ISTANBUL (Hurriyet Daily News)–Bones belonging to at least 12 different people believed to be Kurds have been unearthed in the eastern province of Bitlis in an area used as a landfill for a gendarmerie station, news agencies reported Wednesday.
Researches believe the location is just one of many mass grave-sites where Kurds were murdered and buried in the late 90s by a clandestine intelligence unit of Turkey’s Gendarmerie forces known as JİTEM.
Excavations began Wednesday in the Mutki district after repeated calls for investigations in the area by relatives of people missing since 1999. The excavations centered on four locations in a vacant lot near the Mutki-Kavakbaşı road next to the local gendarmerie station.
The families of missing people have pointed to other suspected burial locations, said Serdar Çelebi, a board member of Turkey’s Human Rights Association, adding that they would follow developments closely. They claim that at least 36 more people were killed and dumped in similar mass graves in the area between 1993 and 2003.
According to Bitlis İHD branch head Hasan Ceylan, the relatives of the missing said nine people had been executed by soldiers in 1999 as they traveled to join the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The additional bones at the site are believed to be those of PKK members.
Bitlis, an historic Armenian territory under Turkish occupation since the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, is a majority Kurdish region.
Ceylan said the murders had to have been committed by JİTEM. “We do not just ‘think’ so. It is obvious,” he told Hurriyet Friday, adding that the graves of hundreds more missing people in Bitlis are waiting to be discovered.
JİTEM’s existence has never been officially recognized by the Turkish military.
Relatives of the missing people are aware of the graves’ locations and more will be opened soon, Ceylan said, adding that the excavation of the Mutki remains from a lot adjacent to the gendarmerie post indicated that JİTEM must have been involved in the killing of the 12.
The İHD Bitlis head explained that it was a well-known fact among “everyone in the area” that JİTEM, Hizbullah and Ergenekon all cooperated against the Kurds and PKK.
Hizbullah, which has no ties to the Lebanese organization of the same name, is an alleged fundamentalist terrorist organization on trial for 188 murders. Ergenekon is an alleged ultranationalist, shadowy gang accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup initially by spreading chaos and mayhem.
“We, as human rights defenders, explored everywhere in our districts and villages,” said Ceylan. He added that there are 350 to 400 more graves in other provinces in Southeastern Turkey.
He said three more locations had been identified and would soon be excavated as the necessary applications have already been filed with the Bitlis Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Ceylan also said they were in constant contact with their lawyers at the İHD’s Diyarbakır branch and that they were preparing murder cases for the people’s remains.
Journalist Günay Aslan located the first mass grave situated next to a gendarmerie station at Kasaplar Deresi in the southeastern province of Siirt in 1988. No proper excavation of the area has ever been conducted, but it is thought that the site could contain hundreds of bodies.
Aslan has consequently reported on dozens of similar mass graves in the area where the bodies of executed Kurds were allegedly dumped.
Meanwhile, daily Evrensel reported Friday that some of the families who have pointed to the locations of their missing relatives are being prosecuted on charges of “praising crime or criminals.”