Britta Eder – Lawyer
Gül Güzel – Journalist
Martin Dolzer – Sociologist and research assistant to Bundestag member Heidrun Dittrich, The Left Party
Around the time of our 21-day Human Rights Delegation visit in September 2011 the following events occurred:
- 8 civilians were killed by Turkish soldiers and police officers
- in Hakkari/Şemdinli and Batman, Turkish soldiers and police went round firing indiscriminately in both towns using live ammunition and grenades, in reprisal for guerrilla actions.
- one guerrilla, detained in Batman, was extrajudicially executed by police
- 900 persons associated with the BDP, with human rights work and the media were arrested
- targets in Northern Iraq were incessantly bombed by the Turkish army, in contravention of international law
- Prime Minister Erdoğan stated on several occasions that the time for dialogue with the Kurds was now past
Following re-election of the AKP Government in June 2011 the mood in Turkey and the country’s Kurdish provinces has darkened. In Istanbul people speak of a radical gentrification programme in the city areas around Taksim Square. For at least three years now the Kurdish population, along with Sinti and Roma, have been systematically driven out of these areas. Mafia-style methods are routinely used in this exercise. Big construction firms send in the bully boys to threaten those who refuse to move out of their homes with little or no compensation. And once the redevelopment work is completed, these people are not allowed back.
Since the election, moreover, the countless street cafés and music bars in Taksim and Beyoğlu are no longer allowed to put their tables and chairs outside on the street after ten o’clock in the evening. Police officers, either in civilian clothes and visibly armed or in uniform, roam the streets Wild-West-style keeping a close eye on what is going on. The free and relaxed nightlife of the area around Taksim Square, with its pronounced and emancipatory subculture of music, art and theatre, seems to be a thorn in the AKP’s side. We were told that policemen frequently threaten café owners and increasingly are in uniform when they visit an establishment. CCTV cameras have been installed everywhere, even in the side streets off the main thoroughfare of İstiklal Caddesi.
In addition, persons with a slightly darker complexion or who look Kurdish often have to endure racist abuse by the police during random identity checks. They are insulted by the “security forces” on account of their Kurdish or Armenian origin, and are told they should “Go home”. People wearing Kurdish insignia are very likely to suffer police harassment. During the last three months this has fostered feelings of anxiety and anger in many people at these oppressive practices.
The reality now is that it is not “just” thousands of activists – 4 400 Kurds were imprisoned in connection with the KCK trials – but the whole of the Kurdish population who are being oppressed.
The city of Van has seen a marked change in atmosphere since the parliamentary elections. The mood in the streets is quiet, very cautious and tense. On 28 August 2011 the Van city councillor, Yildirim Ayhan (BDP), was assassinated by soldiers. He had been taking part in a peace rally in Hakkari/Çukurca by “human shields” organised chiefly by the Peace Mothers. We were able to talk to 17 eyewitnesses. All of them described the same scenario: In the course of the human shields rally, soldiers deliberately fired on the demonstrators, who were engaged in a peaceful sit-down protest, using tear gas grenades and live ammunition. They targeted a group which included the BDP member of parliament Aysel Tuğluk and several BDP local government officials. One of the many shots struck Yildirim Ayhan in the chest, going right through to his spine. He died of his wounds just moments later.
Ever since 2009 the “security forces” have repeatedly and deliberately used tear gas against demonstrators. Several people have died as a result, and many have been injured. Shortly after the 2011 elections two newly elected BDP members of parliament from Istanbul spent the night in hospital as a result of this kind of injury. During the same period a 54-year-old woman was killed in this way in Şirnak. Yildirim Ayhan, a man who gave his all for peace and worked to ensure local policies tailored to people’s needs, is mourned by his family, the city administration and the public at large. More than 25 000 voters had supported him in the elections to the city council.
