Police in the southeastern province of Van have detained 17 soldiers on charges of executing two members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and one civilian during a military operation in 2009.
The arrests were authorized on Tuesday by a specially authorized prosecutor from the Van Public Prosecutor’s Office. Those arrested include retired Gendarmerie General Staff Col. Halil İyigün and 16 active-duty troops who were under İyigün’s command, including a major, a first lieutenant and one noncommissioned officer.
The two terrorists and one civilian were reportedly killed during a shootout which took place close to the village of Buğulukaynak in the Çaldıran district of Van province on Oct. 7, 2009. An anonymous letter written by a soldier who took place in the operation surfaced in 2011, however, and claimed that the three had been executed by İyigün and members of the Gendarmerie.
Later examined by the Van Prosecutor’s Office and corroborated by eyewitness testimony of army members at Çaldıran in 2009, the letter alleged that his unit on Oct. 7 was pursuing two known PKK members and 18-year-old high school student İbrahim Atabay. The three had fled Atabay’s uncle’s house near Buğulukaynak during a search by the military and, according to the letter, soon found themselves cornered at a nearby river and captured by the military.
“They raised their hands and surrendered. We made them lie down and waited for Colonel Vecihi Halil İyigün to arrive,” the letter reads. “After Colonel İyigün had arrived, he wanted the commandos to withdraw. Gendarmerie special task forces came later and he gave them the order for execution. Three persons were killed with rifles from a distance of 50 meters.”
The letter also claims that İyigün stated that if he had not killed the surrendered men, they would eventually have been set free and “have returned to the PKK afterwards.” Last year, prosecutors working on the case alleged that Col. İyigün had tried to conceal his offence by refusing to issue or sign any official reports about the incident.