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Governors block return
Whether villagers participate in government return programs or seek to return spontaneously, they cannot return to their homes without permission from provincial governors, and this is often withheld. There is no publicly available list of villages that are open for return. Human Rights Watch received parts of a list of villages in Diyarbakır province entitled "villages and mezra considered appropriate for return." The village headman who provided this incomplete list suggested that it was prepared by the Diyarbakır Provincial Governorate or the Emergency Region Governorate. Human Rights Watch's requests to speak to both these authorities were declined. Human Rights Watch requested the full list of villages open for return in its letter to the Office of the Prime Minister of October 25, 2001, to which it received no reply.

Nearly all of the villagers who spoke to Human Rights Watch had submitted many petitions for return to governors, prosecutors, and gendarmerie commanders. The authorities have responded to mass petitions organized by Göç-Der or HADEP by stating that they will only accept individual petitions from heads of families, yet individual petitions rarely elicit any response.

Now governors are insisting that villagers apply using a special printed form. This requires the applicant to tick a box indicating the reason for their original migration and gives alternatives ranging from "employment" and "health" to PKK-instigated "terror." Most of the displaced were moved by gendarmerie against their will, but there is no option to reflect this on the form. Worse still, recent copies of the form require the respondent to sign a declaration that: "I left my village as a consequence of the pressure of terror. I am going to return. Since there is no pressure of terror in my village, I want to return to my village without making any material demand upon the State." In February 2002, the former inhabitants of Düzcealan applied to the governor of Tatvan, Bitlis province, to return. They reported that the governor told them that they would only be permitted to return if they signed statements that the PKK had forced them to leave the village. The villagers state that it was actually the state forces that wanted them to leave, and that they resisted this pressure until a locally-based armored division of Turkish troops launched an artillery and rocket attack in December 1993, in which one villager, Kasım Çaçar, was killed.111

Villagers are reluctant to collude in the official cover-up of the illegal forced displacement by signing such declarations. They also know that by signing, they will probably lose any chance of making a claim against the state for compensation for the abuses they have suffered. At the same time, the temptation to sign is strong. If they do sign it may open the way to their early return; if they do not, they know that they may be struck off any central register of the displaced, forfeit the chance to get even the most meager state assistance to return, and perhaps never be permitted to go home.

Giyasettin G of village K, burned by security forces in 1993 said, "This year we wanted to go back. Some villagers have gone back. The authorities said to them you are going to have to sign a form. They had to fill in the form saying that the village was burned by the PKK. The local governor said to us, `If you say the government did it, we will not let you go back.' We said `If that is the condition, we will not fill in the form. Why should we lie? It wasn't the PKK.'"

Government officials have used the reputation of the World Bank in order to persuade villagers to sign documents that excuse the state from responsibility for destroying villages. A villager told Human Rights Watch:

Last year the [Muş] governor's office called the headmen and elders from [named destroyed villages]. The governor was not there, but there were many civil servants. They said that they would make houses in the middle of the village. Two floors, with a stable section for animals, toilet etc. They said they would rebuild our mosque and health center and school. They said that the World Bank would give money to GAP, and that was how it would be built. They were going to build them and give them to us for nothing. They had us sign ready printed petitions that said that we had fled because of the terrorists.112

The promised rebuilding never happened, but presumably the petitions are still on file.

Veli V, of village D, near Mardin, described other strong inducements to sign:

I petitioned the Interior Ministry, and the Anti-Terror Branch of the Diyarbakır Police Headquarters summoned me. They did not hit us, but gave us tea and a statement to sign that said the PKK was still influencing the village and therefore it was impossible for me to return. I said I did not want to sign. They said that I had to sign it. I was afraid that I might later be killed or "disappeared" if I did not, so I signed it. They did not give me a copy of this statement. I went to the office of the Emergency Region Governor and they had a copy, but again did not give me a copy. This happened this year. I wrote a telegraph to the president but have not yet received a reply. I said that if I cannot go for security reasons they should give me somewhere else to go. I am still living here at Diyarbakır. I went to the Mardin provincial governor's office, and there I was supposed to sign a form saying that I had left the village because of PKK terror. Of course, it was the state that made most of the terror, and I would say this in a court if necessary because it is the truth. I refused to sign because this would mean that I lost my rights in any later litigation. Thirty people in the village did sign the forms. They are currently sheltering in the mosque and cultivating their fields. They cannot bring their families because there are no houses. I went once to the village and the gendarmerie said, "Do not come to the village again because you did not sign the petition in the way we wanted." I said, "Of course I will seek my rights. The others do not want to get their rights, but you tell me who emptied the village, commander." He said, "Go back to Diyarbakır. If you come back I will give you a beating."113

