Mines planted by Turkish military: Kurdish PKK accused

The families of six soldiers killed by mines planted by the Turkish military have demanded that a major general who is partially responsible for the land mines be put behind bars. The demands came shortly after another general was arrested for the incident.

Brig. Gen. Zeki Es, who ordered the placement of land mines that killed seven soldiers in the Çukurca district of eastern Hakkari province last year, was arrested and placed in the Mamak Military Prison on Sunday. This has increased hopes on the part of the families that others who are responsible will also be prosecuted. However, they are increasingly uneasy because Maj. Gen. Gürbüz Kaya, who attempted to cover up the incident when it occurred last year, remains free. Brig. Gen. Es came into the spotlight in April 2010 when the Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office revealed that the explosion that killed the soldiers was caused by mines planted by the Turkish military, contrary to earlier beliefs that they had been planted by outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists.

Maj. Gen. Kaya was also partially responsible for the land mines. The seven soldiers died on May 27, 2009, in the Hantepe area of Hakkari’s Çukurca district. The revelation that the mines had actually been planted by the Turkish military came later with a voice recording anonymously posted online in which Es and Kaya talked about the incident, saying the mines belonged to the Turkish military.

The Military Prosecutor’s Office of the General Staff concluded an investigation against Es and Kaya on Saturday of last week. Es was the commander of the Çukurca 20th Border Brigade Command. While Es was arrested as a result of the investigation, Kaya went unpunished.

Es’ arrest is good news, as recently similar investigations conducted within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been inconclusive. There are also families of soldiers killed in separate clashes with the PKK in Gediktepe and Hantepe who accuse the military of negligence and dismissing important intelligence sent by unmanned aerial vehicles known as Herons, which transmitted information about the whereabouts of terrorists that eventually attacked Turkish gendarmerie stations.

Head of the Jurists’ Association Cahit Özkan, who has filed a criminal complaint against those responsible for the Gediktepe and Hantepe attacks, said the families were pleased with the arrest, noting that this was rebuilding confidence in the supremacy of law in Turkey. He said they hoped what happened in the Gediktepe mine incident would happen in the case of the other Hantepe and Gediktepe attacks.

The families of the mine blast victims in the Hantepe area of Hakkari’s Çukurca district resent Maj. Gen. Kaya’s words in the voice recording where he tries to console a guild-ridden Gen. Es saying, “It’s OK, nothing to feel horrible about.”

Lawyer Hayrettin Açıkgöz, a lawyer representing the families of the six soldiers, says that Gen. Es might have accepted all the accusations leveled at him due to a guilty conscience. Noting that the military prosecutor would continue the probe for another month, Açıkgöz said Kaya is responsible for the tragic deaths due to his position in the chain of command. He also said Kaya should be tried on charges of attempting to conceal evidence, as he is heard in the video recording saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this.” He also says that the initial statement of the military that the mines had been planted by the PKK also provides evidence for this point.

Halil Özevin, the father of Pvt. Kemal Özevin, who died stepping on one of the TSK-planted land mines, says he can sleep at night only if Kaya is also put behind bars, noting that he had not lost his hope for justice.

Nail Çelik, the father of Pvt. Cafer Çelik, killed in the same blast, also said that Es’ arrest had strengthened their confidence in the judicial process.

Refik Bener, the father of Spc. Sgt. Ziya Bener, who died in the same incident, said: “We sat down and wept as a family when we saw on the news that Zeki Es was arrested. When I first filed charges, I was met with pressure from my family and others around me. I called up everyone who had criticized me when I saw he was arrested.”

However, the arrest will not ease the pain of their loss, says the father of Cafer Çelik. “We want Gürbüz Kaya also to be arrested. Justice will be done,” he said.

İsmail Yıldız, father of Pvt. Adil Yıldız, also killed in Gediktepe, said: “Our problem is not with the Turkish Armed Forces. It is with the commanders, it is with individuals.”

Retired Col. Durmuş Türemen, a former military lawyer, says Kaya should be arrested on charges of “manslaughter due to errors in his actions,” Durmuş said that it was impossible for Kaya to be unaware of the mines planted in Çukurca, as the military strictly works through a chain of command.

During the two years Gürbüz Kaya served as the Hakkari Division Commander, 64 soldiers died.

Today’s Zaman

November 9, 2010

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