News / Europe

    Discovery of Kurdish Mass Graves Leads Turkey to Face Past

    A Turkish girl cries while touching a picture of her brother on a decorated gravestone at a cemetery in Istanbul. The girl's brother was one of the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives in clashes against Kurdish rebels (File).
    A Turkish girl cries while touching a picture of her brother on a decorated gravestone at a cemetery in Istanbul. The girl's brother was one of the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives in clashes against Kurdish rebels (File).

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Excavations are continuing at two mass graves which have been discovered in the southeast of Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish southeast Turkey. The bodies are believed to be victims of Turkey's war against the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which for decades has been fighting for greater Kurdish rights. At the height of the conflict in the 1990's, thousands of people disappeared. Their families have met a wall of silence in their struggle to find out what happened to loved ones.

    Where they were found

    It's grisly work excavating the earth at the two mass graves near the town of Bitlis in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. Both sites are close to a rubbish dump which was used by the local police station. So far 20 bodies have been found. The victims are believed to belong to what the Kurds simply call "the disappeared".

    Ayfer's father is one of them. She’s now 25 but was only 10 when she says her father was dragged from their home by soldiers in the middle of the night. Ayfer has devoted her life to finding him.

    "My father does not have a grave. He’s all alone. When we find him, we’ll be able to dig a grave for him in a cemetery and he’ll have a place in the world," she says. "It was so hard growing up not knowing where he is."

    Ayer is one of thousands trying to find the remains of loved ones.  Her father was a victim of the Turkish state's dirty war against the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which has been fighting for Kurdish rights since 1984.

    Rights allegations


    Emma Sinclair Webb of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says the disappearances were part of a state policy to terrorize the local civilian population.

    "In the early 90's there was a policy of rounding of hundreds and thousands of civilians, and giving no proper trial or judicial process, but rather taking them in, threatening them, torturing them. There was systematic torture throughout that period, and a lot of others simply were not heard of again and in that region thousands disappeared or bodies were found too at the time, but not identified and there was no attempt to discover how the killings took place and who by. So there is massive legacy and impunity. For the past abuses, for the disappearances and killings," Webb explains.

    Observers say that dark legacy continues to remain an open wound in Turkey.

    Protests and resentment

    The discovery of these latest mass graves led to thousands of Kurds protesting against what they say is the government's silence over this issue. For years, the main Kurdish party has called for an investigation into the disappearances, but the authorities have dismissed this demand as terrorist propaganda. That is until now.

    Sezgin Tanrıkulu a leading Kurdish lawyer and now responsible for human rights for the main opposition CHP party, says Turkey must face up to what happened during the conflict.

    "What we're asking for today can put us on the road to reconciliation and achieving justice for all these unknown killings, for the Kurdish issue, for democracy," he says.

    Tanrıkulu is calling for a “truth commission” to be set up by parliament, on a non-party basis. He says it should investigate unsolved political killings and cases involving missing persons that have occurred since Turkey's military coup in 1980. The ruling AK party has so far rejected such calls. But pressure is also growing from the EU, which Turkey is seeking to join.

    Requested reforms

    Richard Howitt, the spokesman for the European Parliament's committee on Turkey, says the government has to change its attitude. "There is still amongst the ruling class a heavy defensiveness against Kurdish rights in Ankara. And the default position of the government and those around them is simply to attack the terrorism of the PKK," he said.

    The mounting pressure on the government does appear to be having an affect. Last weekend the Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with mothers of the disappeared in a highly publicized event. He promised to look into their individual cases, but refused calls for a parliamentary investigation.

    You May Like

    Video Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    Iran Orders Social Media Sites to Store Data Inside Country

    New requirements are expected to affect the instant messaging app Telegram, which has more than 20 million users inside Iran

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora