Purged policeman who served during operations in SE Turkey: I should have resigned

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A woman reacts while walking among the rubble of damaged buildings following heavy fighting between government troops and Kurdish fighters in the Kurdish town of Cizre in southeastern Turkey, which lies near the border with Syria and Iraq, on March 2, 2016. Thousands in Turkey's Kurdish-majority town of Cizre started returning to their homes on March 2 after authorities partially lifted a curfew in place since December for a controversial military operation to root out separatist rebels. / AFP PHOTO / ILYAS AKENGIN

A Turkish police officer now living in exile has expressed regret for agreeing to serve in special forces operations in Turkey’s Kurdish towns in 2016 that targeted civilians as part of a fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In an interview with exiled journalist Cevheri Güven, the former special forces police officer, using the pseudonym Ahmet Gün, expressed regret for taking part in operations in Cizre, Sur, Lice, Nusaybin and Derik when the Turkish state imposed long curfews in an attempt to curb the PKK’s urban warfare. At the time the PKK dug trenches in the streets to prevent police access to towns, with the police operations labeled “trench operations” by the media.

“I have now been purged, but I could have displayed a more honorable stance. I should not have been in those operations, I should not have participation in those operations on my resumé,” Gün said, adding that he never approved of the treatment of Kurdish civilians in the counterterrorism operations.

Gün, who was dismissed as part of a massive purge in the post-July 15, 2016 coup attempt period, was jailed for 13 months on charges of links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is accused by the government of orchestrating the abortive putsch and has since been subject to persecution and a massive purge.

Currently living in a refugee camp in Switzerland with his wife and three children, the former police officer said that after witnessing serious human rights violations in southeastern Turkey during his nine years in the Southeast, he was wounded by a landmine, fired and detained while in the hospital.

According to Gün, anyone who raised objections to the operations during the curfews and did not approve of the fascist behavior of colleagues was profiled as Gülenists and then dismissed.

“I cannot cleanse myself [of my participation]. May God forgive me for those days. I never shot a bullet, but I could have resigned,” he said.

He said their supervisor, the deputy chief of the special forces, told them by walkie-talkie that they were allowed destroy anything and kill anyone, emphasizing the importance of the operations in the area.

About a highly criticized siege in Cizre when people hid in basements, the officer said that 120 bodies were taken out of those basements after the operation. According to him, not all of them could have been PKK terrorists. “There were clearly innocent people including children and old women among them,” he admitted. He also said the shooting of ambulances that were sent to the area for the wounded and sick was unacceptable. According to the former police officer, the question of who shot up the ambulances still remains a dark spot as it was very provocative.

Gün noted that in counterterrorism operations there is no place for “grey” as everything is portrayed as black or white: terrorists or potential terrorists, nothing else. He added that even police officers who did not approve of such operations against civilians died in the operations.

As a result of the curfews and counterterrorism operations of 2016, several Kurdish towns in Turkey were completely destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were internally displaced.

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