Two Turkish soldiers die of hypothermia in Kurdish Dersim

The Turkish government said an army operation against Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy continued in the region.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Cold weather conditions and snowfall in the Kurdish province of Dersim killed two Turkish army sergeants during an operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkey’s government said on Saturday.

The duo thought to have separated from a larger group of Gendarmerie Special Operations (JOH) operating in a snow-clad woodland were found lying in a sleeping position in their winter military camouflage under a tree as seen in a picture widely shared on social media.

The area was at a 2,300 meter (7,545 feet) altitude.

“Two personnel have fallen martyr at around 18:30 on Friday due to hypothermia in the Nazimiye district’s Saribudak village in Tunceli,” an Interior Ministry statement read, noting the operations were going on as planned.

When found, they were still alive. Subsequently taken on a helicopter to a local hospital, medics failed to resuscitate them, it said.

Tunceli meaning “Iron Hand” in Turkish is the name Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk gave Dersim after his administration’s 1938 military conquest to bring the then largely self-ruling region under control and subject the local Alevi Kurdish population to genocide and Turkification.

The mountainous region is one of the most important strongholds for the Marxist-inspired PKK since the group launched guerrilla warfare for an either autonomous or independent Kurdistan in the aftermath of the 1980 army coup d’etat.

Four decades on and after tens of thousands of casualties mostly from Kurdish civilians and rebels, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-nationalist government often resort to geographically wide-ranging curfews on the whole towns and rural communities in Kurdish provinces to fight the PKK.

JOH, the unit that the two dead soldiers belonged to, has been the backbone of a war campaign Ankara adopted to reclaim rebel-held districts after a round of two-year-long peace talks with the PKK collapsed in 2015.

Tunceli’s chief public prosecutor opened an administrative investigation about the two soldiers’ freezing to death.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany