US court fines Syria for PKK act

US court fines Syria for PKK act

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
US court fines Syria for PKK act

Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) gather in the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain against the militants of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), a PKK-affiliated organization that vies to control parts of northern Syria. REUTERS photo

A United States court has ordered the Syrian government to pay $338 million in compensation to the families of two U.S. citizens that were kidnapped by Kurdish militants in Turkey in 1991 as punishment for ultimately being “responsible for providing material support and resources” to the militants.

Royce C. Lamberth, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled Dec. 17 that Syria was vicariously liable for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) 1991 kidnapping of a group of American biblical archeologists leading an excavation in Turkey. The Americans, who were searching to discover the location of the remains of the biblical Noah’s Ark, were held hostage for 21 days before they finally were able to escape.

The court awarded the families $38 million in compensatory damages and levied a $300 million worth of punitive damages against the Syrian government as well.

In his ruling the chief judge said, “the brutal character of the kidnapping in this case, the significant harm it caused both the hostage plaintiffs and their families, along with Syria’s demonstrated and well known policy to encourage terrorism all merit an award of punitive damages.”

In September 1991, Marvin Wilson and Ronald Wyatt traveled to Turkey as part of an archeological project to excavate a site near Mount Ararat, where according to the Old Testament, Noah’s Ark is believed to have finally found land. Shortly after traveling near the Syrian border, the Americans, along with others, were taken hostage by armed gunmen. The two were kept captive for 21 days, during which they said were subjected to “brutal treatment, forced on 18-hour marches and repeatedly assaulted by their PKK captors.” The militants later released them at a remote spot.

The militants “also tried to indoctrinate their captives, showing them pictures of people being killed, telling them how ‘the Americans and Turks were killing innocent civilians,’ talking to them about Kurdish history, and discussing the ‘PKK manifesto,’” the court said in its ruling.

According to the court, “Syria supported PKK activities during the years immediately preceding the kidnapping by hosting PKK training facilities on its soil, providing shelter for PKK’s leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and facilitating various forms of material support to the group, including weapons, safehouses, training facilities and more.” The court based this view on an expert report by Dr. Matthew Levitt, as well as a report and expert testimony of Dr. Soner Çağaptay.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the Tel Aviv-based Shurat HaDin Law Center that represented the families, said the decision that “finds that Syria was responsible for the crimes perpetrated by the PKK terror organization it sponsors” was “groundbreaking.”

“These days Syria continues to commit crimes against those who oppose the regime, and Syria will pay,” Darshan-Leitner was quoted as saying in a press release.

“The news we received today of a successful ruling against Syria for their support of the PKK during the time of our 1991 kidnapping in Turkey was extremely exciting. After 12 years of anticipating that justice would be served, I hope this ruling will serve notice and be a deterrent to others that there is a penalty for complicity in taking American citizens as hostages,” Wilson said.

Lamberth is no stranger to similar cases. In May 2003, in a case brought by the families of the 241 soldiers who were killed in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, Lamberth declared that Iran was responsible for the attack for its role in the establishment of Hezbollah and ordered that Iran pay $2.65 billion to the families of the 241 soldiers killed in the attack.