The link below is to an article that reports on a ceasefire in the thirty year Kurdish War between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Ex-journalist, former volunteer at publishing house suspected of instigating slaughter.
ISTANBUL, February 12 (Compass Direct News) – A Turkish court has charged two more men for instigating the murder of three Christians in Malatya in 2007 – a former volunteer worker at the Christian publishing house where they were killed, and an ex-journalist suspected of ties to a group that tried to engineer a political coup.
The arrests add growing evidence to the belief that the murders resulted not just from five troubled youths incited by religious or nationalist anger, but from a larger plan to create chaos in the country and kill specific people.
A judge ordered the arrest of former journalist Varol Bulent Aral, 32, on Feb. 4 on suspicion of instigating the murder. The Malatya court had subpoenaed Aral multiple times to testify about his role in the killings, but he did not appear until last October after being arrested for other charges.
Plaintiff attorneys representing family members of the murder victims believe Aral incited the suspected ringleader of the attacks to murder by convincing him foreign missionaries were connected to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a domestic outlawed terrorist organization.
Aral has been connected to Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy in various murders. Over 100 people have been detained in connection with the network since July 2008.
Prosecuting attorney Erdal Dogan told the national daily Taraf that Aral’s arrest was an important, albeit insufficient, step in the trial.
“From the beginning, this suspect could have been included in the case as an instigator to murder,” he said. “This person had an inside connection [to the murder], and security forces also knew this.”
A total of nine men have been charged with the murders. Seven of them are in jail; Mehmet Gokce and Kursat Kocadag have not been detained.
Former Zirve Employee Indicted
Huseyin Yelki, 34, a Turk who has worked for Christian organizations, was arrested on Monday (Feb. 9) after suspected ringleader Emre Gunaydin implicated him for instigation of murder in testimony to a public prosecutor.
Yelki is a former volunteer worker at Zirve Publishing Co. in Malatya, site of the brutal torture and murder of two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, on April 18, 2007. Last week Gunaydin claimed in his testimony that Aral and Yelki worked together to instigate the attack.
Yelki’s testimony at a hearing last August at the Malatya Third Criminal Court sharply differed from Gunaydin’s account. He said he was working part time at Zirve’s Malatya office when Gunaydin and two other men visited there about a month or six weeks before the murders. Gunaydin introduced himself, saying he wanted to meet Necati Aydin. But when Yelki telephoned Aydin and learned he would be coming to the office an hour later, the three men left.
Yelki said that instance was the only time he had ever met Gunaydin, that he never saw the men again and that he could not remember their faces. In a statement to police, Yelki said that Gunaydin had completely fabricated their relationship, and that he (Yelki) did not believe Christianity and missionary activity were harmful to Turkey.
But plaintiff attorneys said they believe that there is good reason to believe that Yelki was involved in the murders.
“Emre Gunaydin gave a very detailed account of his collaboration with Huseyin Yelki, which is consistent with other evidence in the court file,” said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who leads the team of plaintiff lawyers.
“What Emre said indicates that they had a sophisticated relationship which goes back to 2006, and apparently Yelki was involved in the plot at every level and phase,” he said. “We already know that Yelki was also connected to Bulent Varol Aral, who undoubtedly has some dark connections with some deep-state elements.”
Regarding possible motives Yelki might have had for involvement in the murders, however, plaintiff attorneys said it was too early in the investigation to know.
Plaintiff attorneys said they are hopeful that the arrests of the two men will provide important answers to many questions regarding the true identity of masterminds behind the murder.
While the attorneys said they don’t believe Aral and Yelki are the masterminds themselves, they hope these two men could act as links for the investigation to go higher up the chain of command.
“In my opinion, Yelki and Aral are just middle guys between the real instigators and the ‘hit-men,’” said Cengiz, leader of the team of plaintiff lawyers. “Their inclusion into the court file has sparked hope inside me for the first time since the case has ever started. I hope we will be able to reach the higher links and deliver justice to them.”
The next hearing in the case is scheduled to take place in Malatya on Feb. 20.
Report from Compass Direct News
Muslims’ legal action against 1,600-year-old structure called ‘malicious.’
ISTANBUL, January 22 (Compass Direct News) – Syriac Christians in southeastern Turkey say a land dispute over the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery is part of a larger system of discrimination against the religious minority in this overwhelmingly Islamic country.
