This document is excerpted from a longer report by the Netherlands Kurdistan Society, Forced Evictions and Destruction of Villages in Dersim (Tunceli) and the Western Part of Bingöl, Turkish Kurdistan, September-November 1994 (Amsterdam, 1995).

Well before 1980, there had been a steady trickle of migration from the villages in southeastern and eastern Turkey to the district and provincial capitals and to the west of the country, for mainly economic reasons. Following the 1980 coup, this migration sped up as a result of the military pressure on the region, which impeded normal economic life. The situation further deteriorated with the onset of guerrilla warfare, in which both the PKK and the state demanded that villagers take sides. Families whose sons were absent and therefore suspected of having joined the PKK were subjected to severe abuse. Entire mountain pastures were declared forbidden areas; other parts were so severely mined that shepherding became impossible. Rapidly deteriorating living conditions caused many to leave their villages without being physically compelled to do so.

In the early 1990s, the pattern of village evacuations changed. In the districts near the Iraqi border, villagers were told that they had to become village guards or else disappear. This choice was enforced with brutal methods: random shooting, severe beatings, arson, destruction of property. Such forced village evacuations began to occur systematically and on a large scale in 1992, initially in the zone north of the Iraqi border but soon also in other regions where there had been PKK activity. A wide area around Mardin and the districts north of Diyarbakır have been severely hit by these evacuations, usually followed by destruction of the villages so that people could not return.

Different forces have been involved in these forced evacuations. In some cases, it was gendarmerie units stationed in the neighborhood that came to the village and delivered an ultimatum that the men had to report as korucu (village guards) within a week or else risk being killed themselves. Other villages were not even given the choice but simply told to move their belongings out if they did not wish to lose everything when the village was burned down.

The regular army and special commando troops also took part; some villages were reportedly attacked from the air, with helicopters firing at them. In other cases, özel tim (special teams) came and kicked, beat and humiliated the villagers, destroyed food stocks and household goods and chased the villagers away under death threats. Villages in Çukurca district (Hakkari province) were reportedly repeatedly raided at night by özel tim firing at the houses at random and shouting death threats.

The Human Rights Associations (in Turkish, Insan Hakları Dernekleri, or IHD) of Turkey have compiled and published statistics of the numbers of villages that were in whole or in part evacuated and/or destroyed. Because many of the areas where these events take place are no longer accessible to outsiders (and certainly not to human rights activists), these statistics can only be approximate. It is noteworthy, however, that the figures given by the IHD are not contested by the government, only the interpretation of what has happened. In their report on the human rights situation in 1993, the IHD published a list of 874 villages and hamlets that had been partially or completely evacuated during that year, many of them consequently being destroyed by the army in order to prevent the inhabitants returning.

This number was, surprisingly perhaps, confirmed by the Turkish government, in response to parliamentary questions from a Kurdish delegate. [1] The minister of interior, Nahit Menteşe stated that 288 villages and 366 hamlets had been evacuated in their entirety, and another 178 villages and 39 hamlets partially, adding up to a total of 871 settlements. Of the 164,460 inhabitants of these settlements, according to the minister, 126,454 had left. Menteşe did not explicitly confirm that these persons were forcibly evicted by the security forces; he attributed the evacuations to the presence of “an illegal separatist terrorist organization” and to economic factors.

By the end of 1993, entire districts, such as Silopi, Şırnak and Eruh, all north of the Iraqi border, had lost all their villages, with the exception of a single korucu village. Forced evictions continued throughout 1994, if anything at a higher pace than the preceding year. The cumulative number of settlements evacuated by force may exceed 2000. There is now a wide divergence, however, between the figures quoted by different bodies; even different spokespersons of the government have given widely different numbers. Özgür Ülke repeatedly spoke of “over 2,000 burned villages” (by which it apparently referred to villages that were in whole or in part evacuated or destroyed). The Turkish Human Rights Association, in October 1994, gave a figure of 1,334 evacuated or destroyed villages. [2] The minister of interior stated in December 1994 that under the present government (i.e., since 1992) a total of 2,215 villages and hamlets had been evacuated, and that 2,424 families had been given alternative housing. [3] Deputy Prime Minister Murat Karayalçın, however, quoted significantly lower statistics during a recent visit to Europe: According to him, 1,046 villages had been evacuated, 812 of them under pressure from the PKK and only 76 at the request of the local administration. [4]

It has become more difficult to keep a detailed record of evictions and village destruction, because the military authorities have become more careful to hide the extent of destruction from public view. A book published on the issue by the IHD was immediately banned, and charges were brought against the IHD board for publishing it. [5] Even the prime minister and deputy prime minister themselves were prevented from visiting districts where the army was reported to have carried out extremely brutal campaigns (the Lice area in October 1993, and the Hozat district in October 1994, respectively). In spite of these restrictions on the flow of information, and the self-censorship practiced by most of the Turkish press, it is clear that forced evictions have been adopted as a deliberate policy at the highest political level.

