By Eric Avebury Parliamentary Human Rights Group Chairman
This paper was presented at the Middle East Studies Association in Washington, DC
When the Ottoman Empire finally disintegrated, following the allied victory in the war of 1914-18, and the birth of Armenian and Kurdish states appeared at first to be inevitable, Ataturk’s response was to create a nation state based on the unity of the Turkish-speaking Muslim peoples and to leave unresolved the question of non-Turkish minorities such as the Kurds, Chechens, Laz and Abkhazians1. The territories not under the occupation of enemy forces when the Armistice of Mudros was concluded on October 30, 1918, and which were inhabited by ‘an Ottoman Moslem majority, united in religion, in race and in aim’, were said to form a whole which did not admit of division for any reason, though in the case of the three Kurdish Sandjaks ‘which united themselves by a general vote to the mother country’, there was a vague suggestion of a plebiscite in the National Pact’s reference to a free popular vote ‘if necessary’2.
Britain’s adherence to the Wilsonian principle of self-determination, always half-hearted, evaporated altogether when friendly relations with Turkey became a prime object of policy. London was prepared to keep lines of communication open with Kurdish revolutionaries in Anatolia, and a proposal to supply them with arms was considered and rejected in November 1921. But these were thought of purely as means of securing the Vilayet of Mosul for Britain’s new puppet Iraq in the dispute with Turkey over the boundary with Iraq, which dragged on until the Treaty of Baghdad in June 19263.
The references to minorities in the Treaty of Lausanne were entirely concerned with non-Moslems, although Article 39 appeared to give all linguistic minorities, including the Moslem ones, the right to use their own language in commerce, religion, the press and publications, and at public meetings4. The suppression of these rights, and the rabidly centralist nationalism which has distinguished the Kemalist ideology of the Turkish state for the 70 years of its existence, gave rise to the ‘Kurdish problem’ of today.
It has been observed that 1990 was a watershed in the relations between the Turkish state and the Kurdish population of the southeast. The armed struggle between the state and the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK) had been launched in 1984 and had already resulted in a death toll, according to the official figures, of between 1,500 and 2,000, though some put the number at more than 2,0005. In 1990 there was a further increase in the intensity of the conflict and there was a simultaneous rise in the numbers of non-combatants prepared to take to the streets and protest about the government’s policies6. For the first time in the history of successive Kurdish risings since the Kemalist state was founded in 1923, the guerrillas could rely on the physical and moral support of a very large but loose mass movement.
After the election as President in November 1989 of Turgut Ozal and his appointment of Yildirim Akbulut as prime minister, on March 28, 1990 the National Security Council decided to launch a …major military and psychological crackdown on Kurdish separatists. “We have decided to answer guns with guns,” Akbulut said after a seven hour meeting. Reinforcing the military operations, the NSC announced on April 13 that new restrictions would be placed on the reporting of the conflict in the southeast; that all news reports would have to be “coordinated” with the Interior Ministry, and publishers would be liable to fines of up to 100 million Turkish Lira (about US $40k) and immediate closure on conviction of printing any material considered to “pose a threat to the rule of law”; that the Southeast Governor would have the power to send any person living in the region into internal exile elsewhere in the country if his or her presence was deemed a threat to public order, and that local officials were to have power to ban strikes or shop closures.
The restrictions on publication, imposed by Decree 413 of April 9, 1990, introduced a new dimension to press control. The pro-Kurdish weekly magazine 2000’e Dogru (Towards 2000), which had previously suffered confiscation of 22 issues, was ordered to cease publication altogether, as was Halk Gercegi (Truth of the People). Both papers covered Kurdish themes. The editor of Gunes dissolved his Kurdish news section following the decree, saying that he did not want the paper to be closed7 . The editors of two other publications, Eylem and Teori, said they too were unable to continue because the police threatened their printers with prosecution and sealing of their presses8. The first shots had been fired in a new war against the Kurdish and socialist press, which was to escalate into a barrage of murders of journalists, arson, judicial persecution and confiscations.
The government of the Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi, ANAP) had been losing its grip, with severe losses in the local elections of March 1989, and the resignation of Mesut Yilmaz, the long-serving Foreign Minister, on February 20, a move widely interpreted as distancing himself from an unpopular administration. ANAP had decided to adopt an even tougher policy in the southeast, in spite of the manifest failure of the military option over the previous six years. They were looking for the support of the country’s armed forces, and appealing to the nationalist elements of the electorate. The impact of the decisions was seen almost immediately in the region with even more indiscriminate security operations leading to immense human rights violations everywhere.
In the spring of 1990 also, the Peoples Labour Party (Halkin Emek Partisi, HEP) was formed as the vehicle for pursuing Kurdish aspirations through constitutional means, thus setting the pattern which was to be followed over the next five years, of legitimate political activity and armed opposition, having similar goals, being pursued in parallel.
In May 1990 the European Parliament passed a resolution which condemned terrorism in Turkey, but called on the government to recognise the political, cultural and social rights of the Kurds. The Turkish government was successful in portraying the PKK as a terrorist organisation, and this has remained the perception in the minds of western governments and Parliaments to this day. Historians do not label Sheikh Said, leader of the 1925 insurrection, as a terrorist, although he and his followers were at times no more scrupulous about causing harm to non-combatants than the PKK9.
At the same time, Ankara had to deal with increasing concern in the west about the treatment of its Kurdish minority. The Conference on the Human Dimension of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), meeting in June, produced the Copenhagen Declaration10 which begins by recognising that ‘the questions relating to national minorities can only be satisfactorily resolved in a democratic political framework based on the rule of law…..’ and continues to enumerate specific rights not enjoyed by the Kurds. Turkey, as a participating state of the CSCE (now renamed the Organisation…., or OSCE), has to face criticism at the regular Human Dimension Review meetings, and the pretence that the Kurds are not a national minority has become increasingly difficult for them to maintain.
In the summer of 1990, the Social Democratic Populist Party (Sosyaldemokrat Halkci Parti, SHP) published a report on the Kurdish problem, condemning the prohibition on the use of the Kurdish language. The SHP has been the mainstream party most sympathetic towards Kurdish aims, and it was to be the vehicle for the election of 22 Kurdish MPs at the general election of October 20, 1991, when the HEP was unable to satisfy the conditions for registration in time.
On December 4, 1990, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) passed a law establishing a ‘Human Rights Inquiry Committee’ (TBMM Insan Haklari Inceleme Komisyonu), which was supposed, inter alia, ‘to determine the changes which have to be made in order to ensure the conformity of the Turkish Constitution, other national legislation and practices with the international conventions on human rights to which Turkey is a party and to propose legislative amendments to this effect’11. This Committee was not able to make any progress with the task, and the matter is still on the agenda yet no further advanced five years later, with Turkey’s need to satisfy the European Parliament of its human rights credentials, as a condition of entry to the European customs union.
Finally, among the events of 1990 which had a significant impact on Turkey’s Kurdish policy, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2 led to the insurrection of the Kurds in the north of Iraq, and to the influx of 100,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees into Turkey after the allies’ defeat of Saddam in the spring of the following year, to add to those already present who fled from the ‘Anfal’, the violent clearance of hundreds of villages in Iraqi Kurdistan at the end of the Gulf War. The support Turkey gave to US policies further undermined the standing of the ANAP government because of the economic penalties arising from sanctions and particularly the closure of the oil pipeline from Mosul to the Mediterranean. Turkey’s losses in the first three months of the crisis were said to amount to $2 billion, and to have reached $9 billion early in 199112.
On April 12, 1991, The TGNA approved legislation tabled by President Ozal legalising the use of Kurdish in private conversation and songs, but retaining the offence of publishing in the language or using it as the medium of teaching. The new Anti-Terror Law, which repealed some of the more controversial articles of the penal code, including those outlawing communist and Islamic parties, also widened the definition of terrorism and made it virtually impossible to prosecute torturers13.
The repressive implications of the new legislation were hardly noticed abroad at the time. Ozal had been urging a whole package of reforms against the wishes of his ANAP deputies, including an amnesty for certain political prisoners including Mehdi Zana, former mayor of Diyarbakir. It was claimed that a month after the new law had been passed, 19,630 prisoners had been released, 17,435 of whom were ordinary criminals, 1,048 persons under charges of ‘terrorism’, and one person who had been convicted under the language law, No 293214. The dangers of the Anti-Terror Law were obscured by the undeserved euphoria over very limited reforms, and Ozal’s subsequent hints that more was to come. The package was hailed as an important breakthrough, even by the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan. It was at this time that Ocalan first proposed negotiations to settle the Kurdish problem, and declared that he was not seeking total independence for the Kurds. (In spite of several reiterations of the point since then15, Turkish spokesmen always describe the PKK as ‘separatists’, and refuse point blank to negotiate with ‘terrorists’).
