ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

Introducing State Crime In Turkey

Since the 1970s the Turkish state has engaged in the active repression and persecution of political and ethnic minority dissidents. Most significant for understanding recent acts of state crime is the 15 year war the Turkish state prosecuted against Kurdish separatists (Kurdish Workers Party or PKK) in the countrys south-east. Repression, intimidation and violence, economic deprivation and limitations on a range of freedoms, defined daily life under emergency rule which some provinces experienced from as far back as 1987.

Kurdish victims of forced displacement in Turkey (Photo: Yusuf Sayman)Turkeys campaign of terror in the South Eastern provinces (between 1985 and 2000) resulted in the murder of some thirty thousand Kurds, and the, largely internal, displacement of 3 million people following the destruction of their homes and villages by Turkish security forces. In 1992 the National Security Council (Turkeys supreme decision making and military authority) had adopted a counterinsurgency strategy which involved pre-emptive strikes and the branding of all PKK supporters as terrorists. The security forces entered into a phase of low-intensity conflict which took the war to the PKK – remote villages thought to be harbouring or supporting guerrillas were evacuated and razed, guerrilla strongholds in urban areas were attacked, death squads were organised and local populations were terrorized. A Security Council document was reported to contain a list of people who could be relied upon to take part in death squads aimed at killing terrorists.

The emasculation of the PKK and an end to Kurdish separatist demands were the overriding goals for Turkeys regime at the time. The intimate relations between Turkeys intelligence services, key members of mafia organisations, ultra-right-wing nationalists, senior police commanders and members of the government (Turkeys deep state/derin devlet) provided a powerful and sinister mechanism by which to undertake a shadow war against the Kurds involving political assassinations, kidnappings, and mass intimidation. While internationally appealing to European favour the Turkish state in collusion with the darkest forces of organised crime thus conducted a parallel, subterranean and criminal campaign of terror in the South-East. Recent events suggest a revival of this unholy alliance (Green and Ward 2004: 100-104) and have ignited concerns over the resurgent power of the military.

Between 2002 and 2006 Turkey witnessed real and important human rights progress certainly according to the CPT, the European Council and NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In 2003 substantial reforms in terms of the abolition of torture began to be apparent and it was generally agreed that torture could no longer be said to be widespread. Systemic elements of torture, such as the use of treatment in police stations, particularly of heavy beatings, continued to occur (Amnesty International, 2004).

There have been nine reform packages in all, six overseen by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). They have included the abolition of the death penalty in peace-time, the abolition of the ban on minority languages in education, the repeal of the ban on broadcasting in languages other than Turkish and the abolition of the State Security Courts. A new Penal Code, revised for the first time in 78 years, which entered into force in June 2005, introduced measures making it easier to convict members of the state security services for human rights violations, provides for tougher penalties for torturers, criminalises genocide, crimes against humanity and the trafficking in people. In January 2009, the Government launched Kurdish broadcasts on the state television station, TRT 6. In November 2009, The Government also presented a comprehensive list of reform packages to the parliament to solve the Kurdish question which was followed by the removal of all restrictions preventing private stations broadcasting in Kurdish and other languages and the abolition of the law banning the use of the Kurdish language in prisons. But since 2006 we have also witnessed a disturbing and countervailing trend driven not so much by the government but by the most powerful undercurrent of Turkish political life -the military and security forces, derin devlet this trend has seen a reversion to some of the violent and abusive policies and practices of the past. An ongoing investigation (the first of its kind in Turkish history) known as a Ergenekon was instigated against derin devlet in January 2008. Ergenekon has led to waves of arrests including alleged founders of an illegal intelligence unit in the gendarmerie (JITEM), academics, lawyers, police officers and journalists. Four indictments have been submitted to the court so far and more than a hundred suspects are being tried under the terms of the investigation.

Today, despite these reforms, developments and increased legal safeguards, state repression and violence against the Kurds continues. The main pro-Kurdish party DTP (Democratic Society Party) was closed by the Turkeys constitutional court in December 2009 and hundreds of Kurdish politicians, human rights activists and mayors have been detained since April 2009.

Violation of right to life is still continues and perpetrators are still benefit from the culture of impunity. According to the Human Rights Association in Diyarbakir 91 civilians were killed in south east of Turkey in 2009 but the perpetrators have not been prosecuted. Torture is still ongoing despite the government`s `zero tolerance policy`. Detention and ill-treatment of Kurdish children raises great concern as hundreds of children have been arrested, detained and tried for terrorism related offences following their participation in street protests since the beginning of 2008.