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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Kurds' desperate return home
Villager rebuilds house
Villagers use whatever they can to rebuild their houses
By Chris Morris in south-eastern Turkey

In the village of Saklat, they are rebuilding their houses, stone by stone.

If the state isn't willing to give us a hand, even help sent from abroad won't reach us

Kurdish villager
This village was evacuated and burnt by the army in the early 1990s - a pattern repeated across the region as the authorities tried to cut supply lines to the Kurdish rebel movement, the PKK.

The strategy was brutal but effective, and the villagers paid the price.

The PKK has now withdrawn, and the war is all but over.

A few people were given state aid to help them come back to Saklat - an example, officials said, of things returning to normal.

Piles of stones

But many people say they have had no assistance at all.

Haci and his family live in the destroyed school as they try to rebuild their home
"We need food, and materials for building houses like cement and iron," says Recep, a villager rebuilding his home. "We also need electricity and water."

"If they help us get started we can solve our problems. It's not impossible, but we are expecting the state to help. If the state isn't willing to give us a hand, even help sent from abroad won't reach us," he says.

Up in the mountains, the situation is even more desperate.

Haci and his family look after their small flock of sheep and goats - they are the only family which has come back to the village of Merani.

Most Kurdish villages across the region remain deserted, there is nothing left but piles of stones.

Turkey should be ashamed. I know there was a war but even war should have some rules

Kutbettin Polatwe
Many people have been refused permission to return to villages where a state of emergency is in force.

Others simply can't afford it.

"These houses used to be full of people, about 150 or 200 families," Haci says. "But they all left when the village was set on fire. They've all applied to come back, but they've got no money to rebuild their houses.

"I haven't got any money either but for now I'm living in the remains of the village school."

City life

Most refugees remain trapped in the big cities, living in basic conditions in shanty towns and tower blocks.

Kurdish children in city
Many Kurds remain stuck in the cities, unable to return
Life in these cramped communities is hard, but some Kurds hope big compensation claims at the European Court of Human Rights could eventually give them the economic power they need to make a fresh start.

A government form sent out to people who want to go back to their homes asks why they left their village in the first place and suggests a series of options, such as terrorism, health or family feuds.

Being forced out by the army does not get a mention. And signing a form like this could prejudice any future legal action against the state.

Government form
The government form could prejudice later legal action
"If they try to make us to fill in this form, to say we left our villages for reasons other than the facts - that would be an insult," says Kutbettin Polatwe who received the form.

"Because we suffered huge problems for 15 years during the war, we were psychologically affected. The village in which I was born and raised has been wiped off the map.

"Turkey should be ashamed. I know there was a war but even war should have some rules."

It is clear that the demand among the displaced to return and rebuild is as strong as ever.

Most people in the south-east are not revolutionaries - but they say the state destroyed their houses, and they want the state to help rebuild them.

In the current conditions of national economic crisis, they may have a long wait.

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See also:

02 Feb 01 | Europe
Turkey: Angry man of Europe
26 Jan 01 | Europe
Ocalan warns of fresh attacks
09 Feb 00 | Europe
PKK ends war with Turkey
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