Almost at once, however, the optimism disappeared as the real meaning of the Anti-Terror Law, and the intentions of the government, became clear. Clashes between police and security forces on the one hand, and Kurdish militants and demonstrators on the other, continued throughout the spring. Hatip Dicle, chairman of the Human Rights Association of Diyarbakir, gave a number of examples including the massacre of 27 women and children in the village of Gere, near Sirnak, on June 10, on a visit to London16. Dicle pointed out that he was liable to prosecution under the new Anti-Terror Law for mentioning these crimes.
Tension was seriously heightened when Vedat Aydin, Diyarbakir chairman of the HEP, was tortured to death after being taken from his home by plain clothes men suspected by his wife of being police officers on July 5. When 40,000 people attended his funeral on July 10, police opened fire on the mourners, killing 6 people and wounding 11917. Among the injured were Fehmi Isiklar, leader of the HEP, and three HEP Parliamentarians, who were beaten up by the security forces and had to be treated in hospital, according to the newspaper Cumhuriyet18.
Then on August 1, 1991, Ismail Besikci, the renowned Turkish sociologist, was arrested under the new Anti-Terror Law and charged with the crime of writing The Forced Resettlement of the Kurds, a crime for which he had already served a prison sentence imposed in 1978 under the ‘infamous Article 142 of the Turkish Penal Code’19. Besikci had already spent nearly 11 years of his life behind bars, at the age of 52, for writing about the colonialism inflicted on the Kurdish people: “…the ability to participate in diplomatic, political and cultural life in Turkey has been made conditional upon being Turkified”, he wrote in another of his ‘criminal’ works20. Besikci has continued to be a target for judicial persecution, and is now sentenced to a total of 67 years one month imprisonment, of which 23 years 3 months have been ratified. Most of the sentences have been accompanied by heavy fines, and 27 of his 31 books have been seized21.
Ozal’s perceived sympathy with the Kurds had very little foundation in reality. In a speech to the TGNA on October 4, 1991, dealing with human rights, he made no direct reference to the Kurdish problem, observing darkly that ‘intervention into internal affairs of other countries for the sole purpose of promoting human rights and liberties may lead to unpredictable disturbances…’22. The situation had deteriorated further since the spring package, but the victory of the coalition of the True Path party (Dogru Yol Partisi, DYP) under Suleyman Demirel, and Erdal Inonu’s SHP in the general election of October 1991 was seen to be a firmer promise of reform. The known policies of the SHP and the presence of the 22 Kurdish deputies in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) indicated that political developments might be expected, though hopes were soon dashed.
Although the coalition statement of policy contained broad commitments to human rights, and to the CSCE’s agreements, and some further small reforms on the language issue were conceded, there was no sign of any more general programme of reform by the new government, or even of entering into a dialogue with the elected representatives of the Kurdish region. The words ‘Kurd’ and ‘Kurdish’ were not to be found in the ‘Principles of Democratization of the New Turkish Coalition Government’23. The document did contain references to the need to ensure compatibility of the emergency regime with the principle of the rule of law and the inviolability of fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as a promise to review the Anti- Terror Law, but neither commitment has been implemented to this day. Instead, there were only complaints about the reservations expressed by Leyla Zana MP and Hatip Dicle MP on being sworn in as Members of the TGNA, together with mass arrests of Kurdish activists, the emergence of the death squads, and a fresh surge in military activity.
In 1991, the ANAP government had allowed the celebration of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year festival at the end of March, for the first time in decades. It had been the occasion for manifestations of Kurdish identity, and in 1992, with the election of MPs specifically committed to constitutional reform, and the rising expectations of the people, bigger demonstrations were probable. The authorities decided to clamp down harshly on the use of Kurdish colours, songs and slogans, setting the scene for the confrontation by a propaganda campaign based on the allegation by the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), General Teoman Koman, that the PKK intended to stage a general uprising under cover of the festival24.
What Ocalan had actually called for was a ‘great popular march’, of a political rather than a military nature, though he added that ‘the price may be much blood and loss of life’25. Considering that the PKK were estimated to have 3,000 men under arms in Turkey at the time, it would have been a foolhardy enterprise to engage in a confrontation with the vastly superior Turkish forces in the region. But the Regional Governor, Unal Erkan, threatened that ‘security forces would take all measures against possible clashes with the terrorists during Newroz’, and there was a massive presence of the military in the region on March 21, the date of the festival.
In Turkey, it is always difficult to establish whether events in the southeast are the result of political decisions by the government, or whether they are the product of local decisions by the military. In this case, it appears that the confrontation had been ordained by President Ozal himself. In late January 1992 he had declared that “the Armed Forces with super power will go to the region next term. This will be an extraordinary power. These forces will not let the bandits live there….”.
In Cizre, the security forces opened fire on unarmed revellers singing and dancing in the streets, killing an estimated 12 people and injuring many more. In Sirnak also, the military fired on civilian crowds and individuals, killing 22 and again injuring dozens more. The governor of Sirnak, Mustafa Malay, told a visiting delegation on April 19, 1992, that it was said that between 500 and 1,500 armed guerrillas had entered the town on March 21, but he conceded that ‘the security forces did not establish their targets properly and caused great damage to civilian houses’26. The delegation, of which the author was a member, concluded that ‘violence was used by the armed forces and the police against unarmed demonstrators in Sirnak and Cizre on March 21, 1992, resulting in many deaths and serious injuries…. In Sirnak, the armed forces and police went on the rampage over a period of some 22 hours from March 21 to 22, bombarding houses, shops and offices, and causing civilian casualties’.27
The Newroz festivities left at least 91 people dead in three towns of the southeast, Cizre, Sirnak and Nusaybin, and 9 others elsewhere in the region28, and according to Helsinki Watch, ‘all or nearly all of the casualties resulted from unprovoked, unnecessary and unjustified attacks by Turkish security forces against peaceful Kurdish civilian demonstrators’.29 The author can extend that conclusion to Sirnak as well, except that some of the seriously injured victims there had been hit in their own homes, and one, 16 year old Ms Biseng Anik, was murdered in custody.
The ugly phenomenon of widespread attacks on journalists working for left wing and pro-Kurdish newspapers started in 1992. These assaults and murders, which have continued and escalated since then, must be seen in the light of the state’s tight control on the expression of unorthodox views, and particularly of any material which is seen as ‘subversive’. The Decree with the Provision of Law (DPL) No 413 of April 10, 1990, amended to DPL No 424 and 425 of May 10, 1990, allowed the Minister of the Interior to fine the publishers of books, magazines, newspapers, records, cassettes, films and posters, and to close down the plants where any of this material was being produced.
Article 8 of the new Anti-Terror Law of April 12, 1991 also gave a heavy weapon for the state against the pro-Kurdish press. This catch-all provision says that: No written or verbal propaganda, meeting, demonstration and march, which targets the indivisible unity of the people and country of the Turkish Republic, for whatever thought or aim, are allowed.
Article 8 can be used, and is used, against any manifestation of the Kurdish identity, notwithstanding Turkey’s commitment to the CSCE’s Copenhagen Declaration and its affirmation that ‘participating states will protect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of national minorities on their territory and create conditions for the promotion of that identity…’30. The contrast between the regular professions of loyalty to the CSCE process by the government, and its actual treatment of the Kurds on the ground, is illustrated most starkly by the experience of the pro-Kurdish press.
Up to the end of 1992, 48 confiscation orders or lawsuits were filed by State Security Court prosecutors in respect of 48 out of 114 issues of the weekly newspaper Yeni Ulke, which had first appeared in October 1990. One of its journalists, Cengiz Altun, 25, was gunned down by two terrorists on February 24, 1992, and on 42 occasions its correspondents were arrested during the same period.
The monthly magazine Ozgur Halk started publication in November 1990 and lasted for 27 issues. During that period 15 issues were confiscated and lawsuits were filed against 22 issues. Eight employees of the paper were arrested and tortured; the Diyarbakir office was bombed; the Diyarbakir representative Huseyin Ebem was given a 26 month prison sentence and a 45 million TL fine for ‘making propaganda against the indivisible integrity of the state’, and two of the paper’s representatives were murdered: Cetin Ababay at 19.30 on July 29, 1992 in Batman, and Orhan Karaagar on January 19, 1993 in Van.
Most of all in this phase of the state’s operations against the press, the daily paper Ozgur Gundem paid a heavy penalty for the right to publish. Between May 31, 1992, when it was launched, and January 15, 1993, when it was forced to stop publication, confiscation orders were issued against 39 issues; fines amounting to billions of TL were imposed on the management; seven correspondents and distributors of the paper were murdered; 55 correspondents were arrested, and three of them were severely tortured; employees’ homes and the paper’s offices were repeatedly raided by the police, and property used by the paper was subjected to regular arson attacks31.
