Hospitals are being converted into war zones
IPPNW Vice-President Dr. Angelika Claussen reports from Turkey
With elections approaching, a 15-member delegation including politicians, journalists, doctors, human rights campaigners and trade-union officials from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands visited the cities Diyarbarkir, Cizre, Nusaybin, Silvan and Mardin in Turkey. They were invited by the peace block of Turkey, an alliance of numerous public organisations as well as public figures in both cultural affairs and politics. IPPNW physician Dr Angelika Claußen was a member of the delegation.
The Turkish government has declared entire cities and regions in southeast Turkey as “security zones” and repeatedly imposed a strict curfew. In some cities, such as Cizre, the curfew has sometimes lasted for up to one week. During the respective curfew periods, tanks and armoured vehicles with so-called special troops patrol the city streets and open fire at anything that moves. The scale of destruction is tremendous. The civilian population has no access to food supplies, central water and electricity lines have been bombed and destroyed, the internet cut off. The areas affected by the blockades are primarily cities and regions inhabited by Kurds and in which the elected mayor is a member of the pro-Kurd oppositional party, HDP. Cizre, a city at the Turkish-Syrian border with a population of 132, 857, was put on the map after the 8-day complete interdiction by Turkish security forces.
I was deeply devastated by the conversations I had in Cizre with several residents, doctors and a lawyer, and by the scope of the destruction above all to the city’s infrastructure—water and electricity—and to civilian houses. The wife of a local Imam was hit by a bomb splinter in her right eye in the first night of the blockade after leaning slightly out of the window of her home. She and her husband told me that she was hurt badly at 2:30 a.m. and that their efforts to summon an ambulance to receive treatment at the local hospital were futile. At first the security forces said the couple could call an ambulance, but the mobile phone network was cut off. A short while later her husband managed to call an ambulance, but the ambulance was not let through to their house. Then the security forces said they could of course just walk to the ambulance since it was not far away, but the volley fire continued incessantly. Her husband called his responsible member of parliament and requested help. Even then the security forces were not willing to let the ambulance pass and simply continued their gunfire. It was not until the following evening that the couple received permission to travel by ambulance to the Cizre hospital in order to receive the necessary medical attention.
According to a report by the medical association of Turkey (TTB), doctors and other medical staff were being severely hindered in their work by security forces and special troops. Armoured vehicles with snipers were parked on the hospital grounds and occupied the emergency rooms. They even controlled doctors and nurses while they were in the middle of performing surgery.
Many people with gunfire wounds did not even seek help from the emergency department for fear they could be arrested as “terrorists”. The number of hospital births sank dramatically: normally there are 10-15 births daily whereas there were only 7 hospital births altogether during the 8-day blockade.
Since the power supply remained cut off for the entire blockade vaccines spoiled and had to be thrown away. Chronically ill patients such as those with diabetes or cardio-vascular diseases could not receive their regular medical treatment because the pharmacies were closed. In addition, 68 dialysis patients could not receive their treatment due to the blockade.
In Silvan the delegation attended the funeral of an old woman who bled to death after obtaining a gunshot injury. Here too the scene was destruction: the main water lines of the city, bombed; the electricity lines, bombed; rooftop water tanks, bombed; Kurdish cultural centre, burned up; devastated homes, severely damaged by the special troops during their house searches.
694 dead between 7 June-11 October 2015 (208 civilians, 80 soldiers, 62 policemen, 3 security guards and 341 members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party). That is the balance according to the left-liberal newspaper “Cumhuriyet” in the 11 October 2015 edition. The German television broadcaster, NTV, reports a total number of 1,250 deaths (no indication of source); the Turkish military estimates over 2,000 killed Kurdistan Worker’s Party fighters.
Medical staff is being terrorised and hindered in their work in other cities as well. The Turkish doctor’s association reported an incidence that took place in the early hours of the morning on 7 August 2015 in a hospital in Silopi. The doctor on duty, Dr Serdar Acar, was threatened at gunpoint and ordered by the special troops to leave his post at the hospital immediately in order to treat people who had been severely injured during a police operation. Dr Acar refused to leave the hospital and the patients entrusted to him: he was fired without notice.
The armed conflict on 7 August 2015 in Silopi led to numerous wounded. The security forces, however, refused to allow the wounded to be transported by ambulance to the hospital. 17-year old H. T. and 60-year old Hamdi Ulas were brought to the hospital in private automobiles and were shot dead by security forces in front of the emergency room doors.
The health and well-being of the civilian population in the affected cities of Cizre, Nusaybin, Silopi, Silvan, Sur, Tatvan, Van and Bitlis was seriously jeopardised during each curfew. Their right to receive medical treatment and their fundamental right to live was violated. In areas of unrest and revolt (armed conflict, not international conflict) the civilian population must be spared. All parties involved in the armed conflict must refrain from attacking the infrastructure of these cities, in particular the water, food and electricity supplies, as well as medical treatment. Human rights are for all persons concerned and must be guaranteed. The Turkish government has taken completely disproportional measures in counterinsurgency that invalidate and destroy the fundamental principles necessary for the living together of all its citizens.
A revival of the peace process is possible even if President Erdogan currently still rejects the proposal for a truce. However, to take up the peace process again will require the support of a third party including respectable public figures from the civilian population as well as figures involved in international politics. One thing is clear with regards to the refugee question: Turkey is not a safe country of origin. A deal with President Erdogan is harmful to peace and democracy. Unfortunately the situation in Turkey has not changed at all after the election: The policy of severe human rights law violation against the Kurdish population is going on.
Dr Angelika Claußen, IPPNW Vice-President for Europe