, competent authorities shall provide them with essential food and potable water; basic shelter and housing; appropriate clothing; and essential medical services and sanitation. The principles also require that special attention should be paid to the needs of vulnerable groups, including women, children, and disabled persons (Principles 4, 18 and 19). Human Rights Watch interviewed scores of displaced Kurdish villagers waiting in the cities in the summer of 2001. They described overcrowding, poverty, and unemployment almost completely unrelieved by any efforts on the part of the state.
Overcrowded and unsanitary housing
In 1993 gendarmes came to the house of Hayriye H45 in Kayayolu village near Bismil. She said that they tortured members of her family so badly that three were admitted to hospital. They then burned the house. Now, twelve family members are living in three rooms in Diyarbakır with an outside lavatory shared with neighbors.46 Gendarmes drove Veli V47 off his land at village D, near Mardin in 1993, and dismantled his three-room house. The family of eight now live in a single room in Diyarbakır.48 A group of families ordered to leave their homes in Hakkari in 1995 were experiencing even worse conditions of overcrowding, living in stables in Van:
If displaced villagers had remained clearly visible in tent settlements, the authorities might have felt under more pressure to remedy their plight. But the displaced are resourceful and have turned to extended family and community structures to pool resources and find work and housing. According to a 2002 survey carried out by the Migrants' Association for Social Cooperation and Culture (Göç-Der), a Turkish nongovernmental organization, more than half of the displaced villagers had found accommodation in gecekondu, or shantytown dwellings but, ten years after the worst of the displacements, some 5.7 percent of respondents were still living in tents or sheds.50
Language problems exacerbated the difficulty of finding accommodation and integrating in the cities of the west. Göç-Der's study among the displaced found that 17.6 percent of the sample reported that their poor command of Turkish had created problems in finding housing.51 Only 11.4 percent of adult males spoke Turkish as their mother tongue, and 60.9 percent of displaced women spoke no Turkish at all.
Poverty and unemployment
Giyasettin G52 and his children watched gendarmes burn their four-room house and livestock at village K, near Lice, in 1993. Formerly a farmer with fifty head of cattle and sheep as well as fifty acres under wheat and lentils, he now lives in rented accommodation in Diyarbakır: "Here I work as a hamal (street porter). I get about 100 or 150 million [U.S.$90-130] per month if there is work. I pay 60 million a month for three rooms that I rent from a relative, so it is comparatively cheap. I have to buy every grain of food. I buy four bags of flour a month at 13 million each. I have not bought a kilo of meat this year."53 Another villager, the sole provider for a family of eight, described similar economies: "I work as a janitor at an office in Diyarbakır where I earn 120 million a month. I get flour and beans and with difficulty, fruit. I cannot buy meat-the money just does not go that far. I have never received any assistance from the municipality or foundations. I can only send two of my children to school."54 Some spoke of real hunger. Ayşe A's55 village near Lice in Diyarbakır province was burned in 1992. During the operation her husband was detained; she says that when he was released a month later, he had been so badly tortured that his mental stability was permanently affected. She also has a twenty-year-old son who is disabled after having meningitis as a young child. They and their children now share a basement room with another family:
A villager from the Çınar district of Diyarbakır said:
Fear of health problems haunts displaced villagers. Living on a sparse diet and densely packed into housing with poor sanitation, they are frequently sick, but lack resources to pay for treatment. Mustafa M of village S near Muş said that he was formerly "quite rich by the standards of the village."58 Gendarmes destroyed his home in 1994, and he moved to another property that he owned near Malazgirt. Village guards destroyed this house in 1996, and he fled to Istanbul. He told Human Rights Watch:
Some villagers who were unable to pay for hospital treatment were forced to discontinue needed treatment. A villager forced to leave her home in a village in Diyarbakır province in 1992 said: "My five-year-old brother was being treated for bronchitis. We had to run from the hospital. My sister was in hospital with typhoid fever and the family had to take her home, steal her case file and run."60
The very poor can apply for a "green card" that enables them to get free consultation and hospital accommodation, although it does not cover the cost of medication. According to the Emergency Region governor, 26 percent of the population in the region qualifies for a green card.61 However, displaced people have difficulty in getting their green cards. Since only indigent people can receive a green card, villagers who own substantial property may not qualify in spite of the fact that they are denied access to that property, which could otherwise provide them with income to finance their own health care. If they do qualify, the security forces can still obstruct their application, because a series of officials, including the local security force chief, must sign the application. This necessitates an anxious journey back to their village in order to obtain a signature from the nearest gendarmerie commander. A villager told Human Rights Watch that a gendarmerie commander had written on his green card application form: "PKK member but not on the wanted list." 62 Another was unable to obtain a green card after soldiers tore up his application file and ejected him from the gendarmerie station.63
Older villagers spoke of deep depression, a sense of alienation due to their changed circumstances, and listlessness arising from long periods of unemployment. The violence of their original uprooting frequently aggravated these symptoms. A 1998 medical study carried out on a group of internally displaced found that 66 percent were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with 29.3 percent showing profound depression.64 Children are frequently not sent to school because the family cannot afford the fairly minimal cost of books and school clothing or the loss of income that children bring in to the family by working on the streets or as "apprentices" in workshops and textile sweatshops.