The attacks on journalists are frequently ascribed to a shadowy organisation known as ‘Hezbollah’. The suggestion is that while the arrests, tortures, judicial harassment, police raids and fines are all undoubtedly the work of the state, the violent attacks and murders are perpetrated by some other body which has no connection with the authorities. But common sense indicates that only the state has the motive and the opportunity not only to commit these crimes, but to enjoy absolute impunity. Nobody has ever been charged, let alone convicted, of any of the murders of journalists, though recently a few alleged members of ‘Hezbollah’ have been arrested for other offences. The then Prime Minister, now President of Turkey, Suleyman Demirel, referring to the murdered writers of Ozgur Gundem, said: “These people are not real journalists. They are militants in the guise of journalists. They are killing each other”32.
The PKK were certainly guilty of attacks on non-combatants during 1992, as they had been in every year since 1984. But they selected their targets carefully, and no other observer has ever suggested that they murdered journalists. Helsinki Watch had unverified reports of the killing of village guards, informers, ‘state supporters’ and the relatives of such people, including women and children, as well as some murders where the reasons were unexplained33. The sources of these reports were not given, but some at least were from the authorities, who regularly portrayed atrocities committed by the security forces and village guards as having been committed by the PKK. A residue of the allegations was doubtless true, however, and the prohibition on ‘violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture’, prescribed by Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions for persons taking no active part in the hostilities, has been widely ignored by the PKK from time to time.
Turkey contends that the conflict in the southeast is not one to which Article 3 applies. It does not conform to the definition in the Article of an “armed conflict not of an international character”, according to Ambassador Gunduz Aktan, Turkey’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, nor is there any clear definition of this category of conflict in law. The UN General Assembly Resolutions on Terrorism, he says, do not make any reference to the size of the force committing the acts of terrorism, and guerrillas, insurgents or parties to a civil war could fall within the category of ‘terrorist’ if they consistently resort to terrorist acts, methods and practices. Thus, it is implied, if the General Assembly resolutions apply, Article 3 does not. In any case, Article 3 was aimed at countries whose domestic legislation was not sufficiently developed, Aktan observed, and it would not contribute in any meaningful way to the protection of persons already covered by Turkish law, but it could, on the other hand, ‘eventually lead to unjust recognition of the conflict as an armed conflict and the terrorists as a party’.
Turkey’s still repudiates her obligations under the Geneva Conventions, and has rejected periodic approaches by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with a view to offering their services in the region, as Ambassador Ozden Sanberk confirmed in a private conversation with the author on September 14, 1995. The Turkish government would like other states and NGOs to condemn the PKK unreservedly, on the basis of allegations made by their opponents in the armed conflict, without any independent verification. All ‘indiscriminate and random acts of violence and terror’, whether committed by the PKK or the state, are to be ‘profoundly deplored’34, but unless these acts are independently monitored, the responsibility for them cannot be determined with confidence. It may be presumed that where the victims are village guards or suspected collaborators, the PKK were the killers, and in some cases they have admitted their reponsibility35.
Where investigations have been undertaken, it is clear that the great preponderance of terrorist acts against the civilian population have been perpetrated by the security forces themselves. These are no mere incidental breaches of discipline at lower echelons, but systematic military operations involving large forces, sanctioned at the highest levels of government. One such operation, the effects of which were seen by the author, was the destruction of the town of Sirnak in a 41-hour blitz from the evening of August 18, 1992, to midday on August 20.
According to Interior Minister Ismet Sezgin, the PKK had attacked Sirnak and bombed the city for two days, calling it the resistance of the people to state forces36. He said that 1,500 terrorists were reported to have been involved in the assault, the objective of which was to capture the town and hold it for a short time. In one foreign account of this incident, it was claimed that ‘700 militants…. held the town for around 40 hours….. This …..naturally attracted a full-scale counterattack by the army..’37 In reality, the bombardment was entirely unprovoked, as was shown by the fact that not a single dead terrorist was produced at the end of the 41 hours, nor were there any spent cartridge cases belonging to the militants. Minister Sezgin explained this by saying that the PKK carried their dead away, but it was not credible that evidence of their presence could have been totally erased by the survivors. The authorities claimed that three soldiers and a police officer were killed, all on the evening of August 18, and none during the two days of shooting and shelling that followed, in which 17 civilians were killed, and widespread damage was caused to private property, though not to government buildings38.
The effect of operations of this kind, and smaller scale assaults on hundreds of villages, has been to provoke a mass movement of the population, to the shanty towns of the regional capital, Diyarbakir, to the western parts of Turkey, and to foreign countries, particularly Germany. 25,000 people fled Sirnak, and this was not a mere unintended by-product of the attempt to defeat the PKK militarily, but part of a strategy, articulated by President Ozal just afterwards when he said: ‘Many problems would be solved much more easily if 500,000 people left here and settled in the west’39.
Estimates of the number of people displaced vary, but in round figures 2,000 villages have been erased from the map, and two million Kurds have gone into exile in western Turkey40. The Regional Governor, Unal Erkan, says that 2,667 villages and hamlets have been depopulated and 311,229 people have been displaced since 1994 alone41, while the Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernegi, IHD) reckons that 2,540 villages have been destroyed and 3 million people have been displaced since the conflict started in 198442. The exodus has been caused largely by the deliberate and systematic military campaign over the years, rather than by the behaviour of the PKK. Since the PKK need to have a network of support among civilians in the villages and towns of the southeast, it is not in their interest that the region should be partly depopulated, while conversely, for the state, the process deprives the fish of their water.
The territory within which the PKK has been able to operate extends beyond Turkey and into Iraq and Syria. The Syrians have allowed Abdullah Ocalan to base himself in their territory, and allegedly to train armed men there, while keeping a tight rein on their own one million Kurds. Traditionally there has been suspicion between Syria and Turkey ever since the boundaries between the two states were a matter of dispute in the post-1918 settlement, and recently an additional cause of friction has been the massive hydro-electric developments by Turkey on the Tigris and Euphrates, which the Syrians claim were a violation of agreements on the use of water. Damascus retaliated by aiding the PKK, and there was little that Turkey could do, apart from diplomatic attempts to secure a common front against Kurdish nationalism in Syria, Turkey and Iran at a series of meetings between Foreign Ministers, the most recent of which took place in Tehran on September 7, 1995.
One positive outcome of these meetings, from the Turkish point of view, was an agreement with Iran to arrest and deport each other’s asylum seekers. When Turkey signed the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees on March 30, 1962, she recognised only persons from Europe as refugees. The legal protection regime, and in particular, protection against non- refoulement, is precarious for non-European refugees, who may be treated as illegal immigrants under Turkish law43. Another useful result has been that common support for Iraq’s territorial integrity is reiterated, and each state could demonstrate that it has no intention of profiting from Kurdish unrest in any of the others.
In the case of Iraq, however, the creation of a partial political vacuum in the area north of the 36th parallel by the withdrawal of Iraqi forces has given the Turks carte blanche to send troops across the border whenever they see it as being operationally desirable. In the 80s they had frequently attacked targets in northern Iraq by air with the agreement of Saddam Hussain, but now, on October 24, 1992, Turkish troops crossed the frontier in force, with air and artillery support, and mounted an offensive, in cooperation with Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) against the PKK bases in the area44. They occupied a substantial area of Iraqi territory, without attracting any criticism from the international community for this violation of Iraq’s territorial integrity. This was a useful exercise from Ankara’s point of view, not so much for the immediate military results actually achieved, but for the green light it gave them for any future incursions. The KDP were enlisted as auxiliaries in the war, an idea which would be taken further. With the double embargo of the UN and Saddam, the economic dependence of the Iraqi Kurds on Turkey had been firmly established, and this could be used to deny the use of their territory either as bases, or as channels of communication with Syria.
Turkey’s direct intervention in the affairs of northern Iraq culminated in the largest deployment of the country’s armed forces outside its own borders since the invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974, when 35,000 troops invaded the territory on March 20, 1995. Prime Minister Ciller told the TGNA that Turkish forces would intervene ‘again and again’ if required45, and the Turkish ‘observers’ at the Drogheda talks sponsored by the State Department between the rival Kurdish parties of Northern Iraq in September made it clear that they wanted the parties to collaborate with them in countering the PKK. At the Turks’ insistence, the draft agreement presented for discussion included a section headed ‘Legitimate Security Concerns of Turkey’, which stated: ‘The participants recognize that the threat posed by terrorist elements based in and operating from northern Iraq against Turkey has been a major cause for instability in the area, constituting therefore a legitimate security concern for Turkey which shall be taken into account in the implementation of this agreement’46.
The Turkish attempt to divert the meeting from its task of framing a political settlement of the dispute between the warring Kurdish factions, towards Turkey’s own security concerns, was partly responsible for the failure of the meeting. It also had the effect of ringing alarm bells in Damascus and Tehran, where the prominent role played by Washington was already a matter for concern. The cooperation between Turkey and the US in designing a solution for the Kurdish enclave may be seen as leading towards joint measures to influence the character of post-Saddam Iraq as a whole.
In parallel with the larger military operations of 1992, the level of individual human rights violations increased during that year. Although Prime Minister Demirel had undertaken during the October 1991 election that police stations would have ‘walls of glass’, 16 deaths were reported in detention during the year 199247, and there were more than 100 assassinations on the street or in other public places in the southeast in the first 8 months of the year alone48. From February to November, the death toll included eleven journalists and one newspaper distributor. Among the dead was Musa Anter, 74, a well-known writer and journalist, and chairman of the Mesopotamian Cultural Center in Istanbul49. These killings were dismissed by the Interior Minister as largely the work of the PKK and Hezbullah, but only five arrests of suspects had been made since the wave of killings began. Two were captured by local people and handed over to the police; two narrowly escaped being lynched and were rescued by the security forces, and one was shot by the victim’s father and handed over, slightly wounded, to the security forces50.
At the end of the year, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture issued a report which found that ‘the practice of torture and other forms of severe ill-treatment remains widespread in Turkey, and such methods are applied to both ordinary criminals and persons held under anti- terrorism law’51. This was said to be the most critical report the Council of Europe had ever published on a member state’s violations of human rights52.
The response by the government to the worsening human rights situation was to appoint a Minister of Human Rights, Mehmet Kahraman; to establish a Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights; to pass a new law in November 1992 forbidding torture, limiting the period in custody without a court appearance, and giving detainees the right to consult a lawyer at every stage of the legal process. However, those accused of ‘terrorist’ offences had none of the rights granted by this Criminal Trials Procedure law (CMUK). The position of suspects appearing before the State Security Courts (DGM) remained unchanged, and it was of course those prisoners who were and are most at risk of being tortured or killed in custody. One commentator observed that the government had introduced this law ‘not to decide on reforms and prevent all acts of torture in Turkey but to decide on who could be tortured and who could not’53.
At the end of 1992, political freedoms had taken one step forward and three steps back since the new government had come into office. The TGNA had passed a Bill allowing parties closed down by the military after the 1980 coup to reopen, and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) under Deniz Baykal resumed operations. But the Socialist Party was banned following a leaflet it published on ‘Solution of the Kurdish Problem’ and statements by its President, Dogu Perincek, said to constitute separatist propaganda. The United Communist Party was also shut down on the grounds that it ‘aimed to establish the domination of one social class over another and to destroy the integrity of the country and its political system’. The People’s Labour Party (HEP), which had been articulating the Kurdish identity as far as it could without running into trouble with the vaguely worded Anti-Terror Law, was itself threatened with closure at the behest of State Security Court Chief Prosecutor Nusret Demiral, for making ‘separatist propaganda’54.
The year 1993 began with the closure of the newspaper Ozgur Gundem on January 15, driven out of business by harassment, confiscations, raids, arrests, and violence. On April 26, it was back at work, after merging with another paper that had also been relentlessly persecuted, Yeni Ulke. But not for long. Throughout the following 7 months, the paper suffered a crescendo of attacks, both physical and legal. By July, the publishers and editors had been fined a total of 8.6 billion TL ($736,500) and sentenced to prison terms totalling from 155 to 493 years. By the end of November, there were 170 further cases outstanding against the paper, including an action to close the paper on the grounds that ‘the chief editor Davut Karadag did not communicate his new address to the Istanbul Governorate’55.
The main charges against the paper, in respect of an article published in September 1992 were of ‘making separatist propaganda’ and ‘praising the PKK’ contrary to Articles 7 and 8 of the Anti-Terror Law. These were due to be heard before the State Security Tribunal, a special court designated under Article 143 of the Turkish Constitution to hear ‘offences against the indivisible integrity of the state…’, on September 21, 1993. On that date, however, the proprietor Yasar Kaya was unable to appear, because he was in custody on another charge, relating to a speech he had made in Iraq. The hearing was adjourned twice more, and was still outstanding at the end of the year56. By then, Yasar Kaya faced between 300 and 990 years imprisonment, and fines totalling 16 trillion TL.
By the end of 1993, six of the paper’s journalists and 14 other staff members had been killed, one journalist, Burhan Karadeniz had been shot by unidentified gunmen and paralysed for life, and one journalist had disappeared57. The author interviewed the father of one of the victims, Ferhat Tepe, and a witness who shared a cell with Ferhat in an interrogation centre at Diyarbakir. Ferhat had been kidnapped in Bitlis by four armed men, one of whom used a walkie-talkie, at 19.00 on July 28, 1993. His mutilated body was found in a lake at Sivrice in Elazig province on August 4, 1993. 58
On December 10, 1993, International Human Rights Day, 200 police raided the Ozgur Gundem offices in Istanbul, arresting 100 employees and seizing equipment. In simultaneous raids on all the other offices of the paper except Ankara, another 50 were taken into custody59.
Lois Whitman, Deputy Director of Helsinki Watch, calculated that 30 journalists and distributors were murdered from February 1992 to the end of 1993. Nobody had been convicted for any of these killings, and with few exceptions, they had not even been investigated. Helsinki Watch felt deeply disturbed about what appeared to be ‘a systematic campaign to silence the press about events in southeast Turkey60.
There were moments in 1993, however, when peace seemed possible. In March, the PKK had declared a unilateral cease fire, and for the time being there were some hopes that it would become permanent. ‘A breakthrough in the conflict with Kurdish separatists seems now to be in sight’, according to one observer, though President Ozal had died suddenly on April 17, the Prime Minister, and Suleyman Demirel, who was to succeed him in office, always made it plain that he would not negotiate with the PKK in any circumstances61. During the cease fire by the PKK, the Turkish attacks on civilians in the southeast continued unabated. The pattern was for a village to be surrounded by the military in armoured vehicles, with helicopters overhead; for the inhabitants to be driven out of their houses into the central square, and there to be attacked and beaten, particularly by the Special Units, known to the people as ‘Rambos’. Some people would be killed, and many taken into custody where they would be routinely tortured62.
Not surprisingly, since there had been no response from the military or the politicians after two months, the ceasefire came to a bloody end when the PKK murdered 33 unarmed off duty soldiers travelling in a bus from Bingol to Elazig on May 24. Ocalan said on June 8 he had not given authority for this attack, but added that the war would now spread to the whole of Turkey. He called for attacks on tourism and ‘economic targets which finance the war against the Kurds’63, and these did occur, not only in the west of Turkey, but also in various parts of western Europe, particularly Germany.64 This was a tactical mistake, not only risking ‘a reaction against the rebels from tolerant European countries’65, but reinforcing the image of the PKK as a purely terrorist organisation.
Following the election of Mrs Tansu Ciller as leader of the DYP on June 13, in succession to Mr Demirel, it looked once again for a moment as though progress would be made towards genuine democracy and the recognition of Kurdish rights. The new ‘Coalition Protocol’ between the DYP and the SHP, supposedly the basis for the government’s programme, while reiterating that the ‘fight against terrorism’ would continue, gave a firm undertaking that the state of emergency would be abolished, and promised that the village guard system would be eliminated, though without a timetable. The government would remove ‘the legal and other obstacles that hinder the free expression of our people’s ethnic, cultural and language rights’, and would permit the free development of ‘various ethnic, cultural and linguistic groups’66. Mrs Ciller repeated these promises in a speech to the TGNA a few days later, adding the removal of ‘barriers and rules that stand in the way of the democratisation process’; unlimited freedom of belief, thought and expression, the complete lifting of press censorship and reform of the prison system67.
Nothing came of any of these fine words. Two weeks after Mrs Ciller’s speech, the pro-Kurdish HEP was banned by a decree of the Constitutional Court in Ankara on July 14, 1993, on the grounds that the party had violated the Constitution, and the Law on Political Parties. Article 3 of the Constitution declares that the Turkish state, its territory and nation, is an indivisible entity, and its language is Turkish68. The Law on Political Parties says, inter alia, that Political parties are prohibited from stating that on the territory of the Republic of Turkey there exist minorities of differing nationality, religion, culture or confession, race or language. They are not permitted to have the aim of destroying national unity by creating minorities by means of the protection, development or dissemination of languages or cultures other than the Turkish language and culture, and they are not permitted to develop any activities whatsoever of this sort.
On the face of it, this would be one of the ‘legal ….. obstacles that hinder the free expression of our people’s ….. language rights’, and it is clearly incompatible with Turkey’s OSCE commitments, including the reaffirmation of their commitment to advance the protection of national minorities in the Budapest Summit Declaration of December 199469. To put it another way, ‘to an outside world, acknowledgement of the ethnic identity of one fifth of the country’s 60 million population seems common sense’70. But more than three years later, the Constitution remains unamended in any material way and the Law on Political parties is still on the statute book.
Up to the date of the ban on the HEP, 48 of the party’s officials had been murdered by death squads71. The Democracy Party (DEP), formed to replace the HEP, immediately became the target of attacks, and on September 4, 1993, Mehmet Sincar MP was killed by gunmen as he walked along a crowded street in broad daylight in Batman. Metin Ozdemir, chairman of Batman DEP, was also murdered, and four other people were wounded in the attack, including Nizamettin Toguc MP.
