An armed conflict between the Turkish state and the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK) emerged in the mid-1980s and peaked in the 1990s as a result of the decades-old denial, assimilation and repression policies targeting the Kurds. Although the full truth of the devastation caused by the civil war is still not known, approximately 50,000 people lost their lives and millions of Kurds were displaced. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Turkish state started a bloody counterinsurgency campaign with the aim of halting political mobilization by the Kurdish movement. In the course of this new policy, the Turkish army created paramilitary organizations such as the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organization (JITEM) that were responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings in the 1990s. According to estimates by human rights organizations in Turkey, the number of victims may be between 1,901 and 7,000. Since the number of people killed and disappeared is still unknown, it is difficult to come up with reliable figures on the total number of extrajudicial killings, which might in fact be more than 7,000.
Musa Anter, a well-known Kurdish intellectual/journalist killed by JITEM, is among those who were killed, not disappeared. Anter spent his life in struggle against the denialist policies of the Turkish state and for recognition of the Kurdish identity. From the late 1930s, he was imprisoned numerous times on such charges as writing in Kurdish, committing to “Kurdism,” and organizing the Kurds with “secessionist purposes,” at a time when the Kurdish language was forbidden and mentioning anything about the Kurds was a crime against the “national unity and integrity of the fatherland.” In total, he spent eleven and a half years of his life in prison, where he was frequently subjected to torture. He initiated many Kurdish civil society organizations, such as the İstanbul Kurdish Institute and the Mesopotamia Cultural Center. Facts about the murder of Anter came to light due to the confession of Abdulkadir Aygan, an ex-JITEM member. Apparently Anter and his nephew were the targets of an armed assault organized by JITEM members in Diyarbakır on September 20, 1992. The European Court of Human Rights fined the Turkish state 28,500 Euros in 2006 for violating Anter’s right to life and failing to conduct an adequate investigation.
Although one of the perpetrators gave detailed testimony about the murder, Turkish prosecutors failed to conduct a serious investigation even after the ECHR decision. Still, Hamit Yıldırım, one of the suspects in the killing of Musa Anter, was taken into custody in June 2012. Had there been no new developments in the case, all perpetrators would have benefited from the statute of limitations. In July 2013, however, the trial resumed and hopes were revived that justice would be served.
Scope and Purpose
The period when Musa Anter was killed corresponds to the midst of civil war, when the opportunities even for peaceful demonstration were quite limited in the Kurdish region. The first memorialization effort in this regard was ‘Musa Anter Press Martyrs Journalism Awards’ that started in 1993. These awards were organized annually with the aim of promoting journalists who works for independent press by the Gundem newspaper in which Musa Anter used to write for. In addition to this, following the murder in 1992, a memorial started to be organized in the exact location where Anter was killed. This memorial was organized by various civil society organizations and grassroots movements. In parallel to victories of legal Kurdish party in municipal elections, a new wave of memorialization efforts started in the 2000s. On December 2005, Yenişehir Municipality erected a monument for the victims of extrajudicial killings and dedicated this memorial site to Musa Anter. The monument was sculptured by an Iranian artist, Babek Sophi and located in Seyrantepe, a close place where he was murdered. The height of the monument is 3.5 meters and it depicts a plane tree rising from books. Relatives of Musa Anter, his close friends, politicians and a large crowd attended to this opening. In addition this, the graveside of Musa Anter in his village was also transformed into a mausoleum. The motto of this memorial site is one “Cruelty is not the destiny” (Zulüm Kadar Değildir!), that refers to Musa Anter’s philosophy of resistance against injustices. In June 2007, ‘Musa Anter Park’ was opened in Nusaybin town of Mardin, where Anter was born. Prominent political figures of Democratic Society Party (DTP) and local people attended to the opening of this memorial site, which started to be used for political demonstrations and gatherings thereafter, in parallel to the primary function of this park. In July 2012, a similar naming project was completed by Yüksekova Municipality in Hakkari. This park was designed as a place where local people would take a rest in a green environment. In September 2012, the house of Musa Anter in Mardin was transformed into a museum which also has a library that would enable people to study. At the opening of this museum, not only relatives of Musa Anter, but families members of other victims of extrajudicial killings like Hrant Dink and Metin Altiok were also present in there.
Although one of the perpetrators gave detailed testimonies about the murder, Turkish prosecutors did not take any step towards conducting a serious investigation. On the other side, Hamit Yıldırım, allegedly, who was one of the perpetrators of Musa Anter, taken under custody in June 2012. If there were no new development about the case, all perpetrators would gain chance of favoring from statue of limitations in two months and remain unpunished forever. This development is an outcome of the struggle of pro-democracy forces looking for justice and crated political pressure upon judicial institutions via using all possible means available. Memorialization projects dedicated to Musa Anter played a prominent role in terms of putting this murder in the collective memory. Another crucial impact of these projects has been recognition of the suffering of family members of Musa Anter by Kurdish people, despite not by the state. One problematic issue about the construction of park project with the name of Musa Anter is its efficacy. The impact of the park opened in Yüksekova is quite limited, since it is relatively far from the city center and only used for socialization purposes.
According to testimonies of Abdulkadir Aygan, the murder was planned by leading cadre of JITEM. These perpetrators, who are considered to be the “black box” of “dirty war”, are either missing or dead now, which has let them to take advantage of impunity so far. In other words, unfolding truth about the murder of Anter would also call forth enlightening of many other atrocities, since it would reveal all facts related the paramilitary organization committed gross human rights violations. This is one of the main challenges encountered in the process of facing with the past wrongdoings of the Turkish state as well as a factor that makes further memorialization efforts necessary.