As photos of the naked and bloodied corpse of a female Kurdish militant recently trended on Twitter, women’s rights groups in Turkey reeled at an act of sexualized torture committed by Turkish police, who also allegedly leaked the images.
The pro-Kurdish group Save Kobane identified the body as Kevser Elturk, known by her nom de guerre Ekin Van. Elturk was a commander in the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an organization that has fought an armed campaign for a independent Kurdish state since 1984 in the area where Turkey, Syria, and Iraq meet, and which has recently been instrumental in repelling advances in the region by Islamic State (IS) militants. Turkey, NATO, and the United States have classified the PKK a terrorist organization.
Elturk was killed in clashes with Turkish security forces near the town of Varto in eastern Mus Province on August 10. The images of her remains and a description provided by those who later prepared her body for burial indicate that she was stripped of her uniform, dragged by the neck with a rope through town, and abandoned in the town square.
On August 16, the governor of Mus confirmed that security forces killed Elturk and declared that authorities were launching an investigation to determine who took the photos and distributed them on social media. His statement said nothing about prosecuting those who stripped and tortured her.
When VICE News contacted the office of the Mus governorate, they offered no further comment. The Congress of Free Women, a Kurdistan-based women’s group, is preparing to sue the state.
Elturk died in one of many firefights that have occurred since a two-year peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK collapsed in late July. The development followed an IS attack on Kurdish activists in Suruc who had met to plan the reconstruction of Kobane, a Kurdish border town that has become a symbol of resistance in the fight against IS. The bombing killed 33 people and injured over 100 others.
The PKK blamed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for abetting the attack, and hostilities between the PKK and the Turkish state quickly renewed with force.
A Turkish state news agency reported on Friday that security-force data shows that at least 771 PKK members and approximately 50 Turkish police and military members have died since July 22. The entire conflict has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
The treatment of Elturk’s body has enraged and united women’s and peace activists across Turkey, while also illustrating the peculiar contours of the fight for Kurdish self-determination amid the struggle to defeat IS.
Kurdish forces in the region, particularly the Peshmerga in Iraq and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, have fought against IS and consolidated territory in northern Syria. Turkey attempted to block PKK members from crossing into Syria to aid in the fighting, fearing that international praise of their effort against IS would benefit their cause.
The PKK and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a leftish and Kurdish-backed political party in Turkey, accuse the government of supporting IS by turning a blind eye to their jihadi transit route through Turkey. After IS attacked the activists in Suruc, the PKK retaliated by bombing a police station.
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