At the same time, the legal onslaught on the Kurdish MPs started on August 15, with the call by Nusret Demiral, Chief Public Prosecutor of the Ankara State Security Court, for Orhan Dogan MP to be tried for separatism, an offence which carries the death penalty under Article 125 of the Penal Code72. The judicial persecution of the Kurdish deputies proceeded in parallel with the extrajudicial violence against the MPs and officials of the party, leaving no room for doubt that both offensives were planned and executed by the same authority.
On September 10, there was a bomb attack on the house of Mr Sincar’s father in Kiziltepe. The intended victim was probably Leyla Zana MP, who had come to offer her condolences. She escaped unharmed, but six others were wounded73. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, in an unusually blunt resolution, doubted ‘the efficacy with which the Turkish state ensures, in keeping with its duty, the security of the members of the Grand National Assembly and particularly that of the parliamentarians of the south-eastern region of Turkey’74.
In the same month, Yashar Kaya, leader of the DEP, was arrested by anti-terror police in Ankara and remanded in custody by the State Security Court for a speech he had made at the Kurdish Democratic Party conference in Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan75.
In October, trials opened in Istanbul and Diyarbakir of the Human Rights Association and three of its members. The individuals were charged under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror law, under which they could be sentenced to five years in prison for discussing the exploitation of the Kurds, while the Association was threatened with closure under the Law of Association. This case was one of a series aimed at human rights activists and lawyers. The Law Society of the UK found ‘strong evidence that lawyers in Turkey involved in defending people in political trials or in human rights work, are themselves being subjected to threats, intimidation and harassment, at least some of which comes openly from the Turkish authorities and security forces’. The Law Society found that Article 8 was in clear breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression76.
In December 1993, the Ankara State Security Court Prosecutor, Nusret Demiral, launched the proceedings against the Democracy Party which were to lead to its closure. The Prosecutor argued that, by referring to the CSCE process and the Paris Charter, the party’s declaration implicitly referred to the principle of self-determination and to minority rights. This aimed at dividing the nation, since the right to self-determination applies only to peoples under colonial domination, and minority rights do not apply to the situation in Turkey where there is no ethnic discrimination77. The Prosecutor thus clearly delineated the boundaries to freedom of expression. The use of the terms in question was defined as an attack on the indivisible integrity of the state, and thus constituted a criminal offence. By extension, virtually any remark or statement emphasising the distinctive Kurdish identity would become criminal. One of the allegations against the MPs was that when asked to say what foreign languages they spoke, they replied ‘Turkish’.
On December 22, 1993, President Demirel said that ‘persons with links to the PKK cannot contest elections, and the state will take the necessary measures’78. Some of these persons could be prosecuted under the Anti- Terror Law, and many potential candidates were, on the flimsiest of grounds. Investigations had been launched on October 13, for instance, against 16 Mayors under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law, because of a statement they had issued. But after the President gave the signal, the arrests and harassment intensified, with a crescendo in early February. On February 9, for instance, Mahmut Tozbey, candidate for Dogubeyazit, his wife and children and 60 others were taken into custody, while on February 11, 140 people including the candidate for Igdir were arrested.
But other DEP candidates, alleged to be ‘separatists’ and therefore according to the state’s way of looking at it, linked to the PKK irrespective of whether they had been involved in any offences of violence, would be prevented from standing without recourse to the law, or by a combination of judicial and physical violence. Following Mr Demirel’s statement, there was a wave of attacks on DEP premises all over the southeast and beyond79.
On January 10, 1994, the army attacked the DEP offices in Lice. A restaurant next to the building was also damaged, and 16 people were taken into custody for several hours80. The same day, security forces raided the village of Zubeyir Aydar MP, taking 26 people into custody and burning down 36 houses. On January 20 the DEP office in Yenisehir, Ankara was bombed, and the Mamak office on January 29. The office at Derik, in Mardin province, was hit on February 1. The General Secretary of the party, Murat Bozlak, was seriously wounded in an attack by gunmen at his Ankara home on February 6, 198481. Finally, on February 18, the party’s main Ankara office was bombed, killing an off-duty prison officer and injuring 16 people, three of them seriously.
When this latest atrocity was debated in the TGNA the following day, Sirri Sakik MP said the real target of the attack was the Kurdish MPs. He had left the building 15 minutes before the explosion. Hatip Dicle MP said “I believe these attacks are the result of decisions taken by the National Security Council, to stop the DEP taking part in the local elections. I am not sure how long our candidates will be able to continue”. To this, the Minister of the Interior Mentese responded by saying that the DEP had bombed its own building. When Dicle asked how Mentese could lower himself as a Minister to say such a thing, the Minister shouted “You are a traitor! What can you expect from a traitor!”82
Despite the fact that President Demirel sent a message to Dicle condemning the attack and expressing condolences, three days later the Prime Minister repeated the Interior Minister’s verbal mugging. At a group meeting of the True Path Party she said that the PKK was being sheltered in Parliament, and when her mention of Hatip Dicle as Leader of the DEP was greeted by cries of “No, traitor, traitor!” she joined in with “Yes, exactly”!83
Finally, Hatip Dicle announced the withdrawal of the DEP from the local elections on February 2584. The state had driven the constitutional pro- Kurdish movement from the electoral field, leaving it clear for the Islamist Refah Party. Seen now as the main anti-establishment force in the southeast, Refah won dozens of mayoralties in the region including that of Diyarbakir, the capital85, on very low turnouts. The state had achieved a Pyrrhic victory, eliminating the Democracy Party but helping to boost the growth of the Islamists, who now constitute a formidable challenge to the secularist foundation of the Kemalist state.
That the government itself was the author of all the acts of violence against DEP activists and property cannot be seriously doubted. Looking at the pattern of events as a whole, it is inconceivable that some private organisation perpetrated unsolved crimes of violence, while the state and its agents were responsible for all the remaining acts by the police, the prosecuting authorities and the security forces, which in many cases themselves involved the use of violence.
The state’s readiness to use violence against unarmed opponents is confirmed by the prevalence of torture and disappearances. In November 1993 the UN Committee Against Torture published the results of an inquiry on Turkey under Article 20 of the Convention Against Torture86, the only time this procedure has ever been invoked. In their conclusion, the Committee said they remained ‘concerned at the number and substance of the allegations of torture received,which confirm the existence and systematic character of the practice of torture in [Turkey]’. They remarked that ‘torturers should not feel that they are in a position of virtual immunity from the law’.
Unfortunately, this unprecedented criticism has produced no discernible improvement. According to the US State Department, ‘there was no indication of either the amelioration of treatment of those charged under the Anti-Terror Law or an overall decrease in the incidence of torture in 1994’87. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Nigel Rodley, devoted 80 paragraphs to Turkey in his most recent report, by far the most extensive entry of any country in the world. He concluded that torture ‘continues to be systematic, the perpetrators acting with virtual impunity’. He added that most of the governmenmt’s replies ‘contain unsubstantiated flat denials…… which patently lack credibility’, and he warned that such replies risked ‘being taken as a signal by those reponsible for the torture, of the Government’s willingness to protect them and have them continue the practice’88.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, M Bacre Waly Ndiaye, told the same story. ‘… [M]embers of the political opposition, journalists and human rights activisits continued to be targets of acts of violence. The security forces and paramilitary groups co-operating with them, particularly the “village guards”…., were said to be responsible for violations of the right to life’. M Ndiaye said that for more than two years he had been receiving numerous allegations from a variety of credible sources, and had repeatedly said that an on-site visit would be the only way of evaluating these allegations and the government’s denials. The government had assured him that a visit would be approved in principle, but the fact that it had not materialised, raised the question of whether the government was genuinely willing to invite him 89.
According to the UN Working Group on Disappearances, Turkey was again at the head of the world league table in the number of new cases reported in 1994. The Group expressed particular concern at the increase in 1994 90.
The findings of the UN human rights experts are abundantly confirmed by the work of many NGOs. Amnesty International has highlighted the growth of disappearances, extrajudicial killings (in which they see ‘the fingerprint of the state’) and torture91, and has documented literally hundreds of individual cases. AI has also drawn attention to the government’s systematic attempts to conceal the scale of human rights violations. This has taken the form of prosecuting human rights defenders, closing down branches of the Turkish Human Rights Association, and severely limiting access to the emergency region by foreign human rights investigators 92.
In the whole of 1994, according to the Human Rights Association of Turkey, 14,473 detentions were recorded, and 328 of those detained subsequently disappeared. They identified 298 extrajudicial executions, and another 192 ‘suspicious murders’. In actions against civilians 458 were killed and 574 wounded 93.
These trends have continued in 1995. In a report by the Human Rights Association, it was stated that in the month of July alone, there were 14 extrajudicial executions, 13 ‘suspicious murders’ and 19 people disappeared while in custody. The number killed in armed conflict was 392. During the month, 1,572 people were arrested, of whom 62 were journalists 94.
