Monday, 18 November 2013
Protests as Turkey erects border wall
On Thursday, thousands of Kurds protested against the construction of a wall separating the border towns of Nusaybin, on the Turkish side, and Al Qamishli, on the Syrian side, by Turkish authorities. The protesters have temporarily put a stop to preparatory building work while their grievances, concerning the division of their community, are aired. The demonstration has complicated the ongoing peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party as the conflict in Syria has spilled over into neighbouring countries.
The protest in Nusaybin, organised by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, was tolerated by Turkish police for most of the day, however, riot police later deployed tear gas as a sit-in got underway in the early evening, dispersing the majority of the crowd. BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas accused Turkey of siding with radical Islamist rebels against Kurdish groups seeking their own autonomous state in Syria, suggesting that the government desired to divide Syrian Kurds from their ethnic counterparts north of the border.
Ankara has justified the two-metre high wall on the grounds of “security”, arguing that it will prevent smuggling and the free movement of rebel fighters across the border, while denying its sponsorship of extremist groups and the existence of any sectarian agenda. Despite this denial, many residents living on the frontier zone joined in the protest, as they felt the wall would have an adverse effect on visiting family and friends living on both sides of the border. Questioning the Turkish government's explanation, Nusaybin's Mayor, Ayse Gökkan, asked: “Why do they not build walls further west, where rebel fighters and Al-Qaeda are allowed to cross the border freely?” Gökkan has since taken part in a hunger strike.
Turkey has absorbed close to half a million refugees from the conflict on its doorstep and continues to maintain its open-door policy to those fleeing the violence. The wall, seen as a temporary security measure, is set to span only a tiny section of the 560 mile border.