These targeted attacks on Kurdish representatives are unacceptable and are the deliberate instrument of an inhuman policy of occupation. The Governor of Van falsely accused the “human shields” of stone-throwing, instead of apologising to the families and changing the practice of using tear gas against human beings. The funeral for the city councillor was also fired on by police using tear gas grenades. The graveyard was set ablaze in the process. Behaviour like this can only be described as inhuman and cynical.
Self-organisation and autonomy
The project of democratic autonomy is being implemented by the Kurdish movement on an ever-broader basis. Part of the work in municipal district councils involves the framing of specific policies which are discussed and developed in response to people’s needs. This input from grassroots democracy gives the public a direct voice in the development of society. Women’s councils too are extremely energetic. As a result the alienation due to policies shaped exclusively by representatives chosen in elections is gradually disappearing. A further aim of democratic autonomy is the peaceful coexistence of all living beings on an environmentally sound basis, and a federalist structure for the whole of Turkey within which the interests of all ethnic and religious groups can be better represented.
Early in September a number of generals, including General Chief of Staff Necdet Özel, visited the governors of several Kurdish provinces to discuss the way forward in the “dispute” with the PKK. Necdet Özel is known as a hardliner on the Kurdish question and proof exists that in 1999 he gave the order for a poison gas attack in which 19 PKK guerrillas died. During the generals’ visit to Van the streets around the governor’s office were guarded by soldiers armed with heavy machine guns and police officers in full riot gear, including bulletproof vests. The outcome of the meeting between generals and governors has not as yet been made public.
Every day police officers in bulletproof vests and carrying machine pistols at the ready patrol the streets of Van. Armoured vehicles and water cannons are also deployed at numerous points in the city centre.
Arrests in Van, Çatak, Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Mersin and Adana
In Van and Van/Çatak the police arrested a number of people on Friday, 9 September – 19 in Van and 10 in Van/Çatak. Four of those held are reportedly members of guerrilla organisations. Prior to this a policeman had been kidnapped by persons as yet unknown.
Whilst the detainees were being arraigned before the magistrate, relatives and friends, human rights activists and members of the BDP and Peace Mothers were meeting in cafés near the courthouse. Helmeted police raced through the streets in which the cafés were located, threatening those waiting with riot batons and dispersing them. There was no reason for action of this kind, and certainly no justification from a legal point of view. It seems that any form of public criticism or solidarity is to be outlawed. To begin with, some of the police sought to intimidate us too. They were stopped by an officer-in-charge who said that we were tourists. Despite its inhuman behaviour the Erdoğan Government is clearly set on presenting world opinion with a picture of normality and the rule of law. The entire court was secured by helmeted police.
A further wave of arrests – 900 in the space of a month
During the period of our Delegation visit a total of 900 people were arrested in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey, in Istanbul and in Izmir, chiefly members of the BDP or persons working in human rights and the media. They included the mayors of Şirnak, Silope and Idil, the deputy mayor of Şemdinli, municipal councillors and BDP chairmen from Şemdinli, Van, Istanbul, Adana, Batman, Diyarbakir and many other towns and cities.
On our arrival in Van one BDP member told us: “Anyone who openly tells the truth about what’s going on gets arrested.” And that is how it is.
Turkish soldiers and police gun down wedding guests and young people in Şemdinli
On the night of 11 September four people were killed by Turkish soldiers and police at a wedding party and during no-holds-barred firing on apartment blocks in the Kurdish town of Hakkari/Şemdinli. The wedding took place in front of and inside the town hall building. Şemdinli is controlled by the socialist, pro-Kurdish Democratic Peace Party (BDP), and the Kurdish movement is very powerful here. According to eyewitness reports, the “security forces” opened fire throughout the town using heavy weaponry, grenade launchers and live ammunition, in reprisal for a PKK guerrilla attack on a police station and a gendarmerie post.
Hardly any house in the town remained unmarked by bullet holes after this action by the “security forces”, which was a breach of both martial and international law. The town hall building was systematically riddled with bullets by police and the army. We could see bullet holes in virtually all the building’s windows. People fled to the rear of the building during the shooting and had to stay there for several hours. Fourteen-year-old Osman Erbaş was hit by a bullet in the lobby area. Several people were seriously hurt. Osman Erbaş bled to death on the way to hospital. Soldiers blocked his removal for hours.
