Turkey’s internally displaced people (IDPs) face uncertain prospects as a recent upsurge in violence in the south-eastern provinces threatens to undermine the positive impact of major human rights reforms which have been adopted since Turkey became a candidate for EU membership in 1999. Clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdish
militants have raised fears of a return to the high levels of violence that led to the internal displacement of about one million people, most of them Kurds, at the height of the conflict in Turkey’s south-east in the 1980s and 1990s. The government declared “security zones” in pockets of the south-east in June 2007 and the Turkish armed forces have talked of the need for an incursion into northern Iraq to tackle Kurdish rebels amid mounting tensions on the Turkey-Iraq border.

However, in the last three years, the government has made strides to address the internal displacement situation. It has undertaken a national survey on the number and conditions of IDPs; drafted a national IDP strategy; adopted a law on compensation for property damages; and put together a comprehensive pilot plan of action for IDPs at the provincial level. The long- awaited results of the government-commissioned national IDP survey were released in December 2006, confirming that the number of IDPs in Turkey is significantly higher than the previous government estimate of 355,807. According to the survey between 953,680 and 1,201,200 people were displaced for security-related reasons from the east and south-east of the country between 1986 and 2005. Since the June 2004 enactment of a law to determine compensation for displaced people, and following some unjust and inconsistent decisions by provincial commissions charged with the law’s implementation, a number of reports have questioned its capacity to provide fair and appropriate redress. No systematic analysis has been carried out of the decisions taken so far, but the government has recently issued guidelines providing standardised guidance and training to the commissions to address problems of inconsistent and insufficient compensation payments.

These important steps indicate that the problem of internal displacement has become a national priority. There has been little progress however in addressing other issues key to the resolution of the problem of internal displacement in the south-east. No steps have been taken towards abolishing the “village guards”, a paramilitary force created by the government to oppose the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), and a law adopted in May 2007 could even strengthen the village guards system, even though it has been widely identified as a principle obstacle to the return of IDPs and to the stability of the region. The national IDP survey also identified the perceived importance of regional development in the south-east, including improved public infrastructure, education and health services, and jobs in areas affected by displacement.

Background and main causes

During the height of the conflict in Turkey’s south-eastern provinces between 1984 and 1999, around one million people, mainly Kurds, were forcibly displaced from their homes. The conflict is believed to have claimed tens of thousands of lives. The conflict originated to a large extent in decades of government policy that denied the existence of a distinctive Kurdish identity in Turkey. Beginning in the 1970s, a number of Kurdish political groups including the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK) began to actively protest against this policy. In 1984,

10the PKK launched attacks against the Turkish state, with the declared intention of establishing an independent Kurdish state (Kirisci, January 1998). Part of the state’s response to the attacks was to recruit paramilitary militia or “village guards”. Village guards and their families were killed by the PKK in both targeted and arbitrary attacks, while villagers who refused to join the guard often faced reprisals such as forcible displacement by Turkish security forces (HRW, 30 October 2002). Government security forces were granted exceptional powers under a State of Emergency Decree declared in ten provinces in 1987, and later extended to 14 provinces, which led to a heavy military presence, martial law and severe restrictions on civil and political rights enforced by a special governor.

Internal displacement was caused by the evacuation of villages by the government under the emergency rule, by PKK pressure on villagers who refused to support the organisation, and by the lack of security for those caught between the PKK and security forces (Kirisci, January 1998). The PKK and also the security forces and government-employed village guards committed serious human rights violations including torture, arbitrary arrests, abductions, and the destruction of villages and crops. The 14 provinces most affected by internal displacement were Bingol, Hakkari, Tunceli, Bitlis, Van, Mus, Elazig, Adiyaman, Agri, Diyarbakir, Batman, Siirt, Mardin, and Sirnak. Since the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in June 1999, and his subsequent announcement of a unilateral cessation of armed activities by Kurdish armed groups, the level of violence in south-eastern Turkey has sharply decreased. In November 2002, the 15-year state of emergency was lifted in the last two provinces of Diyarbakir and Sirnak.

