Justice may not be served for the death of nine people from the same Kurdish family in Turkey’s eastern Muş province in 1993 as the court postponed the hearing until after 30 years have passed since the incident.
Only one person survived from the Öğüt family in the fire set to their home in Altınova (Vartinis). Aysel Öğüt, 17 at the time, was staying with her relatives on the night when soldiers set the fire on orders from their gendarmerie captain. She pressed charges shortly after, but was told by the prosecutor’s office that the fire had been set by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkey’s war against whom was at its peak at the time.
A second investigation 10 years later led to charges of arson and murder against Captain Bülent Karaoğlu, Lieutenant Hanefi Akyıldız, Muş Police Special Operations Department Chief Şerafettin Uz and Gendarmerie outpost commander Staff Sergeant Turhan Nurdoğan. The case started in 2013, two decades after the fire.
In 2016, the court acquitted all suspects. The ruling was overturned by the Court of Cassation in 2018, based on the prosecutor’s assessment that there were discrepancies between statements from villagers and soldiers, some of whose testimony had raised suspicion that soldiers could have set the multiple fires in the village.
In 2021, upon a Court of Cassation assessment, acquittals of suspects Nurdoğan, Akyıldız and Uz were upheld. Karaoğlu’s acquittal was overturned, based on witness testimony that he had previously threatened to burn down the village. With this development, Karaoğlu was left as the sole suspect in the ongoing case.
In September of the same year, the court ordered Karaoğlu’s arrest. By the next hearing in November, the gendarmerie captain had still not been apprehended. Two hearings in December and the following January were postponed as Karaoğlu was still at large.
In June 2022, victims’ lawyers appealed to better enforce the arrest warrant, and an investigation into whether the captain had fled the country. An appeal for an Interpol red notice was rejected in July, due to lack of evidence that Karaoğlu was abroad.
In October 2022, the court agreed to expedite a red notice against Karaoğlu but the process was stalled as his prints and photographs were not on file.
Hearings in January, March, May, June and July this year were postponed as the suspect remained at large. Karaoğlu has still not been arrested, as of the latest hearing on 27 September.
Wednesday’s hearing assessed whether the case should be considered a crime against humanity as per Turkey’s domestic criminal laws.
In the hearing, lawyer Özgür Yaldız argued that the burning alive of the seven Öğüt children constituted the crime of genocide.
Lawyer Fuat Özgül requested an extension of the statute of limitations, considering the initial permit for any investigation into the matter was issued six years late.
The court did not make a decision on either matter, and postponed the hearing to 1 November.