Death Through Torture in Turkey: the Story of Diyarbakir Prison
Preparing the Public Opinion
The Turkish state, even before its war against the PKK in particularand the Kurdish people in general began, had been practicing torture. The Ottomans left this legacy to the emerging new state that came to beknown as the Turkey. But this new state has turned the practice oftorture into an art form with the outbreak of Kurdish national liberationstruggle in 1984. Ever since, hundreds of people have disappearedand as many have been murdered while in the custody of the state. Nothing has come of the investigations. It would be foolish to expectsomething.
An example may suffice: in 1985, Siddik Bilgin, a teacher from Bingolprovince in Turkey was tortured to death. His family notified thepress. At the time, the Turkish press, relatively free, wrote ofthe torture. Two members of the Turkish parliament took it upon themselvesto investigate the incident. A Turkish soldier admitted to the chargeand the press reported his account. But the Turkish soldier’s casedragged for years and the charges were finally dismissed. His commandingofficer was later promoted to a even higher position.
The Turkish authorities did not like a free press in the country. Some of the publishers were bribed; others were threatened. The authoritieswanted the press to hate those who opposed the government. The PKKbecame a good target. The Kurds became object of the campaign ofhatred.
In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the Kurdish movement grew in strength. As the People’s Liberation Army of Kurdistan (ARGK) guerrillas grew innumbers, the Turkish authorities began to tighten their fists. In1992, in addition to the military front, the authorities began a psychologicalwarfare against the Kurds. The details of these new tactics revealedthat the Kurdish people as a whole were targeted for complete subjugation. There was, however, an obstacle in the way: the President of the country,Turgut Ozal. He needed to be eliminated. In May 1993, thiswas accomplished. The official news noted that Mr. Ozal died of aheart attack. But to this day, Korkut Ozal, his brother, speaks ofconspiracy regarding his brother’s death.
After Ozal, the proponents of total war were free to pursue their aims. The new Prime Minister issued her new policy on November 12, 1993. The print media, the television and the radio broadcasting became a toolof the government. In 1925, when the Turkish army fought the Kurds,it issued a decree: “Takrir-i Sukun” which meant total submission to thestate. For example, institutions that advocated political solutionto the Kurdish question were banned. The use of very word, “Peace”,became a liability. Turkish intellectuals, Ismail Besikci, EsberYagmurdereli were thrown into jails on the flimsiest of charges. The opposition press was deliberately attacked. The Kurdish daily,Ozgur Gundem, had its headquarters bombed.
On the other hand, the Turkish media began a wave of jingoism throughoutthe country. The television canals produced programs that portrayedthe invincibility of the Turkish army. When the Turkish footballteams scored well, the people began to develop a new habit of shootinginto the air with impunity. “Turkey is the Greatest, There isn’tAnother!” slogans became common. At every opportunity, the recitalof the national anthem became the rule rather than an exception. Turkishsoldiers who returned home in body bags provided a platform for expressionsof ardent Turkish nationalism. Flags began to appear everywhere. Those with big flags began to be viewed as “true” citizens. Businessesthat did not hoist flags were exposed and sanctioned. In 1996, atthe People’s Labor Party convention, a youth was taken into custody forlowering a Turkish flag and was given 23 years in prison. Today,people in the street have started to view the Kurds as people who couldbe despised.
How to Torture a Whole People
The Kurds of Turkey have been subjected to torture in the cities andrural areas. Many obsservers who study the Kurds do fully describethe extent of torture the Kurdish population undergoes. Human RightsOrganizations all over the world describe only that torture that is doneto the people who are in custody. They don’t understand. Turkeyis an open air prison for the Kurds who resist oppression. Over 6.000Kurdish villages have been patrolled by the elite Turkish Special Forces. All villagers are collected in the village square. Men are beatenin front of their families. Women are forced to undress in frontof the whole village. Sometimes some are forced to eat the humanwaste. An example of the latter was recently heard at the EuropeanHuman Rights Court. Villagers described Turkish Special Forces forcingthem to eat human waste. Turkey was found guilty.
