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Political Killings

Between 1992-95, politically-motivated killings resulting from the Kurdish conflict engulfed Turkey. Journalists were not exempt from this violence. During this period, twenty-nine reporters were murdered in Turkey, the overwhelming majority in the southeast or for reasons connected with the conflict there.78 Of the twenty-nine murdered journalists, one died under suspicious circumstances in police detention, one was shot by a police armored car at the time of unrest during the Nevroz festival in 1992, one was murdered for unknown reasons, five were believed killed by the PKK, two were murdered by the far-left armed group “Revolutionary Left” (Dev-Sol), one was murdered by the far-right armed group _BDA-C (Islamic Great Eastern Raiders-Front) in a bombing attack, and eighteen were the victims of “actor unknown murders” (faili meçhul cinayetleri). Many of these “actor unknown” murders are believed to be carried out by groups allegedly linked to security forces or acting with the connivance of the police.79 The vast majority of those killed in “actor unknown murders” worked for Kurdish-nationalist papers such as Özgür Gündem and Özgür Ülke.

Murder of non-combatants became an art practiced by all, including by shadowy groups believed to be acting in concert with or with the connivance of security officials or by the PKK. The PKK committed politically-motivated murders to eliminate opposing political groups within the Kurdish community and to intimidate those who cooperated with the state, such as civil servants, teachers, or village guard members and their families. Between 1992 and 1995, the height of political violence, the PKK committed at least 768 politically-motivatedmurders.80 In order to show its strength among the local population, the PKK usually took responsibility for these killings.

The “actor unknown murders” (faili meçhul cinayetleri) struck large numbers of individuals believed sympathetic to Kurdish-nationalist aspirations, whether those fighting for minority rights for Kurds or alleged PKK members and sympathizers. Politicians from the pro-Kurdish parties, intellectuals, lawyers who took PKK cases, doctors suspected of treating wounded PKK fighters, businessmen believed to be channeling funds to the PKK, and journalists at far-left or Kurdish-nationalist publications all fell victim, as did the urban and rural cadres of the PKK. Often the attacks took place in broad daylight, even in the center of provincial capitals. Victims were killed with a single shot to the head or after being kidnapped and tortured. Few individuals were ever brought to trial for these killings. Between 1992 and 1995, at least 1,288 individuals are believed to have been murdered in such attacks.81

While definitive guilt—in the absence of an investigation of each killing—cannot yet be assigned for the “actor unknown murders,” evidence uncovered by—among others—two Turkish parliamentary commissions and a 1997 investigation by the prime minister’s office points toward either direct or indirect state involvement in a number of incidents. Security forces are believed to have used captured PKK members who turned state’s evidence—so-called confessors (itirafçi)— to commit these killings. In other cases, police are alleged to have simply turned a blind eye as enemies of the PKK, such as the radical Islamist Hezbullah, conducted attacks. Even when state authorities arrested those believed involved in such killings, such as the widescale round-up of Hezbullah members in 1995-1996, little was done to explore links to security forces.

In 1995, a special commission of the Turkish parliament issued a report on “actor unknown killings.” The commission was formed in 1993, after the car bomb murder of the popular investigative journalist, U_ur Mumcu. While the commission did not directly charge that the state conducted a policy of assassination or was knowingly involved in such killings, the 328-page reportstated that security officials, village guards, and confessors acting “as individuals” had been involved in some of the “actor unknown killings” and gave concrete examples.82 Certain parts of the report, however, seem to go farther by way of inference and raise serious questions that are left unanswered. According to the report:

Actor unknown political murders are usually committed in the middle of the street, in the city’s busiest places and in broad daylight. The fact is that the perpetration of murders committed in broad daylight in the city’s busiest districts elicits fear and suspicion among the citizens. The fact that perpetrators of politically-motivated murders cannot be captured is perceived by the citizen as the state turning a blind eye to these murders in light of the fact that security forces capture or determine the perpetrators of murders carried out in criminal cases within a short period. Thus the organization [PKK] uses this very cleverly and conducts propaganda along these lines. If the state wants the trust of the citizens, at the desired moment it must be able to capture or determine the perpetrators of these crimes. If actor unknown murders are committed and their perpetrators cannot be found in a small district like Silopi or in the busiest streets of the districts like Silvan and Batman, the impression arises that these [actors] cannot be determined because the state does not want to. The citizens do not serve as witnesses because of the widespread propaganda conducted [by the PKK] alleging that the state committed the actor unknown political murders and because of the fact that in the beginning the fate of citizens who were witnesses...was also to become victims of actor unknown political murders... Despite the fact that there was a killing, a citizen’s relatives and friends are afraid to serve as witnesses in killings committed in a coffee house in front of twenty or thirtypeople in murders committed in the busiest center of a town. The state remains under suspicion because individuals known as “Hezbullah” conduct an operation and then cannot be captured in a region where even the PKK organization which has created urban committees cannot carry out an operation in broad daylight in the town’s busiest street.83

The so-called “Susurluk scandal” reignited the public debate concerning the state’s role in “actor unknown killings” and its use of extrajudicial methods. On November 3, 1996, a car loaded with weapons, silencers, and passports issued in false names crashed head-on with a truck near the district town of Susurluk in western Turkey. Aside from its strange cargo, the vehicle transported an even stranger group of passengers: Hüseyin Kocada_, the head of the Istanbul Police Academy; Abdullah Çatl1, an ultra-right wing (ülkücü) militant wanted by Interpol and indicted for seven politically-motivated killings committed in 1978; Gonca Us, allegedly Mr. Çatl1’s girlfriend; and Sedat Bucak, an ethnic Kurdish parliamentarian and Kurdish tribal leader. Mr. Bucak’s tribe supplies a large number of village guards in the state’s fight against the PKK. All but Mr. Bucak were killed in the accident.84 Shortly after the compromising incident, the parliament organized a commission to conduct an investigation. While the commission’s report proved somewhat disappointing, some of the evidence given before it—which was later published as a two-volume book—did not.85

Hanefi Avc1, who worked in the intelligence branch of the Diyarbak1r Security Directorate from 1984 to 1992 and later served as the assistant director of the General Security Directorate Intelligence, testified that some in the security apparatus began to seek out “extrajudicial” methods of combating the PKK. According to him, the state faced a dilemma. Normal methods, i.e., arresting those believed to have committed offenses and putting them on trial, proved less than effective in fighting the PKK. Mr. Avc1 testified that,

Sir, my observations are like this: In the heads of some security officials there was [the belief] or some such feeling that the state could not sufficiently fight against the serious attacks of the PKK and against some PKK members and individuals who were giving large-scale support to the PKK using merely legal means. So you see, you have some people giving large-scale support to the PKK and they are captured. Sufficient evidence, however, cannot be brought against them and they are let go. Or, you have a few people who are giving quite a bit of intelligence to the PKK and because of that quite a few officials are being martyred. Again, however, you could not conduct a proper legal proceeding. At that time some state officials began to believe in the need to fight this with a different kind of struggle, in the necessity to do one’s duty with a new kind of understanding, more accurately put, in the necessity to conduct one’s duty acting outside the law and outside the legal system....86

The commission had no power to indict and dissolved itself in April 1998 after the report appeared.

In January 1998, an investigative committee under the prime minister issued its own Susurluk report. Then Prime Minister Mesut Y1lmaz released the report, written by Kutlu Savas, in a somewhat censored form.87 While the report isless than comprehensive, it admitted that security forces had teamed up with some organized crime figures and ultra-right wing nationalists to “eliminate” ethnic Kurdish businessmen, drug dealers, and others believed to be financing the PKK. The report alleges that, “The beginning of the Susurluk event could even perhaps be hidden in a sentence of then Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, who said ‘We have in our hands a list of businessmen helping the PKK.’ After that the executions started.”88 The report states that such operations also took the life of the ethnic Kurdish writer and journalist Musa Anter, murdered in 1992. The report admits, however, that “the decision to kill [Anter] was a mistake.”89 The report laconically admits that, “Other journalists were killed.” Unfortunately, the section immediately after this sentence is censored.

Beatings and Other Violence

Beatings and other violence against journalists—especially when covering demonstrations or in southeastern Turkey—is largely a function of two factors: the poor training of police; and, more importantly, an increasing politicization of the security forces.

After the 1980 coup, an attempt was made to depoliticize the police force, which had splintered into rival right- and left-wing unions, Pol-Bir and Pol-Der.90Unfortunately, while leftists were purged from police ranks, ultra-rightists remained. In addition, it appears that Islamists—especially graduates of _mam-Hatip religious high schools—were increasingly recruited into police ranks. 91

Security forces—especially those involved in actions against the PKK or armed radical leftist groups—have seemingly cultivated a tight, if largely unofficial, relationship with ultra-nationalist right-wing groups, so-called “ulkucu,” or “idealists.”92 In addition, many police sympathize with far-right nationalist or Islamist groups. Kemal, a former policeman who was expelled from the force for contact with an outlawed left-wing group, complained that,

What they tell you at the police school and what you do on the job are two different things. At the school they taught us about human rights, but at demonstrations—I was a riot policeman for three years with the riot police (“Çevik Kuvvetleri”)—they would tell us to beat the people if it was a leftist protest but to show restraint if they were rightists or Islamists. There were two standards: if you capture a religious person, one standard, but if you capture a leftist, you beat him. About eighty or ninety percent of the police in my unit were MHP or fundamentalist.93

Recep Ordulu, who served as the assistant security director in Istanbul before the 1980 coup, concurred with his opinion:

A person falls to the ground, but they keep beating. The police have the authority to use force, but they shouldn’t exceed this....Actions by certain groups are seen as guilty, while others are met with tolerance. You know the police have one attitude for those who protest outside the Israeli Embassy and another one for left-wing groups.94

In July 1996, the liberal Istanbul daily Cumhuriyet compared the police reaction to demonstrations by the leftist civil servant union KESK, which was met with night sticks and attacked, and one by the right-wing union KAMU-SEN, which received a friendly greeting from police.95

A 1995 report prepared by the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), at the time the junior partner in the government of Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, criticized the increasing influence of extreme right-wing and fundamentalist groups among the security forces. Such groups are usually ideologically hostile to Kurdish and left-wing organizations, the groups police deal with most often in security cases. The report presented the following conclusions: of the seventy-seven provincial security directors, 48 percent were alleged to be either radical fundamentalists (köktendinci) or extreme nationalists (ulkucu); police academies and “special team” training centers only accept those with a “nationalist” reference because only “nationalists fight against terror;” only 18 percent of the provincial security directors could be considered “democrats;” the police had a mentality to consider all those not from their ranks as the enemy.96 One scholar commented that, “Young right-wing hoodlums, who once carried out raids against “leftist” tea houses, now became policemen and schoolteachers or were recruited into the special forces fighting the Kurdish guerrillas.”97

Other sources make the same charges. In August 1994, Sevket Kazan, the former justice minister from the Islamist Welfare (Refah) Party, charged that most members of the “special teams,” noted for their abusive behavior in southeastern Turkey, were members of the far right Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi-MHP).98 In the fall of 1996, the headquarters of the General Staff prepared a brochure for internal distribution to all security forces in the southeast titled, “Public Relations and Winning the People in Internal Security.”99 In a warning directed at “special team members,” the brochure called on security force members not to wear or make symbols of a “definite political nature that incites the populace;” implied was the “grey wolf” and three crescent symbols associated with MHP and ulkucu groups.100 During an investigation of the Sivas massacre of 1993, when fundamentalists burned down a hotel killing thirty-seven Alevi intellectuals, a Turkish parliamentary investigation committee discovered that Islamist bulletins faxed to local newspapers and believed to have provoked the public to violence were sent from the Sivas Security Directorate.101

Many journalists, in contrast, especially younger ones, tend to support left-wing or liberal political parties or beliefs. Research conducted by the Contemporary Journalists Association in 1994 indicated that most journalists in Turkey leaned to the left. In response to the question—“Which political inclination...are you closest to?”— journalists polled gave the following answers: 8 percent, conservative; 23 percent, liberal; 51 percent, social democratic; 14 percent, socialist; 1 percent, communist; two percent, other.102

Consequently, police often view reporters as ideological enemies who “meddle” in police affairs, especially those who work for leftist publications. The case of Metin Göktepe, who worked as a photojournalist for the now defunct left-wing daily Evrensel, represents an example of such an encounter.103 He was beaten to death in police detention in January 1996, after having been detained while covering a funeral for far-left prisoners killed in a prison riot.