Muslim residents of southeastern Turkey dispute the boundary lines of an ancient Christian monastery dating to the fourth century as being unnecessarily large for the needs of a religious community. Islamic village leaders from Yayvantepe, Eglence and Candarli are attempting to confiscate one-third of the monastery’s property, claiming it was wrongfully appropriated and that they need it for their livestock.
Area Muslims also say the land in question is forest and thereby registered as land belonging to the State Treasury.
“Our land is being occupied by the monastery,” said Ismail Erlal, village leader of Yayvantepe, according to Cihan News Agency. “We make use of the forest there and pasture our animals; we won’t give up our rights.”
Among the most contentious issues are the monastery walls built around its perimeter, rebuilt 15 years ago. Village leaders complain in a lawsuit to obtain the land that the monastery has gone beyond its rightful bounds. In August the land survey office of Midyat said it had determined that 270 hectares of the monastery’s 760 hectares were government property, including land inside and outside the monastery’s walls.
A court in Mardin originally scheduled a hearing for Friday (Jan. 16) to determine the legal status of the monastery walls, but it was rescheduled to Feb. 11 to allow the court more time to examine the case. At the February hearing the court will determine if the 270 hectares of land belong to the government or the monastery.
Metropolitan Timotheos Samuel Aktas, leader of the monastery, answered in a report that the monastery has the right to leave its land uncultivated and has paid taxes on the property since 1937.
The state originally charged the monastery with being founded illegally, but it dropped those charges by canceling a hearing originally schedule for Dec. 24. Rudi Sumer, the attorney representing the monastery, said that the claim was groundless since the monastery has foundation status dating back to modern Turkey’s origins, not to mention centuries of existence beforehand.
The mayors of Yayvantepe, Eglence and Candarli also charged the monastery with attempting to proselytize young children (illegal in Turkey) and carrying out “anti-Turkish” activity.
Metropolitan Aktas said in a report that these claims were groundless and of the same provocative nature that has historically sparked violence against Turkey’s Christians.
“All the allegations are frivolous and vexatious, devoid of any logic or evidence, solely aimed with the malicious intent of rousing anti-Christian sentiments by the surrounding Muslim villages,” he said.
Mor Gabriel Monastery, founded in 397, is the most revered monastery for Syrian Orthodox Christians. It is inhabited by 15 nuns and two monks and is the seat of Metropolitan Bishop of Tur Abdin Diocese.
In recent decades the monastery has turned into a religious and social center for the country’s remaining Syriacs by offering schooling to children and teaching their ancient language of Syriac, a variant of the language spoken by Jesus.
“The monastery is everything for us,” said a Syrian Orthodox Christian who grew up in Turkey’s southeast. He added that many families in the area had named their children after Mor Gabriel. “Syriacs would give up everything for the monastery.”
An international outcry from the European Parliament and numerous Assyrian organizations throughout Europe arose in response to the charges, according to the Assyrian International News Agency. A member of the German consulate said his country would monitor the case closely, as Turkey is attempting to join the European Union and its human rights record has come under close scrutiny.
Many Syrian Orthodox Christians have left southeast Turkey in the last 30 years as violence escalated between the military and Kurdish terrorists. In the last five years, however, some Syriacs have begun returning home – only to find their property occupied by others.
Residents who fled Mardin province in the mid-1980s returned to find two of their village’s Syriac churches converted into mosques. And the demographic shift from Syriacs to Kurds has increased pressure on the monastery.
“Turkey must protect its Assyrian community,” said Swedish parliamentarian Yilmaz Kerim to the Hurriyet Daily News. He visited the monastery as part of a delegation in December. “There are only 3,000 left in Midyat.”
The lawsuit has the support of a local parliamentarian who claims Christians relished their opportunity to leave Turkey. Süleyman Çelebi, member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said Syrian Orthodox Christians had never come under pressure, despite their claim that they were exploited, and even emigrated away from Turkey “with joy” in previous decades.
The three villages that brought the lawsuit against the monastery overwhelmingly supported the Islamic-rooted AKP in last year’s national elections. Çelebi claims that the official boundaries of the monastery were established in Ottoman times but not properly observed by the Syriac Christians.
According to the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, Turkey grants full protection to churches, synagogues and other religious establishments to freely practice their own religions. But this treaty only designated Greek and Armenian Orthodox Christians and Jews, creating complications for groups such as the Syrian Orthodox and Protestants to open schools and churches.
