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Obstacles to Return: Paramilitary village guards in Turkey

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Obstacles to Return: Paramilitary village guards in Turkey

Postby insan » Sat Jan 15, 2005 1:46 am

Although the Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project also authorized regional governors to provide ad hoc support for returning villagers, Human Rights Watch’s earlier research indicated that such support was more likely to be paid to displaced village guards than to villagers displaced by the security forces. At any rate, relatively few villagers have been encouraged to return to their homes, and it is clear that the countryside remains under the influence of the brutal and corrupt paramilitary village guards. The Interior Ministry admits that there are currently 58,416 village guards operating in the southeast, and that it has no plans to disband them, despite the fact that every survey of the returns problem (including one carried out by the Turkish parliament in 1995) urged the abolition of this corrupt and corrupting system.

Village guards were involved in the original displacement, and in the intervening years have continued to commit murders and abductions. In some cases village guards are now occupying properties from which Kurdish villagers were forcibly evicted evacuated by Kurdish villagers or using their vacant lands. They are prepared to use violence to protect their illegal gains. In 2002 village guards allegedly killed three villagers who returned to the village of Nureddin, in Muş province, and in June 2004 killed five villagers in pastures near the village of Akpazar, near Diyadin, in Ağrı province. In March 2004, inhabitants of Mağara village, near Idil, in Şırnak province, applied to the local courts to remove village guards from the homes from which they had been forcibly evicted in the early 1990s. Their lawyer, Eren Keskin, who attempted to visit the village with a member of the Turkish Human Rights Association on September 9, 2004, reported that she was turned back at gunpoint by gendarmes. However, in another case in September in the same province, the authorities did evacuate village guards from nearby Sarı village in order to secure the return of the original inhabitants, members of the Assyrian minority.

On September 25, 2004, a village guard allegedly shot and killed Mustafa Koyun and wounded Mehmet Kaya in the village of Tellikaya of Diyarbakir. The villagers who were attacked had been forced to leave Tellikaya after they refused to join the village guard corps in the 1980s, and their lands had been occupied by village guards.

Some displaced persons have been told that they can only return to their homes if they join the village guards. In April former residents of Uluköy, near Kiziltepe, in Mardin province, who had been forced out of their homes in 1993 because they refused to join the village guards, were given permission to return to their village. However, when they attempted to enter the village, the local gendarmerie told them they would have to agree to village guard service. When the village headman asked for clarification, the governor reportedly told him that the villagers could return but that he could not be responsible for their safety. In the same month, villagers returning to Altınsu village, near Şemdinli, in Hakkari province, reported that the local gendarmerie commander held a meeting at which he demanded that returning villagers become village guards.

Unexploded Ordinance
Unexploded mines and ammunition present an additional risk for returning villagers. Thirty people were accidentally killed by mines and other explosives in the southeast during the first eight months of 2004. To date, however, the government has provided no guarantee that villages due for return will be cleared of unexploded ordinance.



Ongoing Expulsions and Renewed Violence
Villagers who have established a toehold in the cities are unlikely to risk an expensive and dangerous return to their former homes while there is a risk that they may be displaced a second time. A number of villages have been evacuated in recent years, including one during 2004. Villagers expelled in the 1990s from Ilıcak village, near Beytuşşebab, in Şırnak province, who returned in 2001, told the Diyarbakır branch of the Turkish Human Rights Association (HRA) that they were again forcibly expelled by gendarmes in July 2004. In response to protests by the Turkish Human Rights Association the local governor responded that the villagers had left their homes voluntarily after attacks by Kongra-Gel. The villagers were returned to their homes with military assistance in late August.

Political violence resumed in the countryside after Kongra-Gel called off its ceasefire in June, creating a further obstacle for those attempting to return to the region. Clashes between security forces and armed militants, though at a lower level than in the early 1990s, risk damaging the increasing sense of stability in the region which had facilitated reform generally, and poses a threat that earlier brutal and widespread security operations against villages may be resumed.

Inadequate Response by the Turkish Government
Lack of a Transparent Reconstruction Program
The most convincing evidence of official support for return, apart from abolition of the village guard system, would be a transparent program of financial and material assistance in reconstructing houses and re-starting agriculture, but this has never been established. The government claims to have spent substantial sums on return, but as with other statistics, its figures are contradictory, and there is insufficient detail to establish whether any of the money allocated for returns actually benefited the displaced. At any rate, the amounts reportedly allocated are wholly inadequate. The president of Van branch of the Migrants’ Association for Social Cooperation and Culture (Göç-Der) Gıyasettin Gültepe expressed astonishment that only one billion lira ($667) had been allocated for returns in the provincial budget for Van where 284 settlements had been emptied. In August 2003, the Diyarbakır governor reported that the government had spent 1.5 trillion lira ($US 959,000) to return 12,666 individuals to that province, an average of $75 per person. These funds are clearly insufficient to facilitate return given that a feasibility project prepared for the Turkish government by the Turkish Social Sciences Association estimates the costs for the construction of a “central village” for the return of 2,500 villagers to Sağırsu village in Siirt province (supposedly an economically “realistic” option) to be approximately US $ 4,715,000 an average of $1,886 per person.

