“What needs to be done now is to re-evaluate evidence in light of the newest developments,” he told Today's Zaman for Monday Talk. “This is a delayed action but a good development.”
There is already a court case in Diyarbakır against 11 people accused of being members of JİTEM, a secret and illegal unit formed under the gendarmerie, possibly intended to facilitate the military’s fight against ethnic terrorism in the Southeast. However, it later became an instrument for terrorizing locals and a major player in the region’s illegal commercial activities, such as drug trafficking and arms trading. However, the military judiciary refused to confirm the existence of such an organization.
JİTEM is also closely connected with Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal organization seeking to overthrow the government. Allegedly, one of the tools of the Ergenekon gang is JİTEM, whose founders, Veli Küçük and Arif Doğan, are suspects in the Ergenekon case, which started in 2008.
Elçi answered our questions and elaborated on the expectations regarding the fate of the cases in relation to extrajudicial killings.
For how long have you been dealing with cases related to the extrajudicial execution of missing people?
Unfortunately, I have been dealing with this issue since I started practicing law in 1992 in Cizre. The regions of Cizre and Şırnak were ripe with such acts, especially in 1992 and 1993. Every day, I have seen people there demanding help because their fathers, spouses, children or some other relative were taken, not heard from since and most likely fell victim to extrajudicial executions.
Were you able to help them?
We could not do anything. The judicial system did not work. Judges and prosecutors were insensitive toward such demands for justice. The doors of the courthouse were not accessible to the public. We were not even able to file a lawsuit. I remember I was drawing up a petition for a father whose child had not been heard from. He would take it to the prosecutor, and the prosecutor would send him to the gendarmerie, which hosted criminals. And the gendarmerie would question the father about who drew up his petition. This was the environment that we were in, especially in the 1990s in the Southeast of Turkey.
That’s why many cases like burning villages, extrajudicial executions, missing while in detention and torture would be directly taken to the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR]. Normally, domestic remedies should be exhausted before cases are accepted by the ECtHR. Under the special circumstances in Turkey, where administrative and judicial institutions were not sensitive toward such crimes and, to the contrary, would act in a way to protect criminals who are involved in serious human rights violations, the ECtHR took this issue into consideration and accepted direct complaints.
What happened later? Have you seen any relief as the years passed?
Until the last years of emergency rule [OHAL], more specifically until November 2002, this practice has continued. The last incident of missing while in detention occurred in Silopi. Two administrators from HADEP [the Kurdish-based People’s Democracy Party] were summoned to the Silopi gendarmerie command and have been missing ever since. Those people were Serdar Tanış and Ebubekir Deniz. Neither ever returned from the central military post, which was run by Levent Ersöz, who told Şuayip Tanış, the father of Serdar Tanış, that “if [your] son insists on staying in Silopi, he will no longer be living.”
Why exactly did they want to kill him?
He was trying to open a branch of HADEP there. For Ersöz, the area was his “fief” and he did not want HADEP there. Even though there were better developments in 2002 in the region, the situation in Şırnak did not get better because of Ersöz and how his team behaved. An hour after Tanış and Deniz went missing, we applied to the prosecutor’s office and other official agencies in the region and could not get any satisfaction. We then took the case to the ECtHR. In 2003, officials from the ECtHR came to Ankara and heard testimony from dozens of military officers about the case, but they were not able to hear from one person. This was Levent Ersöz. He would not come to the hearings despite the Foreign Ministry being willing to have him there. You know Ersöz now is an important figure in the Ergenekon case. After fleeing to Russia, he was finally captured with a false ID. Interestingly, he was with an active officer, Selim Gül, who received Tanış and Deniz at the Silopi gendarmerie command on Jan. 25, 2001 when they went missing.
What did you do after discovering this connection?
I immediately sent letters to the Ergenekon prosecutors and asked them to investigate Ersöz in relation to the Tanış and Deniz case. I also told them about Selim Gül.
Has there been any action by the Ergenekon prosecutors to investigate this link?
