Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 6-7 The KCK Show Trials

Atticus would have been flummaxed

July 9th and 10th (previous days are in earlier entries)

I think I am getting a taste of what it must have been like to sit in a courtroom in the Old South. The overwhelming sense of unfairness, the verdict a foregone conclusion because of race, the whole weight of a century’s old benighted system that just won’t die. The evidence laughable to anyone looking in from the outside.

From Thursday afternoon onward, the 2400 page KCK indictment is read aloud. And I mean that in the passive—no one particularly important (like the prosecutor who wrote it) reads the indictment. The court pulled in two TV anchormen to take turns at the mammoth text—they go until they give out, voices hoarse, at which point the other takes up the task. It’s sometimes comical—like when they read through the phone conversations in their sports announcers’ voices, playing both parts at the same time with the same dry monotone. Most people snooze or knit or read a book—the woman down the aisle from me is engrossed in the Turkish version of the latest Stephanie Meiers novel.

But occasionally one of the defense lawyers, our would-be Atticus Finches, stands up to lodge formal objections against the nature of the indictment itself.  Essentially, their argument is this:  It violates all known and acceptable criteria for evidence and consists mostly of hearsay, speculation, and anonymous accusations.

Here are some examples of the problems:

Number 1: It’s often gibberish—passages cited as evidence of terrorist activity are so filled with parenthetical (Incomprehensible)s that they are nonsense.  For instance….

‘(Incomprehensible) Now, after the woman’s natural community was brought down...(incomprehensible) and while there the issue at hand was the destruction of woman, society, and nature, I think that we need to consider that, together with these things, and actually, I mean, in fact, the correct place…(incomprehensible) in other words, it’s not just the fall of woman, the basis of it is also the whole fall of society and nature.’

Number 2: The wild guesses of informants are often taken as fact. Here’s this tidbit from Delil Botan Kahraman who is describing his first visit to the BDP academy in Ümraniye and his first encounter with Mamoste, Kemal Seven.

‘The rooms used for academic purposes at the building were normal. There were several photographs on the bulletin boards. Though I didn’t know these people personally, I guessed that they were members of a terrorist group, because they wore the sort of clothes that terrorists wear.’

One of these photographs he’s referring to is of Musa Anter, the Kurdish journalist murdered by the Turkish government in the 90s. I have no idea what he means by ‘terrorist clothes’ unless it is the traditional Kurdish shalvar and keffiyeh.  The absurd thing is that this statement is taken at face value. Imagine being dragged into court because your neighbor thought that you had pictures of people with the kind of clothes rapists wear, and that this was considered hard evidence.

Number 3:  Guilt by association? This term is not even accurate. Guilt by virtue of being present in the room while the accusations are read aloud is the correct description.  Pages 69 through 167 of the indictment are devoted to a play-by-play of the foundation of the KCK and its evolution through time and includes the organizations charter article by article. No names of the suspects appear in any of this. Then from page 168 to 186, the indictment lists internet sites that they believe have terrorist propaganda—again with not one suspect’s name appearing anywhere.  The justification for 127 pages of dry history lesson is this (from page 186)

‘The sites under discussion can be summarized as follows—they made propaganda for the PKK and it’s leader Abdullah Öcalan, they praised splittists and divisive terrorist activities, and by abetting the spread of detailed news of their activities to the masses and the public and of publishing the notes of the contents of Öcalan’s meetings with his lawyers as instructions for the organization, presented the convict Abdullah Öcalan as someone to be addressed as a head of state. By using the model of Democratic Confederalism to compromise the unitary structure of Turkey, they aim to break off parts of the countries East and Southeast and subsume it into a structure known as Kurdistan. This data is not the civil initiative of the KCK and DTK but merely a different extension of a terrorist organization and the details and matters presented within the scope of this indictment are not assertions but facts.’

I like that bit at the end—almost like a protesting child anticipating that no one is going to believe his wild story. ‘It’s not just assertions but facts! I swear!’ As if just saying so makes that the case—an argument you would expect from a ten year old but not a court of law.

This is essentially like me sitting you in a courtroom and reading an entry from a murderer’s diary and then saying you were the murderer because I read it with you present.

Number 4-the informants

Only when you reach the government’s hand-picked informants do you start seeing the names of any actual suspects, and while I can only speculate, some of the language of these ordinary people sounds too much like legalese for them to be word by word transcriptions (and in light of the Balyoz case, I simply assume them to be made up). Informants describe colleagues as ‘şahıs’, a police term for ‘individual’ or ‘personage’, for example.

Here’s a little sampling rendered in English:

First Witness Haydar’s statement given (21.04.2010)

For a long time I have worked in the terrorist organization, the PKK/KONGRA-GEL, as the person responsible for the DYG township and implemented its operations at various levels of the BDP organization. In particular, I wish to explain what I know in regard to the operations and activities in Istanbul by the KCK during the period I implemented these operations and activities.

Number 5 Another problem is the complete lack of objectivity—a presumed given in a court of law.

On page 72, when it’s trying to explain the bewildering number of acronyms (KKK, PKK, KCK, KONGRA-GEL) the indictment says,

‘The terrorist operations perpetrated by the terrorist organization the PKK for more than 30 years has hit dead ends from time to time and they have sought a way out. One of these methods is name changed by which they strive to hide their ugly face with camouflage.’

Number 6--And then there’s the good old fashioned circumstantial evidence (itself based on an informant’s questionable testimony) Where supporting the party of someone present in the same area as suspicious items that you have no idea how got there is considered admissible evidence of your terrorist activities.  Here is the first ‘Action’ described by informant Erkan Yanıt,


On 24.05.2009 at 17:00, in Çağlayan Square, in Şisli, in an outdoor meeting of the DTP (predecessor to the BDP) called ‘Don’t Silence the DTP, Silence the Guns!’, in a clump of bushes to the right of the number 9 security check point, were found 20 flag staffs, 2 posters of Öcalan, 1 flag of a so-called terrorist organization, one flag belonging to the youth group of a so-called terrorist organization, 5 small knitting needles, 10 switch blades, 1 exacto knife, and one screw driver. It was not determined who left these items. Certain leaders of the Esenler branch of the DTP were announced…The DTP representative Sebahat Tuncel also joined.

No one knows how those items got there (hell, the police might have planted them!) but the future BDP parliamentarian Sebahat Tuncel was in the vicinity and they suspects in the courtroom support the BDP so they must be terrorists!

Back to inconsistency in tone and content.  Erkan Yanıt’s testimony, for example, starts off rather ordinarily, a young man explaining how his family came to Istanbul and got caught up in the activities of the BDP’s predecessor, the DTP.

“My older brother is Erol Yanıt and we came together from our fillage in Mardin to work in Istanbul. In the Mimar Sinan neighborhood of Esenler I took up residence and after working in a textile factory in Bayrampaşa for 1.5 years, I took a job at the Tadım Köfte restaurant.’’

He goes on to give very detailed accounts of appointments to the field by ‘the terrorist organization’ and despite being an uneducated villager from Mardin, continues later in a diction and tone that sound suspiciously like the prosecutor himself (from page 551)--“They organized the distribution of the so-called flag which symbolizes the Confederalism of the PKK/KONGRA GEL terrorist organization and the posters of Abdullah Öcalan. These posters and so-called flags came to this personage and other young personages from the youth of the DYG received materials from this personage.’

That phrase ‘so-called’ is a favorite of the Turkish government when describing almost anything they don’t like and not the day to day language of a waiter from a village in Mardin.

The defense team objected, and to all of the objections, the prosecutor, through his conduit Judge Ali answered with the same ‘Reddedildi’. (Rejected) (We hear this phrase so much that several of us in the audience develop quite good imitations of the squeaky Judge Ali delivering it).

Now if you sat through all that about the indictment, here is a more human switch—the only time the courtroom came to life during this monotonous reading was at the breaks when the prisoners filed in and out. This was the time when I saw the tragedy of all this most clearly—that wall of hopeful faces that rushed to the back row of the suspects’ section searching our faces for friends and loved ones. There was a big bosomed woman with a short haircut; she looked like she belonged in a commercial for frozen pizza playing an Italian grandma. There was the frizzy haired girl student and the skinny old man who wore a sky-blue suit way too big for him. There was Mamoste himself, sixty years old and adjusting his bifocals so as to see us better, and then the mother daughter team who blew kisses at a nine year old chubby girl to my left who kept calling out ‘Grandma! Grandma!’. There was the skinny waif of a boy in a rock and roll T-shirt and the moustachioed Kurd who spoke no Turkish and understood nothing of what was going on. There was Ragip Zarakolu, who looked like a bushy haired guru from an Ashram and the old lady with her hair pulled back in a tight bun, and the elegant professor Büşra Ersanlı.  Everyone called out ‘Hello!’  ‘How is everything at home?’ ‘Are you coming tomorrow?’  For me, the most compelling of all was the face of family friend Zekiye Ayık, a woman with long silver hair and big brown eyes who wore an elegant brown scarf loosely over the back of her head. She has been in and out of the hospital for heart trouble. She had trouble seeing, and though we called her name over and over, she could not quite make out who was in that crowd waving at her. ‘We get our morale from your visits,’ Mamoste had said. ‘When we see you in the audience supporting us, we know that everything has not been in vain.’ And yet Zekiye could not see who was in the audience supporting her. Her slightly bewildered smile as she waved first too far to the right of us, then too far to the left haunts me. This is the face of a terrorist for the Turkish government.