The Kurdistan Human Rights Project (KHRP), a UK-based NGO founded only three years ago to help individuals to lodge complaints with the European Commission of Human Rights, has assisted more than 250 people so far, in a range of cases involving summary and arbitrary executions, indiscriminate killings, destruction and evacuation of villages, torture, rape, disappearances, denials of freedom of expression, and the persecution of lawyers and MPs. In 250 cases dealt with so far, all involving the targetting of Kurds, the Project says that lack of accountability for the crimes committed by agents of the state is a common factor. The inadequacy of domestic remedies is another feature observed. So far, 41 of the cases presented with the help of the KHRP have been declared admissible by the Commission 95.
Picking up the threads of the Ozgur Gundem story, on April 14, 1994 the paper was shut down temporarily, in the first of 200 such cases to come to the Supreme Court. On April 27, the owners of the paper decided to cease operations, and a new title, Ozgur Ulke, was launched. But on June 14, 1994, the editor, deputy editor and 11 journalists from the defunct title were put on trial in Istanbul. The editor, Ms Gurbetelli Ersoz and four others were charged with membership of an illegal organisation, the remainder with ‘separatist propaganda’96. Amnesty International, in the same month, reported that ‘Turkey is once again imprisoning people for the expression of their non- violent political opinions, in contravention of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights 97.
Ozgur Ulke fared no better than its predecessor. After endless arrests of its staff and harassment, the signal was given for the final blow in a secret letter from Prime Minister Ciller to the Justice Minister, calling for ‘methods to effectively combat this kind of publication’. On December 3, the paper’s offices in Istanbul and Ankara were bombed, killing one person, Ersin Yildiz and injuring 20 others in an enormous blast at their main offices in the Kadirga district of Istanbul98. Finally on February 3, 1995, the paper was closed down altogether when a court ruled that it was subject to the same ban as Ozgur Gundem99. When yet another paper representing a Kurdish viewpoint, Yeni Politika, was planned, its premises were raided before even the first issue appeared in April, six of its journalists were detained, and the inaugural issue was confiscated for containing ‘separatist propaganda’100.
Even foreign journalists have come under fire. On October 12 Aliza Marcus, a US citizen, was to come before the State Security Court in Istanbul, charged with ‘stirring up racial hatred, an offence which carries a maximum of three years imprisonment, for an article she wrote in Ozgur Ulke of November 27, 1994, mentioning the forced evacuation and burning of Kurdish villages101.
Still more bizarre, a distinguished Turkish academic, Professor Dogu Ergil, is under intense fire on account of a survey of opinion in the southeast, which found that over 75% of the people wanted federalism, autonomy or an independent state. The idea of asking Kurds for their opinion on these matters is anathema to the Kemalist establishment, but Professor Ergil’s conclusion that ‘the PKK is not the cause of the problem….. [it is] the illegitimate child of the system’ is the worst kind of heresy102.
The government counters all criticism of human rights violations by attempts to deflect attention towards the attacks on non-combatants perpetrated by the PKK, which must be condemned, and by falsely and maliciously ascribing massacres committed by the security forces to the PKK. There is a residue of circumstantial evidence against the PKK in the case of some atrocities, notably against the families of village guards, informers, and in one case, of six teachers, but for most of this information, researchers have had to rely on the indirect testimony of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, because the Emergency Rule Governor would not allow meetings with witnesses103.
It should be noted that in March 1994, the PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan said he would stop all armed activity if a basis was established for a political solution, based on dialogue within a democratic framework. He suggested a cease-fire under international supervision, and discussion of various alternatives, including federation104. (He has given even more prominence to the concept of federation in subsequent pronouncements)105. At the same time, he accepted the obligation to protect the lives, security and integrity on non-combatants in accordance with common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It is not easy to say whether this has led to any reduction in the attacks on civilians by the PKK, and it has to be recognised that for the whole of the period of the conflict, the PKK have followed the maxim that ‘Violence is the only way of securing a hearing for moderation’106.
There was certainly no question of the Turkish authorities responding to this PKK initiative, any more than they had to the cease fire of the previous year. They were in the middle of a big offensive, decided by the Emergency State Coordination Committee (Olaganustu Hal Koordinasyon Kurulu), using 150,000 troops and the Second Tactical Airforce, reinforced with an additional 30 planes from other commands107. Ankara would not agree to discussions with the terrorists, as they saw them, but at the same time they were setting the scene for the elimination of the constitutional Kurdish opposition. By doing so, they were deliberately abandoning political solutions and relying exclusively on the military option.
At the beginnning of March 1994, the TGNA withdrew the immunity of the Kurdish MPs. The then Turkish Ambassador in London, Mr Candemir Onhon, explained that this had been done on the request of the State Security Courts, based on Article 125 of the Penal Code. That provision, which dealt with action against the indivisibility of the State and Nation, was based on Article 14 of the Constitution, which stipulates the conditions under which basic rights and freedoms may be restricted. Mr Onhon observed that the penal codes of many other states prescribe heavy penalties for crimes involving separatism and division of the country, and he argued that there was no incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights, which allows for some departures from absolute freedom of expression108. Mr Onhon omitted to mention that Article 125 carries the death penalty.
Six MPs, Hatip Dicle, Leyla Zana, Orhan Dogan, Sirri Sakik, Ahmet Turk and Mahmut Alinak, were arrested on the withdrawal of their immunity.
When the DEP was dissolved by the Constitutional Court on June 16, 1994, (because of its “Peace Now Declaration”, and statements made by the former chairman of the Party, Yasar Kaya, in which he referred to the leaders of Kurdish rebellions against the Turkish state, and to the Republic of Mahabad), two further MPs, Sedat Yurtdas and Selim Sadak, were automatically unseated and were then also arrested under Article 125 on July 1. On December 8, 1994, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Ahmet Turk, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak were found guilty under Article 168 para 2 of the Turkish Penal Code of membership of an illegal armed organisation, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Sedat Yurtdas was found guilty under Article 169 of having provided support to an armed organisation and given 7 years six months imprisonment. Mahmut Alinak and Sirri Sakik were found guilty under Article 8 para 1 of the Anti-Terror Law of having engaged in separatist propaganda and were sentenced to 3 years six months, plus a fine of 70 million TL, but released on bail pending appeal.
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly had called for the release of the Kurdish MPs109, as had the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly110.The Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians of the Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU) sent a delegation to Turkey to study the cases of the Members convicted. They found that the authorities made no distinction between the Democracy Party and the PKK, and they viewed the MPs in the same light as the atrocities committed by the PKK. In every discussion, the latest crimes of the PKK were raised, and the delegation were asked whether any other Parliament in Europe would accept terrorists as Members. It was also frequently stressed that there was no such thing as a Kurdish minority in Turkey, since every citizen of Turkey possessed equal rights under the law111. The then Turkish Ambassador to London wrote in March 1994: ‘The Kurds are not considered to be a minority group in Turkey. The Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923, states that the minorities of Turkey are the Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks and Jews’112.
As Leyla Zana put it, ‘..speaking of the existence of the Kurdish people, of the land of Kurdistan, demanding a peaceful recognition of the culture and identity of the Kurds in a democratic system and within existing borders, make me “a member of the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party”, even though that party is engaged in a war with the Turkish state and I search for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem’113. It is indeed essential to understand this mind-set, because it affects the possibility of changes in the Constitution and in the criminal law, in the direction of greater freedom of expression, and of compliance with the OSCE’s Human Dimension agreements, particularly the Copenhagen Declaration which deals with the rights of minorities.
Under pressure from President Clinton, the Prime Minister, Mrs Tansu Ciller, was cornered into giving an assurance that Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law would be repealed. Turkey needs to conciliate Washington, because she was still the third largest recipient of US military aid in 1995, and this year surplus US weapons were still being delivered to Turkey under agreements which allow them to be used for internal security purposes114. There does not seem to have been any attempt to review the compatibility of these deliveries with the OSCE’s Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers, under which participating states bind themselves to avoid transfers which would be likely to be used for the violation or suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms115. The intensifying human rights violations, and the international discussion of Article 8 in particular, make it likely that more attention will be focussed on the use made of US weaponry.
However, Prime Minister Ciller recently told the US Ambassador to Ankara and visiting European Parliamentarians that the legislation could not be dealt with by the middle of December, a crucial date when the European Parliament was to vote on the admission of Turkey to the European customs union116. At meetings of the EC-Turkey Association Council in December 1994 and March 1995, the President of the European Union had ‘informed Turkey that its record on democracy, human rights and the rule of law fell far short of the situation in Member States, and that Turkey should respect international standards, particularly given its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE’117. Without a better willingness to observe these standards, there can be no support for closer links between Turkey and Europe.