Forced internal displacement in Turkey is complemented by a broader rural-to-urban migration, and the latter has been encouraged by the violence in the south-east. The nature and extent of the displacement situation in Turkey has also been affected by large-scale development projects such as the South-Eastern Anatolia Project (GAP), and by natural disasters (UN CHR, 27 November 2002, p.8).

Survey reveals true scale of displacement

For many years the numbers of IDPs has been contested, with estimates ranging from 350,000 to four million. Government initiatives were criticised as based on an inaccurate picture of the displacement situation, which was not backed up by comprehensive and reliable data. In response, in 2004 the government commissioned a national IDP survey, of which the quantitative findings were released in December 2006. The survey, carried out by Hacettepe University Institute for Population Studies, provides valuable data on the internally displaced population, and includes an estimate on the numbers of persons displaced as a result of the actions of both the PKK and the security forces and also information on the causes of their displacement and their expectations for the future.

The survey’s long-awaited results confirm that the number of IDPs in Turkey is significantly higher than the previous government estimate of 355,807 (GoT/UN Mission, 27 September 2005). According to the survey, between 953,680 and 1,201,200 people were displaced for security- related reasons from the east and south-east of the country between 1986 and 2005 (Hacettepe University, 6 December 2006). One reason for the discrepancy is that the previous government figure only included people evacuated by the security forces from settlements, and not those who were forced to flee due to generalised violence or for a combination of security and economic reasons (Kirisci, January 1998). The survey estimated that up to 124,000 people have returned to their places of origin.

New clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK


The general security situation in the south-east has greatly improved in the last five years, but the frequency of armed clashes between government forces and the PKK in the region has fluctuated since 2004. Clashes resurfaced when the PKK announced the end of a five-year ceasefire in June 2004. Another unilateral ceasefire was proclaimed by the PKK in October 2006 but armed clashes between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK have erupted again. In addition, Amnesty International also reported an increase in bomb attacks targeting civilians during 2006 (AI, 23 May 2007). Many people have been killed or injured by bomb attacks in cities and resorts including Ankara, Istanbul, Yozgat, Marmaris, Antalya and Van city. The government argues that the recent escalation of violence in the south-east and increased clashes between Turkish armed forces and the PKK is caused by PKK members operating in northern Iraq and infiltration of PKK members from the Iraqi border (EC, 8 November 2006; BBC, 8 June 2007). The dramatic change in the status of the Iraqi Kurds in Iraq since early 2003 has also raised fears of an increase in secessionist sentiments among the Kurds in south-east Turkey (ICG, 26 January 2005).

In response, the government significantly boosted the number of troops deployed along the border with northern Iraq. By the first week of July 2007, Turkey had deployed an estimated 140,000 troops to the Turkish-Iraqi border (BBC, 9 July 2007). The government also declared “temporary security zones” between the provinces of Sirnak, Siirt and Hakkari in south-eastern Turkey close to the Iraqi border in June 2007 (BBC, 8 June 2007). There has been talk of a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq (BBC, 30 May 2007 and 4 June 2007).

Security concerns deter return

Civil society organisations supporting IDPs express concern that the resumption of violence and clashes between the security forces and the PKK might undermine stability and discourage return movements to the south-east, or worse, cause new displacement. The increase in tension has prompted the government to bolster security measures, creating new temporary security zones and potentially consolidating the village guards system, raising concern among some NGOs that broader military measures against villages may be resumed.

There are some 57,000 village guards, armed and paid by the government to fight the PKK. They are still perceived as a security threat because of human rights abuses committed by the village guards up to only a few years ago. The continuing threat which they present to returning IDPs has been extensively documented. Village guards were often implicated in the original displacements; and many people were displaced specifically because they refused to join them. In the aftermath of displacement, village guards have hindered return by denying displaced villagers access to their fields, occupying people’s homes or land. They have been deemed responsible for murder, attacks and intimidation of displaced people attempting to return home (HRW, January 2007; TESEV/IDMC, June 2006). Investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by the village guards have been largely inadequate. The European Court of Human Rights has issued several judgments against the government for violations which arose from abuses perpetrated by village guards (HRW, 8 June 2006).