Meanwhile Necdet and Tayyar Güreli and Resul Çetin were killed by a grenade on a hill surrounded by apartment blocks whilst they were watching events from afar. Resut Ersol died of his injuries in the Van hospital on 14 September.
The military also attacked countless houses with machine gun and rocket fire – amongst them the home of bookstore owner Seferi Yilmaz. A missile tore through part of the wall of his family home and remained lodged in it. Seferi Yilmaz’s bookstore had previously been attacked in 2005 by death squads throwing hand grenades. Two employees died. During the trial against the perpetrators – members of the gendarmerie (military police) who had bravely been denounced by the people of Şemdinli – the general chief of staff referred to the killers as “good lads”. In tandem with the attacks on houses, special police units destroyed a large number of dwellings in a raid.
Prior to these attacks PKK guerrillas had attacked a police and gendarmerie post. One soldier and a policeman died, and several others were wounded. The attack by the “security forces” on a wedding after the shooting was over has to be seen as a deliberate reprisal against the civilian population.
Several thousand people took part in three days of mourning in a marquee. They included many relatives of those murdered – some of them from neighbouring Iraq – and several BDP politicians. A commission consisting of members of the human rights associations IHD, Mazlum-Der and Meya-Der and the Hakkari Lawyers’ Association is preparing a detailed body of legal documentation on this crime against humanity. The Kaymakan (municipal governor) and the public prosecutor have refused to cooperate with the commission.
In late September a pregnant woman was shot dead by police in the Kurdish city of Batman along with her unborn child and her six-year-old daughter. Several eyewitnesses are unanimous in confirming this. The father and another daughter were wounded. Following an exchange of fire between guerrillas and soldiers the security forces opened fire indiscriminately in the city. This is the second revenge campaign by Turkish “security forces” in two weeks. The Governor falsely blamed the guerrillas for the deaths.
In the earlier exchange of fire three guerrillas and one policeman died. Video footage filmed on an eyewitness’s mobile phone shows police officers killing one of the guerrillas after first taking him alive.
Çatak and Görentaş
After 15 September we joined forces with an international delegation to investigate war crimes and the death of Ronahi/Andrea Wolf and the prosecution of the perpetrators in Turkey.
On 16 September 70 human rights defenders and politicians from Switzerland, El Salvador, Germany, Turkey and Kurdistan travelled to the mass grave in which Ronahi (Andrea Wolf) and about 40 more guerrillas, tortured and murdered by the Turkish military in 1998, lie buried. Delegation members included relatives of those murdered, Peace Mothers, members of Meya-Der (Association of Mesopotamian Families of Victims of Forced Disappearances), members of parliament, scientists, Friends of Andrea Wolf and members of the IUK, doctors and journalists. The IUK (International Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Killing of Ronahi/Andrea Wolf and Other Activists by the Turkish Military in Kurdistan and the Treatment of Prisoners of War and War Crimes) had previously liaised with the Van Human Rights Association IHD and obtained assurances from the Turkish authorities that the delegation could visit the mass grave near the town of Çatak without harassment by officials, the police or military, and could hold a rally there. Thereafter a fresh complaint was to be brought before the public prosecutor in Çatak.
On 15 September the Governor of Van withdrew this permission, supposedly because the delegation’s safety could not be guaranteed and because military operations were due to take place in the area. In talks which a negotiating group held with the Governor he could give no proper reason for blocking the rally at the mass grave. He became entangled in a mass of contradictions and grew aggressive. It was subsequently established that no military operations had taken place in the area either.
