In the Kurdish towns of southeastern Turkey, the war is coming home. Since the collapse of the peace process between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels last year, a devastating conflict has unfolded in the urban centers of the region, pitting young militants against Turkish military and police.
The Kurds are an ethnic minority group spread throughout Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, with hundreds of thousands more living in diaspora. Inside Turkey, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, known by the acronym PKK, has waged an insurgency against the central government on and off for decades.
When the conflict reignited in the summer of 2015, a new generation of Kurds was initiated into the violence. Young Kurdish militants seized control of neighborhoods in towns in the southeast. The Turkish military placed entire towns under 24-hour curfews and shelled residential areas, destroying more than 6,000 buildings and displacing more than 350,000 people.
At least 338 civilians have been killed since last summer, according to Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation. And the government says that more than 500 members of the security forces have been killed, along with around 5,000 Kurdish militants in both Turkey and Iraq.
Kurdish armed groups have also carried out a series of bombings in the capital, Ankara, and in Istanbul. On June 7, 11 people including seven police officers were killed in a car bombing in Istanbul claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, which is reported to be a PKK splinter group.
For the Turkish-born photographer Emin Ozmen, there’s little hope of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. “[It] brings a lot of anger to the young Kurds who are living in this region,” he says. “I feel that the long-term costs of these operations will be high, even if the fighting stop. Children and teenagers feel more and more disconnected from their country.”
Ozmen, who’s been documenting the conflict for the past year, feels a responsibility to photograph the impact, both physical and psychological, of this issue. “A hidden war is going on right now in Turkey,” he says. “But without evidence, there is no war, that’s why it’s important for me to document it.”
With reporting by Olivier Laurent