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Kurdish city bears scars of battles between Turkish military and armed youth

media The building where Kurds declared an assembly destroyed in the military offensive. Tony Cross/RFI

The south-eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir is a bastion of the left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Kurds’ demands for language rights and more self-rule. Between last June’s general election and this Sunday’s rerun President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has broken off the peace process with the PKK guerrilla movement and launched a military offensive in the region, which this month saw fighting in the city itself.

There’s a gash filled with rubble in one of the narrow streets in Diyarbakir’s historic city centre and Kevin Miller explains how it got there.

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“Up until 10 days ago they had a barrier here and they also dug out trenches here trying to avoid police vehicles to enter this street," he says. "The police finally understood that they couldn’t enter, so they had snipers and they had army walking into this street here. And then they had clashes between both groups.”

Miller is a Kurd who has emigrated to the US but is back in Turkey to campaign for the HDP, whose rise in support deprived Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) of an absolute majority in June and looks set to do the same again on Sunday.

HDP supporters believe that the war with the PKK was revived in the hope of boosting AKP support, while the government blames the guerrillas, whom it dubs "terrorists", for the renewed violence.

Young Kurds responded by declaring “liberated areas” and prevented police entering using barricades, trenches and guns.

A filled in trench, dug by young Kurds who fought police and military in the "liberated" zone. Tony Cross/RFI

When one was established in central Diyarbakir the government sent in some 4,000 troops and special forces, Miller explains.

“They came in very brutally. They used tanks, armoured vehicles and the entire operation took about four days. During the four days there was curfew in central Diyarbakir and people obviously could not get out of their homes and they did not have enough food, drinks, water. About 15 civilians [were] killed and the entire operation resulted in about 15 arrests of these youth.”

An ancient building in the area was declared a Kurdish assembly.

After the military offensive it’s a burnt-out wreck.

“This building should be under the protection of the United Nations as well as the historical buildings," Miller says. "As you can see they have set it on fire purposely and there is almost nothing left from this building now.”

This week has seen police clash with an Islamic State armed group cell in the city, resulting in seven IS fighters and two police dying.

But that has not stopped the raids and arrests on alleged PKK supporters, as Turkey’s south-east prepares for a tense polling day.

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