Cukurca hopes for landmine-free future
Citizens want mines and other unexploded ordinance to be cleared.
By Toprak Ekinci for SES Türkiye in Hakkari -- 11/12/12
For Cukurca, Fatih Cetin's story is as familiar as it is heart-wrenching.
The father of five lost his left leg after stepping on a landmine while tending his wheat field. He's struggled to provide for his five children ever since, he told SES Türkiye.
"There's a landmine victim in almost every house in Cukurca. The mines have only brought us death," he said.
"There are even mines in the streets within neighborhoods. There's also unexploded ordinance. We're in a situation where we basically can't leave our homes."
Official statistics are hard to come by, but Cukurca residents estimate that since the 1980s, about 25 civilians have died from landmines and other explosive articles in the region that borders Iraq. Human rights groups say hundreds have been killed across Turkey, with many more wounded.
But the dream of a mine-free future has come closer to fruition in recent years. In 2003, Turkey signed the international anti-landmine treaty known as the Ottawa Convention, which calls on signatories to get rid of the explosives.
In a speech commemorating the UN's Mine Awareness Day, AKP Urfa deputy Zeynep Karahan Uslu hailed the convention as a milestone.
"This is certainly an important development in terms of ridding our country of landmines," she said, lamenting that the explosives "target everyone without distinction, including women, children and the elderly."
In a recent report based on data provided by the Turkish government, NGO Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor said that there are currently 977,163 landmines in Turkey, a decrease of 244 from 2011.
Most are scattered along the country's international boundaries, but they are also common in rural parts of politically volatile southeastern provinces.
Uslu said two-thirds of landmines in Turkey are located on the Syrian border and that the government is in the "final stage" of removing them.
"As a representative of Sanliurfa, which has the longest border with Syria of any province in Turkey, I would like to emphasise that this effort is expected to be completed in October 2016 and that this will be a big step for resolving this issue in our country, especially Sanliurfa," Uslu said.
Meanwhile, Cukurca residents said the risk hasn't gone away.
Last June, 12-year-old Saban Aslan died after stepping on a landmine in the town's outskirts. His friend, 13-year-old Hemgin Altay, was also injured and flown to Hakkari town for emergency treatment.
The mines and unexploded ordinance in the area come from ongoing military operations in the area, past operations and efforts to seal Turkey's international borders. They are most common in rural areas but have been detected in several neighborhoods of the town, residents said.
Both soldiers and civilians are constantly harmed by the explosives, according to locals.
Fehima Yilmaz, a Cukurca native whose 4-year-old son Umut died in 2007 when an explosive that he found while playing with a friend detonated, told SES Türkiye she wants authorities to clear out the mines as soon as possible.
"My heart was broken," she said. "No other mother should have to experience this."
Mikail Duman, whose father was killed by a landmine on the Iraqi border, agreed.
"My 12 siblings were left without a breadwinner. We were all children, but I remember the pain we felt that day as if it were yesterday," he told SES Türkiye. "I was 10 years old. We saw his mutilated body. We don't want anyone to die from landmines. Arab, Turk, Kurd, or anyone else. "
According to Uslu, a government project to clear mines from the eastern provinces is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2013, with two-thirds of it funded by AB pre-accession funds.
Cuma Tek hopes clearance efforts will succeed.
In 1994, he stepped on a mine while collecting kindling from Elmali plateau in Cukurca, losing his right eye and foot while sustaining injuries to his arm and various parts of his body.
"Around here, mines have poisoned many people's lives. I don't want anyone to die or suffer injuries from them anymore," the father of two told SES Türkiye. "The mine is a black spot on my life. The disability I suffered prevents me from finding work and providing for my children."
Tek added: "I want the authorities to prevent mines from being planted and collect those that have been scattered already. Everyone should hear our cries."