The Migration and Humanitarian Assistance Foundation (GİYAV), a nongovernmental organization, offers support to internally displaced people in the large coastal city of Mersin. It runs a mother and child group, evening activities for young people, and meets the educational costs of thirty children. Board member Mehmet Barut told Human Rights Watch:
Leygara described how the influx of displaced people has put enormous strain on some urban municipalities where, during the course of less than a decade, the population of the district has quadrupled from 75,000 to more than 300,000: "This affects education. Normally there should be 40 children in a class, but we quite often have classes of 120. It also has implications for health care. We have three health centers for 300,000 but normally we would expect a health center for each 10,000 people."
In the 1999 elections, HADEP, which is supported mainly by members of the Kurdish minority, won the mayorships of thirty-nine municipalities. All have significant populations of displaced people. Unfortunately, Turkey's central government is not well disposed toward HADEP administrations like that in Bağlar. The Ministry of the Interior, according to HADEP officials, is extremely uncooperative. Worst of all, it refuses relief from interest payments customarily granted to municipalities with much less pressing social problems, and this results in a chronic shortage of cash for social and infrastructure projects that could benefit the displaced.68
In some cities, the authorities provided some housing for displaced villagers, but these initiatives are mainly intended for former village guards. In Van, for example, provision was made for a group of eight hundred villagers, mainly former village guards and their families, who were told to leave by the authorities because their settlements, near the Iraq border, could not be protected from PKK attacks. The 285-unit Yalım Erez Lodgings outside Van were a major central government investment and generally appreciated by residents. As a rather ad hoc and temporary arrangement, however, it suffered a number of shortcomings. Funding ran out before the sewage disposal system was completed and news reports, confirmed by the residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch, said that at least four children had drowned in cesspools flooded during the winter months.69 Most of the inhabitants of the Yalım Erez Lodgings are livestock keepers by profession, unskilled in other trades, and therefore find difficulty in supporting themselves in an overcrowded city with a high rate of unemployment.
Provision of this kind is rare, and even in Van, Human Rights Watch met other former village guards from the same area who had left under the same circumstances but had been unable to find accommodation in the Yalım Erez Lodgings or elsewhere, and were living in agricultural buildings with no sanitation and served by a single tap. Villagers interviewed at the Yalım Erez Lodgings said that they would prefer to return to their original homes. They were angry at the loss of friends and relatives killed in PKK attacks, but also resentful at the lack of care and concern for them shown by the state. One man told Human Rights Watch, "We were village guards but like all villagers we were stuck between the two sides. We lost thirty-two villagers, killed in clashes. In one night alone we lost twelve people. But the day we came to Van in 1995 they stopped our village guard pay."70
An economic crisis in February 2001 exacerbated the problems of municipalities and the displaced alike. Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit triggered a public row when he walked out of a National Security Council meeting after President Ahmet Necdet Sezer questioned his handling of corruption allegations against members of parliament. Over the next twenty-four hours, the stock market fell by 14 percent, and the central bank lost nearly a fifth of its foreign reserves, as investors exchanged Turkish lira for dollars and euros. The fragile economy was profoundly shaken and prices soared. Layoffs struck particularly hard at sectors such as catering and construction where displaced people were working as uninsured casual labor. In the face of such financial crisis displaced villagers are even more desperate to return to their lands where they could at least feed and house themselves. A pronounced decline in armed activity in the countryside should have made this a realistic option.
The number of PKK attacks had already diminished considerably when, in 1998, the Syrian government expelled the PKK's leader and founder Abdullah Öcalan. After unsuccessful efforts to find refuge in Europe, Öcalan was captured in Kenya by Turkish special forces and brought back for trial in Turkey. A special court on the island of Imroz near Istanbul sentenced him to death and he remains a prisoner there.71 In order to avoid provoking the authorities to carry out the execution, the PKK further stepped down its military activities, and in 1999 it declared a unilateral ceasefire in Turkey. In April 2002, the PKK dissolved itself as a party, became the Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan (KADEK), and declared that it would pursue non-violent methods. However, the organization maintains a substantial armed force, estimated at 5,000, in northern Iraq. 72
Renegade groups that do not accept the new direction and members fleeing across the border to Iraq occasionally clash with Turkish security forces, but the overall extent of political violence in the countryside is negligible when compared with the previous decade. Whereas news sources reported 3,300 clashes between PKK and security forces in 1994, there were fewer than fifty reported clashes in 2001. Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz confirmed that the situation has changed dramatically: "In the past we were unable to take certain steps because of terrorism. Today there is a zero level of terrorism. The time has come for us to take steps that we had planned and targeted."73
If peace of a kind has returned to southeast Turkey, there should be no legitimate obstacle to villagers returning to their homes.
50 Göç Edenler Sosyal Yardımlaşma ve Kültür Derneği, "Sociological Analysis Of The Migration Concept, Migration Movements In Turkey And Their Consequences," April 2002, prepared by Mehmet Barut, Mersin University, based on a survey of 2,139 households comprising 17,845 persons, Section V.9. In October 2002 the prosecutor of Istanbul State Security Court opened a trial against Mehmet Barut and the president of Göç-Der, Şefika Gürbüz, in connection with their report. They are charged with incitement to racial hatred under article 312 of the Turkish criminal code.
61 "OHAL bölgesinde her 100 kışıden 26'sının yeşil karttan yararlandığı bildirildi" (26 out of every 100 people in the State of Emergency Region have a green card), Turknet news agency, February 11, 2002.