On June 2, 1994, the minister of defense, Mehmet Gölhan, announced that the council of ministers was soon to ratify a “security measure” already decided upon by the National Security Council, which involved the evacuation of no less than 50 settlements at once. [6] This measure targeted the slopes of the Agri (Ararat) and Tendürek Mountains, near the borders with Armenia and Iran, which were to be declared “forbidden military zones” (askeri yasak bölgeler) in order to prevent infiltration by PKK forces. The 50 settlements in this zone, with a total population of around 10,000, were to be evacuated, and their inhabitants resettled in larger settlements in a more secure area. Access to the entire zone will henceforth be strictly forbidden, also to the nomads who have always used these mountain slopes as their summer pastures; trespassers are to be shot on sight.

This measure is frighteningly reminiscent of the Kurdish policies of Turkey’s southern neighbor Iraq during the late 1970s and 1980s. Iraq too declared such forbidden zones, which gradually came to encompass a larger proportion of the Kurdish-inhabited region. Ultimately some 4,000 (out of around 5,000) villages were destroyed, their population resettled in camps or “collective villages;” in the final phase of the evictions, up to a hundred thousand Kurds were killed in mass executions. [7]

We are not aware of later press reports on the ratification and implementation of this measure; it was unusual for Gölhan to be quoted in the press on this subject. We cannot therefore judge at what level it was decided to carry through similar “security measures” in a few other districts, for instance the districts of Lice and Kulp, north of Diyarbakır. [8] Settlements here have during the past two years been repeatedly bombed and shelled, and the villagers subjected to extremely brutal abuses by the security forces. The two district centers have been virtually destroyed in full-blown military attacks. At present, there are hardly any inhabited villages left in Kulp and Lice. This report presents detailed information on yet another region where forced evictions have been highly systematic, massive and rapid, i.e., the province of Tunceli….

Out of 399 villages in the province of Tunceli, 137 or around a third were at least partially evacuated and/or destroyed by fire in the course of the military operations against PKK guerrillas of September-November 1994. In some subdistricts the proportion of affected villages was as high as 80 percent. Government spokespersons have mentioned a figure of 1,200 families made homeless; the real number of families affected by the operations may be several times that figure. During the summer and autumn, approximately a quarter of the extensive forests of Tunceli were deliberately set alight, causing grave ecological damage in one of Turkey’s last rich forest areas.

Forced evacuations and demolitions of villages have by no means been restricted to Tunceli. This province is only exceptional in that we are relatively well informed about the human and material damage there. Similar military operations have resulted in the virtual depopulation of various other Kurdish-inhabited regions in eastern Turkey. Forced evictions of villagers began on a large scale in 1992. The brutality with which they are carried out has been increasing. This is not surprising, since the security troops have been able to abuse the civilian population with complete impunity. No serious investigations have been made into allegations of systematic mistreatment by the army and the “special teams”; no disciplinary action taken against officers responsible for arson, torture, destruction of property and even manslaughter.

The forced evacuation of mountain settlements, which initially appeared to take place at the initiative of military commanders in the field in the course of counter-insurgency operations, is developing into a deliberate policy agreed upon at the highest level. Twice in 1994 the press reported decisions by Turkey’s National Security Council to evacuate entire areas (the Ararat-Tendürek region and the Karakoçan district of Elazığ). The government’s ambitious plans for constructing “center villages” to resettle the inhabitants of dispersed mountain villages and hamlets are disconcerting in this context, even though it is claimed that resettlement will be “voluntary.”

Resettlement on this scale goes well beyond counter-insurgency. It systematically violates basic rights of the rural population. Furthermore, it results not simply in the destruction of houses and villages but also in the destruction of the economic and social life and an important part of the culture of the affected population. Half a century ago Turkey deliberately adopted a policy of resettlement of Kurds as a means of speeding up their assimilation. The “center village” project represents a thinly disguised return to that old policy; if carried out, it will result in the destruction of a significant part of Kurdish culture, and is obviously in violation of Turkey’s obligation, as a member of the Council of Europe, to protect its minority cultures.


[1] The following figures are from their written answer, dated April 25, 1994, by the minister of interior to questions posed by a Kurdish member of Parliament whose immunity was later suspended and who was tried and sentenced to a long prison term for separatist activities.
[2] Quoted in Amnesty International, “Turkey: A Policy of Denial,” p. 6. This is not the cumulative total but the number for 1994 alone. In its annual report for 1994, the IHD gave an estimated number of 1,500 villages and hamlets evacuated.
[3] Özgür Ülke, October 12, 1994.
[4] Press conference in The Hague, March 3, 1995.
[5] Yakilan köylerden bir kesit (Ankara: Insan Hakları Dernekleri, May 1994). Akin Birdal, the president of the Federation of Human Rights Associations, against whom charges had been brought because of this book, was acquitted by court decision in January 1995. The book is still banned.
[6] Reported in the respected daily Cumhuriyet, June 3, 1994. The National Security Council, which formally only advises the government, is de facto the most powerful agency of the state. It consists of the five supreme army chiefs, the prime minister, and the ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs.
[7] Ibid.
[8] One other National Security Council decision to evacuate villages has come to our notice. The July 12, 1994 issue of Özgür Ülke reported that the Council, meeting on June 29, had decided that a number of villages in the district of Karakoçan and western Bingöl had to be evacuated. On October 25, the paper reported that the evacuation of five villages in Karakoçan had been completed.

How to cite this article:

"Document: Forced Evictions and Destruction in Villages in Turkish Kurdistan," Middle East Report 199 (Summer 1996).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This