Background Briefing

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Obstacles to Return

Paramilitary Village Guards

Although the Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project also authorized regional governors to provide ad hoc support for returning villagers, Human Rights Watch’s earlier research indicated that such support was more likely to be paid to displaced village guards than to villagers displaced by the security forces. At any rate, relatively few villagers have been encouraged to return to their homes, and it is clear that the countryside remains under the influence of the brutal and corrupt paramilitary village guards. The Interior Ministry admits that there are currently 58,416 village guards operating in the southeast, and that it has no plans to disband them, despite the fact that every survey of the returns problem (including one carried out by the Turkish parliament in 1995) urged the abolition of this corrupt and corrupting system.

Village guards were involved in the original displacement, and in the intervening years have continued to commit murders and abductions. In some cases village guards are now occupying properties from which Kurdish villagers were forcibly evicted evacuated by Kurdish villagers or using their vacant lands. They are prepared to use violence to protect their illegal gains. In 2002 village guards allegedly killed three villagers who returned to the village of Nureddin, in Muş province, and in June 2004 killed five villagers in pastures near the village of Akpazar, near Diyadin, in Ağrı province. In March 2004, inhabitants of Mağara village, near Idil, in Şırnak province, applied to the local courts to remove village guards from the homes from which they had been forcibly evicted in the early 1990s. Their lawyer, Eren Keskin, who attempted to visit the village with a member of the Turkish Human Rights Association on September 9, 2004, reported that she was turned back at gunpoint by gendarmes. However, in another case in September in the same province, the authorities did evacuate village guards from nearby Sarı village in order to secure the return of the original inhabitants, members of the Assyrian minority.

On September 25, 2004, a village guard allegedly shot and killed Mustafa Koyun and wounded Mehmet Kaya in the village of Tellikaya of Diyarbakir. The villagers who were attacked had been forced to leave Tellikaya after they refused to join the village guard corps in the 1980s, and their lands had been occupied by village guards.

Some displaced persons have been told that they can only return to their homes if they join the village guards. In April former residents of Uluköy, near Kiziltepe, in Mardin province, who had been forced out of their homes in 1993 because they refused to join the village guards, were given permission to return to their village. However, when they attempted to enter the village, the local gendarmerie told them they would have to agree to village guard service. When the village headman asked for clarification, the governor reportedly told him that the villagers could return but that he could not be responsible for their safety. In the same month, villagers returning to Altınsu village, near Şemdinli, in Hakkari province, reported that the local gendarmerie commander held a meeting at which he demanded that returning villagers become village guards. 

Unexploded Ordinance

Unexploded mines and ammunition present an additional risk for returning villagers. Thirty people were accidentally killed by mines and other explosives in the southeast during the first eight months of 2004. To date, however, the government has provided no guarantee that villages due for return will be cleared of unexploded ordinance.


Ongoing Expulsions and Renewed Violence

Villagers who have established a toehold in the cities are unlikely to risk an expensive and dangerous return to their former homes while there is a risk that they may be displaced a second time. A number of villages have been evacuated in recent years, including one during 2004. Villagers expelled in the 1990s from Ilıcak village, near Beytuşşebab, in Şırnak province, who returned in 2001, told the Diyarbakır branch of the Turkish Human Rights Association (HRA) that they were again forcibly expelled by gendarmes in July 2004. In response to protests by the Turkish Human Rights Association the local governor responded that the villagers had left their homes voluntarily after attacks by Kongra-Gel. The villagers were returned to their homes with military assistance in late August.

Political violence resumed in the countryside after Kongra-Gel called off its ceasefire in June, creating a further obstacle for those attempting to return to the region. Clashes between security forces and armed militants, though at a lower level than in the early 1990s, risk damaging the increasing sense of stability in the region which had facilitated reform generally, and poses a threat that earlier brutal and widespread security operations against villages may be resumed.

Inadequate Response by the Turkish Government

Lack of a Transparent Reconstruction Program

The most convincing evidence of official support for return, apart from abolition of the village guard system, would be a transparent program of financial and material assistance in reconstructing houses and re-starting agriculture, but this has never been established. The government claims to have spent substantial sums on return, but as with other statistics, its figures are contradictory, and there is insufficient detail to establish whether any of the money allocated for returns actually benefited the displaced. At any rate, the amounts reportedly allocated are wholly inadequate. The president of Van branch of the Migrants’ Association for Social Cooperation and Culture (Göç-Der) Gıyasettin Gültepe expressed astonishment that only one billion lira ($667) had been allocated for returns in the provincial budget for Van where 284 settlements had been emptied. In August 2003, the Diyarbakır governor reported that the government had spent 1.5 trillion lira ($US 959,000) to return 12,666 individuals to that province, an average of $75 per person. These funds are clearly insufficient to facilitate return given that a feasibility project prepared for the Turkish government by the Turkish Social Sciences Association estimates the costs for the construction of a “central village” for the return of 2,500 villagers to Sağırsu village in Siirt province (supposedly an economically “realistic” option) to be approximately US $ 4,715,000 an average of $1,886 per person.

On July 27, 2004, the government passed a “Law for the Compensation of Damage arising from Terror and the War against Terror.” Under the law, compensation assessment commissions will be established to assess damages and levels of compensation. However, these commissions will be composed not of independent assessors, but of ministry representatives headed by assistant provincial governors—the very authorities who presided over the original displacement and have performed so poorly in achieving returns. Thousands of displaced people have started to apply for compensation under the law. It remains unclear whether this law will serve to channel funds to the displaced, or be a tool to avoid paying appropriate compensation.

The compensation provisions are restricted to events that took place within the emergency region, but forced migration also occurred from areas outside this area. In August Human Rights Watch spoke to two villagers of Yastik village, near Tercan, in Erzincan province, who had petitioned the Erzincan governor for assistance in returning to their village, which was evacuated in the early 1990s. The governor had replied that no assistance could be given with the repair and reconstruction of their bulldozed homes because Erzincan was not within the scope of the Return to Village and Rehabilitation program. At the same time the villagers received this disappointing response, they were fighting off a legal attempt by a local landowner to take possession of the land on which their village had stood.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>October 2004