Grave human rights violations committed by village guards are no longer reported but there continue to be reports of village guards illegally occupying displaced people’s land or property (IDMC/TESEV, June 2006; HRW, 8 June 2006). Displaced villagers may still fear that upon their return they will face reprisals or be coerced once more to join the guards (HRW, 8 June 2006). In addition, although there is no legal requirement to join the village guards, Human Rights Watch found that the security forces often make village guard service an informal requirement for return. There is some indication that rates of return are particularly low in areas such as Sirnak province, where the village guard system is particularly ingrained (HRW, 8 June 2006).

The village guards system has also been widely criticised by human rights organisations for exacerbating mistrust and ethnic divisions in the south-east. Following his visit to Turkey in 2002, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on internally displaced persons made a number of recommendations to the government to address the situation facing IDPs, including the disarming of village guards, the abolition of the system, and the finding of alternative employment opportunities for existing guards (UN CHR, 27 November 2002).

No progress has been made by the government to abolish the village guards. In 2005, the government announced that it was considering the gradual dissolution of the system; and recruitment of village guards was discontinued in accordance with a government decree adopted in 2000 (IDMC/TESEV, June 2006; UN CHR, 6 April 2005). In its national IDP strategy adopted in August 2005 (Measures on the Issue of Internally Displaced Persons and the Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project in Turkey) the government recognised problems relating to the guards and noted that, “Complaints concerning provisional village guards will be given priority within the framework of returns” (GoT, 17 August 2005). However, a new law relating to the village guards was adopted on 27 May 2007, which suggests that the government may be taking steps to bolster rather than abolish the system in response to security concerns in the region. Under the law, a Provincial Governor can request the approval of the Ministry of Interior for an additional 40,000 village guards, while this number may be increased to 60,000 upon the decision of the Council of Ministers.

Landmines also remain a security concern and a hindrance to the return of the displaced population in some areas. In May 2006, Turkey reported a total of just under one million mines within the country and in particular along the borders with Iraq and Syria (LMG, July 2006). A particularly affected area is Hakkari province, where villagers have been reluctant to return because of landmines (LMG, July 2006). While Turkey is party to international agreements relating to landmines, civil society organisations note the need for more mine risk education and more systematic marking of mined areas (IDMC/TESEV, June 2006). The national IDP strategy acknowledges the problem of landmines laid by the PKK but remains silent on the issue of landmines laid by the armed forces. On 18 July 2006, the PKK committed to a ban on antipersonnel mines by signing a “Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti- Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action”, for which Switzerland and the Canton of Geneva act as guardians (MRG, 2006).

Restrictions to the freedom of movement continue, including roadblocks and checkpoints in certain parts of the south-east, restrictions which have increased during recent military operations. In March 2007, the US Department of State reported that local authorities in the south-east, citing security concerns, denied some villagers access to their fields and high pastures for grazing (US DoS, 6 March 2007).

Other obstacles to return

An important finding of the national IDP survey was that more than half of the displaced population (55 per cent) still wished to return to their areas of origin. The survey also found that half of them (50 per cent) were not aware of the government return assistance programme, the “Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project” (RVRP) (Hacettepe University, 6 December 2006).

According to official statistics collected at the provincial level, as of April 2007 an estimated 151,469 people have returned to their places of origin (GoT/UN Mission, 27 June 2007). This figure represents approximately 12 per cent of the total IDP population estimate of the national IDP survey (Hacettepe University, 6 December 2006; GoT/UN Mission, 27 June 2007). Research by national and international organisations indicates that apart from security concerns, the lack of economic opportunities, social services and basic infrastructure in south-eastern Turkey constitute a hindrance to return. In its 2006 report, the European Commission underlined the need for a comprehensive national plan to address socio-economic problems in the south-east (EC, 8 November 2006). There is an overall absence of development in the former conflict areas, which suffer from inadequate basic infrastructure, including clean water, electricity, telephone lines, schools and roads (HRW, 7 March 2005; CoE PA, March 2004; Turkish Daily News, 10 July 2005). Many displaced villagers are reported to return only temporarily, usually in the summer months, commuting between their villages of origin and nearby cities (HRW, 7 March 2005).

