The terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which brutally executed some of its own members either over dissenting opinions or for being a potential threat to the leadership of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan -- who is now in jail -- frequently declared its victims “heroes” who died fighting Turkish security forces.
Little was known of the inner workings of the PKK until very recently, when Turkish prosecutors conducting an investigation into state-sponsored deaths in the Southeast launched a second investigation into executions conducted by the PKK of its own militants.
The investigation came out of another one, which looks into unsolved murders perpetrated in the Kurdish-dominated eastern and southeastern provinces of Turkey in the ‘90s by an illegal counterterrorism unit called JİTEM, formed inside the gendarmerie. Evidence of execution-style killings and eyewitness accounts in combination with complaints filed by families whose sons or daughters joined the PKK have prompted Turkish prosecutors to launch a second probe into the fate of those murdered by the armed group.
A secret witness has already testified to a special prosecutor on the case, using the codename “Kazım.” In his 100-page testimony, he detailed many executions, including that of Resul Altınok, a PKK militant who criticized PKK leader Öcalan. In his testimony, Kazım said: “For days, they had him hanging from the ceiling of a cave. They hit him in the genital area. Then they made him dig his own grave and killed him with a single bullet.”
Kazım spent years as a member of the PKK. The execution was ordered by Öcalan, he said of Altınok’s death. “The execution was carried out by Ali Haydar Kaytan.”
Another victim of PKK executions was Leyla Wali Hasan, a Kurd from Sulaimaniya who used the codename “Viyan Soran.” He said that this person was declared a Kurdish hero after her execution. Kazım said: “The PKK experienced a serious regression after Öcalan’s capture in 1997 until 2005. Leyla Wali entered the executive ranks of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party [PÇDK], which was founded in northern Iraq. [Murat] Karayılan found out that Leyla was in contact with other PKK commanders who were known to be against violence. She was killed upon orders from Karayılan in a manner that made it look as if she had set herself on fire. They even held a ceremony for her when she was buried in Sulaimaniya.”
Another person, Yusuf Tören, who fled the PKK and returned home making use of a Turkish partial amnesty law -- the penitence law -- testified in the investigation. He said most of the victims’ families were told that their son or daughter was killed by Turkish soldiers. Tören stayed with the PKK for some nine months after joining in 1998. He also spoke of the executions of those who decided to leave the PKK after his surrender to Turkish authorities.
‘Spies, snitches should be killed’
A limited number of the execution-style killings of the PKK have so far been revealed to the public. The PKK’s main monthly publication, Serxwebun, cites “being a mole or a spy” as the main reason for these murders. The PKK also frequently publishes the list of people it killed as part of its intimidation strategy. According to figures that can be compiled from witnesses and past issues of Serxwebun, the PKK’s most intensive intra-group killings as well as murders in the Southeast occurred between the years 1984 and 1987.
In 1987 the PKK killed eight villagers in the Orta Bağ area of Uludere, a district of Şırnak province. On Jan. 23, 1987 it killed 10 people in a raid in Midyat, Mardin province. On June 20, 1987 it killed 30 people, including 16 children, in Mardin’s Ömerli district in the Pınarcık village massacre. On July 14, 1991 it killed nine people including women and children in two villages of Kahramanmaraş, and on Dec. 25, 1991 in İstanbul’s Bakırköy district, 11 people were killed in a fire started by a Molotov cocktail thrown at a shopping mall owned by the brother of a former governor who oversaw the OHAL region -- southeastern provinces that were administered under a type of martial law. On June 11, 1992 the PKK executed 13 people in Bitlis’ Tatvan district by firing squad. Ten citizens were killed in this manner on June 27, 1992 in Silvan, after being forced out of a mosque where they were praying.
The PKK also killed Ali Merkit, the father of PKK commander Yıldırım Merkit. Ali Merkit was killed after the group decided that he was a spy. Mahmut Yılmaz, who Serxwebun also declared a traitor, was set on fire and taken around Piroz village until he died. Yılmaz’s death was unanimously decided upon by the villagers, after the PKK informed them of the “list of crimes” he had supposedly committed. Teyfik Kutoğlu, another former PKK member, was killed in late 1981, the year in which 31 village guards were shot dead by the PKK in Pınarcık.
Residents of the area are now hopeful about the investigation. Kurdish politician İbrahim Güçlü said: “When you use the words ‘executions,’ or ‘unsolved murder,’ you really limit the scope of what happened here given the true dimension of the murders that were committed by the state-PKK-Hizbullah triangle. There are thousands, even tens of thousands, of murders, and it would be better to use the concept of a ‘Kurdish massacre’,” speaking to the Cihan news agency.
Güçlü said the most frequent victims of the PKK were muhtars -- or village heads -- in the region. He said most people were very hopeful about the investigation into the PKK’s executions, noting that some families that think their children are in northern Iraq with the PKK might find out that their children are dead. He said the probe will bring to light the “truth about the PKK” and might lead to the younger people of the region, who are potential recruits for the terrorist group, questioning the role of the PKK.
Güçlü said he would give a detailed report on the Kurdish massacre to a parliamentary committee investing the unsolved murders in the area.