‘Former PM Davutoğlu should speak out on Tahir Elçi’s murder’

On 28 November 2015, Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish human rights lawyer and President of Diyarbakır Bar Association, who spent his life defending people from the violence and abuse of the Turkish state repression machine, was murdered in Amed.

Amed (Diyarbakir) Bar Association Head, Nahit Eren called for former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, to speak out about lawyer and human rights defender Tahir Elçi’s murder, which he called “a politically-motivated assassination.”

Eren underlined that the Turkish judicial authorities have not fulfilled their responsibilities to deal with Tahir Elçi's murder and the government is yet to enlighten it. He added that the indictment conceals the facts and obscures the case.

Six years have passed since the murder of Tahir Elçi, Head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association. Current head of the association, lawyer Eren, spoke to ANF about the effects of Elçi's absence on civil society and the future course of the case after the witnesses withdrew their statements.


Eren stated that following the end of the “peace process” and resumption of conflict, security policies have been developed to deal with the Kurdish issue. According to him, the security policies have eroded the civil society in the country and the murder of Elçi was a turning point in the crackdown on the civil society in the Kurdish region.

Eren stated that after the murder of Elçi, civil society could not play its previous role adequately, adding, "As a matter of fact, the civil society did not refrain from fulfilling its role, yet this was indeed what the government strove for. They wanted to suppress civil society through pressure. The same thing happened in western Turkey. The arrest of Osman Kavala was a move directed against civil society in the west. Unfortunately, the civil society has lost its past efficiency and power on both sides.”


Eren pointed out that Turkish judicial authorities have not fulfilled their responsibilities in terms of the criminal procedure concerning Elçi's murder. “We can see this very clearly. So, what prevented the judiciary from fulfilling its duty? The government has not adopted a clear stance on dealing with this murder. We know from the first day that the government and the judiciary have remained reluctant to shed light on the murder. There was no crime scene investigation even. Also, a 13-second camera footage which shows how Tahir Elçi was killed was lost. We don't know whether the footage was deleted or never existed. Somehow, a reluctance to carry out a proper investigation was evident from the very beginning.”


Lawyer Eren emphasized that even the preparation of the indictment of the case took 4 and a half years. “There was not a single suspect in the file. The statements of the police officers who are currently on trial as suspects were evaluated as witness statements in the beginning. After the Diyarbakır Bar Association had a report prepared by the Department of Forensic Architecture at the University of London, the police officers in question were summoned to give a statement as suspects and the indictment was thus filed. However, we realized at that stage that the indictment concealed facts and manipulated the case file. The file of the police officers killed at the scene and the murder of Tahir Elçi were merged in the same indictment. However, the people who targeted the officers were known. This lawsuit could have been filed much earlier. The authorities designated the members of the organization (referring to PKK) who ran away from the crime scene as the perpetrators of both Elçi and the murdered police officers and put them into the same indictment. These were actually very different incidents.”


Eren said that what happened in the last hearing of the case was illuminative. “In the first stage of the indictment, the witnesses who were said to have been there at the time of the incident testified that Elçi had been killed by the members of the organization. Consequently, the court listened to these witnesses, who included those evacuated from Sur. However, during the last hearing, the same witnesses said “we were not witnesses to the incident, we were forced by the judiciary and law enforcement to give these statements. They also said that various promises had been made to them. They thus denied their first written statements.”


Eren stated that former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is also politically responsible for the murder of Elçi.  “In fact, an important development took place during this process. If you remember, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was the prime minister at the time Tahir Elçi was killed, paid a visit to Diyarbakır. During his visit to our bar association, he used the phrase “This is a political assassination”. Indeed, the whole country entered a very dark period after the murder of Elçi. Curfews were imposed, gross human rights violations took place and hundreds of people lost their lives. Therefore, saying that it was a politically-motivated assassination remains ambiguous. If a prime minister says this, it is necessary for him to explain what he really means. After Davutoğlu’s statement, Elçi's family, lawyers and the Diyarbakır Bar Association requested a court to hear Davutoğlu, but we have not yet received any response to the request.”


Tahir Elçi participated in the 'Neutral Zone' program presented by Ahmet Hakan at CNN Türk on 14 October 2015.

Asked by Hakan whether the PKK was a terrorist organization, Elçi answered: "The PKK is not a terrorist organization".

After this program, the prestigious lawyer was exposed to an increasingly common lynching. Six days after the CNN Turk program, Elçi was taken into custody at the Amed Bar Association's legal aid building and taken to Istanbul for testimony. Elçi was released after his testimony: he was to undergo judicial control and was forbidden to go abroad.

On 28 November 2015, Tahir Elçi was shot and killed during a press conference in the city of Diyarbakır in south-east Turkey. It was 10.53 when Elçi was shot at the Four Legged Minaret with a bullet in the back of his neck.

At the press conference, Elçi had appealed for calm in the city, amid a recent wave of violence. The weeks and months following his death, however, saw an escalation in the conflict that resulted in the near-total destruction of Diyarbakır’s historic centre, Sur, a historic resistance, the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of thousands more.

In a public address on the day of the murder, then Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, pledged to apprehend the "unknown perpetrators", and promised that the state’s investigation would uncover the truth. "Politically-motivated assassinations", he added, "would not be tolerated".