Mr. Göktepe was taken into custody along with two journalists from mainstream dailies, who were later released. Initially the prosecutor in the casestated that Goktepe had been released and died in a nearby park, while then Istanbul Security Director Orhan Tasanlar denied that the journalist had even been detained by police.104 In fact, Goktepe was detained at noon on January 8, 1996, in Istanbul while covering a funeral of prisoners reportedly beaten to death during prison unrest. Other reporters witnessed his detention and other detainees reported speaking to him. Police detained roughly 1,000 individuals and held them in a sport center turned into a temporary holding facility. Goktepe’s body was discovered roughly eight hours later at a snack bar near the sports facility. An autopsy indicated that Goktepe died of internal bleeding to the brain and body due to blows.105

In April 1998, anti-terror police on trial for the death of a suspect in their custody attacked journalists, bystanders, and defense lawyers after they were found guilty.106 When riot police stationed outside entered the court room, they too began to beat the journalists and lawyers.107 Although the Ministry of the Interior conducted an investigation into the incident, its findings have not been made public. Both the police and the victims of the beatings filed appeals at the Council of State (Danistay). As of January 1999, the case was still pending.108

During demonstrations, especially by Islamists or right-wing groups, police often harass journalists. After a recent Islamist demonstration, one commentator noted that,

...Scenes of police savagely billy-clubbing young men or dragging females along the ground by the hair so familiar in leftist demonstrations were absent last Tuesday....police showed the utmost restraint to these demonstrators, and received their reward with chants of appreciation and solidarity from thecrowd. Instead, the full fury was turned on the media....four camera men were injured seriously enough to require hospitalization.109

A reporter for a mainstream daily who covered similar Islamist demonstrations in August and September 1997 commented that,

At Islamist demonstrations, both the demonstrators beat us up and the police beat us up....Last Friday, there was an attack on journalists at a Friday mosque demonstration. Some of the journalists caught one of the attackers and gave him to the police, who then sent him away. They never even detained him....We see this double standard toward Islamists. We don’t, of course, want violence used against them, but they use violence against us and nothing happens. Yesterday, the Islamists had a protest in Beyazit. Nothing happened. Compare that with what happens with leftist students, who are beaten and tortured. A police official, Mehmet Ca_lar, even shouted to the protestors, “Eh, Cemaat, we don’t want to hurt you.” At another incident, one policeman was shouting, “Don’t illegalize your action.” But the entire action was illegal as the demonstrators had not been given permission. Last Friday, the same policeman said to the press, “You are agitating the crowd. Leave.”110

Police who attacked journalists during these demonstrations admitted that they had done so because “they were seeking revenge for having been presented in a bad light.”111

During May Day demonstrations in 1998, supporters of the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) hung a high school student—presumably a leftist—out of the window of their local headquarters and beat him viciously.112 The MHP activists then attacked journalists covering the event. When they wentto the nearest police station to complain, they were told that the man being beaten and hung out the window “was a fellow Grey Wolf (MHP activist) who was being restrained from leaping onto passing leftists.”113

78 Five died in Istanbul, and one each in Ankara, Bursa, Gebze, and K1rikkale. The remaining twenty were killed in southeastern Turkey.

79 Information on murdered journalists comes from the annual report or other reports of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (Türkiye _nsan Haklar1 Vakf1-T_HV). See 1992 Türkiye _nsan Haklar1 Raporu, p. 82 and pp. 143-148;1993 Türkiye _nsan Haklar1 Raporu, pp. 230-236; 1994 Turkey Human Rights Report, pp. 247-253; 1995 Turkey Human Rights Report, pp. 320-1; T_HV:Türkiye’de Bas1n Özgürlü_ü (Human Rights Foundation of Turkey: Press Freedom in Turkey), March 1998, pp. 5-8.

Fourteen of the murders took place in 1992, eight in 1993, five in 1994, and one in 1995. Since 1996, one journalist was murdered: Metin Göktepe, reporter for the now closed Evrensel, was beaten to death in Istanbul in police detention in January 1996.