The torturers do not just aim to hurt their prey. In the traditionalKurdish society, by undressing a woman, they aim to destroy the resistanceof her men, father, husband and brothers; by beating the man, they subjectthem to indignity in front of their women folk. Some women are violated. Sometimes, the soldiers will undress a man, tie a rope to his penis andforce his wife to haul him in the village square. Some Kurds areused as auxiliary forces and many have become notorious for engaging inthe rapes of the young women. Some of these women have committedsuicide. A young Kurdish woman recently found the courage to suethe government of Turkey at the European Court for Human Rights for rapeby Turkish soldiers. Thousands of others are not reported and gounnoticed.
When the members of the Turkish elite units visit the Kurdish villages,their aim is the destruction of the Kurds as a whole as a distinct people. The Kurdish lands have been subjected to an ethnic cleansing for decades. 3 million Kurds have been driven away from their homes; they wonder inthe large cities as destitute refugees. 3.500 Kurdish villages havebeen destroyed. Three Kurdish cities have been bombed and some oftheir business districts have been set afire.
A few victims of these atrocities have found the courage to sue theTurkish government in the European Court of Human Rights. In almostall cases, the villagers have won their cases. Some of these refugeesfacing harassment and discrimination in the large Turkish cities have beganto move to Europe. The villagers who have agreed to follow the dictatesof the Turkish government are forced to take up arms against their kin,the Kurdish fighters in the mountains. Recently a story was broadcaston the Turkish televisions. It well illustrates the destruction of theKurds as a distinct entity is the Turkish government’s aim.
The story is of a Kurdish fighter and his father who has been forcedto fight along the side of the Turkish soldiers in the Dogubeyazit regionof Turkish Kurdistan. One day, the Turkish forces receives intelligencethat a group of Kurdish fighters will be passing through a village. The soldiers and their Kurdish auxiliaries took positions along the way. The Kurdish unit appears; the commanding officer gives the order for fire. The Kurdish father shots first and kills the leading fighter. Theother fighters manage to get away. An eerie silence spreads. In the morning, the “victorious” side walks toward the dead body. The father notices that the fallen fighter is his son. The commandingTurkish officer calls on the television crews and advises the father tonote his happiness for the doing his “duty” for his country.
There are duties that the Kurdish villagers are forced to assume. For example, if an area is feared that it may be mined, then the Kurdishvillagers are forced to take charge to clean the field for the Turkishsoldiers. If an engagement is imminent with the Kurdish fighters,the villagers are used again, this time as cheap cannon fodder in the frontlines.
The war’s cost has escalated over the years. The Turkish governmenthas stooped to the trade of illegal drugs to keep its war economy going. According to the Wall Street Journal, the total income from the drug tradeamounts to close $800 billion in the world. The Turkish economist,Professor Veysi Sevik of University of Marmara, notes that $50 billionof that amount comes to Turkey. Turkey in general earns about $24billion from its exports and imports about $45 billion worth of goods. But it has some $30 billion in reserves. Turkish guest workers earn Turkeysome $5 billion and the tourism industry brings in another $ 5 billion. Given these numbers Turkey should have $10 billion deficit but insteadhas $30 billion in reserves. In other words, there is some $40 billionunaccounted money in the market. The Turkish economist, ProfessorIzzettin Onder of Istanbul University has publicly agreed with this statement.
The Turkish authorities have employed gangs to trade in illegal drugs. The gangs in turn are given a portion of the profits. These individualshave now become a force within the state. They have opposed the endingof the war lest that curtail their income. They have also playeda leading role in the kidnapping of prominent individuals and the collectionsof ransoms. They have employed the practice of torture as a toolto instill fear in their opponents.
The Origins of the Gangs: Nationalist Action Party (MHP)
Nationalist Action Party is the name of the party that was led by GeneralFranco during his iron fist rule in Spain. Alparslan Turkes, theTurkish colonel, who founded the party in 1965, had identical aspirations. Educated in the United States as well, the Turkish colonel attracted andorganized the ultra right wing nationalists and trained his cadres in counterinsurgency tactics.
Colonel Turkes unleashed his followers on the Kurds, communists andthe Allawites. The impunity with which he was treated emboldenedhis followers and earned him new recruits. Hundreds of members oftargeted groups were brutally murdered. One day in Maras, just becausethey were members of Allawite community, over 200 people were killed. These favored fighters of the Colonel Turkes believed in the superiorityof Turkish race. They learned from an early age that a she-wolf hadprovided inspiration to their forefathers and they needed to display hercharacteristics. In time, these true believers became a force tobe reckoned with in the army, in the police force and in the highest echelonsof the government. The Turkish police today are largely staffed bythe followers of Colonel Turkes. In the army too, their numbers areimpressive. Many have reached the painful conclusion that they alonerule the country.