On 16 September we were stopped at a checkpoint by heavily armed troops shortly after leaving Çatak. At our repeated insistence, an officer whom we believed to be a gendarmerie commander showed us an order banning us from entering the area for security reasons. We were not allowed to take a copy of the order. The order bore the logo of the Turkish secret service MIT. We later learned that the checkpoint had been set up at this location especially for us and the supposedly regular troops were from a clearly well-trained special unit based in Van. Our discussions with the commander of this unit and our actions were filmed by the soldiers. All other vehicles were allowed to pass freely through the checkpoint.
We objected in the strongest terms to this politically motivated policy of obstruction, placed posters and photos of the murdered victims on houses and barriers at the checkpoint and held a sit-down protest. The Bundestag members Andrej Hunko and Nicole Gohlke (both of The Left Party) made representations to the Foreign Office and the German Embassy, and the Swiss human rights campaigner Oskar Schmidt appealed to the Swiss Embassy. Protest notes were sent to the Turkish Government. But there was no response. We believe that, politically, the German Federal Government too has little interest in seeing the murder of Ronahi/Andrea Wolf investigated, as this would lead to international complications. Notwithstanding a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, which found Turkey guilty of failing to act and of obstructing investigation of the crime, the public prosecutor’s office and the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court have also declined to reopen the case in Germany.
Village guardians and surviving guerrillas told human rights campaigners that following her capture Ronahi/Andrea Wolf had been subjected to racist insults, raped and tortured to death. The other guerrillas too had been taken prisoner and then extrajudicially put to death.
We drove to Çatak at lunchtime, handed in a new complaint to the public prosecutor’s office and held a demonstration in and around the town centre.
Afterwards we visited another mass grave in the vicinity of Van/Görentaş. Here 28 guerrillas had been ambushed and killed by the Turkish army. All but one of the guerrillas died in the attack. The sole female survivor was tortured, raped and killed. The soldiers doused the guerrillas’ corpses in a chemical solution. There are two eyewitnesses to this. The soldiers then cut off the head of the Kurdish commander, revered by his side for his courage, and put his severed head on show in the Çatak town hall. Even the current AKP mayor describes these events as a whole as a manifestly unacceptable war crime.
On the evening of 16 September PKK guerrillas stopped a supply vehicle from the barracks where we were detained, allowed the driver to get out and then torched the vehicle. After that the whole area was sealed off by troops.
On 21 September we visited three mass graves near the town of Mutki in Bitlis province. One of the graves holds the bodies of 9 students extrajudicially executed in 1999.
A few metres away, in a rubbish dump, is a mass grave containing at least 6 guerrillas, two of them women, who were captured and murdered in 1993. Even after it was known that bodies had been found there, rubbish continued to be dumped on the site. This is cynical. Such an unworthy practice has to stop forthwith.
Another mass grave some 400 metres from this site contains at least twelve guerrillas, some of whom were also killed after first being taken prisoner. There are eyewitnesses to all these events.
A truth commission is urgently needed to investigate all war crimes.
And it must not be forgotten that the number of war crimes committed by the Turkish military has risen sharply again since 2009. These crimes include torture and the mutilation of dead guerrillas, extrajudicial executions of civilians and captured guerrillas, and the use of chemical weapons.
More than 260 mass graves, thought to contain the bodies of over 1 500 people, bear witness to the cruelty and war crimes perpetrated against Kurds. For over 10 years now the Peace Mothers, human rights organisations like IHD, TIHV or Meya-Der have been trying, in the most difficult of conditions, to obtain investigations into the massacres perpetrated by the Turkish army.
Given the renewed escalation of the war and the huge increase in human rights violations in Turkey and Kurdistan it is essential that past war crimes be investigated and future ones prevented. To that end it is necessary for all military, political and economic support by the German Federal Government and arms industry to Turkey to be suspended immediately.
We know from an analysis of international conflict resolution processes that progress towards peace and democracy can only be achieved through open dialogue by all the parties concerned – for resolution of the Kurdish question this means the BDP Government, Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK – and through the proper acknowledgement and condemnation of war crimes.
