Turkey’s Death Squads

Mark Campbell

Turkey’s Army Forces 26th Chief of General Staff retired general İlker Başbuğ recently spoke to Cumhuriyet’s correspondent İpek Özbey regarding his third book of the series ‘The Struggle of Power Groups in Turkey’.

Başbuğ said: “It was announced on 3 December 1990 that there was not an organisation such as contra-guerrilla within the Special War Department. I also neither see nor witnessed such an organisation”. Such clear rewriting of history is something the Turkish state is notorious for – the rewriting of history or historical revisionism that is a trait of far right ideologies and movements such as Nazi sympathisers. The contra-guerrilla and death squads that Başbuğ conveniently and so casually denies the existence of very much existed for the tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians who were brutally murdered, disappeared and tortured at their hands.

To deny their existence is a crime in itself.

They very much existed for the families of Kurdish journalists, politicians, trade unionists, business people and ordinary villagers who were killed by these death squads known as JITEM (Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele/Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism) who would notoriously take their victims away in White Renaults or ‘Toros’ to torture and kill. One of the most notorious cases was that involving Kurdish journalists, including the Kurdish legendary writer Musa Anter, who was driven in a White Renault by these JITEM assassins and extra judicially murdered with a gun shot to the back of the head.

A fate suffered by so many. Many bodies were dumped into acid wells or buried in fields or dumped in caves. JITEM was run by mafia gangs and assassins and armed by the Turkish state. Deaths squads that imposed terror upon the Kurds during the 80’s and 90’s in south-east Turkey as the official Turkish army systematically burnt Kurdish villages, towns and hamlets.

Working alongside another state sponsored death squad called Hizbollah, JITEM would carry out assassinations openly in the streets, leaving bodies to lie in the open. They carried out the most unspeakable crimes on behalf of the Turkish state. I personally witnessed the work of JITEM whilst travelling in south-east Turkey in November 1993. Whilst travelling around the OHAL, or ’emergency region’ (Kurdistan), our delegation who was there to investigate ‘allegations of human rights abuses against the Kurds’ were eye witnesses to JITEM’s crimes.

Outside our hotel in Diyarbakir, a man’s body lay in the street after being shot from the back on the head. Whilst in Batman, eleven civilians were extra-judicially executed by these gangs. Our translators who worked for the Kurdish newspaper, Ozgur Gundem, would later have hoods put over their heads and be driven in a White Renault to a quiet spot and had guns put to their heads by these lawless gangs. I am an eye witness and can tell you that these assassins very much exsisted. I saw them again when I was detained by the Turkish army in a burning Kurdish village in Bismil. I saw them again when we were handed over to them by the Turkish army and we were thrown from their minibus by them outside our hotel in Diyarbakir. I saw them, with one of their most notorious leaders ‘Yesil’, when they sat in our hotel watching us have breakfast with their machine guns, walkie talkies and civilian clothes.

The founder of JITEM is reportedly also a retired general called Veli Küçük, who has been linked to mafia gangs and assassins, famously through the incident at Susurluk, a car crash that resulted in the deaths of three of its passengers: Abdullah Catli, an extreme ultra right wing mafia boss wanted for multiple murders and drug trafficking, Huseyin Kocadag, a senior Turkish police official and Gonca Us, a beauty queen and Catli’s girlfriend. There was also an MP in the car who escaped with a broken leg and fractured skull, Sedat Bucak.

The Susurluk car crash of 3 November 1996 was a key event in the unravelling of links between shady assassins, gangs and the Turkish ‘deep state’ as all also had links to the Interior Minister of the time, Mehmet Agar. Further revelations of former members of JITEM, Tuncay Güney and Yildirim Begler, have shone lights on the extreme brutality that these gangs used to impose and the random terror threy exerted on the Kurdish people during the 80’s and 90’s in the south east of Turkey and elsewhere – all designed to impose terror.

As reported in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, two former JITEM gang members confessed to one such event of random barbaric crimes perpetrated against the Kurds during this time. It acts as an example of the extreme brutality and lawlessness of these gangs that acted with impunity and on behalf of the Turkish state.

On 23 May 1993, a Kurdish farmer called Hasan Ergul from the village of Cukurca got on his tractor with his three-year-old son to drive to the hospital in a nearby city. But they didn’t get far. After stopping at a nearby gas station, Ergül was surrounded by three vehicles that blocked his path. The men who got out of the car weren’t wearing uniforms. They dragged Ergül off his tractor and forced him into the back seat of one of the cars. They drove off, leaving the crying boy behind. It would be years before Ergül’s relatives finally became aware of his ultimate fate. They learned it when they heard the confession of former JITEM member Abdülkadir Aygan, who spoke about how Ergül was strangled to death, put in a sack and dumped into a remote lake.

Tens of thousands of such cases not unlike the above incident took place in south east Turkey and were directed against the Kurdish people. The Saturday Mothers still campaign to this day to bring these Turkish state sponsored crimes to light and still fight to find out the fate of their loved ones who suffered similar fates. Unspeakable crimes of unspeakable cruelty, covered up and denied by people such as retired general İlker Başbuğ who are undoubtly responsible and guilty of such crimes too.

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Turkey’s Death Squads

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