In 1982, the followers of Colonel Turkes were given a mandate outsidethe borders of Turkey to do away with the members of Armenian group calledASALA. At the time Turkish president Kenan Evren noted their missionhad been accomplished and there was no more threat from Armenian militants. In 1993, new targets were assigned to these gangs. They were entrustedwith the trade of illegal drugs and licensed to kill Kurdish activistsand businessmen. Permission was given by the Turkish Prime Minister TansuCiller following which prominent Kurds became the target of disappearancesresulting in torture and deaths. Kurdish parliamentarian Mehmet Sincardied of assassins bullets in broad daylight in Batman.
The members of the MHP have been entrusted with three tasks the firstwas the formation of elite forces, in Turkish, “Ozel Timler” who were trainedwith the primary goal of subduing the Kurds. They could with totalimpunity murder or apprehend anybody who dared oppose them. They becamethe main route of transportation for illegal drugs. They eliminatedall other elements that were dealing in this business. In the Kurdishcities they called themselves Rambos and to instill fear in the populationhurting prominent Kurdish individuals became a favorite passtime of theirs. To this day, the members of these elite units are a law onto themselvesand in Kurdistan they act with impunity.
They were instrumental in setting up gangs that operated autonomously. Their field of operation included all of Turkey and they made it theirprofession to threaten political personalities, to blackmail the rich merchants,to kill or to daunt the advocates of peace, to eliminate the Kurdish activists,to silence the journalists and to bomb the headquarters of the oppositionpress. All these activities have been monitored by people withinthe National Security Council (MGK). As is well known, the MGK isan institution that takes its authority from the country’s constitution,led by generals and has the decisive voice over the affairs of the state,especially in the fields of foreign policy, external security and internalpeace. No one can question this authority. Last year, whenthe Welfare Party who was in government decided to meddle into the affairsof the state, it found itself forced out of office.
Lastly, the members of MHP have assumed the task of staffing the administrationof prisons which are a clearing house for destroying the identities ofthe Kurds. Today, some 10.000 Kurdish political prisoners are heldin Turkish jails. The war that is raging in the mountains of Kurdistanis waged more insidiously in the prisons.
The primary task of these prison officials is subjugate the dignityof the Kurdish inmates either through beatings or worse through pyscologicaltorture. Many are forced to be turncoats. Those who agree toinform on their friends are not left alone, they have to prove themselvesto the authorities by participating in the torture of their friends ortaking part in their killings. A turncoat’s value for the authoritiesis measured by the number of killings he does. The more he killshis fellow Kurds; the more value he earns.
The torture that is the lot of the inmates in the prisons is also inflictedon their loved ones whether they come for visitation hours or show up atthe State Security Courts. The level of harassment at times reacheslevels that call for dire responses. Hunger strikes have become aroutine in Turkish prisons. Sometimes, these hunger strikes lastsmore than fifty days and the inmates develop acute health problems. In 1996, the hunger strikes were allowed to continue for days and 12 inmateswere allowed to die.
The Diyarbakir Prison Incident: A Dark Page in the History of Humanity
The leader of military coup that toppled the civilian government inTurkey on September 12, 1980, Kenan Evren, in one of his remarks aboutthe imprisoned political activists noted that, “Are we expected to hangthese [criminals] or feed them?” Nothing has changed in Turkey relativeto the Kurdish political activists. This same mind-set prevails amongthe believers of MHP. That is why many Kurdish activists are killedbefore they are even brought before the courts. The incident in DiyarbakirPrison is a good example of that.
A day before the incident, the Turkish president Demirel visited Diyarbakir. President Demirel, as was his custom, threatened the Kurdish oppositionwith annihilation and met with the members of the Regional Emergency RuleGovernment. That year, the death of twelve inmates had forced theprison officials to give in to some of the demands of prisoners. That hadinfuriated the prison officials. They needed to teach a lesson tothe inmates. The events of Diyarbakir followed suit.
A number of groups have investigated the events of Diyarbakir prison. The Turkish parliament sent a delegation of its own. Major politicalparties, such as Welfare Party, Republican People’s Party and People’sLabor Party had their own representatives investigate the carnage. The Human Rights Association of Turkey together with the Chamber of Doctorsalso prepared their reports. All agree on these major points.