_hsan Karakus, the owner of Silvan, a local paper in the Silvan district of Diyarbak1r, was murdered in March 1992 for unknown reasons. Mr. Karakus had a reputation as a political neutral, and no group took responsibility for the murder.

80 214 in 1992; 294 in 1993; 193 in 1994; 67 in 1995. The figure is based on information contained in the section, “Organization Executions” (Örgüt Infazlar1) of the Annual Reports of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey for the period 1992-1995. The figure cited above does not include indiscriminate fire attacks by the PKK during military operations and the mass targeting of civilians during raids on villages.

81 267 in 1992; 429 in 1993; 423 in 1994; 169 in 1995. The figure is based on information contained in the section, Unknown Actor Murders (Faili Meçhul Cinayetler) of the Annual Reports of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey for the period 1992-1995.

82 See the committee’s report, T.B.M.M. Faili Meçhul Cinayetler Arast1rma Komisyonu Raporu (Taslak) (Report of the Turkish Parliament Actor Unknown Murder Investigation Commission (Draft). The report was later published unedited by a small left-wing party, the United Socialist Party (BSP), in July 1995. In June 1995, Human Rights Watch also interviewed the commission’s chairman, M. Sad1k Avundukluo_lu, True Path Party (DYP) deputy. He admitted that security officers and others were involved in the killings “as individuals.”

83 Ibid, page 78-79. Even state officials were intimidated. The report relates an incident in which the security director of Batman province was apparently removed from his office after he reported to the commission allegations of interaction between Hezbullah and a military unit in the province. The report complains that after this incident other public officials were reticent in talking: “The end of the public official who made statements to our commission on several topics and who reported things sincerely (samimi) was to be removed from office.” See pages 80-81.

84 As this report was going to press, yet another Susurluk-like gang scandal rocked Turkey. After the August 1998 arrest in France of a wanted Turkish ultra nationalist gunman, Alaatin Çak1c1, it was discovered that Mr. Çak1c1 had been in phone contact with a state minister, Mr. Eyüp As1k of the ruling Motherland Party (ANAP). It was even alleged that Mr. As1k had helped the right-winger escape capture. For his part, the ANAP minister denied wrongdoing.

85 The Ankara-based English-language news and economics weekly Briefing complained that the report presented “crimes but no criminals.” See “Susurluk Back on the Streets,” Briefing, April 7, 1997.

86 Veli Özdemir, _fade Tutanaklar1: Susurluk Belgeleri 1 (Testimony Minutes: The Susurluk Documents 1), (Istanbul:Scala Publishing, April 1997). The book is the verbatim testimony of individuals who testified before the Susurluk Commission of the Turkish Parliament. A second volume came out in October 1997.

87 Twelve pages of the 120-page report were blacked out. The report was published as a free insert by the Istanbul daily Radikal. See, Kutlu Savas’1n haz1rlad1_1 Susurluk Raporu (The Susurluk Report Prepared by Kutlu Savas).

88 Susurluk Raporu, p. 11.

89 Susurluk Raporu, p. 61.

90 In addition, before the coup, a network of unofficial links between police and ultra-right wing national groups, so-called “idealists” or “ulkucu” existed.

Ultra-nationalists, or ulkucu, are usually associated with the National Action Party (Milli Hareket Partisi-MHP), a right-wing, pan-Turkic, radical nationalist party that was represented in the Turkish Parliament until the December 1995 elections, when it received only 8 percent of the vote, failing to pass the 10 percent barrier necessary for parliamentary representation. Its leader is Alpaslan Turkes, a retired army colonel who played a major role during Turkey’s 1960 coup.

From 1975-1977, the predecessor to MHP, also headed by Turkes, was a junior partner in Suleyman Demirel’s coalition National Front government where he served as deputy prime minister. At the time there were numerous allegations that Turkes placed his supporters in the security apparatus. The Ulkucu Gençlik Derne_i, UGD, [”Idealist Youth Association”], which functioned as a youth branch for MHP, carried out some of the extremist right-wing terror of the 1970s. Feroz Ahmad, a noted scholar of this period, commented in his 1993 work The Making of Modern Turkey, that, “Meanwhile, the Grey Wolves [ulkucu], with Turkes as deputy premier, also saw themselves as part of the state and operated with greater confidence in creating a climate of terror designed to intimidate their opponents.” The ulkucu fought radical leftist groups who also used terror tactics in thepolitical violence that plagued Turkey in the 1970s. Over 5,000 were killed in right/left terror in the years immediately preceding the September 12, 1980, military coup.