The headman of a village in Diyarbakır province described another confrontation with the authorities over the forms:

This year two months ago we had a meeting with the local governor. All the village headmen went-seventy-nine of us. In the meeting the governor handed out copies of forms and told us that if we made out the forms to indicate that the PKK had burned the villages, we would be able to return. I said that I had to tell the truth. He insulted me and called the police to throw me out, saying, "Filthy headman, you stink."114

Tahsin T115 of village F, near Kulp in Diyarbakır province, was indignant:

I have been homeless for eight years, but if I had to wait eighty years to return to my village I would not sign that form. It was soldiers from Bolu who burned our village on the orders of the state. I want the authorities to accept my own petition, not the one they prepared, because they will use their prepared petition in order to pretend to Europe that they did not burn our villages.116

On June 25, 2002 Vedat Haran made a formal complaint to the Diyarbakır branch of the Human Rights Association, stating that while traveling from Lice to Diyarbakır he had been taken out of a bus at a checkpoint by gendarmes who required him to sign a document stating that the PKK had burned his home village, Arıklı. He reported that when he refused, gendarmes obliged him to sign using a combination of threats and force.117

In July 2002, the displaced inhabitants of Bağarası, near Derik in Mardin province, who had repeatedly applied to return home, reported that the Derik local governor had told them that they would be permitted to return if they signed documents stating that the PKK had burned their village. The villagers, who refused to sign, were driven from Bağarası in 1993 by village guards and soldiers.118

In August 2002, inhabitants of Senarli village in Mardin province told the lawyer Serdar Talay, president of the Diyarbakir branch of Göç-Der, that they had submitted petitions to return to the local governor, who refused to give permission unless they signed prepared petitions. They refused and were not permitted to return.119

Hasan H120 of village T, near Muş, described in detail how gendarmes burned his home in 1993 and took five villagers into the fields and executed them. In spite of this, he was prepared to put his name to the state's false account in order to get back home:

Our village headman wrote a formal complaint in about 1997 and was arrested. He was in prison for five months. I do not know what the pretext for the detention was, but the complaint was the reason he was imprisoned. He told us that the Kızılağaç gendarme commander said, "How dare you insult the state this way." I did fill in the petition-I even wrote that we were burned out by terrorists, but still I have heard nothing.121

Seventy-three families from Ulusu and İnceler villages, near Pervari in Siirt province, evacuated in 1990, reported that they had submitted eight petitions to return to the Siirt provincial governor, to which they had received no reply. Their most recent petition, on March 20, 2002, received the response that "Investigations as to whether the said villages are suitable for settlement are continuing."122 In 1994, 151 villages and 800 mezra were forcibly evacuated in Tunceli province. In 2001 the local governor gave permission for thirty villages to return. In 2002, he gave permission for a further twenty villages. In June 2002, the local bar association sought permission for 166 families to return to a further thirty-one villages, but only four of these were opened for return.123

On the positive side, some provincial governors have established provisional programs for return, and some include systems for supplying building materials to returning villagers to assist in reconstruction. Unfortunately, their implementation is patchy and uneven, and includes dubious practices. An example is the "Village return project specification" (Köye dönüş projesine ait şartname) that the Muş provincial governor's office distributed to villagers applying to return. Villagers appreciated the offer of assistance but found the conditions in the "specification" unreasonable and gave a copy of it to Human Rights Watch. The specification requires villagers to build their new houses up to the damp-proof course level before a "Village Return and Rehabilitation Commission" would decide whether or not to supply reinforcing steel, cement, and bricks. The specification does not describe the criteria that the commission would use in making its decision. For extremely poor villagers, this would mean a considerable gamble since they would have to make a substantial investment in excavating and laying the foundations of their houses (and presumably laying water, electric, and sewage services), on land to which they did not have title, with no guarantee that they would receive assistance with materials for the rest of the building. In addition, the specification left substantial expenditure to the prospective householders, since it contained no provision to supply doors, windows, stairs, bathroom and plumbing materials, or roofing materials.

Villagers' confidence in this speculative venture was further undermined by the Muş governor's uncertain past record on fulfilling promises. The specification assumed that the villagers would supply free labor. This reflects a rough and ready division of cost that is reflected in much official thinking around the return projects. The TSBD director indicated that when designing its pilot scheme for the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, the TSBD had also assumed that villagers would provide unpaid labor. This would be a convenient economy for the government, but it is hardly reasonable to expect villagers to invest their time and effort (without accident and sickness insurance) in remedying the consequences of illegal acts committed by state officials. Some officials justified the practice of supplying materials on the grounds that the state just could not afford the whole cost, but it was also presented as a precaution against "abuse" of the grants by villagers who might reconstruct their rural dwellings while continuing to live in the urban centers.

