Turkey: The Right to Life

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Report compiled in 2007 Author: Helmut Oberdiek

  • Balance sheet for 20 years (12 September 1980 to 12 September 2000)
  • Attacks of armed groups on civilians (balance sheet for 10 years; 1990-1999)

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.

During military rule (1980 to 1983) it was very difficult to obtain (reliable) information on human rights abuses in Turkey. With the foundation of the Human Rights Association (HRA) in 1986 information was collected on a more systematic level, but only after the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) had been established in 1990 professional work on collecting information on abuses started at their Documentation Centre (DC) in Ankara.

Personal background: Between 1979 and 1986 I worked voluntarily for the (German) initiative of an "alternative aid for Turkey" (ath). We published a bi-weekly translation service from Turkish papers with the focus on human rights (abuses). Between 1986 and 1990 I worked at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International (AI). In other words, I collected information on the period between 1980 and 1990 which in Turkey mainly individuals like Erbil Tusalp did.

Working for AI I concentrated mainly on the category "Death in Custody" (DIC) or better "death as a result of torture". Extra-judicial executions (EJE) had become an issue, but people who had "disappeared" after detention were mostly included in the list of suspected DIC.

In 1991 and 1992 I helped to organize the DC of the HRFT. One of the things I did was to prepare lists of people killed between 1980 and 1992. The killings may generally be termed "political" and included various sub-categories such as "disappearance" (DISAP), death in custody (DIC), extra-judicial executions (EJE) but also people who were killed in clashes. I have used these lists in compiling the information below.

The need for revision of existing lists

There may not be an urgent need for a revision of different lists that were published by AI, the HRA or the HRFT, but certainly the information in these lists should be put together. It is somehow disappointing to see that papers who point at the consequences of the military coup of 12 September 1980 (each year at the anniversary) still quote the figure of 171 DIC. This figure was published by the HRA in 1988 and certainly needs an update. For a start, only one year later (1989) AI reported that some 200 people had died in custody and that in 47 cases (some before 12 September) it had officially been acknowledged that these deaths were the result of torture.

The well researched report of the HRFT "File on Torture" that was published in 1994 and updated in 1995 (14 and 15 years after the military coup) went always unnoticed. Otherwise the papers could present the figure of 460 cases of deaths in custody and prisons during the first 15 years after the military coup.

A first task will be a comparison of the different lists and a second task will be the "correction" of information, if necessary. To this end I shall state what "my criteria" to keep or drop a case will be. If you look at the category of "disappearances" the need for an update (updates) is apparent, because persons that were reportedly "missing" may have shown up or discovered dead (in that case they could be DIC or EJE).

Preliminary Remarks

Only the 3 categories

  1. "Disappearances"
  2. Death in Custody (as a result of torture)
  3. Attacks on Civilians (violations of armed groups)

will be considered.

As far as extra-judicial executions (EJE) and political killings by unidentified assailants are concerned the number of atrocities is too high to be studied in detail and it is almost impossible to draw a clear line between

  1. killings in the fight between PKK and the Turkish Hizbullah
  2. EJE of the PKK and State agencies (counter-guerrilla)

The killings (of civilians) for which the PKK claimed responsibilities are dealt with under "attacks on civilians" with sub-categories of killings of teachers and killings of journalists.

If newspaper articles are the only source it is difficult to find the correct category. Thus, the prisoners (suspects) who "disappeared" in the 1980s were usually listed as "deaths in custody" (DIC). When looking at the attacks on civilians one question can be whether special forces dressed as PKK members committed the atrocities or PKK militants dressed up as soldiers wanted to blame the State for it. Admittedly, there are only very few cases of the latter possibility.

In addition, it is difficult to draw a clear line between "civilians" in combat (militia or village guards) or unarmed civilians (e.g. if someone intended to become a village guard, but at the time of the attack was not wearing arms). The HRFT has also counted soldiers and police officers among the civilians if they were not killed in a clash. The list that I compiled does not include "parties to the armed conflict" (thus excluding soldiers and police officers). Village guards are only included if they were killed outside the territory (OHAL) or if the whole family was concerned (a method called "ocak söndürme" = "extinguish the fire in the stove" and literally meaning that the whole family including their stock is annihilated).

There may be an objection to the time spam chosen for the survey. While DIC is somehow directly related to the military coup DISAP and the killings of civilians is more the result of the armed conflict that started with the attacks of the PKK in Eruh and Semdinli in August 1984. There were, however, cases of DISAP before that, mainly deaths in custody where the perpetrators were able to dispose of the corpse. Therefore the DISAP list has also included the 1980s.

This would have been difficult for "killings of civilians" not really related to the military intervention. All organizations, propagating "armed propaganda" as their policy, proudly committed executions in their own ranks as well as against the so-called enemy. The fight between the violent "right" and the violent "left" as well as among different left-wing organizations resulted in some 5,000 deaths before the military coup. Further reflections will be presented in the section on "atrocities of armed groups".

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

At a later stage (December 2008) I collected figures on killings by unknown assailants. The term faili mechul in Turkish indicates that the assailants could not be identified, because of official protection. This assumptions was made for killings of the radical Islamic organization Hizbullah as well as units of the State within a State (deep State. In the excel-file on unsolved killings the figures for the years 1990-2000 were

  1. Ministry of the Interior: 628
  2. Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT): 1742
  3. Human Rights Association (HRA): 2271

The main sources for this information are:

  • The HRFT annual report for 2000, p. 41
  • The HRFT annual report for 1998, p. 117