Turkish court drops case on Vartinis Massacre

A Turkish court dropped the Vartinis case concerning the killing of 9 people in 1993.

The case related to the massacre of 9 members of the same family whose houses were set on fire by Turkish soldiers on 3 October 1993 in Vartinis (Altınova) town of Til (Korkut) district of Muş province continued at Kırıkkale 1st High Criminal Court after the Court of Cassation's reversal decision.

Aysel Öğüt, the only survivor of the massacre, attended the hearing as a complainant, along with her husband Abdullah Öğüt, Peoples' Equality and Democratic Party (HEDEP) Muş MP Sümeyye Boz, the party's Legal and Human Rights Commission co-spokesperson Nuray Özdoğan, Human Rights Association (İHD) Central Executive Board member Nuray Çevirmen, representatives of the Memory Centre, Muş Bar Association President Kadir Karaçelik, lawyers from the Ankara Bar Association and Özgür Yaldız, a member of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD).

The prosecution stated that the fugitive culprit, Captain Bülent Karaoğlu, who ordered the burning of the village, should not be considered to be the sole authority and requested that the case be dropped due to the statute of limitations.

Sinan Özaraz, President of the Van Bar Association, and lawyers from the Ankara Bar Association took the floor after the prosecution's closing statement and stated that a crime against humanity had been committed in Vartinis and that crimes against humanity cannot be time-barred.

The court rejected the requests of Ankara and Van bar associations to participate in the case.

'They murdered my family in front of my eyes'

Aysel Öğüt said, "My family was murdered in front of my eyes, I want the perpetrator caught."

Kadir Karaçelik, one of the lawyers in the case, said: "This case is a trial that would only be held in Nazi Germany. We need to convict Bülent Karaoğlu in the public conscience. The perpetrator was clearly not searched, and it was said that he 'escaped'. We do not agree with the decision on the statute of limitations due to the fact that the act and action falls within the scope of crimes against humanity."

'The state protected the culprits’

Lawyer Fuat Özgül said, "No effective investigation was conducted by the public power against the culprits here. They were protected."

ÖHD member lawyer Özgür Yaldız said, "We are not talking about a culprit who went and committed a massacre because he could not control his anger. It is a matter of mindset."

Lawyer Nuray Özdoğan noted that all but two of the victims were children.

The court stated that 2 months had passed since the statute of limitations and decided to drop the case.

The Vartinis massacre

It was claimed that a non-commissioned officer was killed in clashes that took place on 2 October 1993 in the countryside of Vartinis. The soldiers, who came to collect the body of the officer after the clashes, opened fire in the air while passing through Vartinis and left the area, saying, “We will come and burn your village tonight”. One day later,the soldiers went back and set the Öğüt family’s house on fire, claiming that they "aided an illegal organization". As a result of their house being set on fire, Nasır and Eşref Öğüt were murdered along with their 7 children, the eldest 12 and the youngest just three years old. The only survivor in the family was Aysel Öğüt, who was not at home. Öğüt later filed a criminal complaint regarding the massacre.

Immediately following the incident, Aysel Öğüt, the only remaining member of the family, said that the house had been set on fire by soldiers and filed a criminal complaint.

Upon the second criminal complaint by Aysel Öğüt in 2003, an investigation started, followed by a trial in 2013, during which the following persons were charged with "purposefully burning down a house and causing multiple deaths": Gendarmerie Captain at the time Bülent Karaoğlu, Hasköy District Gendarmerie Commando Unit Commander Senior Infantry Lieutenant Hanefi Akyıldız, Muş Police Headquarters Special Operations Unit Chief Şerafettin Uz, Gendarmerie Gökyazı, and Gendarmerie Police Station Chief Major Turhan Nurdoğan.

The trial was transferred to Kırıkkale on the grounds of security. During the hearing held on 10 June 2015, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence the defendants with 20 to 25 years imprisonment for each of the nine victims, meaning a total of 180-225 years of prison sentence for each defendant.

Before the final hearing on 1 March 2016, when the judgment of the court was expected, the only remaining member of the family, along with some friends and constituents of the Coalition Against Impunity, held a press conference. In the final hearing held at the Kırıkkale Assize Court, the prosecutor, in a modification of his earlier opinions, asked for the acquittal of all defendants except Bülent Karaoğlu.  All of the defendants were acquitted.