This suspicion of potential "fraud" was clearly the motivation for an extraordinary provision included in the Muş specification that reserved the governor's right to confiscate the property. Article 8 of the specification states that the houses must be built and inhabited by the owners. If the property is put to any other use (presumably, put out to rent or used as a temporary residence), the provincial governor's office was empowered to seize the house until the villager repaid, with interest, the cost of materials supplied.

Villagers in other provinces reported that governors were providing some communities with bricks and cement, or in other cases, windows and doors. Again, they expected villagers to provide free labor. Human Rights Watch was told that in some villages, such as Şaklat, Diyarbakır province, only villagers particularly favored by the authorities received building materials. Some villagers were required to sign blank pieces of paper on receipt of materials, or were promised materials that never arrived.

In carrying out the original displacement, state officials avoided using the formal powers to move populations that exist under Turkish law. The state of emergency region governor had legal authority under Decree 285 (see above, section on domestic and international law), but none of the villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had documents to show that they had been moved using these powers, which would at least have provided them with some legal or administrative status, as well as financial support and housing.124 The state chose not to use those powers, preferring to carry out the displacement in an entirely arbitrary and extralegal manner. Governors are now managing the return process in much the same way, apparently in order to avoid committing an administrative act that could form the basis of litigation. If villagers are permitted to return, they are only informed orally.

This creates problems when the villagers leave the civilian world of the cities and arrive in the militarized countryside ruled by the gendarmerie. Abdulvahap Ertan, a lawyer and board member of the Van branch of the HRA told Human Rights Watch,

You will find nobody here who has received a written refusal of access to their village. Here they may allow people back to villages but not to mezra. The governors may want the villagers to return but the soldiers do not want them to return. There are examples of this in Tatvan area where the governor gave permission but the soldiers refused. The people just cannot go back to their villages-that is the blank fact. They are too poor to invest time and effort when they cannot be sure of the result, and the soldiers will not let them back at the moment.125

Gendarmes block return

This year we went to see the provincial governor in about March, and he told us that all villages would be open to resettlement. We talked to the chief of police. He too said that he wanted the villagers to return-the large number of villagers in the city is a problem for them, for health and other reasons. But theirs is a mere formal wish because the countryside is under the authority of the gendarmes. We may be able to influence the governor, but we have no way of stopping gendarmes from doing anything against the villagers.
-Şemsettin Takva, president of the Van branch of Göç-Der, July 1, 2001.

The armed forces present a more threatening obstacle to return even than the civilian authorities. Outside the cities, police duties are entirely in the hands of gendarmes, the same military units that carried out the original displacements. Many villagers told Human Rights Watch how they were turned back by gendarmes after receiving official permission to return.

Giyasettin G of village K, near Lice in Diyarbakır province, said that he had tried to visit his village in order to tend his land on several occasions, but was repeatedly turned away by the local gendarmerie:

I went there one month ago. At the gendarmerie station they searched me. They kept me half an hour while they interrogated me about what I was going to do. When they realized I had committed no crime they just sent me back. They said "Go back and let us not see you anymore." Nobody can go to our village, it is a prohibited zone.126

In 1995 gendarmes burned the home and fruit trees of Ahmet Hamdi H127 at village H, Eruh, Siirt province. His hopes were raised when the local governor arranged a survey for possible return. Soldiers surrounded the village in the early spring of 2001 and the Siirt provincial governor inspected the remains of the settlement and then said that he would consider making provision for reinstating the infrastructure. Ahmet H. told Human Rights Watch:

Nothing came out of his undertakings. Civil servants from Eruh and Siirt took notes, but we did not get a copy of them and as far as I know the headman did not get a copy. After that we did not receive any written notification .... At the moment it would be impossible for me to go back because the most low ranked soldier or village guard can kick me about and there is nothing I can do about it. I went and applied to the gendarmerie for permission to gather fruit. You can see our village from the road. The master sergeant said I could tend the trees but added, "Do not look at your village when you pass, just walk straight on." It is our custom to visit our parents' graves on festivals, but we have not been able to do this since the village was burned.128

Some of the confrontations with gendarmes are extremely tense, particularly for villagers with recent memory of extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" in these areas. Yılmaz Y of village B, Diyarbakır province described what happened when he went with his brother to test the water for possible return:

In the spring of 2001 we were going toward the village. The minibus was stopped and a village guard came up. We knew each other. The village guards got me and my brother out. There is a bridge outside Kulp. We said that we had done nothing wrong. We went back to the gendarmerie. We waited for a long time and the gendarmerie commander came out. He asked my brother where he had been-the gendarme suggested that my brother had been in hiding. He said that he had been ill in Diyarbakır not hiding. He also asked about me-I said I was retired from the Religious Affairs office as an imam. He asked about our children and then he started to swear, anything that came to his mouth. It emerged that he had papers about people from the Y family, but not our family. A different family by the same name. We had to wait for three hours and eventually he said "Fuck off" and a master sergeant said "We have to root out the likes of you from this country. From this moment on, Kulp is forbidden to you. If we see you again here, we will kill you." I swear to you Kulp is not under the authority of the Turkish government-even the president would be unable to affect the activities of these soldiers. It is a state of its own.129

Yılmaz Y filed an official complaint against the gendarmes, but in March 2002, the public prosecutor gave a decision not to prosecute.

In some areas, participation in the village guard system is still a condition of return. In May 2002, the military approached villagers of Çatıkuru and told them that their safety could not be guaranteed unless they put up ten village guards. The village guards would be armed but not paid.130

Several villagers told Human Rights Watch that gendarmes permitted villagers to return in return for bribes in kind and cash. An elderly woman from a village in Diyarbakır province, said:

The last couple of years, the population of the neighboring villages have lived in Diyarbakır but go out to sow their fields. The gendarmes collected their flour and other foodstuff and said you are giving this to the PKK. They confiscated it. The thirty families pay bribes to the gendarmerie post. I heard of someone who had to pay fifteen hundred dollars for permission to get back to the village. And I have actually seen people bringing things to the gendarmerie. The gendarmes have asked us, for example, that we should give them five kilos of paint to let us come and go.131

Any discrepancy between the civil authorities' undisclosed program for return and the gendarmes' equally undisclosed agenda puts villagers in an extremely precarious position. Details of a confidential military document reported in November 2001 suggest that the villagers' fears of possible consequences of return without military authorization are well justified. Dated September 11, 2001, and signed by General Şevki Aksu of the Land Forces Internal Security Brigade Command No 2, it stated that military operations are constantly in progress in the Hani, Kulp, and Lice districts of Diyarbakır, that difficulties may arise in distinguishing PKK from villagers, and that "Citizens should be warned and informed that [the army] will not be responsible for any misfortunes that may result during the course of operations."132 A substantial number of villagers have come to an arrangement with the authorities that permits them to visit their villages daily or seasonally in order to cultivate their crops to produce some income, but not to stay. This gives the villagers a valuable foot in the door for return, but it is a tense and risky venture, particularly since the authorities never provide the villagers with clear written permission to be there. Stray villagers are frequently picked up by patrols and threatened, ill-treated, or worse. For example, Kavaklı village in Hakkari province was forcibly evacuated in 1993. In October 2000 three villagers who had gone back, with permission from Hakkari Provincial Gendarmerie Headquarters, to collect walnuts from their lands were found shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs. The official account, that the three had been killed by the PKK, was partly based on inconsistent accounts by a fourth villager who survived. In his first statement to the prosecutor, he said that the group was accosted by unknown persons in the dark, who fired shots. He was wounded but escaped. In a second statement contained in the gendarmerie's report, the villager said that the group had been captured by PKK militants who tied their hands and then shot them. It appears that the fourth villager may have been pressured to give an account that exculpated the gendarmerie. Relatives who returned to the area to recover the bodies reported that as they entered Kavaklı gendarmes guarding a nearby bridge fired on them.133

Several communities who have resettled their homes have been displaced a second time as a consequence of a divergence of attitude between the civilian and military authorities.

Semsettin S134 is headman of village Y, near Lice, Diyarbakır province, which was burned by government commandos from Bolu in 1993. He told Human Rights Watch:

In April or May 2000 we spoke to the local governor of Lice. We said that we could not manage any longer in Diyarbakır and wanted to go home. He agreed so we sowed some vegetables, put up some tents and began to repair our houses. On September 5, 2000 soldiers came and searched the village. A captain was running the operation. He said that it was supposed to be an empty area. They took us to the gendarmerie in Lice and a plain-clothes officer took our statements. We were sent to court and the prosecutor said it was not a village, but a military area. That we had infringed a military area. We protested that we had got permission from the local governor and the local police commander. When we came out of the court, we found that they had burned the village again. In response to our petition of April 2, 2001 we got a response from the local governor saying that there was no such village as Y. But we have deeds for our lands, and if there is no such village, how come I am getting a salary for service to the state for being headman? It is as if they had wiped our population off the map.135

