Within a week, it will be thirty years ago that Kurdish writer and intellectual Musa Anter was killed by Jitem, the illegal death squads of the Turkish army, in Diyarbakır. Today, a short hearing in the case was held, and the next will be on 21 September. That’s a significant date: it will be one day after the statute of limitations will expire.
One of Turkey’s most traumatising murders will have been committed with impunity. The importance of this case and the perpetrator getting away with the murder, can not be underestimated.
Musa Anter was 72 years old when he died. Born in a village in Mardin province, he dedicated much of his life to literature, poetry, and the promotion of the use of his mother tongue, Kurdish. Up until this day, he is considered one of the most important intellectuals Kurdistan and Turkey ever had. He was incarcerated several times for his insistence to live his life as a Kurd. If you ever heard the quote “If my mother tongue is shaking the foundations of your state, it probably means that you built your state on my land” – that’s his.
On 20 September 1992, he was visiting Diyarbakır for an arts festival. He was asked to mediate in a family dispute, was taken to a quiet spot and shot dead. Nobody was allowed to attend his funeral.
The murder of Musa Anter ushered in a decade in which ‘disappearances’ and extrajudicial killings were rampant in Southeast-Turkey, or North-Kurdistan. Not only intellectuals like Musa Anter were targeted, also politicians, journalists, activists and random Kurds were. Just as Musa Anter was, they were often kidnapped by their murderers in white (Renault) Toros cars, which have become a symbol of those days. These murders are still referred to as ‘faili meçhul ciyanetleri’, meaning ‘murders by an unknown perpetrator’, even though ‘faili belli ciyanetleri’ has become a common term as well: ‘murders by a known perpetrator’. After all, everybody know the killer was the same in all cases: the state.
Of course, in a murder trial, not ‘the state’ is on the dock, but the actual killers and those who ordered the crime. In the case of Anter’s murder, four people have been prosecuted. Only one of them is in Turkey, and taking statements from the suspects abroad has been frustrated by the authorities. A hearing in March this year mostly revolved around the demand of the lawyer of Hamit Yıldırım, one of the defendants, to lift the judiciary control measures on his client, which was denied because it would enable him to flee Turkey. Yıldırım was arrested in 2012 but released on probation in 2017.
But the technical details weren’t very important for Musa Anter’s son Dicle Anter, who attended the trial alongside two HDP MPs, a delegation of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and the Turkey representative of Reporters Without Borders. In their advocacy, they focused on the statute of limitations, which they say shouldn’t apply because they consider the murder a crime against humanity.
They are right. The murder of Musa Anter is symbolic of the ongoing effort by the state to annihilate the Kurdish movement, Kurdish culture, the Kurdish language and the whole Kurdish community in Turkey by murder, oppression, prosecution, disenfranchisement and forced assimilation, and the brutal suppression of the legitimate armed insurgency against it. An attempted genocide, you could argue. When the case ends without having even remotely been cleared up, the implications are equally profound: the state will not just get away with murder, but with attempted genocide as well.
It’s unbearable and infuriating that the courts will apply the judicial concept of the statute of limitations to a crime that is so highly political and part of a crime that continues up until this day. The concept should not be abused by the perpetrator to evade punishment. If ever a statute of limitations applies, it should take the political core of this crime into account and the counting of thirty years must only start on the day the Kurdish issue is solved. As long as the politicians who have ruled and rule Turkey do not make any effort to bring the Kurdish issue back to the negotiating table, they are all complicit. Not just the AKP/MHP coalition that is in government now, but also all parties and all politicians that ruled before, and who are in parliament now continuing their refusal to act responsibly and in the interest of justice and peace.
This wide perspective offers little hope for families of Kurds who were murdered and still hope that those guilty will be punished during their lifetimes. Defendants are getting old, dying, without ever being held accountable. But maybe, it offers hope as well. Musa Anter was never forgotten and will never be forgotten, and neither will all the others who paid the highest price for insisting on being Kurds. One day, the Kurdish issue will be solved. Starting that day, the files will surface again, and one way or the other, justice will be done.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.