The ‘90s in Turkey were marked by heavy human rights violations of the state against its Kurdish citizens under the title “the fight against terror.” Where no effective and impartial inquiry was possible or pursued in these cases, and where it was impossible to try the perpetrators, each single murder, every massacre went unpunished; not only that but, in fact, many of the perpetrators were rewarded for their acts. During 1997 when the due process in the Susurluk Case finally started, it pointed towards gangs formed within the state for the purpose, then, later in the 2000s the Ergenekon inquiry brought to light to some of the networks of relationships in this regard.
Believing that justice would be served some day, the kith and kin of the victims, along with human rights organizations and lawyers spent extraordinary effort to make sure that the cases would not meet with statue of limitations and were eventually able to take a series of unaccounted for murders and enforced disappearances to court. Soldiers, commanders, village guards, and teams of special operation forces committing these crimes faced sanctions and hence, at the time there was some hope that the vicious cycle of impunity would be broken which is so important to reckoning with the past.
Today, unfortunately, it no longer seems possible to speak of a similar hopeful milieu. The state and the government have criticized the Ergenekon trials, declaring the suspects as having been wronged and set all of them free. Other human rights cases, the legal battles for which took such great effort to initiate and pursue have, in parallel fashion dimmed to the background following the government’s new security approach to the solution of the Kurdish problem and the culprits are being exonerated in one case after another.
The failibelli.org website aims to provide information on the ongoing court cases of the defendants’ based on the state’s policy of enforced disappearance and summary killings in the ‘90s. The website started by Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in 2012 is being updated by the Truth Justice Memory Center, i.e. Hafıza Merkezi since 2015.
The website provides general information, notes from trials, news, analysis on a handful of cases regarding enforced disappearances, in addition to tools of intervention and resources to empower the fight against impunity in these cases.
The main headlines from the cases that were monitored by failibelli.org from January to March 2016 are as follows:
Kızıltepe JİTEM* Trial: Demand for the Removal of Judges
Retired Colonel Hasan Atilla Uğur, Diyarbakır Province Gendarme Commander Colonel Eşref Hatipoğlu, Gendarme Commando Unit Commander Ahmet Boncuk, Sergeant Major Ünal Alkan and five village guards are being tried in court for the extrajudicial and arbitrary killing and enforced disappearance of 22 individuals in the Kızıltepe county of Mardin province 1992-96, based on articles 314/1-2 and 82/1.a of the current Turkish Penal Code, number 5237, for the crimes of “having formed or managed an armed organization, being members of an armed organization and deliberate killing.” Being a case of perpetrator unknow, we participated in its hearing held on Jan 15 2016. The decision concerning the demand for recusation was forwarded to the competent legal authority. (In this case, a different court) The next hearing will be held on April 27 2016.
Ankara JİTEM Trial: Former Minister of the Interior to be Heard
Nineteen individuals, among whom are former police chiefs and members of the special team, are being tried in the 1st High Penal Court of Ankara for having killed 19 individuals extra judicially and arbitrarily in Ankara and its vicinity during 1993-96. February the 26th hearing of the case was attended solely by defendant Ayhan Çarkın who is being tried for the offense of “killing by forming an armed organization to commit crimes” according to article 450/4-5 of the former Turkish Penal Code. In the earlier hearing those who had been called as witnesses, namely former Chief of Police Hanefi Avcı, politician and writer Fikri Sağlar, Vice President to the Nation Party Hikmet Çiçek and Republican People Party MP from İzmir, Tuncay Özkan gave their testimony. During the next hearing of the case to be held on June 17 2016, former Minister of the Interior Nahit Menteşe, former Chief of Police in Ankara, Orhan Taşanlar and retired Gendarmerie Brigadier General Veli Küçük will give their testimony while the demand to call former prime ministers Tansu Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz as witnesses will be appraised later.