Villagers from Ünlücü village in the Çatak district of Van province alleged that one week after they had been allowed to return to their village on May 17, 2002, soldiers and village guards forced them to leave again. They reported that soldiers from Büyükagaç Gendarmerie Station had ignored the written permission to return that the villagers had obtained from the governor, and confiscated their construction materials. The village was originally forcibly evacuated in 1999.136

For these people village destruction is not something of the distant past but a vivid recent experience. A displaced villager in Istanbul from Tuzkuyu village near Siirt expressed intense anger and fear as he described the aerial bombing of Tuzkuyu in August 1997: "Thanks to Allah, we were in the fields collecting hay. I saw helicopters and counted sixteen jets. Scores of people were killed: Abdulkerim Deli, Şükrü Deli, Abdurrahman Deli, Kasım Yıldız, Halil Karanfil, Emine Yıldız, Kadir Yıldız, a boy about ten years old, Selahattin Özçelik, Nefiye Özçelik, Azize Özçelik, a girl about ten years old, Süheyla Özçelik, Mehmet Ali Ovat, Aziz Ovat, Yalçın Ovat, and many others."137 The attack on the village followed the killing of two soldiers in a PKK attack nearby. An incident resulting in security forces casualties also provoked Turkey's most recent village destruction. After a gendarme was killed by a landmine in the Beytuşşebap district of Şırnak province in July 2001, gendarmes drove out the inhabitants of the villages of Asat and Ortaklı that were near the scene of the explosion. Villagers detained and interrogated in this operation reported that they were raped with a truncheon and subjected to electric shocks.138

Village guards block return

Villagers considering return are even more afraid of village guards than they are of the gendarmerie. The village guard system has been recognized for years as a corrupt and destructive institution. The April 1995 report of the Turkish Parliament's Commission on Unsolved Political Killings confirmed that village guards were involved in a wide range of lawless activities, including killing and extortion, and called for abolition of the village guard system. There are about 90,000 village guards in southeast Turkey, earning 139,000,000 TL (U.S.$84) a month.139 Villagers are extremely wary of heading back into an unstable countryside where their former neighbors, sometimes from rival tribal groups, are paid and licensed by the government to bear arms. The government armed the village guards and permitted them to acquire considerable de facto power in the region. Human Rights Watch heard accounts from several provinces that village guards had taken over the lands vacated by the displaced, stolen timber, or exploited the land by renting it out to others.

Returning villagers have had considerable difficulties recovering their lands from village guards. In June 2002, inhabitants attempting to return to Kaçan and Evrek villages in the Beytüşşebap district of Şırnak were reportedly turned back by a village guard chief from the nearby town of Mezra. The villagers applied to the local governor but were forced to return to Van where they have been living since they were forcibly displaced in 1994.140

Security forces drove the Elhan family out of their home in Suluca village, Muş province, in 1998. They went to live in Izmir, but returned in May 2002. On July 28, six local village guards reportedly beat Maşallah Elhan wıth sticks and then shot out the doors and windows of the Elhan's home, seriously wounding fifteen-year-old Netice Elhan.141

Villagers turned out of Akdoruk village near Kulp, Diyarbakır province, in 1993, returned in the spring of 2002. One of the villagers, Mahmut Coşkun, stated that the community had applied to the local governor in Lice for permission to return, and then to the Lice gendarmerie headquarters, the Interior Ministry, and the state of emergency governor's office, but received no response.142 The villagers decided to move on their own initiative, and pitched tents so that they could live in the village while repairing their homes and bringing their fields back into cultivation. On July 17, village guards and soldiers attached to the Zeyrek gendarmerie reportedly beat the Akdoruk villagers, and tore down their tents.

The inhabitants of Yolveren village, near Beşiri, Batman province, are members of the Yezidi sect, whose numbers in Turkey are dwindling. They were driven from their homes and seven families sought asylum in Europe. In 1996 twelve village guard families occupied their homes. In 2001, the Yolveren inhabitants decided to return. They opened a case at Batman Primary Court in June 2001 and, rather unusually, received judgments that their homes should be restored to them and the illegal occupants should pay compensation. The village guards initially refused to comply, but finally handed back the village on December 18, 2001 on the understanding that the claim for compensation was waived. Three families returned on December 28, 2001.143

Others were not so fortunate. Şahreddin Sancar and his wife Newroz Sancar, also Yezidis, were displaced from the village of Harmanlı, near Nusaybin, in the 1990s, and found asylum abroad. In their absence, their lands were taken over by the family of a local village guard chief. Inspired by government assurances concerning village return, the Sancars returned to Turkey, moved back to their village at the beginning of March 2002, and resumed possession of their fields. On March 11, the couple disappeared. The following day, shepherds found the body of Şahreddin Sancar in his car, ostensibly the victim of a road accident. But three weeks later, villagers found the body of Newroz Sancar in a dry well, bound hand and foot. The circumstances of their deaths have not been adequately reported.144