September 24, 1996 was a visitation day for the prisoners in halls 29 and 18. The inmates, divided into two groups, were on their way tosee their loved ones. In the Turkish prisons, the visitors are allowedto bring food for their imprisoned sons and daughters. The guardsallow the inmates to carry their food on trays to their halls. Onthat day, when the inmates asked for an extra tray from their fellow inmatesin Hall 35, the guards opposed. The inmates noted that this was astandard practice and asked why they were denied the use of a tray. The principal guard Fatih Ahmet was on duty that day and insisted on hisway and the group of inmates were locked into the hall way. In totalthirty inmates of the two halls and three inmates who were on their wayto see the doctor were locked in this area. As the inmates were keptin their place for hours, the soldiers outside were chanting: “Everythingfor the Country” or “My Country, I am Ready to Die for You.”
According to the report of Chamber of Doctors report, as these inmateswere kept in the hall way, the head prosecutor for the city, Ibrahim Akbas,had placed a call to the city hospital and to have their hospital staffbe guard. The fact that this call was made and is now admitted bythe hospital officials is evidence of the collusion at the highest levelof the government for this barbaric act.
The attack on the inmates began at 3.30 pm. 29 police officers,members of the elite forces, “Ozel Timler”, entered the hall way from onedoor and, 36 soldiers from the other. They began attacking the inmateswithout any warnings. The guards joined the soldiers and the officersthey seemed to enjoy attacking the leaders of the inmates. All 33 inmates were injured. Then the injured ones were taken in one byone beaten again.
At the end, Edip Direkci, Nihat Cakmak, Erkan Perisan, Ridvan Bulut,Hakki Tekin, Ahmet Celik, Mehmet Sabri Gumus, Cemal Cam, Mehmet Aslan diedin the hall way from blows to the head. The pictures of murderedinmates later appeared in the newspapers. Their heads were crushed. Their brains were out. The doctors at the City filmed the dead inmates. None of these inmates were the captured guerrillas. All were imprisonedbecause of their political views. They were being kept in custodyon the flimsiest of charges. The State Security Courts that had jurisdictionover their cases are always staffed by both civilian and military judges,but the chief judge is always is a military one.
After the beatings, the injured inmates were taken to the hospital. Even on the way to the hospital, they were tortured. Many of themwere in critical conditions. The authorities then decided that theyshould immediately be transferred to another city, Antep prison. The distance between the two cities is about four hours by a car. The inmates were shoved into a windowless truck. The soldiers whowere transporting the inmates viewed them as traitors. Kadir Demir died on the road to Antep, making the list of people who died from thedeadly attack: 10.
After the Attack
The authorities from the very beginning took the position that the “terrorists”had instigated the whole altercation. Then an silence took over asif not doing anything about the case would make the case go away. Before not a month had passed, the chief prosecutor in Diyarbakir fileda suit against the injured inmates for “destroying” the property of thegovernment. For evidence, the government’s side showed broken batons. The chief prosecutor contends that the inmates need to reimburse the governmentfor the broken batons. He also is asking for additional prison timefor them.
As can be expected, the charges created a scandal. A number ofhuman rights organizations moved to condemn the act. They were instrumentalin having the Turkish parliament send a delegation of its own to investigatethe situation. But because the parliament works in the shadow ofTurkish military, its report noted that a few minor infractions had takenplace. Nothing was done in the parliament about the matter.
The loved ones of the murdered inmates did not give up. After8 months, 33 soldiers and 29 police officers were sued in court. To this day, the proceeding in the court house are being postponed. To this day, the soldiers and the police officers have not reported tothe court. Some of the police officers have been appointed to serveelsewhere. The object is to stall the proceedings against the accused.
The lawyers for the murdered inmates have not had access to the pertinentinformation from the government. The survivors of the deadly altercationare brought to the presence of the soldiers before the judges. Theloved ones of the survivors are not allowed into the courtroom. Thesupporters of the survivors are often intimidated. Some have beentaken into custody and beaten. Some members of the Diyarbakir BarAssociation believe that the case could enter the annals of legal historyfor its remarkable irony.
M. Sirac Bilgin
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Committee(TASSC)
3321 12th Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017
Tel: (202) 529-6599
Fax: (202) 526-4611
Home Page: http://www.kurdistan.org/you-can-end-it