The premeditated murder of Kurdish politician Vedat Aydın in 1991 is destined to remain unresolved on its 32nd anniversary, as the case has been closed due to the statute of limitations, leaving the perpetrators unidentified and unaccountable.
In a poignant tribute to his late brother, Veysi Aydın, the brother of the Kurdish politician expressed his frustration over the failure to find the perpetrators, stating, “As long as the mindset of this state remains unchanged, the cases of Vedat Aydın and others will not be illuminated. Until the democratic resolution of the Kurdish issue is embraced, this mindset will persist.”
Including evidence of systematic torture, the case around Aydın’s death was left to reach the statute of limitations in 2021, similar to many other cases involving the notorious Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Unit (JİTEM) within the Turkish military in 1990s.
First in series of assassinations targeting Kurdish politicians
At the time of his death, Aydın was serving as the Diyarbakır (Amed) provincial branch chair of the People’s Labour Party (HEP), the first in a long line of pro-Kurdish parties closed down by the state.
Aydın’s murder, which took place a few months before HEP was first able to exercise the right to represent Kurdish politics directly in the Turkish parliament, is also considered the first in a series of state-sponsored political assassinations targeting Kurdish politicians at the time.
Aydın, one of the pioneers of the Kurdish political movement in Turkey, was born in 1953, in a Kurdish village in the Bismil (Bismîl) district of Diyarbakır.
He was imprisoned for four years after the 1980 military coup. He was again arrested in October 1990, this time for a speech he gave in Kurdish at the general assembly of the Human Rights Association (İHD) in the Turkish capital Ankara. He testified in Kurdish in December that year at the first hearing of his trial, in which he was acquitted. It was subsequent to this, in June 1991, that the politician became the Diyarbakır branch chair of HEP.
Some time after this release, Aydın made a chilling remark to his wife, Şükran Aydın:
“I was arrested for speaking Kurdish, then I gave my defence in Kurdish, but I was released. You know what this means. They will eliminate me.”
His words soon proved prophetic.
Aydın’s funeral turns deadly: Turkish police open fire on mourning crowds
Late in the evening on 5 July 1991, three individuals claiming to be police officers arrived at Aydın’s home. They took him away on the pretext of needing his statement.
Aydın’s lawyer later contacted the police headquarters, only to be told that his client was not in custody. Despite his wife and lawyer’s frantic efforts to locate him the next morning and in the following days, all the relevant authorities denied any knowledge of Aydın’s whereabouts.
Two days later, on 7 July, Aydın’s body was discovered under a bridge just outside the province of Diyarbakır, displaying marks of torture. Initially buried as an unidentified person in the region, an autopsy later confirmed the body as Aydın’s, and he was reburied in Diyarbakır.
At his funeral held in Diyarbakır on 10 July 1991, Turkish police opened fire on the thousands of people who had gathered to mourn him. According to the statement of Hanefi Avcı, then director of Diyarbakır Police Intelligence Branch, 23 people died in the gunfire. In the following days, several protests were organised in Kurdish-majority cities. Nobody was ever charged with the killings of the mourners at the funeral procession.
State-sponsored crimes remain unaddressed, lack of accountability persists
Aydın’s murder is believed to have been carried out by JİTEM, which abused its powers to terrorise the locals and to control and participate in illegal commercial activities in the Kurdish-majority southeast of Turkey. A car accident in 1996 resulted in the Susurluk scandal, which exposed links between the state, the police and the mafia in Turkey, and revealed that Aydın had been murdered by a state-affiliated criminal organisation.
The trial regarding Aydın’s murder made no significant progress for many years due to the “lack of any evidence or apprehension of a perpetrator”. Just before the case was about to reach the 20-year statute of limitations, the confession of a former JİTEM member, stating that a team within the organisation had committed the murder, resulted in a 10-year extension for the case. However, in their testimonies, the individuals mentioned in the confession denied the accusations, the investigation was not pursued further, and ultimately the case expired due to the statute of limitations.
The failure to bring justice to Aydın’s killers and the lack of accountability for JİTEM’s actions continue to haunt his family and those fighting for Kurdish rights in Turkey.