Zero justice as trials of unsolved murders glossed over one by one

Although many criminal cases were filed against military and civilian officials in the ’90s when the number of unsolved killings in the Southeast was at its peak, none of these trials upheld justice as almost all of them have been glossed over.

Here is a report by Ayşenur Parıldak, Today’s Zaman.


 

Turkey‘s history is filled with unsolved murders, and the figures on the exact number of such murders are contradictory. According to official numbers, investigations into 200 murders committed in the region between 1994 and 1995 alone were closed because the statute of limitations had passed. Parliament documents indicate 17,500 crimes of this type were reportedly committed in the region during the 1990s. They largely remain unsolved and the perpetrators have gone unpunished. The inquiry process is believed by many to have been halted on government instructions.

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Some cases heard by local courts were later transferred to western provinces, but none of these cases yielded results that were satisfactory to the victims’ families.

The country is again debating the issue of notorious unsolved murders after the death of Diyarbakır Bar Association head Tahir Elçi in a mysterious murder last month.

Remarks by pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş that he has concerns over a proper investigation being conducted into the murder have also cast doubts on the prospect of any light being shed on the murder any time soon.

Elçi in fact complained last year that cases were being closed one by one due to expiring statute of limitations. With the recent abolishment of specially authorized courts, the number of cases dropped is expected to rise as many ongoing investigations have come to a sudden halt and assigning new prosecutors to cases could take at least a year, experts suggest. Since many of these cases are approaching the 20-year deadline, it is likely that even more murder cases will remain unresolved and that there will be no justice for the victims.

In a case that concerned the killing of 13 villagers in the Derik district of Mardin province in 1993, Gen. Musa Çitil, the gendarmerie commander in charge of the region at the time, was indicted in 2012 and faced 13 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for his role in the deaths. Although the case was being heard at the Mardin High Criminal Court, it was later transferred to the Central Anatolian province of Çorum. The general was acquitted.

According to the prosecutor, Çitil was responsible for creating false military records related to the deaths of the 13 villagers. They were recorded as being Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists, although they were simply civilians. He was even promoted by the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ).

In a similar vein, a case was filed in 2013 against army officers including Brig. Gen. Mete Sayar for their alleged involvement in an incident in which six villagers went missing in 1993 in the Silopi district of Şırnak. The case was also transferred to Ankara from Diyarbakır, and all of the suspects in the case were later acquitted.

In a most recent case, all the suspects in a trial concerning a string of murders believed to have been committed by JİTEM, an illegal counterterrorism unit, between 1993 and 1997 in the Southeast were acquitted last month, leading to disappointment among the victims’ families and civil society groups.

The eight defendants, including Kayseri Provincial Gendarmerie Battalion Commander Col. Cemal Temizöz and former Cizre Mayor Kamil Atak, were cleared of involvement in the deaths of 21 Kurds two decades ago. Many European officials and activists have considered the trial a test of rights reforms.

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Trials of many other similar cases are also still ongoing, with hopes fading for justice to be served at the end of these trials. The suspects in a trial into the deaths of 11 villagers in the Kulp district of Diyarbakır who disappeared after they were detained by the Bolu Gendarmerie Brigade Command in 1993 face charges including killing more than one person and encouraging someone to murder. The case was recently transferred to Ankara, and the ninth hearing in the trial was held last week.

Justice has also yet to be served in a case filed over a 1993 incident in which nine people from the same family, including seven children and a pregnant woman, were set ablaze in their house as part of an operation launched by the Hasköy Gendarmerie Command in the Altınova district of Muş.

The trial in which many gendarmerie officials are standing trial was transferred to the Central Anatolian province of Kırıkkale from Muş and no verdict has been handed down in the case although 23 years have passed.

Light has not been shed on the murder of Kurdish intellectual Musa Anter, who was killed in 1992, either. The murder is believed to have been committed by JİTEM, which took the law into its own hands and terrorized the Kurdish population in the Southeast throughout the 1990s. Military officials have denied the existence of JİTEM on various occasions.

Court cases dealing with murdered Kurdish intellectuals have been transferred from predominately Kurdish southeastern provinces — where the crimes were committed — to western provinces in what relatives say are a way of dropping the cases due to expiration of the statute of limitations.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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