Muş (Mûş) Bar Association President Kadir Karaçelik, a lawyer representing the Vartinis massacre case which is at risk of reaching the statute of limitations, has called for the case to be pursued, stating that the Vartinis massacre falls under crimes against humanity.
On 3 October 1993, Turkish security forces burned down the home of the Öğüt family in Altınova (Vartinis), a village in the eastern province of Muş (Mûş), after accusing them of “aiding and abetting an illegal terrorist organisation”. A total of nine people inside the house were killed. Seven of them were children, the oldest being 12 years old and the youngest just three.
The only defendant in the case, Bülent Karaoğlu, a former gendarmerie captain, remains at large despite an Interpol Red Notice. The 19th hearing of the ongoing trial is scheduled for Wednesday.
Speaking to Mezopotamya Agency, Karaçelik expressed concerns regarding the potential statute of limitations but emphasised the robust legal arguments against it. He stated, “We have repeatedly emphasised that the statute of limitations should not be applied in this case, and we will continue to do so. International decisions, interpretations, and legal assessments have determined that the statute of limitations should not be debated in cases involving torture and the right to life.”
Highlighting that the concept of crimes against humanity was introduced into Turkish law in 2005, Karaçelik added, “There was no such provision before, and we will not accept the argument that this provision cannot be applied retroactively. International decisions explicitly state that the statute of limitations should not be applied in cases of crimes against humanity. If we are part of international law, we should not disregard international law.”
Karaçelik emphasised that, from a legal standpoint, there is a clear consensus that the Vartinis Case falls within the category of crimes against humanity. He expressed confidence in this classification and urged the court to refrain from any legal deviations in their judgement. He cited detailed decisions from the European Court of Human Rights, which, even if not enshrined in domestic law, emphasised the necessity of continuing the trial.
Acknowledging the prolonged duration of the trial, the attorney observed that they had encountered a prevailing judicial inaction closely linked to a policy of impunity throughout the process. “These are not opinions but facts we have experienced,” he said, explaining that despite the Court of Cassation’s declaration that the defendant must be punished, the demand for the defendant’s arrest was vociferously made. Karaçelik further highlighted the lack of action despite concerns that the defendant might escape. Rather than summoning the defendant to court, an instructional letter was dispatched to Istanbul. Although an instruction was issued, no compulsory attendance order was given. The defendant had provided a medical report for the initial hearing, sourced from a Turkish hospital, confirming their presence, only to leave without hindrance.
Aysel Öğüt, the only family member who survived, has filed a series of criminal complaints stating that the house was set on fire by the soldiers. But the prosecutor’s office initially dismissed the case, suggesting that the house was burned by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Although a court has since acknowledged the involvement of Karaoğlu in the massacre, neither he nor anyone else has been arrested, and the statute of limitations in the case is due to expire on 3 October 2023.
Öğüt’s repeated filings eventually brought about an investigation process in 2006 that lasted eight years. A lawsuit was finally filed in 2013, twenty years after the massacre.