HPG militants stopped the traffic and carried out road controls in Varto, Muş, in 10th of August, there was a conflict and Kader Kevser Eltürk bearing code name Ekin Van had been shot and caught. After the naked images of the woman militant had been shared on social media, a group of HPG militant had came to center of Varto, there was a brief conflict between them and security forces, and throughout the night, HPG militants stayed in Varto center. After the governorship of the province declared a curfew the conflicts had risen and it was learned that 4 people had died.
SETTING UP THE COMMITTEE
Having been informed of such claims, Head Office of Human Rights Association (İHD) decided to go to Varto with a committee composed of Raci Bilici, Deputy General President; Abdulselam İncören, Regional Representative for Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia; Sevim Salihoğlu, General Accountant; Seval Karaçelik, Head of İHD Branch Office in Bitlis; Tarık GÜneşi Head of İHD Muş Branch Office; Saim Atılgan, member of same branch office and administrators of same branch office: Rumet Agit Özer and Mehmet Işık.
Committee members Raci Bilici, Deputy General President and Abdulselam İncören, Regional Representative for Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia left Diyarbakır for Muş in the morning, but they had to turn back because of similar events occurred in Silvan district of Diyarbakır province, and entrance to and exit from the district had been prohibited.
INITIATIVES OF THE COMMITTEE
Head Office of Human Rights Association (İHD) had applied for an appointment from the Governorship of Muş and Sub-governorship of Varto on 18th August 2015 and received positive response from all authorities. Since the Governorship of Muş set the date for the appointment as 19th August and since the committee had to leave the city center on the same day, that meeting could not be held. Committee came together with Ersin Sarıgül, District President of HDP. When the committee went to the district, they asked for an appointment with co-mayor of Varto but since the co-mayor was out of the district, that meeting could not be held either.
INTERVIEWS MADE BY THE COMMITTEE MEMBERS
1. INTERVIEWS WITH PEPOLE OF VARTO
Committee, before the official meetings with the authorities, made interviews with people who witnessed and/or suffered the consequences of the events happened in Varto in 15th, 16th and 17th August. We recorded the interviews made with dozens of people, but this report will not feature the names of the interviewees and records will stay in the archive of İHD. This is because people were seriously anxious, they thought that, since Varto is a small district, security forces could recognize them and they can be harmed individually if events recur.
Following are excerpts from the interviews.
– The images of Kader Kevser Eltürk, code name Ekin Van, after she had been caught and executed, are horrifying. They are for provoking people. We heard that, her family saw that Kader Kevser Eltürk had been injured from her hip and it could not be lethal. Again, family stated that there were traces of ropes on her neck, which strengthens the signs that Ertürk had been tortured and executed after she had been caught alive.
– Governorship’s statement on the exhibition of woman militant’s naked body was “We will find those who served this image” and they ignored “the torture and inhumane treatment before that”, which is horrifying and an offend to the values of the society.
– “We don’t think that the claims of a conflict between security forces and HPG militants in Varto center is accurate. After curfew was declared, gunshots got more intense. Even if we were allowed to go out, we could not know whether there was a conflict, because bullets were coming into our houses, we had to protect ourselves and families.”
– “It was impossible to go to hospital when we were sick, we did not know what was happening out there and there were trenches around.”
– “There was electricity and water outage; problems might be due to the destroyed electricity network and water pipe bursts because of the trenches had been excavated.”
– “Varto center is not a settlement suitable for conflict, our houses and workplaces had been raked. Here are the photos, you can see the bullet holes. We personally collected the bullets of panzers. We were raked with weapons like Bixi. They launched rockets. Houses of our neighbors were burnt partially, one of them completely. If they had not gone out of the house they would have been died.”
– “There is not a single bullet hole in public buildings such as banks, ATMs among the houses and workplaces that had been raked. Isn’t this interesting?”
– “They raked any moving object during the curfew, then Special Operation Teams looked for traces of blood in those places.”
– “There was a big explosion in the evening of 16th August, and then conflicts got lighter and we heard that somebody has been executed. Despite curfew was over, we were not allowed to the scene. When we could go, bodies were already carried away. There were fleshes on the trees and on the ground. We saw them, we took photos. We heard that Rahmi Kızıltaş and Abdullah Toprak residing in Varto as well as two other people had been executed.”
– “We heard that two of our neighbors were killed. They were our neighbors, friends. We were always together; we were drinking tea and chatting. We were not allowed into the scene, we could not even see the dead bodies.
– “They say that three persons are missing, we don’t know who they are, we hope it is only a rumor.”
– “We were very anxious, we still are, because we personally saw that panzers had raked our houses and workplaces. They raked anything moving during the curfew, they even raked the animals, than Special Operation polices came and looked for traces of blood in the raked places.”
– “We heard that three persons were missing, but we don’t know whether it is true or who they are.”
– “These two days had a gave impact on our psychology and life. We are so shattered.”
