It was a quiet summer night 35 years ago today in Eruh, a small town in the Siirt province, when gunshots rang out in the dark. Locals thought it was probably another blood feud being settled with guns, as was common in rural parts of the province. Nobody was aware then that it would be the beginning of a bloody campaign that would take decades and cause the deaths of thousands. Today Eruh marks the anniversary of the 1984 attacks by the PKK terrorist group, which plagued Turkey's southeastern and eastern regions for decades with its campaign of violence.
The terrorist group, which is cornered everywhere by continuous security operations and loses members daily, still remains active in the face of Turkey's renewed fight which focuses on eliminating the group's senior cadres hiding out in northern Iraq nowadays.
The small town of 10,000 people remembers vividly the attack that killed a soldier and injured nine other soldiers in a gendarme outpost in the town and though security operations largely ended the PKK presence in the region, the terrorist group still carries out small-scale attacks in the region. Last month, a soldier was killed when the PKK terrorists opened fire on security forces in a rural area of Eruh. Yet, Eruh also wants to be remembered as a place of peace which has shed its traumatic image.
The PKK, founded by a group of militants claiming to fight for Kurdish self-rule in the southeast, started its terror attacks simultaneously on Aug. 15, 1984, in Eruh and Şemdinli, a town in Hakkari province. Along with soldiers, three civilians were injured in Eruh while terrorists led by Mahsum Korkmaz, also killed two police officers in Şemdinli.
Eruh's incumbent mayor Cevher Çiftçi, was 17-years-old when the PKK attacked the gendarme outpost. He was sitting with friends at the town's square when they heard the gunshots. "We didn't know what happened. It was only after terrorists [who occupied a mosque in the town and used loudspeakers to convey a pro-PKK message] shouted from loudspeakers that this was a terror attack. It was the first time in our peaceful town that a terror attack happened," he says.
"We don't want to go back to those dark days and we will do everything we can to preserve the peaceful atmosphere we have today," the mayor says, urging businesses to invest in the town which largely depends on agriculture for income.
Ömer İnan was a young grocer in the town when he heard the gunfire. "I thought it was some fight over an eloped woman," he says, referring to young women eloping with their boyfriends after rejecting the suitor her family designated for her, once a common practice in the rural regions. "May Allah not bring back those days. People here have been victims [of the PKK] for years," he says, referring to attacks ensuing after the first one in 1984.
District governor Murtaza Dayanç says Eruh and the wider region suffered most from the terror attacks which stunted socioeconomic growth and made Eruh and other towns among the most disadvantaged in the country. "The people of Eruh had nothing to do with that treacherous attack but its name, unfortunately, made it synonymous with PKK terrorism. Today, the terrorist group is almost finished and this is because of the government's determined stance and heroics of our security forces, along with the help of our patriotic citizens standing against the terrorism," he says.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU, has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including many women and children.
After a brief lull, it resumed its terror attacks in July 2015 and since then it has been responsible for the deaths of more than 1,200 security personnel and civilians, including women and children, while more than 4,000 security personnel and over 2,000 civilians have been injured.