[email protected]

June 10, 2012, Sunday

The Zirve massacre and Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz

Amid the heated debate over the amendment of Article 250 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) seeking to trim the power and authority of specially authorized courts/prosecutors, the indictment involving one of the most tragic incidents of recent years -- the killing of several Christian missionaries at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya -- was submitted to the 3rd Specially Authorized High Criminal Court in Van.

As you might recall, on June 18, 2007, Turkey was shocked to learn that Tilmann Geske, Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel, the missionaries who worked at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya publishing and distributing Christian books, were brutally killed by a group of minors. At that time, Turkey was already reeling from the shock of the murders of Father Andrea Santoro and journalist Hrant Dink by boys aged under 18, and the truth behind these murders could not be illuminated. The war waged by the still-strong tutelary institutions against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was going on at full steam. The high judicial organ and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) were trying to block the government’s reform efforts with all their might and main while the military was backing them with a memorandum it issued on April 27, 2007. There was a dog-eat-dog struggle. As we later found out, the juntas inside the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were devising plots to overthrow the government. But, in order to be able to go ahead with their plans, they had to undermine the strong support European countries, the United States and the general public were giving to the AK Party. With its felicitously designed policies, the AK Party was able to gradually boost its legitimacy.

Since 2005, certain figures who are currently standing trial in the cases against Ergenekon -- a clandestine organization nested within the state accused of trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- had been making public appearances on media networks to create a false perception that Christian missionaries were posing a threat. Appearing on sinister TV programs, these people would tell fabricated stories, arguing that people were losing their religion of Islam as tens of thousands of Christian missionaries had established hundreds of thousands of churches across the country and were distributing the Gospels, putting banknotes of $100 inside them and that their real purpose was to establish a Pontic Greek state on the Black Sea, an Armenian state in the East and a Kurdish state in the Southeast, and even suggesting that Jews had bought vast lands in the Harran plains. These stories may sound unbelievable to you, but at that time, the general public was buying them.

In such a climate, three people who were not involved in any illegal activity were brutally killed in a Central Anatolian city. It was as if the killers wanted to intimidate us or, more correctly, to terrorize the society -- and, of course, Europe, of which we had begun trying to become a member. The victims had been tortured extensively before their throats were cut.

No one believed that this savagery could be carried out by several young boys. But these boys were put on trial. This changed when Specially Authorized Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, who kicked off the operations against Ergenekon, took an active interest in this trial.

The Kafes (Cage) action plan, seized from Levent Bektaş, a defendant in the Ergenekon case, mentioned that members of non-Muslim minorities and the Alevi community would be murdered and referred to the murders of Father Santoro, Dink and the Christian missionaries at the Zirve Publishing House as their operations. Later, Prosecutor Öz received letters and audio recordings from whistleblowers about the Zirve massacre. Prosecutor Öz started to work on the Zirve massacre, and he made significant progress about the background of the murder. Right then he fell victim to pressures from the groups lobbying against the Ergenekon trial. The government removed him from office. The case file was transferred to Prosecutor Cihan Kansız, when he also lacked the jurisdiction to investigate the case, the case file was sent to the 3rd High Criminal Court in Malatya. The 761-page indictment against 19 defendants, prepared by Specially Authorized Prosecutor İsmail Aksoy, was recently submitted to the Malatya 3rd Specially Authorized High Criminal Court. Eighteen defendants are indicted for “establishing and managing a terrorist organization,” “instigating homicide” and “attempting to overthrow the government.” Number one defendant retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, former Malatya Gendarmerie Regiment Commander Col. Mehmet Ülger and Maj. Haydar Yeşil are accused of “leading a terrorist organization,” and the prosecutor is seeking that they be sentenced to a double life sentence in solitary confinement with no possibility of parole. The indictment says the Christian missionaries at the Zirve Publishing House, Dink and Father Santoro were killed as part of the Kafes action plan.

We should look at the debate over the specially authorized courts/prosecutors from this perspective as well. Judicial reform should be implemented; no one can object to this. Breaches should be eliminated and innocent people should be safeguarded against unfair punishment. But we should also acknowledge the fact that strong criminal networks nested within the state still cannot be brought into the light of day by ordinary courts and prosecutors. Turkey’s democratization should not be sacrificed to small calculations.

And let us pay our debts and thank once again Prosecutor Öz, who invested great efforts to solve the Zirve murders and who was unfairly removed from office.

Previous articles of the columnist