A precondition of this is that mass graves should be properly and expertly opened in accordance with the UN protocols on the prevention and investigation of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Setting up a truth and justice commission in Turkey would be a further step in the right direction towards exposing genocide and femicide in Turkey and Kurdistan and paving the way towards a political solution of the Kurdish question.
Attempt at intimidation
In the night of 20-21 September 2011, two members of our extended human rights delegation, Martin Glasenapp (of medico international) and Martin Dolzer (sociologist and research assistant to Bundestag member Heidrun Dittrich), were forcibly taken by civilian police for interrogation at the police headquarters (Emniyet) in Van. On 20 September the two men had spoken out at a press conference in favour of peace talks that would involve all the players in Turkey, including Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK. They had also addressed the subject of human rights violations and war crimes which were once again on the rise in Turkey.
All those concerned had already been filmed and some of them insulted at the hotel. The interrogations lasted until 7 in the morning and the technique of sleep deprivation was used. The Van public prosecutor’s office had ordered this measure, on the alleged grounds of “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”.
The persons held were threatened with at least 24 hours’ further detention if they insisted on their right to remain silent and refused to sign a statement. They were screamed at by the police for refusing to sign and for demanding to know the police station’s telephone number so that they could pass it on to the embassy. When the embassy staff member called the police station she was first told, falsely, that the officials there spoke no English. Neither did the officials give their names.
Assessment – The AKP is seeking a modified Tamil-style solution
We have seen and experienced the reality that those who criticise or expose injustices in Turkey are again increasingly likely to be arrested or even killed.
We condemn in the strongest terms the repeated and targeted killing of civilians and BDP officials by Turkish security forces. Since the parliamentary elections of June 2011 the Erdoğan Government has been seeking a “Tamil solution” to the Kurdish question, and is implementing a modified form of this. In this context, escalation of the military conflict with the PKK – in contravention of international law – and the massacres in conjunction with systematic attacks on the civilian population, are manifestly politically motivated. The free expression of opinions and constructive work on behalf of local communities is punished by imprisonment. For the last month or so, in dribs and drabs, action has been taken against about 50 people a day. A policy of this kind is not acceptable. The fact that the Turkish Government describes peace endeavours by the Kurdish side and commitment to human rights as terror represents a barrier to any political solution.
The detention of two delegation members clearly shows that the raising of human rights violations is not tolerated under the AKP Government. Those detained were the two delegation members who had spoken not only about the war crimes of 1998 but also the incidence of human rights violations and war crimes which has again been on the rise in the last 3 years. The AKP is evidently keen to do all it can to prevent this kind of publicity and anything that might foster the possibility of peace talks. Anything other than submission to the neo-Ottoman grand plan of the Erdoğan Government is to be interpreted as terror or propaganda for a terrorist organisation.
The governments of Europe are standing by and doing nothing – or they are giving political and/or material support to Erdoğan’s policy. In any other Middle Eastern country human rights violations and war crimes like these would be punished by military intervention or by political and economic pressure. But an emancipatory, confident and well organised movement in the Kurdish provinces seems to be viewed as a potential example to rebels in the beleaguered Middle East or opposition forces in Europe. That is not what governments want. Government policy in Turkey and Europe is largely driven by geostrategic and economic interests. The aim is to secure one’s own positions of power and resources – oil, gas and minerals. Another aim is the unfettered opening up of new markets, as pointed out in the research paper of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs/SWP: “Die neue Kurdenfrage“ (“The new Kurdish Question”), published in 2011. In pursuit of those aims the AKP Government will ideally serve as a neoliberal Islamic role model in the energy hub that is Turkey. Against this background the practices of the dirty war are once again increasing, as they did in the 1990s. European leaders should be ashamed of their support for this policy.
Despite the repression and increasing breaches of human rights and international law, going as far as the attempted annihilation of the Kurds as a people, the Kurds refuse to abandon their continuing fight against systematic injustice and tyranny. Culture, art and political action are used as ways of coping with their traumas, resisting the impotence to which Government policy seeks to reduce them and achieving their aim of an emancipatory system of grassroots democracy.