The repeal of Article 8 and the liberalisation of the constitution itself are not policies that appeal, in themselves, to the True Path Party and still less so to the military men on the National Security Council, who determine these matters from behind the scenes. (The role of the NSC as defined in the Constitution is to give decisions ‘concerning the measures that it deems necessary for the preservation of the existence and independence of the State, the integrity and indivisibility of the country, and the peace and security of society’. The Council of Ministers must ‘give priority’ to the decisions of the NSC)118. Some of the politicians may be prepared to offer concessions to western opinion as the price for receiving US aid and getting the economic and political advantages of being part of Europe, but the instability of Turkish politics in the run-up to the election makes it unlikely that any reforms can be pushed through the TGNA from now on.
The elimination from the Constitution of Article 14 and other provisions which prevent discussion of federalism, devolution, local autonomy or minority rights is even further distant. General Ahmet Corekci, Vice-Chief of Staff and commander of the Air Force, made the opposition of the armed forces to any such reforms quite plain. Briefing journalists on ‘the fight against separatist terrorism on June 30, 1995, he said that demands for Kurdish language broadcasting and education were a psychological tactic by the PKK, and that ‘we feel it is not appropriate for Article 8 to be changed’119.
General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, Chief of General Staff, warned on July 28 that ‘people… having designs on the country’s indivisible unity, those who search for so-called “solutions”, are in fact those seeking a separate state’. The ‘naive liberals or ill-intentioned critics’ should ‘come to their senses before being made to pay a heavy price’. So even if the coalition had not fallen apart, it was not likely that further changes would have followed the modest amendments approved by the TGNA on July 26, 1995, none of which had any bearing on the Kurdish question. The rhetoric of senior military officers signals to the politicians that radical changes might lead to a military coup, and even the repeal of Article 8 would be stepping dangerously close to the line.
The military no doubt take comfort from the knowledge that a TGNA majority committed to reform is virtually impossible. Deniz Baykal’s Republican People’s Party, the junior ex-coalition partner, did not put a fixed timetable for progress on democracy at the top of his priorities in the disagreements with Mrs Ciller, but it was at least on his list120, and will be an election issue. But with the party standing at 14% in the opinion polls, about the same as the Islamist Refah Party and well behind the True Path and Motherland Parties, there is no more likelihood of a more liberal approach by a post-election government than during the years when at least the RPP and their predecessor the SHP had a minor share in power. It seems probable, from the distribution of support between the parties, that once again no party will have an absolute majority in the new TGNA, but any coalition may just as likely be entirely of right-wing parties, whose inclination will be to put reforms on indefinite hold.
The broad outlines of Turkey’s Kurdish policy have not changed during the 90s, and are unlikely to undergo any major shift in the rest of the decade. Whatever government comes into power next year, the essentials can be summarised as follows:
* There are no national minorities in Turkey. The Kurds are not a minority.
* The Kemalist principle of the indivisible integrity of the Turkish state, republic and people, has to be maintained in the constitution, and reflected in the criminal law.
* Freedom of expression must be limited, to prevent any manifestation of the Kurdish identity, and this is justifiable within the exceptions allowed by the European Convention.
* The security forces retain total impunity for their actions in the emergency region, and the NSC takes decisions on the conduct of their operations, without reference to the TGNA.
* No outside agency must be allowed to have any role in the conflict with the Kurds. The OSCE and the ICRC, in particular, must be excluded.
* There has to be some show of willingness to make progress on human rights and democracy, for overseas consumption, and if possible, minor changes to the Constitution and the criminal law should be agreed.
In the face of this prospect, and the apparent impossibility of ever securing the necessary radical changes in Turkey’s political system which could enable a peaceful outcome to the long and unnecessary struggle between Turk and Kurd, the dispassionate observer can only agree with the writer Yashar Kemal, himself a victim of persecution: ‘Of course I take sides. For me the world is a garden of culture where a thousand flowers grow. Throughout history all cultures have fed one another, been grafted onto one another, and in the process our world has been enriched. The disappearance of a culturte is the loss of a colour, a different light, a different source. I am as much on the side of every flower in this thousand flowered garden as I am on the side of my own culture. Anatolia has always been a mosaic of flowers, filling the world with flowers and light. I want it to be the same today’121.
1 see for example A L Macfie, Ataturk, Longman, 1994, 73.
2 The Turkish National Pact, in J C Hurewitz, Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East, D van Nostrand Company, Princeton NJ, 1956, Vol II, 74.
3 Robert Olsen, Battle for Kurdistan; The Churchill-Cox Correspondence Regarding the Creation of the State of Iraq, 1921-1923; Kurdish Studies, Vol 5, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring-Fall 1992, 29.
4 The Treaty of Peace with Turkey, Parliamentary Papers, 1923, Treaty Series No 16, Cmnd 1929.
5 Christopher Walker, Islamic backlash pushes Turkey down violent path, The Times, April 24, 1990.
6 Philip Robins, The overlord state: Turkish policy and the Kurdish issue, International Affairs, 69. 4 (1993) 657-676.
7 Committee to Protect Journalists, Enforced Restraint: Press Conditions in Turkey, New York, December 1990.
8 Hugh Pope, Turkey’s crackdown on Kurds hits press, The Independent, April 14, 1990, 3.
9 ‘In spite of their peaceful admittance to the town [Elazig], the rebels plundered, tortured and raped’: Robert Olson, The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said rebellion, 1880-1925; University of Texas Press, Austin, 1991, 110.
10 Document of the Copenhagen meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, Cm 1324, London, HMSO, November 1990.
11 H E Mr Nurver Nures, Turkish Ambassador to the UK, unpublished letter to the Rt Hon Sir Bernard Braine DL MP, February 25, 1991.
12 Bruce R Kuniholm, Turkey and the West, Foreign Affairs, Spring 1991, Vol 70, No 2, 37.
13 Anti-Terror Law approved, Turkey Briefing, London, April 1991, 1.
14 Unsigned memorandum from the Turkish Embassy in London, May 13, 1991.
15 See, for example, Ocalan’s letter of March 10, 1994, to the International Conference of North West Kurdistan, Kurdistan Human Rights Project, London, June 1994.
16 Hatip Dicle, Turkey’s War Against Kurdistan, Kurdistan Information Centre, London, June 29, 1991.
17 Deputy allegedly killed by police, Turkey Briefing, London, Vol 5 No 4, August 1991, 21.
18 Hugh Pope, Turkey’s commitment to Kurds in question, The Independent, July 12, 1991, 11.
19 Hasan Cemal, Cumhuriyet, November 29-December 5, 1991.
20 Ismail Besikci, Devletterarasi somurge Kurdistan (Kurdistan – an interstate colony) quoted in Ismail Besikci, Selected Writings, Kurdistan Information Centre, December 1991, 7.
21 Case List – 30th June 1995, International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, London, 1995, 86.
22 Turgut Ozal, The International Protection of Human Rights and the Turkish Grand National Assembly, speech to the Symposium on Human Rights organised by the TGNA, Antalya, October 4, 1991.
23 Mufit Ozdes, Minister-Counsellor, Turkish Embassy in London, unpublished note ‘Principles of Democratization of the New Turkish Coalition Government’, December 4, 1991.
24 MIT chief warns of PKK uprising, Turkish Daily News March 9, 1992
25 Yeni Ulke, March 15-22, 1992.
26 Report of a Human Rights delegation to the Kurdish region of Turkey, April 15 to 22, 1992, 15.
27 Ibid, 37.
28 Broken Promises: Torture and Killings Continue in Turkey; Helsinki Watch, New York, December 1992, 8
29 Kurds Massacred: Turkish Forces Kill Scores of Peaceful Demonstrators, Helsinki Watch, Vol 4, Issue 9, June 1992, 3.
30 Op cit, 10.
31 Serdar Celik, How Journalists are Murdered in Kurdistan, Ulkem Presse, Cologne, July 1993
32 Ibid, 25.
33 The Kurds of Turkey: Killings, Disappearances and Torture, Helsinki Watch, New York, March 1993, 11.
34 Human Rights and Terrorism, UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1994/L.11/Add.5, March 4, 1994, 9.
35 Turkey: Escalation in human rights abuses against Kurdish villagers, Amnesty international, EUR/44/64/93, July 1993.
36 Turkish Daily News, August 30, 1992, 12.
37 William M Hale, Middle East Contemporary Survey, Vol XV1: 1992, 759.
38 Desolated and profaned, a report by the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, London, October 1992.
39 Hugh Pope, Ankara hardens line as Kurdish rebellion grows bloodier, The Independent, September 10, 1992, 10.
40 Hugh Pope, Turks make a desert and call it peace, Independent on Sunday, July 23, 1995.
41 Soz newspaper, Diyarbakir, July 13, 1995
42 IHD, unpublished communication, September 15, 1995.
43 Unpublished letter from the UNHCR Representative in the UK to the author, May 6, 1994.
44 Zeynep Alemdar, Turks attack Kurds in Iraq, The Independent, October 24, 1992
45 James Wyllie, Turkish Objectives in Northern Iraq, Jane’s Intelligence Review, July 1995, Vol 7 No 7, 307.
46 Unpublished draft agreement presented to the KDP and PUK delegations at the Drogheda meeting by the US State Department representatives headed by Mr Bob Deutsch, September 1995.
