In a pivotal legal decision on Monday, a Turkish court has dismissed the Vartinis Massacre case, denying closure for the 1993 tragedy in which a Kurdish family was killed in an arson attack viewed as retaliation by Turkish forces. The Kırıkkale 1st High Criminal Court declared the closure of the case, which occurred in Vartinis (Altınova), Korkut district, Muş, due to the state of limitations.
🔴 The dismissal, based on the statute of limitations, denies closure for a case that has become emblematic of alleged state crimes against Kurds in 1990s Turkey. A significant chapter in Kurdish history remains unresolved.#Vartinis | #Massacre | #Kurdshttps://t.co/CjDd5jhqLZ pic.twitter.com/d3N1BqMu7U
— MedyaNews (@1MedyaNews) December 5, 2023
Initially deemed a “terror crime”, the case, reopened in 2003, faced numerous delays. In 2016 insufficient evidence led to acquittals. The recent statute of limitations dismissal comes despite an officer being implicated in an Appeals Court ruling, leaving the dark chapter in Turkish history unresolved. The case reflects broader criticism of Turkey’s approach to Kurdish issues, especially during the 1990s, at the height of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
On 3 October 1993, amidst escalating tensions in the region, the Kurdish family’s house was deliberately set ablaze. The day before, on 2 October, a conflict had resulted in the death of a non-commissioned officer, triggering a retaliatory response from soldiers who allegedly threatened to burn down the village. This led to the Vartinis tragedy.
Originally treated as a “terror crime”, the case saw initial investigations by the Diyarbakır State Security Court Prosecutor’s Office, which later concluded without identifying responsible parties. In 2003, Aysel Öğüt, the sole survivor, reinitiated the legal process as part of EU harmonisation reforms. The investigation, however, encountered numerous delays in military and civil jurisdictions.
By 2011, the Muş Prosecutor’s Office had formulated charges against four military and security officers, including prominent figures in the Hasköy District Gendarmerie and Muş Security Directorate. These charges pertained to causing deaths through arson. Despite this, an initial 2016 ruling acquitted the accused due to lack of sufficient evidence. This verdict was contested, leading to a Supreme Court decision implicating one accused in ordering the arson. Nevertheless, the accused remained free.
Today’s court decision, referencing the statute of limitations, concludes a protracted and intricate legal journey. The ruling, arriving after a three-decade span, effectively denies legal closure for the tragic 1993 incident.
Tuncer Bakırhan, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP), recently visited a memorial site in Muş dedicated to the Vartinis victims. Bakırhan’s visit, amid concerns over the approaching legal deadline, underscored ongoing struggles for justice in the region. The memorial, once the family’s home, now serves as a poignant reminder of the tragedy and the quest for accountability in the face of legal and political challenges.