Can Turkey’s Kurds, military ever reconcile?

A court case in Diyarbakir provides hope for the first time for reconciliation between the Turkish military and Kurdish citizens.

al-monitor Riot police use tear gas to disperse pro-Kurdish demonstrators during a protest in the southeastern Turkish town of Nusaybin, on the Turkish-Syrian border, Nov. 7, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS.

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turkey-pkk talks, turkey, reconciliation, pkk, military, kurds, kurdistan workers party, abdullah ocalan

Dec 18, 2013

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Resolving the Kurdish issue in Turkey is no easy task. Right or wrong, Turkey’s Kurds have deep layers of resentment for the way the state has treated them. And that notion remains the most significant stumbling block before an acceptable peace, for the chances of reconciling the relationship between the Kurds and the military still look very dim.

However, a state prosecutor in Diyarbakir provided an unprecedented hope — something that the locals here in Diyarbakir actually consider to be more meaningful than the government’s Kurdish opening — when he filed an indictment on Oct. 22 about a treacherous case just a day before it would have been automatically declared nullified due to the statute of limitations.

“After 20 long years, we now have hope, just because of one soldier, to prove that my dad is innocent of the crime he is accused of and jailed unjustly for 18 years,” Selma Ozkan told Al-Monitor in Diyarbakir. “If this soldier didn’t have the courage to tell the truth to the prosecutor, we would have lost all our chances of saving my dad. He is 75 years old and still suffering from the remnants of heavy torture.”

That soldier is Huseyin Oguz, who was in the region back then as a Gendarmerie Intelligence first sergeant. Speaking to Al-Monitor, the retired Oguz said, “The Kanas-style gun that killed Brig. Gen. Bahtiyar Aydin was brought to Lice by a soldier from the 7th Rapid Reaction Corps in Diyarbakir. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) never used such a gun in its operations. There was a bad strain within JITEM, [the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counterterrorism Organization]. If one really were to know what they have done to these people, it was inhumane. I just shared with the prosecutor’s office what I know, as a responsible citizen. That is all!” 

Oguz never worked in JITEM.

A PKK informer back then told state authorities that Mehmet Ali Ozkan, Selma’s father, killed Aydin. Selma, however, told Al-Monitor that her father was at Yolcati village, about 7-8 kilometers (4-5 miles) from Lice, and that he had never accepted guilt for the crime of which he was convicted.

On Oct. 22, 1993, Aydin, commander of the paramilitary gendarmerie in the principal southeastern province of Diyarbakir, was killed in the town of Lice, less than an hour's drive from Diyarbakir's city center. The Turkish General Staff said he was shot to death by a bullet to the chest while in the barracks in Lice. Turkish official statements spoke of an all-day rebel attack by at least 300 PKK fighters, describing the scene as an all-out barbaric attack against Turkish soldiers.

“When the [pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party] BDP proposed that a commission be established in the parliament to find the truth of what had really taken place in this locale, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan started the talks with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, I thought the time was ripe enough to tell the story of Lice from our side,” Veysi Polat, the producer of "Hawala Lice" ("Lice’s Outcry"), told Al-Monitor. "Hawala Lice" is the documentary film telling the story of what had taken place in Lice on the day Aydin was killed. “My mother and sister were at Yolcati (in Kurdish, Sese) village on that day to visit my uncle’s grave. She told me back then that the village was empty. There was no one. So they walked to Lice only to witness and live through that horrific day. They had to hide in a barn for four full days to save their lives.”

The documentary, the first of its kind in telling the story totally from the Kurdish perspective, contradicts the state’s argument that there was severe fighting between the PKK militants and the military. The state prosecutor’s indictment shows that there was actually no damage in any of the military compounds that could stand as evidence of heavy fighting with PKK militants.

Kerem Canturk still sobs while telling the story of what happened on that day, incapable of comprehending why the military had targeted them. “I collected with my hands the brains of my 4-year-old daughter Suna under this wall, our home’s wall,” he said in the documentary. “The shrapnel pieces hit the eye of my 2-year-old daughter, Dilbirin, and my 4-year-old boy, Huseyin, was killed, too. Why?”

He added: “If there is anyone to be called terrorist, it is those who attack us with their tanks and weapons.”

Yunus Muratakan, who was 7 on the day of the incident, said, “They targeted our school. We were about 300 students, all terrified. We were fired at for hours and hours. I still live with the trauma of that day.” Yunus is now a graduate of Istanbul Law School and has been actively following these cases in Diyarbakir and its surroundings. “It’s not that we surrender to violence to resolve our issues, but the state brutality is not coming to an end,” he told Al-Monitor. “The world is changing, and Turkey needs to change and start hearing us as well. This documentary is a good step, but the government is just trying to paint the image that we faced our dirty past. We did not. Not yet. Remember what happened in Roboski [Uludere] just two years ago, and this government still has not found those responsible for killing those 34 innocent civilians.”

Polat, however, is more optimistic. “We will send this documentary to the parliament with a hope of contributing to help build a better communication and allow people to see what we have gone through here,” he told Al-Monitor. “Look, there are good things happening. Yes, the state did not ask what really happened in Lice 20 years ago on that day, but they are finally taking a step in the right direction by deciding not to close that case. The Diyarbakir state prosecutor has finally filed the case against Diyarbakir Gendarmerie Cmdr. Esref Hatipoglu, and 1st Lt. Tunay Yanardag [facing sentences] for 24 years or life imprisonment. We are finally being heard, and this is a huge step forward.”

Mehmet Emin Ozkan is waiting to appear before the court in Diyarbakir on Jan. 24 with the hope of being released from prison for a crime he did not commit and clearing his name of being Aydin's killer.

“One needs to look back carefully to 1993. It was not only Bahtiyar Aydin who was killed, but the most beloved commander, Esref Bitlis, was also murdered, as well as President Turgut Ozal, who died that year, too. He did not believe that this Kurdish issue could be resolved by military means, but that could only be done by putting human rights before anything else. When Bitlis was killed, he was carrying a detailed study of how to address this issue. Ozal trusted Bitlis, and they were both from Malatya. But there were those who did not see this fit into their interests, and they preferred this fighting to continue. This prime minister is now taking a very courageous step, and he also needs to be supported and given a chance to find a solution to this issue.”

But, still, the path ahead is a complicated one. Mehmet Emin Ozkan's wife, Emine Ozkan, spoke to Al-Monitor. Her eyes grew wet as she related how one of her daughters went up to the mountains to join the PKK after her husband was unjustly put in prison and tortured. “She was killed in 2000. I did not even see her dead body and bury her,” she said. “My two sons also joined the PKK. Both are in jail now, and one is in the same cell with his dad, taking care of him there. And I just pray to God that I will see my husband free before he dies.”

Her daughter Selma picks up the story. “The state held us responsible for the damage occurred on that day — about 60 million Turkish lira. We have no money, no nothing. Yet, the state was convicted and charged to pay us compensation for burning our village, Yolcati. And they decided to count our share as part of the debt we owe to the state. We sure want to see my dad free, but we will then file a case against the state to pay us compensation.”

“I lost my daughter and live longing for my sons and husband. Who could give the time we lost back to me? Who can bring back my daughter?” Emine said.

Selma had the last word: “Peace for us is to live in our villages without seeing the face of any state security force. We want to live free.”

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