This is the witch hunt, this is the justice system in the South before the Civil Rights movement. 

While the reading of the indictment slowly progressed (100 pages a day on average—meaning at least 20 more days to go), some events on the outside promised to affect things on the inside. The first was the announcement by the Turkish government of changes in the judicial code. One change abolished the special authority courts, one of which we were attending.  (Replacing them with Regional Courts in the South East with Special Authority to Handle Terrorist Cases—the difference?  Who knows?) This had the absurd effect of making us present at something that technically didn’t exist.  At one point, a lawyer lodged a protest, saying, ‘We don’t even know if you will exist next week.  Even if you make a judgment, what authority can it possibly have?’

A second provision was a limit on the time that someone can remain in jail without trial and the declaration of ‘making propaganda’ as an ‘unjailable offense’.  Suspects in the Ergenekon trial quickly applied for release in light of the new codes, and our lawyers followed suit. Judge Ali announced a decision would be reached on Friday.  The result of all this was that we guessed some people might be released on Friday.  Tahliye.

(Now here’s another language lesson—the word tahliye is listed as ‘release’ in most dictionaries but it only means released on bond. Anyone who is tahliye-ed still stands trial. A full pardon is a beraat.)

Another important development regarded the professor, Büşra Ersanlı. I have tried to stay away from Professor Ersanlı if only because she is the most famous of the group and the media seems to cover only her and Ragip Zarakolu, as if their release would mean the end of the injustices. But Prof. Ersanlı gave a very moving interview in the Radikal—in which she described her despair and her lost hope in the justice system of Turkey and the future of democracy here. She sounded absolutely crushed. Inexplicably, the Foreign Minister Davutoğlu made a public statement saying that he did not believe Ersanlı was a terrorist (of course he had to say so--he had appointed her to her position at the University) but added that the courts were independent of the government and he could not intervene. (What the hell? Since when?) Announcements like this are not accidents in Turkey—everyone felt that Professor Ersanlı would be released one way of the other. Telling if she were as her crimes match Mamoste’s. If she were released, he should be too.

Which brings me to my final subject—the prosecutor himself. While Judge Ali hung out all his laundry on a personal site, prosecutor Adnan Çimen keeps his cards close. I could find absolutely nothing on him on the internet except that he authored the KCK indictment (probably more directly than anyone knows) and that he had once prosecuted cases against ‘Al Qaida and other right wing movements’. There was a curious tidbit relating to a bodyguard scandal, in which the state removed one body guard from his two person entourage and also took away the privilege of his armored car—he was reduced to using a service bus.  Everyone was speculating on what this meant. Had he lost favor with those in power. Were they showing him the big stick under the robes (a Turkish idiom not a phallic reference)? I find myself wondering as well. Does this mean I’ve become a local now that I seek the hidden meaning behind everything?

The fields of sunflowers this last week of the trial are blooming fiercely. What was just two blossoms is now wide stripes of yellow. Utterly beautiful.


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to take a moment to give you a big thumb's up for your coverage of the KCK (Kangaro Court for Kurds)Show Trials. Excellent work and I'll be following your blog from here on. I'm a lawyer myself and just can't comprehend what a travesty of justice the Turkish judicial system is. Keep up the good work. My best wishes, Azad

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Gibbs,

I wasn't sure how to get in touch with you other than leaving a comment on your blog. I am a student at Tufts University and will be traveling to Istanbul on August 20 to complete a research project I have been working on with another student. One factor of our research deals with the Kurdish issue, and if possible we would love to meet up with you to discuss further the KCK trials and some of your other opinions. I found your blog through Claire Berlinski who suggested you as a person to talk to. Anyway, you can email me at and I can give you any more information you need. Thank you, and I hope to hear from you!