<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

Obstacles to Return

Destruction of Infrastructure

The violence that was used during the forced evacuation of the villages, coupled with a decade of neglect, means that villagers face return to near wilderness punctuated with piles of stones where their homes once stood. Their fields are overgrown, and their pasture turned to ungrazeable scrub. Many villages in the former conflict areas have no telephone connection, no electricity supply, no school, no health centre, no water or sanitation system, and often no passable road.

Civil servants sometimes cite the extremely primitive conditions in some villages to argue that the settlements are fundamentally and intrinsically non-viable, but it is important to note that fifteen years ago, prior to their destruction, the villages had electricity and telephone connections. In most cases, road access deteriorated as a result of a decade of neglect. Most villages also had ready access to schools before the late 1980s, when the PKK began its policy of killing teachers, and the state began destroying school buildings and other infrastructure.

Most villagers were not rich, even at the beginning of the 1990s. But they were impoverished by the wholesale destruction at the point of evacuation, and grew poorer still during ten years in internal exile. Today, most of the displaced lack the resources to properly resume their previous lives as farmers and stockbreeders. For return to be viable, displaced villagers need the ruined infrastructure of their communities restored, assistance with rebuilding their homes, and support during the transition stage while they are re-establishing their livelihoods.

Recently returned villager in front of a makeshift shelter. Security forces destroyed his home and the rest of the village in Diyarbakir province in 1992.
(c) 2004 Jonathan Sugden/Human Rights Watch

The challenges were illustrated starkly during a November 2004 visit by Human Rights Watch to Koçbaba village, near Hazro ın Diyarbakır province. The village lacks the basic elements needed to be a viable community. The population of Koçbaba consists almost entirely of ageing villagers because, in the absence of a local school, families with children have to stay in Diyarbakır. Several elderly villagers were living in huts constructed of branches and plastic. The average nightly temperature during January in Diyarbakir province is consistently below freezing.

Apart from an earth road and a stream, infrastructure at Koçbaba was non-existent. Koçbaba inhabitants described a deadlock over the village’s telephone and electricity connection, since the governor and suppliers expected the villagers to erect the poles to carry the supply, whereas the villagers felt that this was not their job since they had not destroyed them.

Destruction of housing and infrastructure was total for most cleared villages, but the degree of current recovery varies considerably. Recovery depends on the natural advantages of the village, including its proximity to a road, the energy of its village muhtar6 and his relationship with the sub-governor. The reconstruction and re-opening of the village school seems to be a determining factor. In villages with access to schooling, the population seems much more likely to stay the whole year round and include residents across the range of ages. Çiftlibahçe village, near Hazro, Diyarbakır province, for example, is clearly thriving with high morale and plenty of youngsters around. The village school had been destroyed during the forced evacuation, but a new school building has been constructed with funds provided by Galatasaray, one of Istanbul’s leading football (soccer) clubs.

Insecurity in Areas of Return

Security is a crucial factor in returns. There would be no returns at all if personal security in the rural areas of southeast Turkey had not improved much in recent years. All villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch affirmed that the atmosphere was much less tense attributable to the decline in political violence, although the degree of improvement varies from province to province, and from district to district. Returning villagers told Human Rights Watch that their villages are no longer being visited by armed militants looking for food and recruits, and that relations with the local gendarmerie have improved. While some mentioned harsh words and threats from the military, most indicated that the routine brutality of the past had, in general, been replaced by a level of tolerance and respect.

It is important to emphasize that the relative improvement in personal security mentioned by returned villagers will evaporate very quickly if there is a return to open conflict in the region. It was the PKK’s exploitation of Kurdish villagers for food, money, and recruits that made those villagers, in turn, targets of state persecution. Kongra Gel’s return to armed activities in June 2004 risks provoking a heavy-handed government response that may harm Kurds and derail the whole process of return. That risk was identified by the nongovernmental organization Göç-Der7 in an October 2004 report examining the situation of the displaced. The report urged Kongra Gel to renew its unilateral ceasefire and pursue peaceful means in the interests of the displaced.8

Village Guard System

The continuing presence of village guards in some communities constitutes a major impediment to improved security and confidence among displaced villagers. This in turn has a major impact on their willingness to return. In Sirnak province, for example, where the village guard system is particularly strong, the government’s own statistics indicate that returns are running at less than half the rate of the best-performing province.