On July 27, 2004, the government passed a “Law for the Compensation of Damage arising from Terror and the War against Terror.” Under the law, compensation assessment commissions will be established to assess damages and levels of compensation. However, these commissions will be composed not of independent assessors, but of ministry representatives headed by assistant provincial governors—the very authorities who presided over the original displacement and have performed so poorly in achieving returns. Thousands of displaced people have started to apply for compensation under the law. It remains unclear whether this law will serve to channel funds to the displaced, or be a tool to avoid paying appropriate compensation.

The compensation provisions are restricted to events that took place within the emergency region, but forced migration also occurred from areas outside this area. In August Human Rights Watch spoke to two villagers of Yastik village, near Tercan, in Erzincan province, who had petitioned the Erzincan governor for assistance in returning to their village, which was evacuated in the early 1990s. The governor had replied that no assistance could be given with the repair and reconstruction of their bulldozed homes because Erzincan was not within the scope of the Return to Village and Rehabilitation program. At the same time the villagers received this disappointing response, they were fighting off a legal attempt by a local landowner to take possession of the land on which their village had stood.
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Postby insan » Sat Jan 15, 2005 1:48 am

Conclusion
The public of Turkey, which applied for E.U. membership in 1987, was shocked when Croatia was given a date for membership negotiations in June 2004 after having only applied in 2003. However, the Turkish government’s policies stand in contrast to those of Croatia on the crucial question of displacement. It is significant that, despite shortcomings in the process, UNHCR and the OSCE were integrated in the development, implementation, monitoring, and funding of initiatives to address problems related to the return of Croatian Serbs who had been displaced to neighboring countries. It is inconceivable that Croatia would have made such progress if it had resisted partnership with the international community on this issue.

In the course of the fifteen-year armed conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK, Turkish security forces committed grave human rights and humanitarian law violations against the residents of the region, forcing many hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. For over a decade now, the Turkish government has consistently failed to acknowledge the widespread and severe human rights abuses committed by its security forces, much less to provide restitution to its victims or facilitate their return to their homes. Today over 380,000 persons remain internally displaced throughout Turkey, most living in poverty and despair. The displaced cannot afford to rely on government promises of good faith; they need to see concrete action. The international community, if truly committed to resolving the plight of the IDPs of Turkey, can also ill afford to rely on verbal promises from the Turkish government. It must also insist on concrete action.

The role of international agencies has been repeatedly identified as a key element in an effective return process by all intergovernmental bodies that have looked at the situation in Turkey. It has also been given lip-service by the Turkish government which has declared that it is “determined to deal with [the return of the displaced] … in cooperation with international bodies, especially the U.N. and the EU.” In practice, however, the government continues to hold the international community at arm’s length.

The Turkish government’s failure to move from dialogue to action raises serious doubts about its good faith commitment to a successful returns process for those displaced by the armed conflict in the southeast. Without a formal partnership with international organizations, it is probable that the government will continue its ten year strategy of delay and ultimately never provide for the return of its internally displaced.

Nothing in the accession process to date has resulted in a fundamental change in the Turkish government’s policies on the internally displaced. Its response has been wholly inadequate. The government can point to just three steps it has taken for the displaced. Firstly, it claims to have procured the return of a quarter of the displaced, but has never given any information about which villages have been repopulated, or what it has done to support their return. Secondly, it is working with UNHCR in arranging the return of a group of about 10,000 Kurdish villagers who fled from Şırnak province across the border to Iraq in 1994 when Turkish air force jets and helicopters bombed villages killing 36 villagers, including 17 children. Thirdly, it has passed a compensation law which cannot be assessed for effectiveness until well into 2005. The government cannot pass these measures off as effective action for the displaced while it continues to ignore the recommendations of the SRSG and the PACE for introducing an intergovernmental element into its return program.

To date, the E.U. accession process has managed to place the concerns of IDPs onto the Turkish government’s agenda, but it has done little to resolve their plight or ensure that they are provide with financial compensation and reconstruction aid. The period from October – December 2004 – the time before the European Commission determines whether Turkey will get a firm date to begin membership negotiations – may provide a last opportunity for the displaced to obtain substantial assistance from the international community, which did absolutely nothing to prevent their original displacement.




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Postby MutantHeidi » Fri Feb 04, 2005 2:44 pm

this sicko should be on the politics forum
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