Problems faced by the urban displaced

Most government programmes have focused on return and the government has only recently acknowledged the particular problems of internally displaced people living in urban areas, many of whom remain invisible (UN CHR, 27 November 2002). Most displaced people have been living for nearly ten years on the peripheries of cities including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Adana, as well as in cities in the south-east such as Batman, Diyarbakir, Hakkari and Van (Kirisci, January 1998). IDPs are among the urban poor, sharing with other migrants the problems of acute social and economic marginalisation and limited access to housing, educational and health facilities. Problems particularly identified among forcibly displaced communities include the lack of psychosocial care despite a prevalence of psychological and emotional trauma, low levels of education and high unemployment among adults, and particularly among displaced women. Displaced children also have limited access to schooling, and child labour is reported to be an increasing problem in urban centres with significant IDP populations (MRG, December 2006; Turkish Daily News, 29 June 2005; CoE/PA March 2004; UNDP, Progress Report, 23 June 2006; IDMC/TESEV, June 2006).

While IDPs should benefit from a number of government programmes targeting the poorer segments of the Turkish population, these programmes have not taken into consideration the specific situation of the displaced. For instance, one criteria for determining poverty and eligibility to social assistance is not owning agricultural property. Many displaced people own rural property and therefore would be disqualified even if they have been unable to access their property for nearly a decade (IDMC/TESEV, June 2006).

Access to fair and just compensation

In July 2004, the government adopted the “Law on the Compensation of Losses Resulting from Terrorist Acts and the Measures Taken Against Terrorism” (Law 5233) to provide reparation for those who suffered loss or damage as a result of “action by terrorist organisations and measures taken by the government to combat it” during the period from 1987 to July 2004 (GoT, 17 July 2004). Compensation is provided for three types of damage: (i) loss of immoveable and moveable properties, animals, trees and agricultural products; (ii) physical injuries, disabilities and death; (iii) access to property which has been restricted or hindered due to measures taken in the framework of the “fight against terrorism”. The law is implemented by “Damage Assessment Commissions” made up of civil servants. As of May 2007, 100 Commissions had been set up in 75 provinces. A total of just under 270,000 people had claimed redress under the compensation law by the end of June 2007, and the total awarded to applicants had reached close to 288 million Turkish lira ($227m), according to the government (GoT/UN Mission, 27 June 2007).

In 2004, the compensation law was widely welcomed as a significant step to address the problem of internal displacement in Turkey. Applicants were required to submit their applications to the relevant authorities within one year of its coming into force, but the deadline for applications has since been extended twice, most recently on 30 May 2007, to allow people to make claims until 30 May 2008. The extensions have been necessary to give people adequate time to apply, as the national IDP survey found that almost half (46.6 per cent) of the displaced population were unaware of the law. A recommendation which emerged from the survey was that the government should implement a nationwide information campaign on the law.

While recognising the compensation law as a highly positive step, national and international NGOs and legal experts have drawn attention to a number of problems in the law and its implementation which may undermine displaced people’s right to just compensation. Criticisms include the lack of independence of damage assessment commissions and the absence of effective appeals procedures (HRW, December 2006; IDMC/TESEV, June 2006). In addition, concerns have been raised about the absence of a system to protect witnesses, many of whom may fear reprisals if they testify against the PKK, security forces or village guards over their role in house destruction and forced evacuation. Furthermore, the law contains no provision for legal aid to assist people in preparing their applications. It also does not provide for compensation for pain and suffering, whereas under European Court of Human Rights judgments (see e.g. Akdivar and Others v. Turkey, 1996) compensation has been paid to applicants for trauma suffered (HRW, 7 March 2005).