Syriac Christians claim to be one of the first people to accept Christianity in the Middle East. Their historic homeland stretches through southeastern Turkey, but their numbers have dwindled to 15,000 following decades of government pressure and fallout from war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Report from Compass Direct News
Video testimony, reenactment of crime scene hints at hearts of killers, martyrs.
ISTANBUL, November 25 (Compass Direct News) – Last week’s court hearing on the bloody murder of three Christians in Turkey’s southeastern city of Malatya paved the way for further investigations into the connection between the five defendants and shadowy elements of the Turkish state linked to criminal activities.
The 13th hearing at Malatya’s Third Criminal Court on Friday (Nov. 21) in the murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske presented little new evidence. No witnesses were called to testify.
The court prosecutor and plaintiff lawyers, however, are pursuing proof that there are links between the murderers and Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy in recent murders.
A separate criminal investigation has linked the cabal to high-profile attacks, murders and plans to engineer domestic chaos and ultimately overthrow the government. Evidence in the Malatya case indicates that a local journalist, Varol Bulent Aral, acted as a bridge between the five murder suspects and Ergenekon.
Plaintiff attorneys also believe that Aral incited the suspected ringleader of the attack, Emre Gunaydin, to murder by convincing him foreign missionaries were connected to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a domestic outlawed terrorist organization.
According to a Nov. 14 statement, Gunaydin testified that Aral promised him state immunity for the planned attacks. In court last week, however, he refuted the claim and said he hadn’t met with Aral.
On April 18, 2007 the three Christians were tied up, stabbed and tortured for several hours before their throats were slit in what Turkish media have dubbed “the Malatya massacre” at the Zirve Publishing Co. office in Malatya.
Gunaydin along with Salih Gurler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim, who have been in jail for the past 19 months, are accused of the murder. They are all between 19 and 21 years old.
Per their request, plaintiff attorneys have received the Ergenekon file from the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul and have reviewed it for connections with the Malatya murders. It is now under investigation by the court prosecutors and judges.
“We are talking about a room with five guys and three men,” said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who leads the team of plaintiff lawyers. “There is no doubt this is first degree murder; a barbaric act. These things will increase their term of punishment to three counts of murder and three life imprisonment terms each, as well as other crimes such as preventing freedom, stealing and others. We don’t have a question about this.”
The question that remains, according to the plaintiff attorneys, is the identity of the real powers behind the bloody attack. Cengiz said he and the court now have no doubt there were greater forces behind the Malatya murders.
“I am 100 percent sure – it is the impression of the prosecutor and no one has doubts – there are sources behind these young men, but we can’t identify them,” Cengiz told Compass.
The plaintiff team hopes to bring up to 21 witnesses to the stand in subsequent hearings in order to make connections between Ergenekon and the Malatya murders clear.
“We believe all of them are somehow connected and have relevant information to this case,” he said.
If the list is accepted, he said the trial may go on for another year. “But if nothing comes out last minute, it may be over in three or four months,” he said.
Missionary Activities on Trial, Again
At Friday’s hearing, defense lawyers reiterated their position that the five young men acted in response to missionary efforts, suggesting that such activities were sufficiently nefarious to incite the violent murders.
The prosecution team rebutted the statement, saying that according to constitutional Articles 9 and 24, people have the right to share their faith, and no person or authority can follow and record those activities. They pointed out that the five defendants had been collecting data and planning the murders at least eight months before they carried them out.
Defense lawyers also requested that the prison where the defendants are held conduct a psychological exam of the defendants – especially Gurler – because they were all under stress due to suspected ringleader Gunaydin’s threats.
Revisiting Crime Scene
Those present in the courtroom on Friday viewed year-old video footage of defendants Ozdemir, Ceker and Gunaydin each walking through the crime scene shortly after their arrest, describing how they attacked, stabbed and sliced the throats of Aydin, Geske and finally Yuksel.
A sobering silence prevailed in the courtroom as judges, lawyers, local press, Turkish Protestant observers and others watched Ozdemir and later Ceker walk through the Zirve publishing house and re-enact the murders over the dried blood pools of the three martyrs. In their accounts, they implicated Gunaydin and Salih as the main aggressors, although all accuse the others of participating in the murders.
