Children don’t play soccer or tag in southeastern Turkey. They wish they did. But the several thousands of landmines that are scattered across over 3,000 villages won’t allow them. According to the Turkish-based Human Rights Association, and Association for Social Awareness (ASA), the regions of Mardin, Sirnak, Hakkari, Siirt, Diyarbakir, Bitlis, Batman, Van and Bingol are especially overrun with landmines.
Landmines were planted as a result of an intense conflict in Turkey’s southeast over the past several decades. Both Turkish government forces and opposition rebels are guilty of planting the deadly weapons. Landmine Monitor estimates that over 930,00 mines were planted between 1957 and 1998.
Though the number of landmines in Turkey is grossly high, there is little information about them. There are no studies, research or evaluation about the risks of unexploded mines. Moreover, there are no laws on behalf of mine victims.
Since June 2008, as ASA, we have been fighting to eliminate landmines and raise awareness to protect the public. We are committed to making landmine awareness a human rights issue that the Turkish government needs to tackle. Toward that end, in 2006, we conducted a survey in Hakkari, collecting data about unexploded mines and information about those injured by mines. From 2006 to 2007 we rolled out a “Therapy and Prosthetics Project” that provided prosthetics to 65 landmine victims. It culminated in the publication of a book entitled Geride Kalanlar.
These efforts have shed much needed light on the plight of those living in the southeast of Turkey, often under harsh conditions of poverty, gender inequality and poor education. Organizations such as Turkish Philanthropy Funds are critical in helping move our efforts forward.
One of those efforts has been the “Mine and Conflict Waste Education for Children” program. Piloted in Hakkari, this program aims to reduce the risk of harm that unexploded landmines can have on children. The project is currently run in public elementary schools where children between 7 and 15 learn about the dangers of landmines and other explosives. It’s touched 20,000 in Hakkari. Since the program started there have been no landmine accidents.