No action was taken for a long time. The Ergenekon prosecutor has recently sent the case file to the Diyarbakır public prosecutor in relation to those links. We are awaiting action by the Diyarbakır public prosecutor to deepen that investigation. There are already several cases open in Diyarbakır, Silopi, Cizre and so on, related to those criminal acts; what needs to be done now is to re-evaluate evidence in light of the newest developments. The incident involving Tanış and Deniz is indeed so clear, one detail demonstrates it: The families of these two missing people have been saying that there was a telephone call from the Silopi gendarmerie command asking Tanış and Deniz to go to the post, and they went there. The gendarmerie command has always denied that they called Tanış and Deniz. However, in 2001, the Silopi prosecutor found out from telephone records that Taşkın Akgün from the gendarmerie had called Tanış at the time Tanış’s family told prosecutors their son had received a call. This was also after a civilian team tried to get Tanış and Deniz into a car on Jan. 25 in 2001 in the middle of the town and they refused. What I want to emphasize is it is so obvious who the perpetrators of some of those crimes are, the only thing needed here is to have the political will to carry on with those cases and finalize them and punish the criminals.
‘Government backing is needed’
I have the impression that you are no longer too hopeful about the future of this investigation because no results have been obtained so far. Is that right?
I don’t want to think that way. I believe that if the [high] judiciary does not hinder the process and if the government is as strong willed toward such an investigation as it is in the Ergenekon investigation, then local prosecutors would be willing to shed light on these crimes.
Do you think local prosecutors fear carrying on with those investigations because they fear they might be the victims in the end?
We cannot forget that this country went through an incident like Şemdinli [where two noncommissioned officers and an outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) informant were caught red-handed in November 2005 bombing a bookstore]. The civilian judiciary gave 39 years to the perpetrators in that case, but the high judiciary said the military judiciary should look into the case as well. And the case went to the military court, which released all the perpetrators. This is a black stain on the history of the Turkish judiciary. With that, not only was faith in the Turkish judiciary weakened on the part of Kurdish and Turkish citizens, but also on the part of foreign states. Also in the Şemdinli case, a civilian prosecutor’s professional life was cut short by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK]. Therefore, civilian prosecutors are hesitant to proceed with such investigations. This is a big problem in Turkey, where the judiciary is trying to obscure the notion of justice.
What do you think prevents the government from backing efforts to finalize the cases of people who disappeared and who are believed to be the victims of extrajudicial executions?
Maybe government officials hold the belief that it is not the right time for that. And maybe there are some other considerations that we are not aware of. However, not handling those cases properly in the past was a dangerous act because those dark forces had become so strong they threatened the system of the country. If Levent Ersöz had been investigated properly in 2001, his name probably would not have emerged in many coup plans.
There are also other names suspected of having played big roles in extrajudicial executions and who are also mentioned as suspects in the Ergenekon case.
Veli Küçük, who is among the founders of JİTEM, and Arif Doğan, who is the number one suspect in the JİTEM case, which has been going on since 1989 in Diyarbakır. For about 15 years we have been struggling for closure in those cases. Doğan’s role has not yet been investigated. Finally, we were able to get the testimony of Hanefi Avcı [former police chief who was working in Diyarbakır between 1984 and 1992] last year. Avcı said that there were even many placards in the Diyarbakır military bases for JİTEM, and representatives of JİTEM openly participated in meetings regarding security in the area. Avcı also gave detailed information about some of JİTEM’s crimes. However, the gendarmerie command denies the existence of it. Avcı is not an unreliable person whose testimony might be disregarded; he is currently the police chief of the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir.
What else have you found regarding JİTEM?
As a result of my pressure, we have obtained the files found in an Ergenekon-related search in the home of Arif Doğan in Beykoz, İstanbul. There are important documents. For example, there are dozens of documents signed by Gen. Hikmet Köksal, who was at the time the Diyarbakır gendarmerie regional security commander. Those documents, signed by Gen. Köksal, were addressed to the JİTEM group command. While JİTEM’s existence is so obvious, the gendarmerie commits the crime of denying it.
Registered as an attorney at the Diyarbakır Bar Association since 1992, he has been living and working there since 1994. Concentrating on criminal cases related to human rights violations, he has represented victims in cases that involved public officials as perpetrators of crimes. In public, he is known as the “lawyer of the JİTEM case,” which concerns the extrajudicial executions of hundreds of missing people by an illegal group inside the gendarmerie known as JİTEM. He served on the board of directors of the Diyarbakır Bar Association. He is also among the founding members of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV). He is a member of Amnesty International (AI) and was among the first chairpersons who headed the organization’s Turkish branch. He has written numerous articles in various publications about such issues as serious violations of human rights, crimes that go unpunished and a system in which victims cannot obtain justice.