During the video presentation, judges and lawyers noticed suspect Gurler laughing at the witnesses’ testimonies at the crime scene. In the video, Ozdemir and Ceker testified that they had told Gurler and Gunaydin they couldn’t take the violence.
In the video testimony, Ozdemir said he told Gurler while he was stabbing Aydin, the first to be killed, “That’s enough, I can’t do this.” Ozdemir looked down during his video testimony, forlorn and unable to watch.
Gurler later told angry judges that he was laughing because all the witnesses’ statements in the video were false.
“They’re lying against me,” he said.
In his video account of the murder scene, Ceker described how the five young men and the three Zirve staff members talked “a lot” about religion before the suspects attacked Aydin, tying him and lying him on the floor face down.
Gunaydin confronted Aydin about his missionary activities and asked him why he was acting “against Turks” before Gurler sliced his throat, according to Ceker’s original statement.
In Gunaydin’s video testimony, profusely sweating, he described the repeated stabbings of the victims, re-enacting his arm movements and describing how Ozdemir held a gun at the victims, threatening them.
“I didn’t look,” Gunaydin said after describing one of the violent stabbing scenes. “I’m weak about these things … I can’t even cut chicken.”
He described how while Yildirim and Gurler were repeatedly stabbing Geske, the victim lifted his hands up in a gesture of prayer. Gunaydin also described how Yuksel, injured by the stabbing while tied and on the floor, cried out in Turkish, “Mesih, Mesih [Messiah],” between moans before they stuffed a towel in his mouth to silence him.
After the court showed his video testimony, Gunaydin stood up and told the court he had just gotten out of the hospital at that time, and that that account was not how he now remembered the events of April 18, 2007.
In their video testimony, the young men described how the phone and doorbell were ringing while they were torturing the Christians. Before coming out the door with their hands in the air, they showed police interviewing them in the video how they had disposed of their guns and bloodied knives in the Zirve office.
Gunaydin escaped through a window, fell and was severely injured. On Friday plaintiff lawyers requested from the court an investigation into who entered the crime scene while Gunaydin was in the hospital.
When the defendants were asked whether they knew of Aral’s alleged offer of state protection to Gunaydin or a monetary award for the murders, they claimed to have no information.
“I never saw a check in the course of these events, nor did I hear anything about it,” said Gurler. “I only knew that Emre had a bank statement.”
Yildirim also claimed ignorance: “I don’t remember anything about a check. If Emre had one, it would have stayed in his pocket; he wouldn’t have showed it to us.”
When asked about meetings between Gunaydin and Aral, the defendants said they hadn’t witnessed any between the two. They did admit to having spoken to Aral at a sports complex about a different matter, but they knew him as “Mehmet.”
Foreign Press, Organizations Negligent
Twelve of the nearly 20 private and human rights lawyers from around Turkey that compose the plaintiff team attended the court hearing last week. Cengiz said the primary purpose of the plaintiff lawyers, who are working pro bono, was to create a legal “common eye” that is watching all related cases such as Ergenekon and the murder of Hrant Dink, editor of Armenian newspaper Agos, who was murdered months before the three Christians in Malatya.
But the plaintiff lawyers pointed out that very few international bodies and foreign press members are actively monitoring the case, even though in their estimation the Malatya murders are directly linked to uncovering deep elements of Turkish corruption.
“This case has tremendous implications for democracy and deep-state elements in Turkey,” said Cengiz, who has received numerous threats since the beginning of the trial and lives under 24-hour protection.
“What we have here is a concrete act of the Ergenekon gang and it’s interesting.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Journalist allegedly told ringleader officials would not prosecute him for killing Christians.
MALATYA, Turkey, October 21 (Compass Direct News) – Lawyers and judges in the case of three Christians murdered here in April 2007 are continuing to investigate whether the attack was masterminded by troubled youths or shadowy elements of the Turkish state.
Plaintiff attorneys believe the first witness at the hearing on Thursday (Oct. 16), local journalist Varol Bulent Aral, incited the suspected ringleader of the attacks to murder by convincing him foreign missionaries were connected to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a domestic outlawed terrorist organization. The suspected ringleader, Emre Gunaydin, testified that Aral promised him state immunity for the planned attacks.
Two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were brutally tortured and killed at a publishing house in this southeastern city on April 18, 2007.
Gunaydin, along with Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim, who have been in jail for the past 18 months, are accused of the murder. They are all between 19 and 21 years old.
