Roots of a Civilisation

The Kurdish struggle amid Turkey’s war on dissent

A house that was bombed by Turkish forces during the 2015 siege of Cizre, a Kurdish-majority town on the Syrian border. In September 2015, security forces sealed off and bombed the town for eight days, limiting access to food, water and medical assistance, and imposing a curfew. Another curfew began in December that year, lasting 78 days. The operations in Cizre killed 160 civilians, according to locals.
01 March, 2020

ON 2 SEPTEMBER 2017, Çağdaş Erdoğan, a Turkish photojournalist of Kurdish descent, was detained while walking through Istanbul’s Yoğurtçu Park. He was initially accused of photographing the headquarters of the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı, Turkey’s intelligence agency. “But it is entirely fictitious,” he said in an interview with the British Journal of Photography, “because the place where I photographed is just a park, and there isn’t any building, or even signs that show the presence of a restricted area where you cannot take pictures.” On 13 September, he was officially charged with being a member of a terrorist organisation, based on his previous work photographing members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party—known by its Turkish acronym, PKK. After spending six months in pre-trial detention, he was released on bail at the first hearing of his case, on 13 February 2018. “They already knew I was going to be released after the first hearing in court; they just extended my detention to punish me,” he said.

Following an attempted military coup, on 15 July 2016, the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a state of emergency that lasted two years. According to statistics compiled by Amnesty International, over a hundred and fifty thousand people were taken into police custody during the emergency, half of whom were detained under anti-terrorism laws. Over a hundred and thirty thousand public officials were dismissed from their jobs. The government also cracked down on the media, arresting 231 journalists and dismissing nearly three thousand media workers over the course of the emergency.

Çağdaş was born in the Kurdish-majority village of Fındıklı, near the Syrian border. The Kurdish people, Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, mostly live in a contiguous region called Kurdistan, which covers parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. In each of these countries, national governments have systematically persecuted them for decades. Since its establishment, in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has issued a number of decrees banning the expression of Kurdish identity, as well as political parties representing the Kurds. It has committed thousands of human-rights abuses against the Kurdish people, including arbitrary arrests, torture, forced displacement, destruction of villages and summary executions. Since 1978, the PKK and other militant Kurdish groups have carried out an insurgency against the Turkish government. Their demands range from independence to autonomy to greater political and economic rights within Turkey. In 2013, the government began talks with the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, leading to a ceasefire, but hostilities resumed two years later.

çaĞdaŞ erdoĞan is a self-taught photographer and artist from Turkey. His work, which primarily focusses on minority communities in West Asia, has been published in leading international newspapers and magazines.

Rishi Kochhar is a photo intern at The Caravan.
Tanvi Mishra is the creative director at The Caravan.