A move by the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey to expose plans to build residential complexes over existing mass graves was shockingly met with a strong Turkish police reaction on Wednesday.
On Friday, HDP officials filed a criminal complaint against the police who tried to prevent them from making a public statement, and posed a parliamentary question, addressing the Turkish interior minister Süleyman Soylu.
The disputed area of about 36 decares, Newala Qesaba (‘Butchers’ Stream’ in English), is in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority province of Siirt (Sêrt).
It is widely known to have served as a field for the illegal burials of victims of the state since the Armenian Genocide in 1915. In the 1980s and 1990s, an unknown number of Kurdish fighters killed in clashes, and Kurdish victims of extra judicial killings were also buried in Newala Qesaba.
According to the Human Rights Association (İHD) of Turkey, there are four mass graves in the area. The General Staff of the Turkish Army assesses that there are the remains of 186 individuals, killed in 1980s and 1990s, while human rights groups put the figure at 300.
The recent statement by HDP said:
“A party delegation consisting of parliamentary deputy co-chair Meral Danış Beştaş and other deputies, Hüda Kaya, Tülay Hatimoğulları, Sıddık Taş, Garo Paylan, Hişyar Özsoy and Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, made a public statement on 13 April in Newala Qesaba. The objective of the visit was to support efforts to uncover the truth in an area of mass graves, to identify recovered remains, to come to terms with the past, and to preserve the area as a place of collective memory. The rights of the deputies to public service and to political activity, and the right of the press to information were violated during the visit by state forces.”
HDP officials also announced that they filed a criminal complaint against the police who intervened and used force to stop them from making a public statement, and called for answers from the Turkish minister of the interior to their parliamentary questions which included:
– Making a public statement and carrying out an investigation by members of parliament in an area that is considered by people as a place with extremely sensitive issues yet to be resolved are a part of public service. Why did the state forces intervene to prevent the members of parliament from making a statement and conducting an investigation?
– Why did the state forces choose to abuse their authority, and from whom did they receive instructions to do so?
– Doesn’t the intervention and use of force by the police constitute a violation of constitutional rights?
– Will there be an investigation into the actions of the police?
About Newala Qesaba
The first excavation in Newala Qesaba was carried out in April 1989, after a news report by Kurdish journalist Günay Aslan on illegal burials of state victims was published. The remains of eight unidentified individuals were recovered in the excavation, to be buried in a cemetery in the city of Siirt, and the case was eventually closed.
The area was used as a dumping ground for a long while. Later a highway was built across it and a police college was built. This was followed by moves by state officials to have the area available for new construction projects.
A delegation of human rights groups was met with a similar police reaction in July 2021, when they visited the area and tried to make a public statement.
Lawyer Serdar Çelebi, a senior official of the Human Rights Association (İHD) of Turkey, had said to Ekin Karaca of bianet:
“When we visited Newala Qesaba, we were recorded on video cameras by several police officers. We were encircled by the police after we read out our public statement. They took our identification documents and made online criminal checks on each of us. When I handed them my lawyer ID, they rudely and threateningly told me to hand my ‘identification card issued by the state of the Turkish Republic’ instead.”