Court says senior officers involved in Şemdinli bombing
According to the Van Third Criminal Court’s decision on the Şemdinli bombing, the noncommissioned officers found guilty could not have carried out the attack without the protection and involvement of senior officers
The Van Third Criminal Court’s decision in the case of the bookstore explosion in Şemdinli on Nov. 9, 2005 said that the two noncommissioned officers found guilty of the crime could not have carried out the act without the tacit approval, protection and involvement of more senior officers.
On June 19, the two noncommissioned officers, Ali Kaya and Özcan İldeniz, were found guilty and sentenced to serve 39 years and 10 days in prison. The court said the criminal gang responsible could not have been funded or led by the noncommissioned officers. Those who founded this gang weren’t these noncommissioned officers. Without the protection and involvement of senior officers, they could not have carried out these acts.
The court said the state should find those who were involved, noting that the noncommissioned officers could not be found guilty of founding or leading the gang, but of only being members.
During the Van trial, the two soldiers had denied bombing the bookstore and said they were following a suspect because of his alleged links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Only days after the convictions, the owner of the bookstore was arrested for suspected links to the PKK. His arrest was based on the testimony of former PKK members turned informants.
On Nov. 9, 2005 a bomb exploded in a bookstore in Şemdinli, located on the mountainous border with Iraq and Iran in the southeastern province of Hakkari. Authorities initially suspected the terrorist PKK in the attack, but allegations soon surfaced that paramilitary forces may have been involved.
The explosion occurred in a store owned by a former PKK member who had served 15 years in jail for terrorist activities, only a week after a car bomb, blamed on the PKK, injured 23 people in the same town. It was revealed that a series of bombs had exploded in the region for six months leading up to the incident.
The explosion on Nov. 9 killed one and injured five. Locals captured the suspected bomber and two gendarmerie officers who were standing next to a car that apparently belonged to the gendarmerie, according to documents seized in the car. An explosive device was found in the car, similar to the one used in the explosion.
The three were turned in to the local police, but the two officers were later released. Hours later, another paramilitary police officer fired shots at a protesting crowd, killing one person, as an opposition lawmaker and the local prosecutor examined the crime scene. That officer was immediately arrested.
The Şemdinli attack set off days of rioting that left four people dead as well as a flurry of speculation that the security forces could be reverting to summary executions of supporters of the PKK, which were not uncommon in the 1990s when the fight against the terrorist group was at its most intense.
In the indictment prepared by former Van Prosecutor Ferhat Sarıkaya, it was claimed that there was a wider conspiracy involving senior officials in the military, with serious accusations leveled against Land Forces Commander Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt. The prosecutor said Gen. Büyükanıt had tried to influence a judicial process by praising one of the officers found guilty as a good soldier, and abused his powers by setting up an illegal organization to wreck Turkey’s European Union membership negotiations.
If I am put on trial for such a reason I will appear in court and defend myself,” Gen. Büyükanıt was quoted as saying to daily Hürriyet at the time. Gen. Büyükanıt served in southeastern Turkey between 1997 and 2000.
Days of tension resulted Sarıkaya’s indictment, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök holding a meeting on the matter.
The Van prosecutor said the illegal group’s activities included blowing up the bookstore in Şemdinli with the aim of provoking the government into blocking further freedoms for Kurds, thus jeopardizing EU membership talks. The accusations were reportedly based on the testimony of a single person.
Some believed the prosecutor’s indictment was part of efforts to prevent Gen. Büyükanıt from replacing Gen. Özkök as the chief of general staff next month. Gen. Büyükanıt is likely to take over.
Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek ordered an inquiry into the conduct of Sarıkaya after the indictment was made public.
The Supreme Board of Prosecutors’ and Judges (HSYK) decided to disbar Sarıkaya for preparing a faulty indictment. His appeal against his disbarment was assessed and rejected by the HSYK Executive Board.
After the trial:
After the court sentenced the officers, Kaya and İldeniz’s lawyer Mahmut Güler dismissed the trial as a travesty of justice. The court didn’t listen to Kaya’s defense. Reaching a decision under these conditions is improper. It appears the court wanted to send a message to the EU. I don’t know why but EU representatives were very interested in this trial. Their presence constituted undue pressure on the court. The court ignored my clients’ right to a fair trial. We will appeal this decision as soon as possible.
Complainants’ lawyer Sezgin Tanrıkulu said after the court session that the decision was very important for Turkish justice, noting that the defendants were already found guilty in the court of public opinion. With the court’s decision, they have been found guilty once again. He said the case was not limited to three individuals and added that they were determined to follow it to wherever it led to.
EU praises convictions:
The swift conviction of the two soldiers was an encouraging sign of growing civilian control over the military, a senior EU official said after the conclusion of the trial.
“The verdict came in a rather short time. This is definitely positive … compared to other cases that have been going on for years,” said Hansjoerg Kretschmer, the representative of the European Commission Delegation in Turkey. “It is also very important that the two soldiers were tried in a civilian court,” he said. “This is closely related to civilian control over the military, on which we place great importance in the EU process.” Kretschmer said it was “very encouraging” that the court rendered its verdict with “no political influence” from either the government or army.
The trial was widely seen as a test for Ankara to prove its commitment to the supremacy of law as part of its efforts to join the EU. Many of the far-reaching reforms Ankara has undertaken over the past several years to bring Turkey in line with EU democracy norms have been aimed at limiting the military’s powers and its role in political decision-making.