Everyone knows that Turkey has been one of the most frequently condemned countries by the European Court of Human Rights. Some know that it was Turkey which had been found guilty by the ECtHR for the first time in its history of some “specific human rights violations.” The first judgments with regard to torture (Aksoy), rape in custody (Aydın) and village destruction (Akdivar) were delivered against Turkey.
Turkey was one of the worst examples but it was not alone in being subjected to the scrutiny of the court for some “shameful” cases. France was condemned for torture (Selmouni case), the UK for inhumane treatment and so on. There was something, however, which made Turkey unique, and this aspect is crucial to understanding the political culture in Turkey. Turkey had denied the facts before the ECtHR all the time. A plaintiff claimed she was raped, Turkey said she was never taken into custody. Some plaintiffs said their villages were set on fire by security forces, Turkey claimed that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) did it. A plaintiff alleged that her husband was killed in custody, Turkey claimed that the plaintiff’s husband joined the PKK after being released. As a result of the constant denial of the facts by Turkey, the ECtHR found itself in a position in which it turned an exceptional procedure into a rule for Turkish cases. For almost all Southeastern cases, the ECtHR sent delegations to Ankara and held “fact-finding hearings” there. It summoned all plaintiffs, all public officers concerned and crossed-examined them itself. This is a quite exceptional procedure, but for Turkey it had become a standard application. For Turkey, the ECtHR became a court of first instance which collected evidence and conducted trials on its own.
These fact-finding hearings, all of which concerned cases coming from southeastern Turkey, were extremely interesting, and I attended many of them to assist Kurdish lawyers. I have so many observations in these hearings that I cannot tell you in a single article. There was another world in southeastern Turkey, and in this world brutality and lying were indispensable parts of the status quo. Almost all public officers who appeared before the ECtHR were lying terribly. They were denying undeniable facts. More surprisingly, they very naively expected that the ECtHR would accept their version of a story and would not make any further inquiries, because this was what they had been used to seeing. Turkish officials were learning the hard way how difficult it may be to tell their usual lies to a proper court. It was a very hard confrontation between two different mentalities. Prosecutors, soldiers and police officers were leaving the courtroom with shaking hands, sweating.
The facts were denied, institutions were denied and practices were denied. Victims talking, giving incredibly detailed accounts about the activities of JİTEM (an illegal extension of the gendarmerie), but the Turkish state denied the very existence of this organization. These cases brought before the ECtHR covered a small portion of the atrocities committed in the Southeast. There are 17,500 unsolved murders and 3,000 village destructions attributed to JİTEM and other “deep state elements” in Turkey.
These fact-finding hearings were conducted 10 years ago. Ten years later Turkey has just gained enough courage to touch the untouchables, and last year the first deep state case, Ergenekon, started. It was the first time in Turkish history that retired generals and other high-ranking military officers had been arrested. JİTEM’s infamous masterminds, whose names had also been mentioned by the ECtHR, were put behind bars in connection with the Ergenekon case. Turkey has seized a golden opportunity.
Through Ergenekon and other deep state-related cases, for the first time in our history we have the chance of confronting our past atrocities. We can put an end to this culture of denial. We can heal some wounds. All we need is to deepen these cases and to follow all the links wherever they lead us.
However, as I have written in this column before, the government may be planning to issue a general amnesty for all terrorist crimes to convince PKK members to lay down their weapons. If there is a general amnesty, it will inevitably cover all suspects who are now being tried in these deep state cases. I would like to reiterate once again, this would be a disaster. This would not solve the Kurdish question; on the contrary, it will create another much more complex Kurdish problem. All we need in Turkey is to put an end to this culture of denial which is the root cause of all atrocities in the last hundred years in this country. Do not issue a general amnesty, not before we have had a full confrontation with our recent past. There is no peace without justice.