Justice in Turkey?

blood divider

Why are you so silent now? Who are you? What are you doing here? What is this comedy of justice? Why isn't somebody else interrogated, but me? Can you tell me? I haven't a clue? You have no idea either: You are just obeying the orders. -- Franz Kafka, The Trial

All our party offices, officials and members are under threat. We will not remain silent. We will continue our struggle for peace, democracy and freedom together with other forces and step up our legitimate struggle. We call upon all democratic forces to respond to these attacks. -- HADEP, People's Democracy Party

I believe that the Turk must be the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish stock can have only one right in this country, the right to be servants and slaves. -- Minister of Justice

Countless military expeditions have headed for Dersim. But none have been able to achieve complete success, because the people bind up their wounds and soon rise up once more. -- Ulkede Gundem, pro-Kurdish Daily Newspaper

HADEP, the People's Democracy Party, was formed on 11 May 1994 from the ashes of HEP and DEP. HADEP is a Turkish opposition party that speaks on behalf of the Kurds.

HEP was declared illegal on 14 July 1993 by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it violated the constitution. Up until that ruling at least 48 of the party's officials had been murdered by death squads. DEP, the Democracy Party, the replacement party was similarly targeted - 4 September 1993, Mehmet Sincar MP and Metin Ozdemir were shot dead; December 1993, the Ankara State Prosecutor instituted proceedings to ban DEP; bombings of DEP offices and arrests of members of parliament and executive members followed. 16 June 1994, DEP was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. The DEP former members of parliament, including Leyla Zana, recipient of the 1995 Sakharov Peace Prize and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, are still in prison (two have been granted conditional release).

Within days of its formation, HADEP, like its predecessors HEP and DEP, found itself targeted by the state security apparatus. Its offices have been ransacked, destroyed and closed down. Its officials and members intimidated, detained, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed. Many have fled into exile.

Less than three weeks into its existence, a party official was shot dead.

The reason for the harassment by the Turkish security forces of HADEP is that HADEP, like its predecessors, speaks on behalf of the Kurds. HADEP has called for dialogue with the the Kurds, an end to the bloodshed, a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem.

On 28 February 1998, the National Security Council (MGK) is believed to have issued orders to harass and suppress HADEP and other democratic organisations that are seen as a threat to the corrupt state institutions.

Executive members of HADEP, all those that have not managed to escape into exile, have been detained. They face criminal charges with possible penalties of 22 years imprisonment.

To a hushed Moses Room in the House of Lords (2 June 1998), two young lawyers who had attended the trial of executive members of HADEP in the Ankara No 2 State Security Court as international observers gave eyewitness accounts of the proceedings. They described a court ringed by troops, armoured personnel carriers and tanks, of arrests of 500 protesters, of defendants and the public gallery faced by armed soldiers.

Another speaker described how coachloads of protesters were stopped en-route to the court by tanks, troops and helicopter gunships. Unable to proceed any further the protesters disembarked from their coaches and danced and sang Kurdish songs.

A third lawyer described the courage of a young Kurdish student, who at grave risk to her own life was prepared to act as an interpreter to the independent, international observers.

A fourth lawyer, barrister Mark Muller, a veteran observer of many Turkish political show trials, described the descent into chaos and anarchy of the Turkish state. The corruption that is endemic at all levels of the political and military establishment, the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, the three-digit inflation and the collapse of the Turkish economy.

Mesut Uysal, an exiled representative of HADEP gave an account of some of the atrocities taking place in his country. He referred to his friend, a blind lawyer, who was jailed for 'terrorism' for expressing his views on the Kurdish problem. 'How can a blind man wield a gun?', he asked.

The Ankara HADEP trial parallels a similar trial taking place in Diyarbakir where Selma Tanrikulu and several other HADEP and trade union officials arrested in Diyarbakir on the eve of the International Peace Rally in Diyarbakir are facing similar charges.

The two HADEP trials are a symptom of the malaise that now effects all parts of Turkish society. A fundamental lack of human rights, democracy and justice. Corruption is endemic within the political and military establishments. Journalists, human rights workers, lawyers, left-wing students and protesters are being targeted and killed by fascists who hide in the shadows of the State. Akin Birdal, President of IHD, Turkey's Human Rights Association, gunned down at his Ankara office (12 May 1998). Peaceful demonstrations brutally broken up by the State. Ulkede Gundem, a pro-Kurdish Daily Newspaper, harassed and temporary closed for speaking on behalf of the Kurds and attacking the futility of a military solution. A policy of genocide pursued against the Kurds, part of whose country Turkey occupies.

