Turkey: Killings by Armed Groups

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  • Cases between 1990 and 2000

The "Trilogy" under the main heading Turkey: The Right to Life includes

The corresponding lists can be found at the bottom of the each page.

Many groups of the extreme left, but also the extreme right and some fundamentalist (religious) groups in Turkey have favoured and are propagating the armed struggle. While groups such as the "Grey Wolves" (also called "Idealists" and seen close to the fascist National Movement Party, MHP) and "Hizbullah" saw and see their main "task" in fighting communists and separatists somehow in support of the "weak State" the Marxist-Leninist groups look at the armed struggle as part of their "revolutionary" strategy.

The term "armed propaganda" is mainly used for spectacular actions against police officers or soldiers aiming at publicity about the group's strength and hoping to find sympathizers to their course. But already during the bitter fighting at the end of the 1970's that almost reached the level of civil war the armed organizations did not just fight against the "enemy" (groups of the opposite "camp" or representatives of the State), but also among each other, mainly because they wanted to dominate certain places (quarters, schools etc.).

After the coup of 12 September 1980 many militants were captured (the Human Rights Association estimated that 650,000 people were detained on political grounds). Some of them managed to escape and went abroad (Europe or the Lebanon for instance). Several killings among certain fractions were committed abroad. In particular the Kurdish Workers' Party, PKK became notorious for killing rivals not only members of different groups but also own members who dared to criticize the leader Abdullah Öcalan.

I have compiled some information (in German) of "internal" killings in the PKK. Further information (again in German) can be found in relation to the killing of Kürsat Timuroglu in Hamburg in 1986 on my website.

While the killings in Europe received some prominence little is known about incidents in Turkey or the Middle East (at least during the first half of the 1980’s). After the PKK had started the "war against the colonialists" on 15 August 1984 the atrocities against civilians gained momentum. The State armed villagers for the fight against the PKK and the "deep State" (also called "counter-guerrilla; see the page of wikipedia) began clandestine operations against sympathizers of the PKK. Thus, both sides could have been responsible for killings of farmers in Kurdish villages.

Certainly, the PKK had little objection to openly admit to killings of civilians that in the organization's eyes were "traitors", "agents of the State", "denouncers" or "members of gangs" (as they would call village guards). The information that I collected between 1983 and 1987 by looking at the party's organ "Serxwebun" (partly in comparison to the main stream press in Turkey) shows almost 240 killings of civilians that the the PKK proudly announced to have committed. Unfortunately, the same sources were not available for the years 1988 and 1989.

Therefore, my list of atrocities starts in 1990. At least since 1991 the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) tried to gather information not only on human rights abuses of the authorities, but also violations of the right to life committed by armed opposition groups. I took the lists of the HRFT as the basis, but was able to find additional information. In using these lists I ended up with over 940 cases, but found an additional 28 cases in my limited private newspaper archives that I kept between 1992 and 1999. The main items (in Turkish) can be found as images in my web-archives. For a start one can say that the true number of killings of civilians by armed group is likely to be more than 1,000 in 10 years. More than 800 killings can be attributed to the PKK.

"Internal killings" have not been an exclusive phenomenon within the PKK. Other armed groups have also killed members (or former members) who they suspected of collaborating with the "enemy" or who had taken a different political view. When, for instance the Revolutionary Left (Devrimci Sol) split up into the Yagan and Karatas fraction (now operating under the name of DHKP/C = Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front) several killings were committed in prison. These killings include: M. Sami Tarhan (Bayrampaşa, April 1992), Adnan Temiz (Adana, June 1992), Erdoğan Eliuygun (Bayrampaşa, July 1993), Ahmet Celal Özkul (Ankara), Simel Aydın (26) and H. Hulusi Kulak (25) in Istanbul on 21. August 1994, Latife Erener (Bayrampaşa, March 1995), Hilal Füsun Ünlü (Ankara, June 1995), Fatma Özyurt (Ankara, October 1996), İbrahim Sertel (Buca, October 1996), Ulaş Şahintürk (Ankara, December 1996), Oktay Yıldırım (Bayrampaşa, May 1999) and Turan Ünal (Çankırı, July 1999).

At the same time there were strong rumours that the secret service in Turkey (MIT) had received tip-offs from the opposite fraction when in Istanbul, Adana and Ankara the security forces raided so-called "organizational flats" and killed the tenants (the militants at these places). According to the annual report of the HRFT for 1992 at least 23 Devrimci Sol members were among the victims of these raids. Similar actions happened before and after 1992.

I should add a few remarks on the "revolutionary justice". For a start the armed groups usually are not opposed to the death penalty. In humanist terms they might argue that they are at war and the death penalties passed on people inside or outside the organization were a "necessity". Yet, the trials (if any) conducted by militants of such organizations hardly deserve to be called "just proceedings".

Generally the so-called interrogators would not refrain from applying torture, if the "suspect" is not willing to "confess". During the "proceedings" the presence of jurists (persons who have studied law) would be sheer coincidence. Legal counsel is also no given right. Prosecutors and judges are usually the same. Some information is available on how the PKK conducted trials in their camps (certainly different "at the front"). Some details were published in the weekly "2000e Dogru" (Towards 2000) on 7 January 2000 and other details were name by PKK dissident Selim Cürükkaya in the German version of his book on "Apo" (Abdullah Öcalan).

It was said that only people pleading guilty had a chance of being "tried". The prosecution had been appointed among the leadership of the camp and the "judges" were all militants present on what would be called the "platform". The two possibilities were either execution or imprisonment in a labour camp. Only Öcalan had the power to pardon the persons and save them from being executed.