The court subpoenaed Aral for the last four hearings, but he failed to show at each one. The 32-year-old testified at Thursday’s hearing at Malatya Third Criminal Court under police custody since he was arrested on Oct. 2 for carrying a false ID.
Gunaydin said during the hearing that Aral had promised him state protection for the murders.
“He had promised me state support,” he said. “[Aral] should explain this to the court.”
But when the judge asked whether Aral had convinced him to commit the murders, Gunaydin claimed his right to remain silent.
Aral, however, denied promising clemency to Gunaydin for murdering the three Christians. He claimed to only have discussed only the PKK with Gunaydin, not Christian missionary activity.
In Gunaydin’s testimony at an August hearing, however, he described Aral as telling him that he saw a connection between missionaries and the PKK. The goal of Christian missionary work in Turkey, Aral reportedly said, was “to destroy the motherland.”
Recent high-level political events in Turkey, however, show that the plausibility of his alleged promise for state protection to Gunaydin and the other four youths may not be unfounded.
In January police uncovered and started arresting members of Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy in recent murders. The indictment has accused 86 suspects, 70 of which are in custody.
A separate criminal investigation has linked the cabal to high-profile attacks, murders and plans to engineer domestic chaos and ultimately overthrow the government. Evidence in the Malatya case indicates that Aral acted as a bridge between the five murder suspects and Ergenekon.
In January Malatya police found Aral’s diary, which mentioned multiple people indicted in Ergenekon and contact information for Kemal Kerincsiz, an ultranationalist lawyer who had charged two Turkish Christians for “insulting Islam.” The court case of Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal has been underway for two years.
In his diary Aral mentioned the duty to “protect the state’s honor.” His frequent comments to media have also raised eyebrows, such as his recent statement that, “I can’t stand that patriots like Veli Kucuk are in prison.”
Kucuk is a retired major general arrested in the Ergenekon case. He has been indicted for threatening Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was assassinated in January 2007, and is believed to be a key player in the network, according to Turkish national daily Today’s Zaman.
When Judge Eray Gurtekin asked Aral why his diary mentioned these people, Aral claimed he “received information” and wrote their names down to think about them later. He claimed to be merely compiling information in order to write a book about Ergenekon.
The witness was more elusive when he was asked if he knew Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who leads the team of plaintiff lawyers.
Aral merely said he didn’t know Cengiz. But for the last few months Aral has talked to many journalists in the country’s major cities, trying to prove that Cengiz was the leader of a secret resistance group established by the government responsible for the murders of Hrant Dink, Father Andrea Santoro (a Catholic priest who was killed in 2006), and the Malatya murders.
Judge Gurtekin then asked Aral if he had worked as a police informant for either the police or gendarmerie. He answered, “I have many police and military officers among my friends. We drink tea and talk with each other.”
Plaintiff attorneys have seen some progress in the Malatya trial, which has continued for nearly a year. But they believe it will take time to get to the root of the crime, which they say runs very deep.
“It has become very clear for everyone that there is this very dark, complex, sophisticated web of relations behind the scenes, but we can’t pick them out or prove them beyond reasonable doubt for the time being,” said Cengiz. “We are stuck. Everyone sees that some of the witnesses are not witnesses at all – they are either aiding and abetting or a member of the gang. Some people like Bulent Aral are there to create a cloak of confusion that you can’t get past.”
Aral was arrested last year while in possession of a Kalashnikov assault rifle, which he claims he had confiscated from a 10-year-old, and was arrested while en route to a police station to hand over the gun. A week before the three Christians were killed in 2007, Gunaydin visited Aral in prison.
Plaintiff attorneys said that as defendant Abuzer Yildirim and Aral were leaving the courtroom after the court’s adjournment, they noticed Aral tell Yildirim face-to-face, “Look around carefully. This may be the last time you see these things before you die.”
The plaintiff attorneys said that Aral may not have been threatening him with this statement, but instead warning him about other threats or possible dangers stemming from the case, according to Haberturk news Website.
Following the last testimony, five knives, two guns and blood-stained clothes of the suspects found at the crime scene were shown to the court.
The plaintiff attorneys requested the Ergenekon file from the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on Aug. 12. They have not yet received the file, but hope to find a relationship between the Malatya and Ergenekon investigations and possibly combine them.
The next hearing is scheduled in Malatya for Nov. 21.
Report from Compass Direct News