A displaced villager from a settlement near Malazgirt, in Muş province, told Human Rights Watch that the civil authorities have been unwilling to take action regarding land-theft by village guards:

[The village] was burned in 1994 by security forces and village guards. There were four hundred houses before the burning. There are now a hundred houses. All the rest [of the villagers] have migrated. Sixty of the hundred are occupied by village guards. The people who migrated now want to return but the village guards have seized their lands and houses. And they cannot return to the village because they have been threatened by the village guards. The village guards do not let them into the village. They applied to the local governor and he said, "What is to stop you going?" and took no action.145

Ferdi F of village P, Siirt, described similar official heedlessness:

I have applied in writing to the gendarmerie complaining about the fact that people were using our lands, but the villagers from the neighboring village come and cut our wood and collect our nuts. And they graze their animals on our land.... Even the electricity poles have been ripped down. As far as we know there has been no return in the Eruh district, except we hear that thirty-six households in Çetinkol village, that is partly village guard, have returned. This was a village guard village that was emptied.146

Veli V of village D near Mardin also reported that village guards had stolen timber and farmed his land:

There was a village guard village three kilometers away at Bağlıca. All the trees were taken away, and the village guards sowed and harvested our lands, for four years I think it was. The gendarmerie says that permission for us to sow has come from Ankara but not for residence. [The gendarmerie commander] told one of our villagers this, but we have nothing in writing.147

Eight destroyed villages near Siirt (Payamlı, Çimenbaşı, Avanos, Bölüklü, Kasircelo, Sidada, Kuşdalı, and Bilgili) have been rented out by the village guard chief of the neighboring Çizmeli village to nomadic graziers of the Kirivan tribe. A displaced farmer from one of those villages told Human Rights Watch:

Çizmeli village guards last winter gave our lands to rent to nomads. We gathered a delegation from the village and went to the nomads and said, "Please do not graze our village-it would be a sin." The nomads said, "We have spent the money-we have paid three billion lira [U.S.$2,400]. Give us back our three billion we will go." We can still not go to our village. We definitely want to go back there as much as any Muslim wants to go to heaven. The village guards have cut our timber.... They have even used the mosque as a stable, according to people who have gone past there.148

Eleven villagers from Alaca village, near Kulp, "disappeared" after gendarmes marched them onto a helicopter in 1993. The rest of the inhabitants are still displaced, scattered over the cities of eastern Turkey. One told Human Rights Watch:

From that time to this our village has been a prohibited zone.149 But in 1998 village guards came from nearby Muş and cut down our forests, cut them down and took them away. Then in 2000 villagers from Kizilağaç and other villages came over and cut down whatever was left. We sent out many petitions. In October 2000 we wrote petitions to the provincial governor, the Muş prosecutor, Diyarbakır Forest Directorate, Muş Forest Directorate, the Emergency Region Governor, Diyarbakır Gendarmerie Headquarters, the president, the Ministry of the Interior, Elazığ Forest Directorate, and the undersecretary for forest affairs in Ankara. Some replies came. Our village is used as a summer residence by surrounding villages even though it is a prohibited zone.... We complained to everyone but it continued until the snow came. We came and said that they are doing these things but it made no difference. This year there has been no cutting so far. But village guard families and other villages are being permitted to graze over our village even though it is a forbidden area.150

Another inhabitant from the same village said that a month and a half after the villagers had submitted their petitions, the gendarmes confiscated tractors being used to steal the timber, but then resold the tractors back to the villagers at a low price. He told Human Rights Watch,

A month ago I was passing through Lice to get to Kulp. I was detained and held for eight hours. From 1993 to 2000 I was completely forbidden from even entering Kulp but for the past few months I have been able to go there.... The Kulp village guards and the village guard chief from Muş, Kizilağaç, threatened me because I had complained about the theft of timber. He told me "We are not going to let you do this. How do you dare open a case against us." A group of nomads from the Silvan area came and settled in Alaca village. None of the 450 people in our village are allowed back, but these pastoralists from Silvan are grazing on our land.151

A farmer displaced from a village near Çınar, in Diyarbakır province described a similar expropriation:

People we don't know from Mazidağ [Mardin province] were brought to our place as village guards. They put houses up on our sites and are living there now. They came in 1989 and they are still using our fields. I went in 2000 and they threatened to kill me with weapons. I went with my lawyer. He saw the village guards threaten me. They said: "If you come to the village again we will kill you. You have no lands here. You are Armenians. Go back to Armenia." After that I did not go back to the village. Nobody from our village has gone back to that village. Some of us are here, some in Mersin.... We applied to the court but had no money to push the case through. You have to spend a fair bit of money to run such a case. We have received nothing out of this Return to Village Project.... If I try to move out to the village under the current circumstances the village guards would probably kill me-I dare not try it at the moment.152

