Silence continues on the "helicopter torture" case

Silence continues after the independent MP for Istanbul Ahmet Şık reveals details of villagers thrown out of helicopter by Turkish authorities.

Silence continues after the independent MP for Istanbul Ahmet Şık, reveals details of villagers thrown out of helicopter by Turkish authorities

The torture allegations of two Kurdish villagers, resulting in one dying in hospital back in September have failed to attract much attention in Turkey. This week, released a detailed report on what happened in Van.

But only a handful of independent media - mostly digital outlets - covered the report. Politicians, both from the ruling AKP-MHP alliance and oppositional parties remained silent. 

The heinous events took place on September 11, in a tiny village located in the country’s far east. 

HDP deputy Murat Sarısaç claimed on Twitter that two villagers were thrown out of a helicopter on September 13. Mesopotamia Agency (MA) was the first to report the story, with follow ups suggesting the villagers had indeed been thrown out of a military helicopter. Mass media, even opposition media, ignored it. In fact, they tend to ignore the Kurdish media as a whole, and the subject is very sensitive. 

The Turkish authorities had a different story: Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu appeared on TRT maintaining that the helicopter’s doors couldn’t be opened until the helicopter was very close to the ground, and he refuted allegations about the citizens being thrown out of it (Sept. 24). The governorship of Van claimed “they were assisting the PKK, and fell on rocky ground while being chased.”

Şık’s report makes it clear that these claims are untrue. 

In fact, Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut were brought to hospital by soldiers in civil clothing, who told everyone “these terrorists tried to escape and fell off the helicopter.”Interesting, since “terrorists” that are found alive during military operations are never hospitalized, but executed.

Şık went to Van and Mersin, talked to eyewitnesses, hospital staff, and Osman Şiban, who miraculously survived and is being treated at home. Servet Turgut died after 20 days spent in a coma, the full autopsy report has yet to be disclosed. 

Witnesses present at the autopsy told Şık that it was as if Turgut’s body had been crushed by a giant truck. The prosecutor İsmail Köker was present, as well as a HR Foundation lawyer. Interestingly, Major General of Van Army Crops Hüseyin Kurtoğlu and Van Gendarmerie Commander Brigadier General Yüksel Yiğit were waiting around the Forensic Medicine Department in civil attires. 

Meanwhile, Şık’s requests to speak to Mehmet Emin BİLMEZ (Governor of Van), Brigadier General Yüksel YİĞİT (Commander of Van Gendarmerie), Oğuzhan DÖNMEZ (Chief Public Prosecutor of Van) and the prosecutor working on the case İsmail KÖKER, were rejected: None of them were “available”. The request to survey the hamlet of Sürik, where the detention took place, was also rejected on the grounds that “the region was unsafe”. 

It it is clear that both villagers were detained unlawfully; the prosecutor had not issued an order for detention. After a military operation in the region, the gendarmie took Turgut and Şiban into custody. They were beaten in their village, beaten in the helicopter. But the worst and deadly beating came after the helicopter had landed. According to the survivor Şiban, around 100-150 soldiers took turns and beat them until he was unconscious. He then found himself waking up at the ER. 

The portraits and lifestyles of the villagers resembles that of the hundred thousands of Kurds who had to migrate due to the PKK conflict and struggled to get their land back. 

The hamlet of Sürik consisted of 30 related households before their forced eviction in 1989. In 2016, following a slight improvement in the conditions, Servet Turgut and his relative, applied to the Beytüşşebap Disctrict Governorship for a special permit to rebuild shelters and to work their land at their own cost. They got a special permit to work their land from the end of May to the end of October. These people are known as “koçerler”(nomads).

Osman Şiban (50) has 8 children. After the forced eviction of their village, he moved with his family to Mersin, where he works as a tradesman. His relative Servet Turgut - though it is said in his identity registry that he was 55, he was actually 64 years old - had 7 children and 3 grandchildren. After the forced eviction of their village, Turgut first moved with his family to central Van, then to Mersin, and a few years later to Van Edremit.

Apparently, these people were held responsible of the death of three military personnel in the region simple because they were living there. Ahmet Şık told me that even in the event where they actually had abetted PKK members -and they did not - no citizen should endure such a brutal treatment.  

“I am shocked by the silence surrounding this horrific event. The prosecutor has to question all personnel who were present when the severe beating took places. The helicopters coordinates, the inflight recordings, mobile phone recordings have to be examined. It does not surprise us that the authorities attempted to cover up the incidents. But we – the media, politicians, civil society - have to ask consistently, all of us, what happened. This is our responsibility if we want to uphold democracy.”

Şık asks this question to the public: What if it had been your neighbor or relative who had been taken into a helicopter, blindfolded and beaten to death?