Displaced persons are understandably reluctant to return to remote rural areas where their neighbors, sometimes from a rival clan, are licensed to carry arms, as members of the village guard.9 Many villagers were originally displaced precisely because they refused to become village guards. Most village guards, like the displaced, are Kurds. As of August 2004, there were 58,416 village guards in Turkey.10 Village guards were involved in the original displacement, and in the intervening years have continued to commit extrajudicial executions and abductions. In some cases, village guards are now occupying properties from which villagers were forcibly evicted. They are sometimes prepared to use violence to protect their illegal gains. The failure of successive Turkish governments to hold accountable members of the security forces and village guard for abuses has created a climate of impunity.

In 2002, village guards allegedly killed three villagers who returned to Nureddin village, in Muş province.11 In June 2004, village guards were implicated in killing of five villagers in pastures near Akpazar village, near Diyadin, in Ağrı province.12 On September 25, 2004, a village guard in Tellikaya village in Diyarbakır province allegedly shot and killed Mustafa Koyun, a returnee villager.13 On or about October 7, 2004, villager İshak Tekin was wounded in an attack by village guards at his home in the settlement of Axçana, near Varto in Muş province.14 He was shot at close quarters, and lost an eye in the attack.

The October 6, 2004 European Commission Regular Report on Turkey describes the village guard system as one of the “major outstanding obstacles” to the safe return of IDPs. There have been repeated calls for the abolition of the village guard system both inside and outside Turkey. Those recommending the abolition of the system include: the Turkish Grand National Assembly’s parliamentary commission on political killings in its 1995 report, the Turkish Grand National Assembly’s parliamentary commission on internal migration in its 1998 report, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in her 2002 report on her visit to Turkey, the UN Special Representative on Internal Displacement in his 2002 report on his visit to Turkey, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its resolution on Turkey of June 2004. Returns will continue to be slow unless and until the village guard system is dismantled and its members disarmed.

Unlawful Killings by Security Forces

In addition to security concerns arising from the village guard system, attacks on civilians by the gendarmerie discourage return. Three unlawful killings by security forces in late 2004, underscored the continued potential for lethal state violence against civilians in general, and IDPs in particular.

On November 21, security forces shot dead Ahmet Kaymaz, a villager displaced from Köprülü village in Mardin province, and his twelve-year-old son Uğur Kaymaz in the nearby town of Kızıltepe.15 Neighbors told the Human Rights Association of Turkey (HRA) that Kaymaz and his son had been preparing their commercial vehicle for a forthcoming journey and were unarmed at the time of the shooting. The provincial governor issued a statement that “two terrorists have been captured dead following a clash.”16 An HRA delegation investigated the incident and concluded that there was little evidence to suggest that Kaymaz and his son had been involved in an armed clash with security forces, as the official incident report claims. The HRA noted that since Kaymaz was a full-time truck driver and that his son had an uninterrupted attendance record at his local primary school, they were unlikely to be members of any guerrilla force. Kaymaz had recently appointed a lawyer to deal with his application for compensation for his displacement, and the autopsy report noted that related documents were on his person at the time of death.

A week after the Kaymaz killings, on November 28, gendarmes shot dead Fevzi Can, a shepherd who resided in the partially evacuated village of Ortaklar, in Şemdinli, Hakkari province.17 A local newspaper reported claims by Fevzi Can’s uncle that the military authorities had taken the body away and refused to release it unless Can’s relatives signed a statement saying that “a terrorist who failed to respond to a call to halt was killed.”18 Official statements described Can as a livestock smuggler19 but the village muhtar and Fevzi Can’s brother denied this, and pointed out that the animals in his possession had not been confiscated by the authorities, as is usual in smuggling cases, following Fevzi Can’s death. Efforts to coerce the relatives and conflicting stories about “terrorism” and “livestock smuggling” have provoked suspicions that this was an unlawful killing.

Four members of the Turkish Army Special Operations Team were indicted in December 2004 by the Mardin Chief Prosecutor’s Office for the killings of Ahmet and Uğur Kaymaz. The first hearing was held on February 12 at Mardin Criminal Court No. 2. The trial continues. An investigation has been opened against gendarmes thought to be responsible for the death of Fevzi Can. Prosecutions in southeast Turkey for similar crimes in the past have rarely resulted in convictions, giving cause for scepticism about whether those responsible for these offences will be held to account.