Three months after the assassination attempt on Akin Birdal, he was sentenced in his absence to 1 year imprisonment by Ankara No 1 State Security Court for using the words 'the Kurdish and Turkish people'. He was found guilty of 'inciting the people to hostility and enmity regarding class, race and regional difference' following a speech he made at the International Peace Rally in Ankara (1 September 1996).

Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of student campaigners, tortured and imprisoned; blind lawyer Esber Yagmurdereli, sentenced to 17-years imprisonment for expressing his views on the Kurdish problem; conscientious objector Osman Murat Ulke, imprisoned for life. Index on Censorship that of left-wing journalist Asiye Zeybek Guzel, raped and tortured during 11 days detention. Peace in Kurdistan Campaign that of sociologist Ismail Besikci, imprisoned for publishing research on the Kurds. Human Rights Watch that of journalist Ragip Duran, imprisoned June 1998 for a 1994 interview with Abdullah Ocalan (President of PKK).

Journalism is a dangerous profession, especially for those journalists prepared to write the truth about the repressive state of Turkey. Metin Goktepe, a journalist for Evrensel, was beaten to death whilst held in police custody in Istanbul. Ocak Isik Yurtcu, editor of Ozgur Gundem was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Bekir Dogan is but one in a long line of Kurdish journalists who have disappeared, many whilst held in custody. On International Press Freedom Day (3 May 1998) Reporters sans Frontieres placed Turkey in the bad category for Freedom of the Press and noted that as of 1 January 1998, 91 journalists were in Turkish prisons and that during 1997, 225 journalists were detained, at least 62 were attacked and 73 physically abused and threatened. Article XIX has documented that of all the world's imprisoned journalists, more than half languish in Turkish gaols.

Writers face similar persecution. More writers are imprisoned in Turkey than in any other country. In what has become the infamous Freedom of Thought trial Yasar Kemal, Turkey's most renowned living writer, was prosecuted for an article he had written for the German magazine Der Spiegel. In protest at his prosecution, 1,080 intellectuals, writers, publishers and artists put their names to a book entitled Freedom of Thought in Turkey, a collection of articles by people imprisoned or on trial for their writings. The government response was to charge 185 members of the group under Article 8. Those charged represent a major section of Turkey's literary and artistic elite. Yasar Kemal was given a 20-month suspended sentence for his contribution, an essay entitled 'Dark Cloud over Turkey'. The conviction was for 'inciting hatred'. The Freedom of Thought trial has generated international outrage. Writers worldwide joined the campaign, several presenting themselves outside the Istanbul No 5 State Security court as co-publishers.

August 1998, a Turkish playwright was given 24 years for portraying the army as an obstacle to the establishment of a democratic state. Fines were increased for anyone advocating change to the constitution.

A British trade union delegation on a fact finding mission to Turkish occupied Kurdistan May 1997 were shocked at the level of repression they found. International observers who attended the Newroz (Kurdish New Year) celebrations Spring 1997, and again Spring 1998, were shocked at the level of human rights abuses they encountered in Turkish occupied Kurdistan. Everywhere they went they were followed by special security forces, Kurds who spoke to them were dragged away and beaten. An international peace convoy travelled across Turkey with the intention of celebrating International Anti-War Day (1 September 1997) in Turkish occupied Kurdistan. They were attacked and harassed along their route by special security forces. Eventually they were blocked from reaching their final destination, Diyarbakir, by tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopter gunships, and forced to return to Istanbul. At Istanbul, an impromptu press conference called to recount their experiences was brutally broken up by special forces, delegates savagely attacked and several delegates sustaining serious injuries.

On 17 October 1998 rallies were held all over Turkey in support of the pro-Kurdish political detainees. Several hundred Kurds were arrested for calling for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem.

On 14 May 1997 Turkey invade northern Iraq, a second invasion took place on 20 May 1998. Turkey admits to 40,000 troops, observers on the ground put the figure closer to 100,000. For more than 20 years Turkey has occupied northern Cyprus. An occupying force of 50,000 troops, 100,000 illegal Turkish settlers. Occupied northern Cyprus has been described by one exile as 'a prison in the sun', tourists describe it as a police state.

Turkey is the signatory to many international conventions on human rights. It has failed to honour a single convention.

Turkey demands to join the European Union as a right. A state that has no respect for democracy, human rights and justice has no rights.

Web resources


Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Kurds in Turkey, Helsinki Watch

David Mcdowall, The Kurds: A nation denied, Minority Rights Group

Turkey: No security without human rights, Amnesty International

James Kelman, Freedom for Freedom of expression, Kurdistan Report, No 25, July-August 1997

State Before Freedom - Media Repression in Turkey, Article XIX/ Kurdish Human Rights Project, July 1998

Ian Mather, War games turn up the political heat, The European, 10-16 August 1998

Turkey ~ Cyprus
(c) Keith Parkins 1998-1999 -- February 1999 rev 8