Fearing Destitution and Death, Turkey’s Kurds Plead With Lawless Courts
Post-coup Turkey breaks its own laws to suppress the Kurds
by NORMA COSTELLO
Aydin Ozdemir seems jumpy as he sifts through a sea of beige files before settling on one. “They offered this man 2,000 lira” — that’s $275 — “for his whole shop,” he tells me. “And that was after they looted the place.” He gestures frantically to images of a shopfront riddled with bullet holes.
In Diyarbakir, Turkey, the law has long gone defunct as lawyers drag case after case through despondent courts operating under emergency powers. For many, arrest and even death loom on the horizon.
In November 2015, Tahir Elci, a prominent human-rights lawyer and chair of Diyarbakir bar association, was shot and killed in the middle of press conference in the city’s troubled district of Sur.
Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP — the People’s Democratic Party — blamed Elci’s death on Turkish police officers patrolling the area, which was under a heavy military curfew.
Turkish authorities in turn blamed the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK. To date, no one has been charged with his murder and Demirtas is now in prison on charges of inciting hatred.
Lawyers such as Ozdemir have been rendered impotent in post coup Turkey as they attempt — in vain — to represent civilians affected by the violence which has engulfed the region for the last 18 months.
It’s a frustrating task with little hope in sight as Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepares to consolidate his power in a controversial referendum on April 16, 2017.
“We had the HDP,” Ozdemir reflects. “We had courts. But when they killed Tahir Elci they sent a message to the whole legal community. We can kill you and no one will care. For Kurds, Turkey is already a complete dictatorship.”
Ozdemir, a friendly football-addict with a passion for his local team Ahmedspor, seems strangely out of place in a city where bypassing the law has become the norm.
Since August 2015 strict curfews imposed by Turkish special forces have been in place throughout Kurdish areas. The curfews have displaced hundreds of thousand of civilians and have lead to growing discontent among other NATO members. Many are now asking whether these curfews — which Kurds say are cover for ethnic cleansing — legal?
The simple answer is no, not even by Turkish law.
In July 2016 E.U. commissioner for human right Nils Muižnieks came to Turkey after reports of human rights abuses reached Strasbourg.
He visited Istanbul Ankara and the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, the latter in the middle of a military crackdown. The commissioner’s access was restricted by soldiers fiercely guarding curfewed districts.
In his subsequent report, which was interrupted by the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, Muižnieks condemned the use of curfews against the civilian population.
“I call on Turkey to stop using curfews in such a manner, investigate all allegations of human rights violations by state agents in an effective manner and put in place comprehensive schemes for redress and compensation,” Muižnieks wrote. “Failure to do so will further aggravate the initial violations.”
The ruling AKP party ignored the report.
“The AKP’s policy is to cleanse the Kurds,” Ramazan Tunc, a local politician, tells me at a center run by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party. “They used the curfews to expropriate Kurdish homes by destroying them. Soon they will rebuild them and give them to Turks.”
Compensation has been meager and, in some cases, government authorities are forcing those affected by the war to sell their land to the state for a pittance.
Those who refuse are dragged through a lengthy legal process and will most likely be forced to sell what remains of their homes to the state, anyway. It’s a massive land-grab.
And it’s not the first time. In the ever-shifting lava of Mesopotamian politics, Kurds whisper about their role in the Armenian genocide, which gave them the businesses that are now being destroyed.
“Us for breakfast, you for lunch,” is a traditional Armenian warning. Today it’s being realized in the rubble of Kurdish towns and cities.
“We didn’t listen to them, we just took their lands and helped the Turks,” Muhammed, a returned emigree, tells me in Diyarbakir.
Rights-defenders are increasingly pointing out the AKP’s decision to bypass Turkish law in order to expropriate homes and carry out abuses. But legal challenges in post-coup Turkey seem utterly redundant as Ozdemir and the lawyers who have managed to avoid arrest try to bring cases to courts that ignore their own laws
“These curfews are illegal by any law,” Ozdemir says. “Why is Europe silent and Theresa May visiting Erdogan? When people ask me about the AKP’s referendum, I don’t care. For Kurds, we are already living in a lawless Hell.”