47 Turkey: sixteen deaths in detention in 1992, Vol 5, Issue 1, Helsinki Watch, New York, February 1993.
48 Turkey: walls of glass, Amnesty International, EUR 44/75/92, November 1992, 10.
49 Turkey: Censorship by Assassination, Vol 4, Issue 16, Helsinki Watch, New York, December 1992, 3.
50 Ibid, 16.
51 Public Statement on Turkey, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Council of Europe, December 15, 1992, 6.
52 John Carvel, Europe tells Turkey to end torture, The Guardian, London, December 22, 1992.
53 Ismet Imset, The Pros and Cons of the Judicial reforms, Turkish Probe, December 22, 1992, 16.
54 Broken Promises: Torture and Killings continue in Turkey; Helsinki Watch, New York, December 1992, 63.
55 Mark Muller, Censorship and the Rule of Law in Turkey; The Bar Human Rights Committee, London, December 1993.
56 Freedom of the Press in Turkey: the case of Ozgur Gundem; Kurdistan Human Rights Project, London, January 1994.
57 Mark Muller, op cit.
58 A desolation called peace, Parliamentary Human Rights Group, London, November 1994, 10.
59 Turkey: Crackdown on Freedom of Expression; Bulletin of Article XIX, Issue 19, Jan/Feb 1994, 1.
60 Lois Whitman, Turkey: Censorship by Assassination Continues; Helsinki Watch, New York, February 1994.
61 Edward Mortimer and John Murray Brown, Shaking the kaleidoscope, and ‘I’ve been careful to control my attitude’, an interview with Suleyman Demirel, Financial Times, May 7, 1993.
62 Kurdistan News, No 7, Bremen, July 26, 1993
63 PKK General Secretary’s press conference ending ceasefire, Report presented to the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities by the Kurdistan Committees, Geneva, August 2, 1993.
64 Turkey Briefing Vol 7 No 2, Summer 1993, 2.
65 Hugh Pope, Kurds declare all-out war on Turks: End of peace process as PKK threatens “most ferocious campaign” in nine-year battle, The Independent, London, June 9, 1993, 14.
66 Coalition protocol between the True path Party and Social Democrat Populist Party, Basbakanlik Basimevi, Ankara, June 24, 1993.
67 Government Programme; speech by Mrs Tansu Ciller to the TGNA, June 30, 1995, Basbakanlik Basimevi, Ankara.
68 Constitution of Turkey, in Constitutions of the Countries of the World, ed Albert P Blaustein & Gisbert H Flanz, Oceana Publications Inc, Dobbs Ferry, New York; Vol XIX, Release 93-4.
69 ‘The participating states confirm their determination connsistently to advance the implementation of the Final Act and all other CSCE documents relating to the protection of national minorities…’; Article 21, Part VIII, The Human Dimension; Budapest Summit Declaration, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, December 1994.
70 A Turkish Reality; Kurdish culture cannot be wished away, The Times, October 24, 1992
71 Kurdistan News, Special issue, September 27, 1993.
72 Milliyet, August 16, 1993
73 Bomb attack on murdered MP’s house, Hurriyet, September 12, 1993.
74 Inter-Parliamentary Council, 153rd Session, Canberra, September 18, 1993
75 DEP Leader remanded in custody, Hurriyet, September 17, 1993.
76 Lawyers in fear; law in jeopardy; The Law Society, London, October, 1993.
77 Criminalizing Parliamentary Speech in Turkey: Report of the Law Group Delegation to Turkey on the Detention of Parliamentarians and the Proceedings to Ban the Democracy Party (DEP); International Human Rights Law Group; Washington, May 1994
78 Demirel: PKK members cannot be candidates, Milliyet, December 23, 1994.
79 Where not otherwise referenced, the information about attacks on the DEP is derived from the party’s Chronology, issued together with From the Democracy Party to the Public, undated but issued on the occasion of their withdrawal from the March 27 elections.
80 DEP building in Lice shelled (Lice’ de DEP binasi tarandi), Ozgur Gundem, January 12, 1994, 3.
81 DEP General Secretary shot, Hurriyet, February 7, 1994.
82 Mentese: Dicle is a traitor (Mentese ‘Dicle vatan haini’); Milliyet, February 20, 1994, 1.
83 Dismiss PKK from Parliament (PKK Meclis’ten atilacak), Zaman, February 23, 1994.
84 Democracy Party boycotts local polls; Turkish Daily News, February 26, 1994.
85 Diyarbakir Soz, March 29, 1994.
86 Report of the Committee Against Torture, Addendum; Summary account of the results of the proceedings concerning the inquiry on Turkey, A/48/44/Add.1, November 15, 1993. 87 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994, State Department, Washington, February 1995, 996.
88 QUESTION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF ALL PERSONS SUBJECTED TO ANY FORM OF DETENTION OR IMPRISONMENT, IN PARTICULAR: TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT; Report of the Special Rapporteur, Dr Nigel S Rodley, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1992/32; E/CN.4/1995/34, January 12, 1995, 156.
89 QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS IN ANY PART OF THE WORLD, WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO COLONIAL AND OTHER DEPENDENT COUNTRIES AND TERRITORIES; Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Report by the Special Rapporteur, M Bacre Waly Ndiaye, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1994/82; E/CN.4/1995/61, December 14, 1994, 96
90 QUESTION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF ALL PERSONS SUBJECTED TO ANY FORM OF DETENTION OR IMPRISONMENT; QUESTION OF ENFORCED OR INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCES; Report of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; E/CN.4/1995/36, December 30, 1994, 75.
91 Turkey: A policy of denial, EUR 44/01/95, February 1995
92 Turkey: human rights violations out of control as government maintains policy of denial, EUR 44/WU 03/95, News Service 21/95, February 8, 1995.
93 Report for the year 1994, Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernegi), Ankara, 1995.
94 Report for July 1995, Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernegi), Ankara, August 22, 1995.
95 KHRP cases declared admissible by the European Commission of Human Rights, Volume 1, April 1995 and Volume 2, June 1995; Kurdistan Human Rights Project, 1995.
96 Persecution of Turkish (sic) journalists; letter to The Independent from Lord Avebury and others, June 14, 1994.
97 Turkey: Dissident voices jailed again; EUR 44/45/94, Amnesty International, June 1994.
98 Prime Minister’s invocation of state violence against press freedom, Kurdistan Report, No 20, January/February 1995, 25.
99 Index on Censorship, Volume 24, 2/1995, 188.
100 Index on Censorship, Vol 24, 3/1995, 188.
101 Hurriyet, September 24, 1995.
102 Hurriyet and Ozgur Politika, September 7, 1995.
103 Turkey: Forced displacement of ethnic Kurds from southeastern Turkey; Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Vol 6, No 12, October 1994, 21
104 Abdullah Ocalan, To the International Conference on North West Kurdistan of March 12-13, in Final Resolution of the International Conference on North West Kurdistan, Kurdistan Human Rights Project, London, June 1994.
105 See for example, Jonathan Rugman, Hopes of Kurdish ceasefire slip away, The Guardian, London, August 22, 1994, 6.
106 William O’Brien editor of United Irishman quoted in C C O’Brien, Parnell and his Party, Oxford University Press, 1968, 69.
107 Hurriyet, March 17, 1994.
108 Candemir Onhon, Turkish Ambassador to Britain, unpublished letter, Match 9, 1994.
109 Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, ADOC7112, June 28, 1994.
110 CSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Vienna Declaration, Part III, paras 55-71, July 8, 1994.
111 Report of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians: Turkey, CL/156/11(a)-R.3, April 1995, 9.
112 Candemir Onhon, Turkish Ambassador to London, unpublished letter to John Austin-Walker MP, March 30, 1994.
113 Leyla Zana, Kurdish cry of protest rises from prison cell, The Times, London, September 7, 1994.
114 Human Rights Watch World Report 1995; Human Rights Watch, New York, December 1994.
115 Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers, agreed by all CSCE states, November 1993.
116 Andrew Finkel, Turkish leader hints at delay in repeal of anti-terrorism law, The Times, London, September 12, 1995, 5.
117 The European Commission, Interim Report Concerning Turkey, B/08/95, July 1995.
118 Constitutions of the Countries of the World, Vol 19, Issued August 1994; Oceana Publishing Inc, Dobbs Ferry, New York, 1995.
119 Hurriyet, July 1, 1995.
120 Jonathan Rugman, Turkish PM stands down after coalition squabble, The Guardian, London, September 21, 1995, 12. 121 Yasar Kemal, The dark cloud over Turkey, Index on Censorship, Vol 24, 1/1995, 147.
121 Yasar Kemal, “The dark Cloud over Turkey.” Index on Censorship, vol.24, 1/1995, 147