Village guards do not make idle threats. Şefik Ş,153 swathed in bandages, uncovered bullet wounds in his legs and arms as he told Human Rights Watch:

I went back to my village [in Diyarbakır province]. I went to look at the fields.... I could not even talk to the village guards. I got out of the car and approached. They were in front of the village. They went to get their weapons. There were four. I knew them all. Three had kalashnikovs [AK-47 assault rifles] and one had a revolver. There was two meters between us.

The village guards shot Şefik Ş and he fell to the ground. "I really thought I was going to die. One with the kalashnikov was going to shoot, but they said `Look, he is going to die anyway, so we won't bother.' I also assumed I was going to die. As I lay there I thought about my children." A relative picked him up and drove him to a hospital. Şefik Ş made a formal complaint and one of the village guards was arrested. Following this, Şefik Ş was visited by other village guards who urged him to abandon his complaint. As of June 2001, he had refused to do so. He told Human Rights Watch,

We are not going to go back to our village while there is this serious threat. Not while there are village guards. These people are former neighbors of mine-and some of the village guards I even considered friends.... If the village guard system is abolished we will go home. As soon as there is peace we will return.154

The Alkan family was forcibly evacuated from Koruklu village, near Tatvan in Bitlis province, in 1996. They returned in spring 2002, but were repeatedly harassed by village guards. Tahir Alkan went to the local gendarmerie to complain but was turned away and made a formal complaint to the public prosecutor in Tatvan. On October 12, a group of seven village guards reportedly attacked Tahir Alkan, stabbing and severely wounding him.155

On July 9, 2002, three villagers-Yusuf Ünal, Abdurrahim Ünal, and Abdulsamet Ünal-who had recently returned to Nureddin village (Kurdish name: Nordin) in Muş province were killed by village guards. On July 1 they had applied to the local governor and gendarmerie for permission to go to their village and stay temporarily in order to gather their hay crop. According to eyewitness Dilaver Demir:

That morning a lorry came and the village guards come with a group of twenty to twenty-five people telling Yusuf Ünal that he could not sell the grass.... First Yusuf Ünal was punched in his face and the village guards walked on us with their weapons in their hand.... The village guards beat us with their rifles butts and kicked us. We heard a shot and ran away to Konakkuran Gendarmerie Station. We heard more shots and in the end Yusuf, his son, and his brother were killed.156

Fourteen village guards were arrested in connection with the killings. Courts have been very reluctant to convict serving members of the security forces, including village guards, for criminal offences such as ill-treatment, torture, or murder.157

The risk from landmines

Southeast Turkey has been a battlefield for fifteen years, during which both sides in the conflict used anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines. According to press reports, hundreds of people-many of them children-were killed by landmines and unexploded shells or rockets between 1992 and 1998.158 Villagers considering return therefore understandably seek some level of reassurance from the authorities that at least the immediate vicinity of their homes has been cleared of explosives.

A villager who had returned, with government assistance, to the former village guard community of Beşbudak told Human Rights Watch that soldiers had spent a month checking the area for mines before it was reoccupied. The local governor of Çatak province mentioned that the asphalting of roads was a priority as a protection against mining,159 and the deputy provincial governor of Van confirmed that within his area of authority, villages would be cleared of mines before reoccupation by villagers.160

But several villagers told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had given permission to return while giving no information about mine-clearing. A villager from Yamaç village in Muş province said that his community had been told that they would receive assistance with building materials from the provincial governor's office once they had brought construction up to damp-proof course level (see above), but said that they were uneasy about setting to work: "We suspect there are mines because there are traces of excavation. The military used it as a base in the winter times and we have seen unexploded ordnance among the ruins. We have received no confirmation that it has been cleared of mines."161

Inhabitants of eleven villages in the Berwar district of Hakkari, evacuated in 1996, applied to the office of the Van provincial governor asking that their villages be cleared of mines and that they be given assistance to return. In early 2002 the governor reportedly called the headmen of the villagers to his office and told them to reapply, saying that in their new applications, they should not mention mine clearance or assistance.162

Hülya Kaçar, recently returned to the evacuated village Derebaşı, near Silopi, was killed in April 2002 when she stepped on a landmine while collecting kenger, wild artichoke, with a friend, Teybet Arsu, who was seriously wounded.163
That there is a genuine risk of lethal mines is beyond question, but soldiers may also have used stories about mines as a way of keeping the villagers at a distance. A villager from the Kulp district said that when villagers burned out in 1992 had prematurely tried to return in 1993, soldiers had warned them off by saying that the area was mined: "When they did not want us to go back to the mezra, they told us that there were mines there. I do not think there are any mines actually and that they just said this in order to scare us."164

111 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Human Rights Report of Turkey, January-March 2002.