Acquittal Decision in Vartinis (Altinova) Massacre Trial
Nine individuals, all members of the same family, were killed in the Vartinis (Altınova) hamlet of Korkut county in the Muş province on October 3, 1993, when their house was set on fire following allegations of having “aided and abetted the illegal terrorist organization”. In 2013 a suit was filed against Gendarmerie Lieutenant Bülent Karaoğlu, Hasköy county Gendarmerie Commando Company Commander Infantry Senior First Lieutenant Hanefi Akyıldız, Muş province Police Headquarters Special Operations Staff Section Chief Şerafettin Uz and Gökyazı Gendarmerie Police Station Commander Staff Sergeant Turhan Nurdoğan for “causing multiple deaths of individulas by deliberately burning a house”. During the June 15, 2015 hearing, the prosecutor delivering his opinion as to the accusations asked for a total of 180 to 225 years of prison sentence for each individual defendant. Before the final hearing on March 1, when the judgment of the court was expected, the only remaining member of the family along with some friends and constituents of the Coalition Against Impunity  held a press conference. In the final hearing held in the High Penal Court in Kırıkkale, the prosecutor, in a modification of his earlier judgment, asked for the acquittal of all defendants except for Bülent Karaoğlu while the court panel decided that all be acquitted with one vote against that of Karaoğlu.
The Kulp (Yavuz Erturk) Trial
Eleven civilians that were detained in a military operation led by the Bolu Brigade in the Kulp town of Diyarbakir in between October 8-October 25, 1993, were never heard of again. In the court case against Bolu 2nd Commando retired Brigadier General Yavuz Ertürk held on March 7, 2016, where he was being tried for the offenses of “killing more than one person for the same reason, inciting the public to rebellion and mutual killing and to form an organization with the aim of engaging in criminal activity” under articles 313/2, 450/4-5 and 149 of the old Turkish Penal Court, Hasan Kundakçı, Diyarbakır Gendarmerie Public Security Lieutenant General Commander at the time, was heard as witness. Since the intervening lawyers were unable to reach the list of commissioned military personnel at the official archives, the court panel decided to evaluate the proposal to find a list of soldiers who went on operations at the time through a newspaper ad. The next hearing will be held on June 20, 2016.
Musa Anter and the Main JİTEM Trial
In this trial two court cases have been merged and 18 defendants are being held responsible for the killing of 13 individuals, one of whom is the writer and journalist Musa Anter. In the official indictment concerning the killing of Musa Anter on September 20, 1992, the suspects, listed as Mahmut Yıldırım (code name Yeşil=Green), Aziz Turan (Abdülkadir Aygan), Savaş Gevrekçi and Hamit Yıldırım are being accused of “plotting to kill, acting as accomplices in this plot and inciting the public to armed rebellion” under articles 450/4-5 and 149 of the old Turkish Penal Code and asked that they be punished accordingly, while in the main JITEM trial many of the accused members of special operations teams, were accused of “creating an organization with the aim of engaging in criminal activity and killing more than one person”. In the hearing held on March 14, 2016, former head of the National Intelligence Service’s Counter-Terrorism Unit Mehmet Eymür and Ankara Police Commissioner Orhan Taşanlar at the time were heard as witness. The court panel decided that at the next hearing retired Gendarmerie Brigadier General Veli Küçük and at the time, Director of the Police Intelligence Unit Hüseyin Özbilgin, be heard as witnesses. In addition, it rejected a demand by the lawyers of both the plaintiff and the defendant that their cases be tried separately. The next trial date is April 25, 2016.
The Lice Trial
During a military operation held in the Lice county of Diyarbakır province on October 22 1993, 15 civilians, along with one soldier (Yüksel Bayar) and Gendarmerie Regional Commander Brigadier General Bahtiyar Aydın lost their lives. In the formal criminal charge brought against Diyarbakır Gendarmerie Regiment Commander Eşref Hatipoğlu and first lieutenant Tünay Yanardağ were accused of “creating an organization for the purpose of engaging in criminal activity, inciting the public to rebellion and mutual killing” under articles 313/2, 450/4-5 and 149 of the old Turkish Penal Court. In the hearing held on March 17, 2016 in the İzmir 1st High Penal Court, one of the defendants, Eşref Hatipoğlu appeared before the court. The request that he be arrested was rejected one more time while his demand to be excluded from the hearings was accepted. The next hearing has been postponed to June 23, 2016.
* Turkish abbreviation for Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terror Unit