The government has made significant amendments to respond to some of the shortcomings in the law, and it has recently issued procedural guidelines to improve its implementation. In September 2005, the government adopted a regulation to alleviate the evidentiary burden of proof on applicants. The regulation is in line with the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment in the case of Dogan and Others v. Turkey, which stated that the burden of proof regarding eviction lies with the state rather than the applicant (Decision No: 2005/9329, 22 August 2005, Resmi Gazete, no. 25937). The regulation is intended to address the practice among Damage Assessment Commissions of placing high importance on documentary evidence, primarily written documents, leaving many IDPs automatically ineligible for compensation. It should be noted however that there continue to be reports from NGOs that IDPs are reportedly still being required to present proof of their eviction by the gendarmerie in violation of the regulation (IDMC/TESEV, June 2006).

The other main concern is related to the consistency and fairness in the application of the law with regard to the damage calculation and compensation process. There have been reports of inconsistent and inequitable applications of the law, both between provinces and in certain cases within the same province, resulting in uneven compensation and eligible applicants being denied compensation altogether (HRW, December 2006; RSG on the Human Rights of IDPs, March 2006). In 2007, the Ministry of Interior issued standardised guidance on award levels to the Damage Assessment Commissions to address this problem. The Ministry has also sought legal advice from international experts, provided training to the Commissions, and developed a database to standardise and harmonise their decisions (GoT/Mission, 27 June 2007). A monitoring and oversight mechanism was established within the Ministry of Interior to oversee implementation of these measures.

Prior to the adoption of the law on compensation, there was no national mechanism for IDPs to obtain compensation for property and possessions lost during displacement, and many people had no other recourse but to take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights. In 2006, the Court found in the case of Içyer v. Turkey that the law on compensation provides adequate domestic remedy (ECtHR, 9 February 2006). Approximately 1,500 cases relating to the possibility of return to villages have been declared inadmissible by the Court following the decision (EC, 8 November 2006).

A report by Human Rights Watch notes that since the European Court for Human Rights announced its decision in the Içyer case, there has been a noticeable deterioration in the implementation of the compensation law. The report found that Damage Assessment Commissions increasingly appear to apply “arbitrary and unjust” criteria in calculating compensation, resulting in low compensation amounts in numerous cases (HRW, 14 December 2006). There has however been no systematic analysis of decisions taken so far.

Progress in national policy

There was a shift in national policy towards IDPs following the visit of the UN Representative on IDPs, Francis Deng, to Turkey in 2002. Before that, the government had been for the most part unwilling to assist internally displaced people. National authorities long denied the role of government forces in displacement and claimed two decades of terrorism as the root cause of internal displacement in Turkey (UN CHR, 7 November 2003). Rather, local NGOs such as Göc- Der, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the Human Rights Association of Turkey were instrumental in assisting IDPs in the aftermath of displacement. In a bid to meet the conditions of EU membership, the Turkish parliament has in recent years adopted extensive legislative reform relating to human rights protection, in areas such as religious freedom, freedom from torture, freedom of association and expression, and has permitted media outlets to broadcast in minority languages including Kurdish. The EU accession process has helped put the issue of minority rights, including the rights of the primarily Kurdish displaced population, on the political agenda (BBC, 7 September 2004).

Important progress has been made by the government in the last four years towards improving the overall national policy and legal frameworks and identifying and facilitating durable solutions for Turkey’s displaced. A number of these measures have been outlined in the sections above, and include the adoption of a national IDP strategy in which the government commits itself to addressing the IDP situation in line with the international standards contained in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Other key steps include the government’s efforts to collect data on the IDP population and the amendments and procedural guidelines adopted to improve implementation of the compensation law. At the provincial level, the province of Van has adopted a strategic policy framework for IDPs, the Van Action Plan, based on broad consultation with civil society.

In February 2007, the Ministry of Interior designated its General Directorate of Provincial Administration as responsible for all IDP-related policies and programmes. The Directorate is responsible for overseeing overall national IDP policy as well as the compensation law and the national RVRP return programme (GoT/UN Mission, 27 June 2007; UNDP, 18 July 2007). The establishment of such an office could facilitate a more coordinated response and facilitate the continued development of relationships with civil society organisations working with displaced people, though some of them have reportedly not yet been informed of the creation of this new role. Relations between NGOs and the authorities in relation to internal displacement in Turkey have improved generally, but interaction is often ad hoc and difficult (IDMC, October 2006). Civil society organisations have called for more transparency and the opportunity to participate meaningfully and systematically in the development and implementation of IDP policy and programmes (IDMC/TESEV, June 2006).

