As the Turkish state tries to find ways to deal with its long-standing Kurdish problem, a law for compensating Kurds who were forced to migrate in the 1990s came into effect, but to no avail, according to the findings of a recent study.
The study, “On the verge of justice: The state and the Kurds in the aftermath of forced migration, an assessment of Compensation Law 5233 -- the case of Van,” written by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), dissects the law that was passed in order to repair the damage caused by terrorism and counterterrorism measures.
Researchers Dilek Kurban and Mesut Yeğen went to the field to see how the law worked to achieve that goal, and found that it was far from compensating the terror-stricken populace.
“When we look at the explanations of governors about how the law has been put into practice, there are no traces of concern with regard to whether or not justice is being served, but there are typical reflexes from government officials who are trying to protect the state against citizens who are presumably ready to con the state,” the study stated.
As to why Turkey developed a law to compensate its citizens, researchers pointed out that at the beginning of the 21st century, it was obvious that Turkey needed to find a democratic solution to the Kurdish problem, as this was a basic condition for Turkey’s European Union membership. Therefore, Turkey needed to develop laws and policies to address the Kurds’ demands for equal justice, peace and citizenship.
The Compensation Law was passed in 2004 to address those concerns but did not achieve its goals at all, as it did not even include compensation for emotional distress; and the amount of compensation given to people who qualify under this law is insufficient for them to even build a house.
Nevertheless, the researchers say that the state’s real goal with the Compensation Law was to block ways for citizens to go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with their grievances and put the Turkish state under the spotlight, since the European court was likely to find the citizens in the right.
“As the media and public were silent, the law -- which could have been considered a turning point in another country and which would have led to big debates -- was passed in complete silence,” the study said.
In addition, the law was full of problems. For example, citizens who were forced to migrate had to prove that they had losses. Since then there have been amendments to the law to allow it to be better implemented.
“A change in the regulation was for the better as it did remove the heavy burden on victims to prove that they had been harmed. However, as the example of Van shows, the implementation of the law has not really changed,” the study indicated.
According to researchers, in the 1990s more than 1 million people were internally displaced and more than 3,000 villages and smaller residential areas were forcefully emptied in the Southeast, which had a population of about 6 million at the time. Residents of the region were pressured by the state security apparatus, which treated them badly, not to side with members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On the other hand, those same people were coerced by PKK members.
“We were left between the state and the PKK in 1993. We had no chance to survive. We became village guards. We had hundreds of martyrs -- soldiers, village guards, innocent citizens… We said ‘enough, let’s save ourselves.’ We left our village,” said a resident of Van in the report.
The study, written for TESEV’s democratization program, included interviews with 86 internally displaced persons in Van, most of whom were Kurdish and all of whom applied under the Compensation Law for compensation from the government. Some of the interviewees were former or active village guards and some were Kurdish civilians. Additional interviews were conducted with heads and members of damage assessment commissions and the lawyers of applicants who have filed for compensation under the Compensation Law.
As documented in the research, after those citizens left their villages, they lived in catastrophic conditions for months without adequate housing, food, education and health care; they did not have many skills and they only knew how to farm and breed animals.
“Neither the media nor officials paid attention to those disastrous events,” the researchers pointed out.
Between October 2004, when the law came into effect, and October 2010, 358,854 applications for compensation were filed by citizens. About 70 percent of those applications have been finalized. Officials responded positively to about 145,000 of those applications, compensating the victims. The total amount of compensation paid is more than TL 2 trillion.
However, the report indicated that technocrats and bureaucrats who are responsible for implementing the law approach the issue from the viewpoint of numerical quantities.
“They evaluate the law as successful by looking at the amount of compensation paid,” the study says. “Yes, TL 2 trillion in compensation is an impressive amount, but even if we only look at quantity and leave quality aside, it is not possible to reach that conclusion.”
The study explains that those citizens apply on behalf of their families of six to eight people and they seek compensation for between seven and 17 years of financial losses.
“One person would roughly be paid only TL 15,000,” Kurban said. “However, people expect much more than this, especially in emotional terms. They expect apologies and recognition. This would be the only way to reach peace.”
Kurban is not very hopeful that the example of Van will provide any guidance to change the implementation of the law.
“Still, we can say that, since the practice goes on with varying speeds in different provinces, some direction can be provided for officials regarding the problems elaborated in the report. Aside from that, there is a dire need to develop a law for emotional compensation of the victims,” she said and added that, until that time comes, Kurds will continue to live on the verge of justice.