The Impact of War and Forced Evictions on Urbanizations in Turkey



Widespread international criticism has been aroused in response to the Government of Turkey’s forcible eviction of over two million people in the South East of the country. The sheer brutality of the methods used to evict people and destroy entire villages is less well known, while the fate of those displaced is hardly spoken of at all. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been forced to migrate to the cities where they face dismal housing and living conditions. This report looks into a series of difficult questions focused on the housing and settlements conditions faced by the evicted people:

What has happened to the over two million people displaced due to Turkish military operations?

What has happened to the settlements in which they lived?

Where do they go and what housing, health and employment conditions do they face in the areas where they are forced to rebuild their lives?

What role is the State playing in the areas where people have resettled?

How have human rights of the displaced people, especially the right to housing, been affected?

These questions need to be squarely confronted. All the more so because Turkey is hosting the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in Istanbul, June 1996. The Government of Turkey’s responsibility for these forced evictions and the subsequent harsh conditions faced by those evicted must be recognized and acted upon.

The Habitat International Coalition, HIC, sent a fact finding team to Turkey in March 1996 to help answer these questions and bring the results to Habitat II.

HIC is a global coalition of some 300 non-governmental and community organizations active in the fields of housing and human settlements. HIC was founded in 1976 and has its headquarters in Mexico City. The Fact Finding Mission (FFM) team members were:

Ms Tabitha Siwale, Member of Parliament, Tanzania and member, HIC Women and Shelter Group

Ms Monira Zourab, member, Palestinian Housing Rights Movement and Administrative Officer, Palestinian Human Rights Information Centre, Jerusalem, Palestine

Mr. Alejandro Florian, Director, Fedevivienda, Colombia

Mr. Miloon Kothari, HIC Representative to the UN and CoDirector, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Geneva.

This is the report of the Fact Finding Mission. Members of the FFM team visited Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir. They spoke to a wide range of human rights organizations, professional associations and environmental groups. On site interviews were carried out in Istanbul of Kurdish families displaced from the

South East of Turkey. This report presents, at the time of Habitat II, an appraisal of Turkey’s housing rights record in the South East over the past ten years. It also documents the related problems of rapid urbanization and the very poor urban settlements conditions of the displaced populations.

The Habitat International Coalition would like to express its sincere thanks to all those who assisted the FFM team and so willingly shared their information, expertise and experience. Special thanks are due to the many courageous human rights activists and to the displaced families that agreed to be interviewed. Their testimonies are deeply moving.

Violations of the Human Right to Housing

The principal violations of the human right to housing documented in this report are village destruction and forced evictions, and the perpetuation of inadequate housing and living conditions. The fact finding team reviewed numerous documents confirming that large scale evictions have taken place since the early 1980’s with particular intensity since early 1991. Some of the findings of these documents are summarized in a later section of this report.

The descriptions and statistics of forced evictions, and inadequate housing and living conditions are based on reports from local (Human Rights Association, Human Rights Foundation) and international human rights organizations (Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki). They are also based on statements made by Turkish Ministers in Parliament, in particular the Minister for Human Rights Koyluoglu (October 11, 1994), and Interior Minister Nahit Mentese in April, 1994, and the emergency region governor’s statement in July 1995.

Village Destruction and Forced Evictions

According to numerous sources, since the early 1980’s, the Turkish government has destroyed approximately 2,400 villages. Human rights organizations in Turkey believe this has led to the internal displacement of 2.5 to 3 million Kurds. Most of these forced evictions of Kurds have taken place since 1992.

In 1993, 874 villages were evacuated. In 1994, 1,494 villages or hamlets were burned down and evacuated.

In the region of Dersim (Tunceli), from September to November 1994, of the total of 399 villages, approximately one-third or 137 villages were partially evacuated and/or destroyed by fire during military operations carried out by the Turkish military. In some of the subdistricts of Dersim, as many as 80% of villages were affected. According to Government sources. 1.200 families were made homeless due to these operations. Several independent sources indicated that the number affected was several times the government figure.

Inadequate Housing and Living

Conditions among Displaced People

The massive displacement caused by the Turkish military operations in the SouthEast has contributed to rapid growth of many cities in Turkey. The displaced Kurds have been forced to live in cities whose populations have dramatically increased. They often live in jerry built quarters rapidly constructed overnight. Examples of cities, which experienced rapid growth, include Mersin whose population was 422,000 in the 1990 Census, and by 1994 had increased to one million. Adana went from 927,000 to 2 million, and Diyarbakir from 380,000 to 1 million. Numerous studies have shown that the great majority of these displaced people live in abysmal housing and living conditions.

Women and children continue to be the worst victims of both forced evictions at one end and inadequate housing/living conditions at the other end. Children suffer from poor nutrition and diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid.

A visit to any of the areas where displaced Kurds stay in the cities of Turkey reveals the often-complete negligence of the Turkish authorities to improve the housing and living conditions. The HIC fact finding mission found in both Diyarbakir and Istanbul neighbourhoods without access to potable water, adequate sanitation facilities or electricity connections.

Case Studies

The fact finding team interviewed families that had been evicted by force from their villages and towns in S-E Turkey. The team found that all these families have had to cope with numerous problems in the cities where they have resettled. They face health, housing, social, educational and psychological problems. Family members that have stayed behind in the villages are subjected to continuous violence. Women who remain in the villages are subjected to rape by “village guards”.

The municipality in the areas where most families have resettled provides health services, but the evicted families often cannot afford to buy medications. Education in public schools is said to be free, but students have to pay a monthly fee in addition to the costs of books, notebooks, pens, etc. Again, this is very difficult for the evicted families. Kurdish children who join the schools do not know any Turkish language. They are marginalized and have a hard time managing their studies.

The unwillingness of the authorities to improve the housing and living conditions of the Kurds has a detrimental affect on their health and well being. Coupled with the lack of employment opportunities and discrimination in work places the overall conditions faced by the Kurdish families are indeed adverse. Police authorities also often harass the Kurds.

The following case studies of families interviewed by the FFM team illustrate the traumatic displacement from the villages and the dire conditions faced by Kurds in the cities where they have been forced to start life again.