– “We knew those who had been executed, this made us also so upset.”
– “When HPG [militants] were in the town center, security forced waited in their houses and stations, then they raked our houses.”
– “We are back in 90’s, there is no life safety for anyone.”
– “Curfew was declared at 8.30 AM in 16th August 2015 when HGP [militants] were in town center, they left the town same day in the evening, and curfew was lifted at 05.00 AM in 17th August 2015.
2) INTERWIEWS WITH OFFICIAL AUTHORITIES
Sub-governor of Varto
Newly appointed sub-governor and district chief of police admitted the committee together.
Sub-governor Mehmet Nuri Çetin said:
“I took office on Monday. There are images related to events. Here we should thank to Mr. Governor, if he had not declared a curfew, 50 or 60 people could have died, because there were bomb mechanisms on streets made from propane cylinders. [Apparently] Mr. Governor did a great job. There were tens of those cylinders. If they had exploded, [I was told] maybe 30 or 40 people could have died. We are happy that there is no civil casualty. Any human being is valuable for us. We are seeing human lives as the center of everything. There were trappings in 15 locations – very dangerous – they could explode even because of a stone. Can you think that there were civil people there? Curfew saved them. I am clearly saying this, if Mr. Governor did not declare a curfew, it could be very bad. Special bomb disposal experts had been brought from Van…”
As committee, we said: Because of the curfew, many things could not be seen. According to our impressions, many houses and workplaces had been raked arbitrarily. For example a shop across the gendarmerie station was destroyed. There were houses and workplaces that had been raked arbitrarily. Eyewitnesses had said that houses and workplaces were raked by panzers.
Chief of Police: Who had done this, is it obvious?
Committee: Who would open fire to the shop across the military building?
Chief of Police: They had set up a bixi and were shooting.
Sub-governor: Mr. Governor saw propane cylinders through MOBESE [City surveillance cameras; Mobile Electronic System Integration – tr.] and instructed [the curfew hold] until bombs were dismantled. Look, even if he is our enemy, we should make justice to good things made by them. There were mutual things [meaning conflict – tr.]. We are here for citizens; we will protect the rights of citizens.
Committee: Whoever s/he is, there are rights. If s/he is involved in terror, s/he will stand trial. This is not a nice event. Everybody has a family. Our governor gave instructions.
Chief of Police: Let all be investigated, including my mobile phone. Whoever has done this has not a good intention, this must be done for provocation purposes, there is evil-disposition here. Against motherland, against police, however we call them evil-disposed, [? – tr.] these people are evil-disposed.
Committee: Are these propane cylinders had been collected and one by one exploded?
Sub-governor: Mr. Governor sent bomb disposal experts from Van.
Committee: We heard from the press, somebody had been taken into custody, a car loaded with ammunition had been caught and one person was taken into custody. During the custody period that had been also followed by İHD, that person was tortured. He is Ersin Kızılboğa. It is natural that he will be investigated and other stakes in the event will be examined. But he cannot be tortured; this is unacceptable for us. As İHD we will follow this event.
Chief of Police: You come from Ankara, let’s ask friends here. Were there anybody tortured here.
Committee: There was [torture] during 6th and 7th October events.
Chief of Police: We have internal surveillance camera. A person can say something like that. If there is such a claim, there is a health report. You and prosecutor can follow it. If that person is a member of terrorist organization, having 5 rockets…
Committee: But how come that person is in this situation? He might be guilty; we don’t say that he is innocent.
Chief of Police: That person was running away. It was not a normal catching. That person runs away, you chase him, he falls, he carries on. We will follow this event, you will also, I will also. Since I am here, [I say everybody:] You will not say anything bad to anybody because of his/her language, religion, race or sect. S/he might have committed a crime, I am not justice, prosecutor and judge will pass the sentence. We said goodbye to those people who had been taken into custody during Kobane events.
Sub-governor: Middle East needs peace. This world is ephemeral. Let everybody live peacefully with their children and family. All of our people are valuable; our sole task is to serve to people.
Ersin Sarıgül (HDP co-president in the district): At around 20.00 in 15th August night, we heard that there was a conflict in Muş – Varto road, than we saw that HPG [militants] came downtown. Nobody interfered. We heard that reinforcements have come from surrounding provinces. At intervals there were kind of signal fires. In 16th August, there was an intensive conflict through the day. In the evening, around 21.30 – 22.00, there was a big explosion; we still don’t know why and where. Then gunshots gradually went down. 35 bullets hit my house, 50 hit my neighbor’s. All people evacuated their houses in the quarter where I live. They went either to another city or to their relatives. To a great extent, there is no life in my quarter. We heard that four people had died. Later, we learned that two of them were Rahmi Kızıltaş and Abdullah Toprak. They are citizens living in Yukarı Alagöz quarter. Rahmi had three children. I think, Abdullah is single. I don’t know who the other two are. Varto’s people is ill-at-ease. Business season is only 3 or 4 months here. Tradespeople here mostly relies upon the support of Varto people coming from abroad. Nearly all of them left.
FINDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE
– Varto’s people had been [badly] impacted from Kader Kevser Eltürk’s death, images on press, claims of torture and execution and death of 4 people after the events (two of them were inhabitants of Varto, it was understood that the other two were HPG militants.)
– Varto’s people think that HPG militants came downtown in the evening of 15th August 2015 because of Kader Kevser Eltürk’s death, claims related to execution and images published.
– It is stated that HPG militants came downtown around 20.30 in 15th August 2015. It was told that, there was a brief conflict with security forces while the militants were coming.
– Curfew had been declared next morning (16th August 2015).
– It is stated that, gunshots got heavier after the curfew, therefore, everybody holds that conflict had started at that time.
– Electricity and water outages had been more intensive during morning in comparison with night.
– There are claims that Ersin Kızıloğa, who had been taken into custody, was tortured.
– Many of the workplaces in downtown had been hit by bullets. It was observed bullet holes in white goods, furniture and other equipment. People of the town had collected cartridge bullets and panzer bullets.
– Not only lives of citizens were under threat but also they have losses of hundreds of thousands Turkish Lira.
– It was observed that no bullets had hit public buildings.
– When the committee was in Varto, it was seen that a car carrying plate of a foreign country was loaded with some belongings, when they were asked why, they said that they were leaving Varto.
– The committee finalized its meeting with Varto sub-governor and went again downtown. When the committee as in the center, it was seen that all shops were being closed for an anticipated conflict and everybody was going home.
– While the committee was taking photos of a building with broken windows, an armored car branded “Akrep” stopped by just next to them. A special operations member loaded his gun and pointed to here and there, but did not shoot.
– It was stated that Varto’s inhabitants were unaware of propane cylinders that are said to be located various places.
– Our committee observed traces of bullets in many houses, workplaces and animal shelters.
As a consequence,
While HPG militants stopped the traffic and carried out road controls in Varto, Muş, in 10th of August, as the civil people whose cars had been stopped have observed, Kader Kevser Eltürk bearing code name Ekin Van had been shot and caught. Claims that she had been tortured and executed after being caught should be investigated and a legal process should be started against the responsible parties.
All inhabitants of Varto who have been interviewed stated that the curfew had not been lifted after HPG militants left the town center, but lasted until next morning (between 16th August evening and 17th August morning), and during that time security forces raked houses and workplaces. It is clear that the statements of the official authorities are inaccurate regarding bullets hit the houses and workplaces “during the conflict”. This point should be absolutely clarified (Curfew had been declared while HPG militants were there, in 16th August 2015, 8.30 AM, militants left around 8.00 PM and curfew had been lifted in 17th August 2015, at 05.00 AM.)
– It was seen that, mostly the shops selling white goods and furniture were targeted.
– It was stated that, everything moved was raked during the curfew. Committee observed some places with bullet holes fitting in this account. The fact that, hours after gun rakes, security forces went there and looked for traces of blood, indicates to that this fire had been opened by them; they were looking to places where they know to find out if anybody was dead.
– The fact that, two of the four citizens that had been executed were inhabitants of Varto indicates that violations of right to live had been committed blatantly. Only two days after two children working in a bakery were executed in Ağrı/Diyadin, it was understood that this process would harm other people except conflicting parties, and that civil people did not have life safety.
– An effective investigation should be started related to claims that the citizen who was taken into custody in Varto, namely Ersin Kızılboğa, had been tortured.
– Claims that armored vehicles equipped with thermal cameras were raking all moving things where civil people were living are seriously concerning. Even in state of war, the right to live of people, who have to put their animals in stables, who have to take sick people into hospitals and who have to sustain their everyday lives.
– We, as human rights advocators, were quite upset observing that people left their workplaces, tea houses, parks and recreation areas where they lived during daytime for protecting their lives. People have a psychology of “living in war”.
– The fact that public buildings were not damaged in Varto, which had been raked by all sorts of guns, but houses and workplaces of civil people were damaged strengthens the claims that armed intervention had been made by security forces.
– Committee observed that citizens were hesitating while expressing what they have gone through for the fear of being taken into custody, arrested and ill-treated.
– Right to live is untouchable and sacred under all circumstances. It is impossible to enjoy other rights if right to life is not protected. Regional and international conventions and declarations advocate for and “secure” the right to life. Geneva Convention secures all rules to be adhered even under war conditions. It is obvious that events in Varto resulted in extremely serious violations are also violation of the rules of humanitarian law. It was stated that Rahmi Kızıltaş and Abdullah Toprak had been executed along with two other people. In this context, we expect that the perpetrators of the violations of rights protected by national legislation and international conventions should be revealed and punished.
Sevim Salihoğlu, Saim Atılgan, Seval Karaçelik, Tarık Güneş, Rumet Agit Özer, Mehmet Işık