Turkish court forgoes probe into Vartinis massacre on grounds of time, cost
ANKARA / KIRIKKALEA Turkish court has withdrawn an order to conduct an on-site investigation into a 1993 incident in which nine family members were allegedly burned to death by the military, announcing that it wanted to finish the case “inexpensively” and “as soon as possible.”
Last year, the Kırıkkale Court of Serious Crimes ordered a renewed investigation in the eastern province of Muş in which the Öğüt family’s house was burned, leading to the deaths of a man, his pregnant wife and seven of their children.
The Oct. 3, 1993, incident in Muş’s Altınova village has become known as the Vartinis massacre, after the Kurdish name of the village.
In a hearing late on Jan. 12, however, the court ruled that the Kobane protests of Oct. 6-8, 2014, during which over 40 people were killed in solidarity protests with the Syrian Kurdish town under attack from jihadists, had made it unsafe to conduct the investigation.
Additionally, the court said it had withdrawn the investigation order so as to “complete the trial as soon as possible and as cheaply as possible,” justifying its decision with regulations that enjoin the judiciary to complete trials within an acceptable period of time, according to the Dicle News Agency.
Five senior members of the Gendarmerie in the area have been facing charges of premeditated murder of more than one person in the case, in which the military allegedly incinerated the Öğüt family’s house after a sergeant was killed in the area.
The decision elicited fury from the family’s lawyer, Kadir Karaçelik. “You didn’t think about the cost of the violation of the lives of nine people; you’re thinking about the costs of an investigation.”
Karaçelik also lamented that the judiciary had failed to collect sufficient evidence despite the passage of more than 20 years.
Speaking last year during an earlier hearing of the case, Karaçelik criticized the judiciary’s decision to move the case from Muş to the Central Anatolian province of Kırıkkale, as well as the court for its nonchalant attitude.
“In the first hearing, we showed photographs that were liked pictures of war. The court, which should be pursuing evidence, rejected our documents containing clues about the evidence, as well as our demands,” he said, adding that the court had attempted to say the massacre was committed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
During a May 2014 hearing, lawyer Fuat Özgül implored the court to collect more evidence, adding that “Witnesses said the smell of burning flesh reached as far as Muş.”
Lawyer Halil İbrahim Vargün alleged that the murder suspects in the Gendarmerie had been protected by the emergency-rule governor, interior minister and the prime minister of the time.
One of the defendants, B.K. said the house caught fire during a clash between soldiers and militants. Asked what prevented the members of the Öğüt family from escaping, B.K. said “burning bales of hay obstructed the front door.”
“There was nothing like that,” Özgül said in reply. “There was just a burning house. The house was directly fired upon. An elderly woman, one of the witnesses to the events in the village, said two children sought to exit from a window but that they were prevented from doing so by two soldiers standing next to a tank in front of the house.”
Lawyers for the family have demanded that the suspects be arrested in the case on the grounds that they were tampering with evidence, but the request has been repeatedly rejected.