Overall, the accusations that should justify the executions will in many cases have been invented or consisted of simple rumours. But regardless of the truth behind accusations of being "spies" or "collaborators" the only important question in this context has to be whether people were killed in combat or as unarmed persons. Since the proceedings in these cases had too many shortcomings they could be called extra-judicial executions.

Killings of Teachers and Journalists

In a separate work the HRFT compiled information on the killings of teachers in the area under a state of emergency (the report was published in November 1994). The report stated inter alias:

 "According to the determinations by the HRFT, a total of 128 teachers were killed as a result of armed-bomb attacks, attacks with meat cleaver or sticks, or during clashes or similar violence acts between 15 August 1984, when the PKK began to stage armed acts, and 20 November 1994.   9 of the 128 teachers were killed between 1985-1989, 9 of them in 1990 and 2 of them in 1991. As of the beginning of 1992, the attacks against teachers have increased to a great extent. The number of the teachers killed in 1992 was 23, in 1993 was 50 and in 1994 (by 20 November 1994) was 30.   81 of the teachers were killed by PKK militants while 43 of them were killed as a result of murders by unidentified assailants which have been rising since the mid of 1990. 2 of the remaining 4 teachers, were killed under torture in detention in 1985 and 1988, one of them was killed in Adana by TIKKO militants on 12 July 1992 while one of them was killed during the incidents which took place in Lice on 22 October 1993."

I found further cases on a page of the Ministry for National Education on "fallen teachers" (martyrs), my own archives and other sources partly before 15 August 1984 and after 20 November 1994. Altogether a total of 176 teachers were killed in 20 years. 57 of these killings were committed by unidentified assailants (besides agents of the State and the State within the State that can be militants of Hizbullah as well as the PKK or TIKKO). 105 teachers were killed or "disappeared" in the hands of the PKK. Five teacher died in custody (under torture) and one died in prison (fell ill as a consequence of torture). Four teachers were most likely killed by Hizbullah and for the killings of two teachers TIKKO was responsible. For the bomb attacks that killed two teachers most likely the PKK was responsible.

These figures show that for a certain time the PKK followed a policy of hindering education in the area they claimed to have under their control. While teachers were killed at random (many of them could be called progressive or even sympathetic to the course of the PKK) there was no alternative developed (lessons in Kurdish for instance). The PKK issued several bans not just for the region under a state of emergency (where the guerrillas were staging a war) but also in big cities such as Adana and Mersin (called the Cukurova region). The bans included the sale of cigarettes and alcohol (product from a State monopoly), gambling, prostitution, bans of education and political activities. Accordingly, not only teachers were killed, but also shop owners were punished and politicians were killed as well as journalists.

However, the ratio in the killings of journalists is somehow opposite to the killings of teachers. The "deep State" targeted journalists of pro-Kurdish papers such as "Özgür Gündem" (Free Agenda). Some of them "disappeared" and other became victims of killings by unknown assailants (they are called "faili mechul" in Turkish and are, therefore shortened as FM). In a number of cases the unknown assailants were not counter-guerrillas, but members of (Turkish) Hizbullah.

In compiling the list of killed journalists I have taken lists of associations of journalists that usually have termed the killing of Hrant Dink in January 2007 the 62nd victim. In order to reach such a number all journalists that have died in the course of duty (e.g. as the result of an accident, too) since the foundation of the Republic of Turkey were counted. I have only taken the journalists that were killed (victim of murder) between 1980 and 2000 and counted 50. Among them 5 (five) killings each can be attributed to the PKK, Hizbullah and other radical Islamic groups. The other killings include killings on personal grounds, but also possible EJEs by agents of the State. This refers to at least 12 cases, among them 2 deaths in custody, one officially termed "suicide" and the other one the result of beatings. Two journalists "disappeared". In one case the corpse was found.

Where to go from here: The simple lists contain mainly name, date and place, while the commented lists are intended for people with knowledge of Turkish to make contributions or use it in their own work.

Texts (Wiki) Simple Lists Commented Lists
Turkey: The Right to Life "Disappearances" rtf 922kB "Disappearances" xls 370kB
Turkey: "Disappearances" Deaths in Custody rtf 582kB Deaths in Custody xls 112 kB
Turkey: Deaths in Custody Killings by Armed Groups rtf 1,7mB Killings by Armed Groups xls 377kB
Turkey: Killings by Armed Groups Killed Teachers html 99kB Killed Teachers xls 41 kB
Killed Journalists html 51kB Killed Journalists xls 46kB
Correction to the list of "Killings by Armed Groups" (September 2014):

the killings of "traitors" in prison of Ahmet Celal Özkul (Ankara), Şimel Aydın (26) and H. Hulusi Kulak (25) in Istanbul on 21. August 1994 must be attributed to Devrimci Sol (not the PKK) and the murder of Sıtkı Bozan in Diyarbakır on 11. September 1994 by PKK militants must be added to the list (see the annual report of the HRFT). In addition, one killing of the PKK (Edip Demir in Midyat on 7 January 1992), three killings of Devrimci Sol (Adem Demirci on 7 June 1990 in Eyüp-Istanbul, Kemal Fırat on 4 April 1990 in Bayrampaşa and M. Ali Çelik on 4 April 1991 in Bayrampaşa) and three killings by TİKKO (Bayram Kocabozdoğan, Erdal Cort and Nurten Eriş, all killed on 24 August 1996 in Çemişgezek-Tunceli) also have to be added to the list.