A young man of Armenian descent who was killed while serving in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) as a conscripted private, which was initially believed to be an accident, is likely a hate crime committed because of the victim's ethnic background, new testimony from another private indicates.
Pvt. Sevag Şahin Balıkçı was shot dead on April 24, 2011 -- the date the Armenian Diaspora has chosen to commemorate the incidents of 1915 when hundreds of Armenians were killed in the Ottoman Empire. The other privates in his unit, stationed in Batman province, and other officers testified that Balıkçı was shot accidentally when he was “joking around” with a close friend, Kıvanç Ağaoğlu. However, according to a report published in the Sabah daily on Friday, one of the privates who witnessed the incident changed his testimony, which will likely change the course of the trial of Ağaoğlu, the shooter.
The revised testimony was given in late December, according to Sabah’s report. It wasn’t clear why there were no reports on it earlier.
Halil Ekşi, who served in the military during the same period as Sevag Balıkçı, in his revised testimony said, “Kıvanç pointed his rifle at Sevag and pulled the trigger. His family had asked me to testify in his favor,” indicating that Ağaoğlu’s family pressured him into not describing what really happened.
They were serving at the Kozluk Gümüşgörü Gendarmerie Station at the time of the murder.
The investigators in the initial stage of the probe were trying to understand whether Balıkçı was really the victim of a hapless accident or a murder committed with full intent. According to the soldiers’ account, Balıkçı was shot by Ağaoğlu when they were installing a chain-link fence around the gendarmerie station.
The family, mainly based on suspicions arising from the date of the murder, had earlier filed criminal charges against Ağaoğlu claiming he had wanted to kill their son and knew what he was doing when he fired his rifle. Ağaoğlu’s lawyers asserted that their client was a very close friend of Balıkçı, and his rifle fired by accident. Earlier testimony from Ekşi supported this statement. However, Ekşi, who testified once again on Dec. 27, 2011, said he wanted to change his initial testimony. He said he did not see the suspect playing around with the rifle and noted that Ağaoğlu’s uncle, Bülent Kaya, had visited him in his hometown and in fact wrote his initial testimony with him. He gave his first testimony on Sept. 9, 2011, in an Aydın court after he was summoned. It wasn’t clear why he changed his testimony, but the Balıkçı family lawyers had requested to hear him again on the grounds that they weren’t present during the first testimony. This is why Ekşi was summoned once again by the Aydın 1st Criminal Court.
In his latest account, Ekşi told the judge hearing his testimony: “I was told by suspect Kıvanç and his family, especially his uncle, to testify in his favor. On the day of the incident, we were installing chain-link fencing around the station under orders from our commanders. As we did our work, at some point, Kıvanç Ağaoğlu unlocked his rifle’s safety and directed it at our other friend Sevag Şahin. And he fired the rifle. This way, Sevag Şahin was wounded. I do not know why Kıvanç fired at Sevag.”