The government has stated its intention to formulate a national IDP plan of action, but it has not yet produced it. The current UN Representative on the Human Rights of IDPs has called for the plan of action to be developed in consultation with civil society and IDPs; and it should be based on the extensive new data on the displaced population provided by the IDP survey. The Van Action Plan provides a concrete model for addressing IDP needs at the provincial level, based on which the government plans to develop further action plans for the other provinces. Implementation of the Van Action Plan began in September 2006, and the government says that 84 planned projects (requiring funding of close to 92 million Turkish lira or $72m) have been submitted to relevant national ministries (GoT/UN Mission, 27 June 2007; UNDP, 18 July 2007).

Some NGOs report however that implementation of projects has progressed slowly due to factors including insufficient resources.

The data provided by the national IDP survey provides a much fuller picture of the displaced population and their wishes and needs, which should also be taken as the basis to review the national return policy and the RVRP return programme. This programme, which was launched in 1994, has been extensively criticised on many grounds, including an overall lack of transparency and clear strategy and a lack of consultation with IDPs. The national return policy has also been found to be inconsistent, discriminatory, and underfinanced (HRW, 26 January 2004; CoE/PA, March 2004; EC, 5 November 2003). The national IDP survey found that 88 per cent of displaced people surveyed who had returned to their villages said that they did so without assistance from the government (Hacettepe University, 6 December 2006). Given that many IDPs will not return, there is also a need to provide concrete solutions for displaced persons who opt for local integration or resettlement. The government’s national IDP strategy aims to explore “the possibilities to provide support and assistance in order to facilitate the new living conditions for those citizens who do not wish to return and their integration into their new places of settlement” (GoT, 17 August 2005).

There has also been a call by civil society organisations for reconciliation initiatives from the government to address the issue of past human rights violations against IDPs, including killings, abductions, torture and the burning and destruction of property, committed by the security forces, village guards and PKK during displacement. This recommendation is linked to the analysis that steps the government takes on the IDP issue should be part of a wider solution to the Kurdish issue in order to ensure success (Turkish Daily News, 11 July 2006; IDMC/TESEV, June 2006).

Increasing engagement with international community

Progress made in Turkey to address internal displacement issues has been substantially influenced by regional and international actors. The May 2002 visit of the UN Representative on IDPs, Francis Deng, brought national attention to the issue and resulted in a series of recommendations to the government. The current Representative has maintained this dialogue over several visits to the country and has made subsequent recommendations to the government.

Turkey was recognised as an EU candidate country in 1999. In successive reports assessing Turkey’s progress in fulfilling the necessary criteria to start the accession negotiation process, the EU has called for the government to address the situation of IDPs, drawing attention to obstacles to return and calling for the improvement of socio-economic conditions in the south-east. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against the Turkish state in a large number of cases for its involvement in the forced displacement of its citizens, particularly in judgments regarding property destruction and disappearances. In June 2005, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted an Interim Resolution assessing Turkey’s compliance with more than 70 judgments of the Court relating to a wide range of human rights abuses committed by the security forces, handed down between 1996 and 2004 (CoE, 7 June 2005). Other regional bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly have also issued a number of recommendations and reports relating to internal displacement.

A formal agreement was reached in February 2006 between the UN country team and the government to implement a project entitled “Support to the development of an IDP Programme in Turkey”. The UN country team has established an IDP working group, through which it provides advice to the government. In the framework of the project, the United Nations Development Programme has translated the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement into Turkish to increase the awareness and knowledge of international standards relating to internal displacement among the government and civil society. UNDP has also coordinated training to government and civil society organisations and worked with the local authorities of Van province on a pilot return and reintegration strategy which can be replicated in other provinces.