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).
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
17 Turkish troops were killed in clashes with Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) rebels on Friday. 15 soldiers were killed and 2 abducted (there bodies were later recovered) following a cross-border ambush by PKK rebels.
The PKK is fighting for a Kurdish homeland in south-eastern Turkey. Since 1984, when the fighting began, some 40 000 people have been killed.
The PKK says it has sustained no casualties as a result of the Turkish attacks, despite there being numerous targets in the bombings. It is believed that several thousand PKK rebels are based in northern Iraq – a staging post for attacks on military targets inside Turkey.
The clashes have been the heaviest between the two forces since early this year.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.
BELOW: A report dealing with the PKK attacks in Turkey
Crime scene video sobers courtroom; accused killers either grin or grow sick.
MALATYA, Turkey, August 22 (Compass Direct News) – The five young Turkish men accused of torturing and killing three Christians in Malatya last year may have been incited by members of a vast political conspiracy allegedly responsible for multiple murders in recent years.
The 10th hearing on the murder of three Christians at a publishing house in southeast Turkey 16 months ago took place yesterday (Aug. 21) at the Malatya Third Criminal Court. Plaintiff attorneys requested the case be integrated with an investigation into Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy in various murders.
In January police uncovered and started arresting members of Ergenekon. A criminal investigation has linked them to high-profile attacks, murders and plans to engineer domestic chaos and ultimately overthrow the government.
Two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were brutally tortured and killed on April 18, 2007 in the southeastern Turkish city of Malatya.
Evidence suggests Emre Gunaydin, the suspected ringleader of the murderers, was in contact with at least two people connected to Ergenekon: a retired brigadier general and a journalist. The latter, Varol Bulent Aral, told Gunaydin he saw a connection between missionaries and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorist organization.
At yesterday’s hearing, presiding Judge Eray Gurtekin asked Gunaydin if he knew a former general and a political leader indicted in Ergenekon.
Gurtekin showed Gunaydin a note he had written last year while recovering in hospital from injuries he sustained after jumping out a third-story window while trying to escape police after the murder. His note said, “Don’t tell Levent.”
When the judge asked who this was, Gunaydin replied that he didn’t remember. Pressing further, Gurtekin asked him if he knew Levent Ersoz, a retired brigadier general indicted in the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy, or Levent Temiz, former head of the ultranationalist Ulku Ocaklari youth organization.
Gunaydin said he didn’t know the two men. Metin Dogan, a witness at the last hearing, said he and Gunaydin were involved in Ulku Ocaklari together. Gunaydin has denied knowing Dogan or having any involvement in the group.
Neither the widows of Aydin and Geske nor parents of Yuksel attended yesterday’s hearing. The martyred Christians left behind five children and Yuksel’s fiancée.
On the morning of the trial, Zaman national daily reported on further connections between the Malatya killings and Ergenekon. Gunaydin had been in contact with local journalist Aral, who had connections with Ergenekon and was called as a witness for the July 4 hearing.
Aral was arrested in another Turkish city while in possession of a Kalashnikov assault rifle. A week before the three Christians were killed in 2007, Gunaydin visited Aral in prison.
In January Malatya police found Aral’s diary, containing contact information for ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, who was indicted in the Ergenekon affair. Previously Kerincsiz had pressed charges against two Turkish Christians for “insulting Islam” and charged Armenian journalist Hrant Dink with insulting Turkishness. Dink was assassinated in January 2007.
Gunaydin said in a statement that Aral told him that there was a connection between the PKK and foreign missionaries. The goal of Christian missionary work in Turkey, Aral said, was to destroy the motherland.
“I asked him if someone shouldn’t stop this,” Gunaydin said. “He told me to get up and stop this. When I asked him how this will be done, he said, ‘We will provide state support.’”
Possible evidence of such state support for the murders was shown at the most recent hearing, when plaintiff lawyers showed police video footage of the crime scene taken hours after the murder on April 18.
The footage suggests someone tampered with evidence at the crime scene. According to the video, a handgun found at the crime scene was too large to fit into its gun box, indicating weapons had been swapped.
“This shows there is someone protecting these suspects,” said plaintiff attorney Murat Dincer. “If someone in the investigation changed the guns, then there is another force behind the scenes.”
Police could be overheard in the audio track arguing whether the guns were the same or not. Dincer requested this footage be replayed so the court could hear the police having the argument. The court has requested an expert witness to testify about the guns for the next hearing.
The court has not allowed release of any copies of this footage, and even attorneys were allowed to watch it only under supervision.
The hearing produced emotional moments for the victims’ acquaintances. Close-up shots of the victims showed their bodies mutilated and lying in pools of their own blood.
While some in the court teared up at the close-ups of the victims, suspects Gunaydin and Salih Gurler were seen grinning at times during the display of the footage.
Some of the five suspects looked away from the video during the gruesome scenes. The judge then ordered them to keep watching: “It’s because of you we are watching this. Look at it.”
Defendant Abuzer Yildirim turned around and told the judge he could not continue to watch because his stomach couldn’t handle it.
Only one of eight witnesses summoned to testify attended yesterday’s hearing. Huseyin Yelki, 34, testified 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, he recalled.
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, who walks with a cane, said he never saw them again and could not remember their faces.
According to the murder suspects’ testimonies, Gunaydin had told them that it would be easy to get information from a man with a lame leg who worked at the Zirve office.
Despite previous court orders for police to track down and force three of the witnesses to appear, the court was informed that no current addresses had been located for any of the seven absent witnesses.
The court has requested the file on the Ergenekon investigation.
After the hearing, attorney Ozkan Yucel said the plaintiff team has requested the entire indictment file from the Ergenekon case in Istanbul on a DVD. The next hearing will be on Sept. 12.
There has been a wave of attacks and threats against Christians across Turkey in recent years, and documents suggest these events are related.
In the first Malatya hearing in November, plaintiff attorneys presented a surprise demand to broaden the prosecution from an isolated case of terrorism to the criminal code statutes against religious “genocide.”
In a January hearing, formal requests to remove 16 files of information about the religious activities of the three Christians and to charge the perpetrators with “religious genocide” were denied.
Confiscated Ergenekon files show the group apparently tracked even the smallest actions of Christians in Turkey. A Jan. 7, 2005 statement made cryptic mention of church members in Izmir, Mersin, and Trabzon: “Those who have recently accepted Christianity show increasing devotion to their own rules,” the file said, according to Radikal national daily on Aug. 14.
Members of those churches have been attacked or killed in following years. In February 2006 a youth shot and killed Father Andrea Santoro in the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon. The same year, a 19-year-old man stabbed Father Adriano Franchini in Izmir.
Although yesterday’s hearing avoided the theatrics of the previous hearing on July 4, when defense attorneys tried to link Malatya’s Christian missionaries with the PKK, there was one hot outburst when a defense attorney asked why there were so many foreigners living in Malatya. The plaintiff attorneys then rose to their feet in protest, declaring the question irrelevant to the case.
Plaintiff lawyer Ozkan Yucel spoke to the Turkish press outside the courthouse after the hearing. He said the plaintiff lawyers wanted the Ergenekon file to find a relationship between the Malatya and Ergenekon investigations and possibly combine them.
“I am of the opinion this will be combined with Ergenekon investigation,” he said. “We may request they be combined at the next hearing.”
Report from Compass Direct News