Village burnings were a common state policy practice in Turkey during the 1990s, as part of its ‘anti-PKK *Kurdistan Workers’ Party) operations’ in the east and southeastern regions of the country.
On the 3 October 1993, nine people from the same family, seven of whom were children, were killed in Vartinis (Altınova) hamlet in the Muş province of Turkey. Their house was set on fire following allegations that they had “aided and abetted an illegal terrorist organisation”.
It was also reported that on the day of the massacre, the soldiers came to the village and threatened the villagers by saying: “ We will burn your village tonight”.
A soldier was killed in the region and the soldiers were blaming the villagers for it. The houses in the village were set on fire that night and luckily, most of the villagers could escape. But the Öğüt family could not.
As their house was set on fire, the couple Nasır and Eşref Öğüt died together with their seven children, the oldest of whom was 12 and the youngest was only three years old. Aysel Öğüt, the only survivor of the house, later filed a criminal complaint.
According to MA, The Muş Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sent the file to the Diyarbakır State Security Court Chief Prosecutor’s Office with the decision of non-jurisdiction, saying: “The PKK is responsible for the fire”. Later, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of the State Security Court described the massacre as a “terrorist act” and closed the file on the grounds that “the perpetrators are not known”.
Aysel Öğüt once again filed a complaint in 2003. However, the file was not taken up by the Military Prosecutor’s Office for seven more years.
Eventually, a trial began and in 2013, state officials, the Gendarmerie Commander at the time Bülent Karaoğlu, the Hasköy County Gendarmerie Commando Unit Commander Senior Infantry Lieutenant Hanefi Akyıldız, Muş Police Headquarters Special Operations Unit Chief Şerafettin Uz, Gendarmerie Gökyazı, and Gendarmerie Police Station Chief Major Turhan Nurdoğan were charged with ‘purposefully burning down a house and causing multiple deaths’. However, they were all acquitted due to ‘a lack of evidence’.
Lawyers took the case to the Court of Cassation in 2016 and a ruling was issued after five years. Whilst approving the acquittal of three soldiers, the court ruled that Commander Karaoğlu ordered the burning of the village. He will be tried once again, but now there is a risk that the case will be impeded by the statute of limitations.
One of the lawyers in the case, Muş Bar Association President Kadir Karaçelik, stated that the defendants had been rewarded at every stage of the investigation and trials: “This file waited for five years even in the Supreme Court. We will now wait for the entire trial to take place again and the verdict to be finalised shortly before the statute of limitations expires, but we have serious concerns about the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court has rewarded the defendants once again by keeping the file waiting so long.”