Turkish court holds burning Kurdish family alive 'not crime against humanity'

A Turkish court has released a detailed ruling on the Vartinis case saying that the burning of a Kurdish family of nine did not constitute a "crime against humanity." The case was dropped in 2023 due to the statute of limitations. The case concerns soldiers burning a Kurdish village in the eastern Muş province in 1993.

Duvar English

A Turkish court on Feb. 19 declared its detailed ruling on the Vartinis case named after the Kurdish village soldiers in 1993 burned and killed a family of nine. The court held that there was no evidence suggesting the murder was based on political, racial, or religious animosity and thus the killing did not constitute a "crime against humanity."

The court had dropped the case in 2023 due to the statute of limitations and lifted the search warrant upon the village gendarmerie commander Bülent Karaoğlu according to reporting by the non-profit Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA). 

The victims’ lawyers had requested for Karaoğlu to be tried according to the crime of genocide introduced to the Turkish Penal Code in 2005. However, the court held that the law could not apply retroactively.

The ruling continued that the defendant could not be tried for an act that was not considered a crime at the time according to international treaties and the Turkish constitution. Defendant Karaoğlu was therefore tried for first-degree murder. 

The ruling also included a decision about the statute of limitations that applied to the case. At the time of the crime in 1993, the statute of limitations was 30 years for crimes of this nature.

The limit increased to 45 years in 2005. The court held that it had to choose the statute in the defendant’s favor in cases where updates change the extent and content of the statute. 

Kadir Karaçelik, lawyer of sole survivor Aysel Öğüt, appealed the court ruling. The appeal statement suggested that all requests to illuminate the rare, tragic, severe massacre through effective trial were dismissed by the court. 

The attorney held that the statute of limitations was a result of the ineffective judicial process, which was opened 20 years after the event.

Burning a family of nine alive was classified as a crime against humanity under both national and international legislation, and it was unacceptable for the court to not evaluate it as such, appealed the victims. 

The appeal presented the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling stating the statute of limitations did not apply to defendants tried on crimes against humanity. 

The victims’ lawyer requested the court to overturn its decision to drop the case and resume trial. 

A soldier on Oct. 2, 1993, was killed in a clash with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) near the village. The soldiers opened fire in the air as they passed through Vartinis after the clash and left the area saying "We will come and burn your village tonight.”

One day after the incident, soldiers came to the town and set fire to the village on the allegation of "aiding the PKK.” The couple Nasır and Eşref Öğüt, along with their seven children, the oldest of whom was 12 and the youngest of whom was only three years old, were killed when their house was set on fire.