Protected by U.S. in Iraq, Kurds say they are terrorized in Turkey

September 04, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- While U.S. and European forces are still positioned in Turkey to protect Kurds in neighboring Iraq, Kurds in Turkey itself have become victims of a series of unexplained murders, abductions, tortures and beatings, according to interviews with victims and their families.

The incidents against Kurds have occurred in the four months since Turkey passed a tough anti-terrorism law aimed at subduing a Kurdish fight for independence from Turkey like the one that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein faces from Kurds in his country.

The law grants police immunity from prison for acts committed in fighting terrorism, and its definition of terrorism is so broad that critics say it gives police and the military a free hand over the 12 million Kurds of southeastern Turkey.

Kurds in Turkey say their cars have been bombed, a funeral procession was assaulted by men carrying guns and clubs, a Kurdish activist was fatally beaten and an 18-year-old girl was shot at home by army gunfire, according to victims and their families. The girl was then denied medical care, they said.

Kurdish activists even charge that chemical weapons have been used against separatist guerrillas.

Turkish officials deny that human rights are being abused in the region bordering Iraq, which has been under military rule for nine years. They said they knew nothing of the reported abductions and deaths.

They also emphatically deny using toxic weapons against Kurdish guerrillas.

And while the plight of Iraqi Kurd refugeesaroused extraordinary world attention and international relief efforts, complaints of similar violations against Kurds in Turkey are not regarded as the purview of the U.S.-led international protective force stationed in Turkey.

U.S. Embassy officials said that they were concerned by allegations of human rights violations but that the incidents must be seen in the context of a virtual "civil war" between Turks and guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey.

Kurdish leader killed

Stories told by the Kurdish side are appalling.

In one recent incident, Vedat Aydin, leader of the People's Labor Party (HEP), the Kurdish parliamentary party, left his home with two men identified as plainclothes police. He told his wife he would return home shortly.

Mr. Aydin never came home. Instead, his body was found by a roadside 55 miles away. His arms and legs were broken and covered with signs that he had been tortured. His head had been split open, his brains spilling out into his graying hair.

As 50,000 Kurds gathered to bury their dead leader July 10, the funeral turned into a bloody assault on Mr. Aydin's supporters by police.

As mourners tried to leave the cemetery, Turkish police blockaded the only street out. They opened fire and beat people attending the funeral with clubs and gun butts, victims said.

Nine people were killed either immediately or from injuries sustained during the melee, according to medical sources. An additional 517 were admitted to the Diyarbakir hospital.

To escape, Kurds could only jump over a low stone wall down a steep drop of 12 to 25 feet.

A medic who went down the hill to collect the wounded estimated that there were 200 injured, half of whom refused to go with him out of fear that they would be arrested at the hospital.

"Most of them had their arms and legs broken, and many were bleeding from their heads," said the medic, who feared losing his government job if identified by name.

Witnesses said police kept attacking and arresting Kurds even as ambulances were trying to remove the wounded. Police battered doctors who were trying to clear the wounded from the scene as well.

They reportedly broke the windows of a bus carrying Kurdish deputies in the Ankara Parliament and journalists covering the -- funeral, tossing in tear gas to force them out.

Nearly every film was confiscated, almost every camera broken.

Turkish military authorities said the police response at Mr. Aydin's funeral was not out of proportion.

'We had an accident'

"If the police really wanted to massacre people attending the funeral, hundreds, maybe thousands, would have died, instead of just a few people," one official said. "They tried to do their best, but we had an accident."

The official added that police had video and radio records of the funeral, which they could always use as the basis for later "security measures," and so could afford restraint during the funeral.

Those records may have been connected to the disappearance a day later of Remzi Il, a tailor and delegate of the People's Labor Party.

Mr. Il, 35, was abducted on his way home from the tailor's shop by two men who pulled him into a waiting van, yanked a black hood over his head and forced him to the floor, he later told his family.

Mr. Il was found beside a trash dump 13 hours later, with bruises over his body and cigarette burns on his face. The skin on the back of Mr. Il's arms had been scraped away, as if someone had dragged him across a floor, his family said.

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