The discovery on November 4, 2004, of a common grave containing the bones of eleven people in the Kepre district of Alaca village has renewed awareness of the region’s history of violence and impunity. DNA samples are currently being tested, but clothing and objects indicate that the remains belong to eleven villagers detained by soldiers and “disappeared” at the time of the forced evacuation and destruction of Alaca in 1993.20 In 2001, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found the Turkish government responsible for violations of the right to life in respect of the eleven men. In its judgment, the Court was “struck by the lack of any meaningful effort” by public prosecutors to investigate the “disappearances” at Alaca.21 Villagers told the court that commandos from Bolu took the villagers away, but no soldiers from that unit were indicted.

According to the U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, killings such as those described above should be investigated by independent expert commissions.22 The Turkish authorities have consistently resisted this route, preferring to leave the job to the public prosecution service that, over the past two decades, has proven itself either unable or unwilling to hold the members of the security forces to account.

Unless the Turkish government radically alters the manner in which allegations of killings by the security services and the village guard are investigated, and the perpetrators brought to account, impunity will continue, and many internally displaced will lack the confidence to return to their homes.

[6] A villager elected to represent the community in its dealings with the state.

[7] Göç Edenler Sosyal Yardimlaşma Ve Kültür Derneği (Association for Solidarity with Migrants and Culture).

[8] “Türkiye’nin AB Sürecinde Göç Sorunu ve Çözüm Önerileri,” (Turkey’s Migration Problem and Proposals for Solutions in the context of the EU Process), Göç-Der, Istanbul, October 16, 2004. The publication also contained a series of recommendations to the E.U. and the Turkish government.

[9] In some areas, membership in the village guards follows clan divisions.

[10] Statement of Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu, reported in the monthly bulletin of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, August 2004.

[11] Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, daily bulletin for July 16, 2002.

[12] Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, monthly bulletin for August, 2004.

[13] Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, monthly bulletin for September, 2004.

[14] Sertaç Laleoğlu, “Korucu vahşeti tırmanıyor” (Village guard horror increases), Özgür Politika (Free Policy), October 12, 2004.

[15] Gökçer Tahincioğlu, “Kızıltepe'de mızrak çuvala sığmıyor!” (The speak will not fit in the sack), Milliyet (Nationhood), January 1, 2005.

[16] Hüseyin Kacar and Halit Solhan, “İnfaza 3 ayrı soruşturma” (Three investigations of killing), Sabah (Morning), November 28, 2004, and “Erdoğan: Olamaz!” (Erdoğan: It is wrong!), Milliyet, (Nationhood) December 2, 2004.

[17] Human Rights Association of Turkey, 28.11.2004 Günü Hakkari İli Şemdinli İlçesi Öğrencik Köyünde Fevzi Can Adli Yurttaşın Öldürülmesine İlişkin İddiaları Araştırma-İnceleme Raporu (Report on an investigation into allegations concerning the killing of Fevzi Can at Öğrencik village, Şemdinli, Hakkari on 28.11.2004), Ankara, December 4, 2004.

[18] “Dün Uğur, bugün Fevzi, yarın kim?” (Yesterday Uğur, today Fevzi, who will it be tomorrow?”) November 30, 2004.

[19] Human Rights Association of Turkey, 28.11.2004 Günü Hakkari İli Şemdinli İlçesi Öğrencik Köyünde Fevzi Can Adlı Yurttaşın Öldürülmesine İlişkin İddiaları Araştırma-İnceleme Raporu (Report on an investigation into allegations concerning the killing of Fevzi Can at Öğrencik village, Şemdinli, Hakkari on 28.11.2004), Ankara, December 4, 2004.

[20] Zülfikar Ali Aydın, “Kemikleri bulunca dünyalar benim oldu,” (I was overjoyed when his bones were found), Sabah (Morning), December 4, 2004.

[21] Akdeniz v Turkey, ECHR, May 31, 2001, paragraph 92.

[22] Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, E.S.C. res. 1989/65, annex, 1989 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No. 1) at 52, U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989), Principle 11.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>March 2005