112 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Muş, June 28, 2001.

113 Human Rights Watch interview, real name withheld , Diyarbakır, June 22, 2001.

114 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 23, 2001.

115 Interviewee's real name withheld to protect his safety.

116 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, July 6, 2001.

117 "İnsan Haklari İhlalleri Haziran 2002 Bilançosu" (Human Rights Violations, June 2002 Summary), published by Diyarbakır branch of the Human Rights Association, p. 6.

118 Ahmet Birgül, "`Köyümüzü PKK yaktı' derseniz!" (Say `The PKK burned our village'!) Özgur Politika (Free Policy), July 19, 2002.

119 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Serdar Talay, September 3, 2002.

120 Interviewee's real name withheld to protect his safety.

121 Human Rights Watch interview, Muş, June 28, 2001.

122 "Geri dönüşü engelleme projesi" (Village return obstruction project), Özgür Politika (Free Policy), April 14, 2002.

123 Cumhuriyet (Republic), June 18, 2002.

124 Some initiatives have been taken to provide housing in cities for displaced villagers, but again these were mainly for those forced to leave because they had participated in the village guard system and were targeted for attacks by the PKK. See for example, the Yalım Erez Lodgings outside Van described in section on Municipal Efforts to Relieve Hardship, above.

125 Human Rights Watch interview, Van, June 30, 2001.

126 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 22, 2001.

127 Interviewee's real name withheld to protect his safety.

128 Human Rights Watch interview, Siirt, June 27, 2001.

129 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 23, 2001.

130 "Köy başına 10 korucu dayatması" (The demand for 10 guards per village), Özgür Politika (Free Policy), July 9, 2002.

131 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 24, 2001.

132 "İnfazlara davetiye" (Invitation to executions), Yedinci Gündem (Seventh Agenda), November 24, 2001.

133 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, daily bulletin for November 9, 2000.

134 Interviewee's real name withheld to protect his safety.

135 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 23, 2001.

136 "Human Rights Report of Turkey, June 2002," Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

137 Human Rights Watch interview, Istanbul, July 12, 2001.

138 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, daily bulletin for August 1, 2001.

139 Figures given by Prof. M. Salih Yıldırım, parliamentary deputy for Şırnak. Reported by Cumhur Kılıççıoğlu, in "Silahları Çocuklarına Miras Kalmasın" (May their weapons not be their legacy), Bianet news agency, January 24, 2002.

140 Adil Harmancı "Köylere un ve kaset baskını"(Flour and cassette raids on villages), Yedinci Gündem (Seventh Agenda), June 15, 2002.

141 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, daily bulletin for July 30, 2002.

142 "Çadırlarını yıktılar" (They burned their tents), Özgür Politika (Free Policy), August 8, 2002.

143 Göç-Der Haber Bülteni (Göç-Der News Bulletin), January 2002, p. 2.

144 "Ezidilere ölüm tuzağı" (Death trap for Yezidis), Yedinci Gündem (Seventh Agenda), May 18, 2002.

145 Human Rights Watch interview, Muş, June 28, 2001

146 Human Rights Watch interview, Siirt, June 27, 2001.

147 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 22, 2001.

148 Human Rights Watch interview, Siirt, June 27, 2001.

149 The gendarmerie restrict access to certain areas they consider sensitive, but such measures are de facto. Other than exercise areas and grounds attached to army posts, there are no officially prohibited military zones.

150 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 23, 2001.

151 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 23, 2001.

152 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 23, 2001.

153 Interviewee's real name withheld to protect his safety.

154 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 23, 2001.

155 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, daily bulletin for October 14, 2002.

156 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, daily bulletin for July 16, 2002.

157 See, for example, Amnesty International report, Turkey: The duty to supervise, investigate and prosecute, April 1, 1999, AI Index: EUR 44/024/1999.

158 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, 1998 Human Rights Report, p. 169.

159 Human Rights Watch interview, Çatak, July 2, 2001.

160 Human Rights Watch interview, Van, June 29, 2001.

161 Human Rights Watch interview, Muş, June 28, 2001.

162 "Geri dönüşü engelleme projesi" (Village return obstruction project), Özgür Politika (Free Policy), April 14, 2002.

163 Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Human Rights Report of Turkey, April 2002.

164 Human Rights Watch interview, Diyarbakır, June 24, 2001.

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