After the 1980 coup, Turkes was arrested and his party closed down. MHP was reestablished after a ban on pre-coup parties and politicians was lifted. The ulkucu groups are active today and often battle leftist or Kurdish groups, though at a much lower level than the fighting of the 1970s. Some prominent members of the ulkucu movement later entered mainstream politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Muhsin Yaz1c1o_lu, chairman of the far-right “Great Unity Party” (Buyuk Birlik Partisi), which has seven seats in parliament, was active in the UGD in the 1970s.

91 See a three-part series by Erbil Tüsalp on politicization in the police force that appeared in the daily Radikal from August 1-3, 1997.

92 The following three paragraphs are reprinted with minor edits from the March 1997 Human Rights Watch Report, “Turkey: Torture and Mistreatment in Pre-Trial Detention by the Anti-Terror Police.”

93 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, October 1995, pp. 30-31. See also “Kemal” in section, “Interview with Detainees,” Human Rights Watch Report, “Turkey: Torture and Mistreatment in Pre-Trial Detention by the Anti-Terror Police,” March 1997, p. 18.

94 Çizmeci, Milliyet, Istanbul, July 1995. See also Human Rights Watch Report, “Turkey: Torture and Mistreatment in Pre-Trial Detention by the Anti-Terror Police,” March 1997, p. 31.

95 "Kamu-Sen Eylemi: Sa_ Sendikaya Polisten Hosgoru," Cumhuriyet, Istanbul, July 5, 1996.

96 "Muthis Raporu", Milliyet, September 22, 1995, p.1-8.

97 Martin Van Bruinessen, “Kurds, Turks and the Alevi Revival in Turkey,” MERIP, Summer 1996, p. 8.

98 "Ozel Tim MHP militan1,” Cumhuriyet, Istanbul, August 25, 1994.

99 "Genelkurmay’dan özel time uyar1,” Milliyet, Istanbul, September 25, 1996.

100 Ibid.

101 Jan Pacal, "Police File, 1," Turkish Daily News, Ankara, July 8, 1996.

102 M. Kemal Öke, Gazeteci: Türkiye’de Bas1n Çal1sanlar1 Üzerine Bir _nceleme (Journalist: A Study of those Working in the Press in Turkey), (Ankara: ÇGD Publishing, December 1994), p. 62. Out of 289 polled, 253 responded.

103 Evrensel was known as a radical-left, though not extreme left, publication.

104 Hulya Topcu, “Katiler hâlâ aram1zda,” Cumhuriyet Hafta, January 10, 1997. Unless otherwise cited, background information concerning the Goktepe case comes from this article.

105 After more than two years and as a result of a massive public outcry, five police officers were convicted of “manslaughter” in the case and each given 7.5 years of imprisonment; six others were acquitted. In July 1998, however, an appeals court overturned the convictions, and the men are presently being retried.

106 Radikal, April 23, 1998. Journalists attacked included Mert _lkutlu_ of Milliyet, and Ahmet S1k and the columnist Celal Baslang1ç of Radikal. _lkutlu_ and S1k were knocked unconscious.

107 Ibid.

108 "Polise 3. sorusturma,” Milliyet (Internet Edition), April 24, 1998.

109 "Can Turkey’s Divisions be Healed,” Briefing (Ankara), No. 1153, August 4, 1997, p. 3. Officials conducted an investigation into these incidents and met with press officials to work toward protecting the press during demonstrations, but little was achieved.

110 The journalist requested anonymity. Interview, Istanbul, September 1997.

111 Briefing, August 4, 1997, p. 3.

112 “MHP binas1nda iskence,” (“Torture in the MHP Building”), Cumhuriyet Hafta, May 8, 1998, p. 6.

113 “Grey Wolves, Police Beat Turkish Protester,” Reuters, May 1, 1998. If the police version were true, the man’s assault would have been a kamikaze attack as he was being hung from a three-story window.

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