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Protected by U.S. in Iraq, Kurds say they are terrorized in Turkey


DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- While U.S. and European forces are still positioned in Turkey to protect Kurds in neighboring Iraq, Kurds in Turkey itself have become victims of a series of unexplained murders, abductions, tortures and beatings, according to interviews with victims and their families.

The incidents against Kurds have occurred in the four months since Turkey passed a tough anti-terrorism law aimed at subduing a Kurdish fight for independence from Turkey like the one that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein faces from Kurds in his country.

The law grants police immunity from prison for acts committed in fighting terrorism, and its definition of terrorism is so broad that critics say it gives police and the military a free hand over the 12 million Kurds of southeastern Turkey.

Kurds in Turkey say their cars have been bombed, a funeral procession was assaulted by men carrying guns and clubs, a Kurdish activist was fatally beaten and an 18-year-old girl was shot at home by army gunfire, according to victims and their families. The girl was then denied medical care, they said.

Kurdish activists even charge that chemical weapons have been used against separatist guerrillas.

Turkish officials deny that human rights are being abused in the region bordering Iraq, which has been under military rule for nine years. They said they knew nothing of the reported abductions and deaths.

They also emphatically deny using toxic weapons against Kurdish guerrillas.

And while the plight of Iraqi Kurd refugeesaroused extraordinary world attention and international relief efforts, complaints of similar violations against Kurds in Turkey are not regarded as the purview of the U.S.-led international protective force stationed in Turkey.

U.S. Embassy officials said that they were concerned by allegations of human rights violations but that the incidents must be seen in the context of a virtual "civil war" between Turks and guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey.

Kurdish leader killed

Stories told by the Kurdish side are appalling.

In one recent incident, Vedat Aydin, leader of the People's Labor Party (HEP), the Kurdish parliamentary party, left his home with two men identified as plainclothes police. He told his wife he would return home shortly.

Mr. Aydin never came home. Instead, his body was found by a roadside 55 miles away. His arms and legs were broken and covered with signs that he had been tortured. His head had been split open, his brains spilling out into his graying hair.

As 50,000 Kurds gathered to bury their dead leader July 10, the funeral turned into a bloody assault on Mr. Aydin's supporters by police.

As mourners tried to leave the cemetery, Turkish police blockaded the only street out. They opened fire and beat people attending the funeral with clubs and gun butts, victims said.

Nine people were killed either immediately or from injuries sustained during the melee, according to medical sources. An additional 517 were admitted to the Diyarbakir hospital.

To escape, Kurds could only jump over a low stone wall down a steep drop of 12 to 25 feet.

A medic who went down the hill to collect the wounded estimated that there were 200 injured, half of whom refused to go with him out of fear that they would be arrested at the hospital.

"Most of them had their arms and legs broken, and many were bleeding from their heads," said the medic, who feared losing his government job if identified by name.

Witnesses said police kept attacking and arresting Kurds even as ambulances were trying to remove the wounded. Police battered doctors who were trying to clear the wounded from the scene as well.

They reportedly broke the windows of a bus carrying Kurdish deputies in the Ankara Parliament and journalists covering the -- funeral, tossing in tear gas to force them out.

Nearly every film was confiscated, almost every camera broken.

Turkish military authorities said the police response at Mr. Aydin's funeral was not out of proportion.

'We had an accident'

"If the police really wanted to massacre people attending the funeral, hundreds, maybe thousands, would have died, instead of just a few people," one official said. "They tried to do their best, but we had an accident."

The official added that police had video and radio records of the funeral, which they could always use as the basis for later "security measures," and so could afford restraint during the funeral.

Those records may have been connected to the disappearance a day later of Remzi Il, a tailor and delegate of the People's Labor Party.

Mr. Il, 35, was abducted on his way home from the tailor's shop by two men who pulled him into a waiting van, yanked a black hood over his head and forced him to the floor, he later told his family.

Mr. Il was found beside a trash dump 13 hours later, with bruises over his body and cigarette burns on his face. The skin on the back of Mr. Il's arms had been scraped away, as if someone had dragged him across a floor, his family said.

He said police had taken him to a house where he heard the screams of other apparent victims of torture. He said they beat him on the head and body until he lost consciousness, demanding to know why he joined the party, what he did for it and why he had attended Mr. Aydin's funeral, his family said.

Mr. Il and his family were so terrified that they refused to go to the hospital. Instead, a private doctor put seven stitches in his head, and his family got him antibiotics for the headaches.

As he was just about to get married, 17 days after his abduction, Mr. Il died of a brain hemorrhage.

The Diyarbakir office of the region's military governor said Mr. Il fell down at home and banged his head on the radiator. Asked about the cigarette burns on his face and the scrapes on his arms, an official in the governor's office shrugged.

Hedya Dilce was a more random victim. The 18-year-old was in bed on the roof of her house with other women and children when fighting erupted between PKK guerrillas and government forces in Cizre the night of Aug. 2.

Soldiers manned the streets near Ms. Dilce's house while fighting went on in another part of town. According to her family, two bullets hit Ms. Dilce from the street, presumably fired by soldiers.

When the fighting ended a few hours later, her family loaded her on a tractor. But they said they were blocked from going to the hospital by soldiers who refused to let them through.

"One person -- not so important," the family quoted soldiers as saying. The young woman had been shot in the hand and below her heart. By morning, she was dead.

The Cizre military governor, who refused to give his name, said Ms. Dilce had been shot by guerrilla bullets. He denied that she was refused medical care.

Claims dismissed

Turkish military authorities in Diyarbakir, who oversee the 11 Kurdish provinces of southeast Turkey, dismissed the critics and criticism of the region's human rights record.

"Terrorists and their sympathizers make propaganda against the anti-terror activities of our government, but they want to hide their friends' activities, and all of their friends' activities are against human rights," said a senior military official here. "They want to use human rights as a shield."

While no Kurds or human rights activists regret seeing the

statutes on "thought crimes" dropped, they worry that the new anti-terrorism law simply puts police above the law.

"Before, in the Kurdish villages, we had blood feuds, and the government said it was because of our ignorance," said Mustapha Ozer, a Kurdish lawyer here. "But this law brings the government down to the same level."

The Marxist Kurdish Workers Party took up arms nine years ago against the Turkish military presence here, demanding an independent Kurdish state in southeast Turkey. With weapons from China and Syria, the PKK strikes military targets, soldiers and Kurds it suspects of collaborating with Turkish authorities.

Few here ever expect Turkey to give up territory to an independent Kurdish state. The PKK finds sympathizers among Kurds whose existence as a distinct people was until recently denied by Ankara. Only last spring did Kurds win the right to speak -- but not to publish -- in their own language.

Culture seen as threat

For successive Turkish governments, Kurdish cultural identity has represented a threat to Turkey's sense of unity and territorial integrity. Turkey's 12 million Kurds make up 20 percent of its population. There are also 13 million Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Soviet Union, where their search for autonomy is equally unwelcome.

The United States relies on Turkish approval for its military presence on the Iraqi border and counts Turkey as a faithful ally, both in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and as the U.S. administration develops its "new world order" in the neighboring Middle East.

One U.S. Embassy official said Turkey was moving to correct human rights abuses.

But he added that Turkey, while aspiring to membership in the European Community and Western ideals, was largely a poor society where notions of democracy and human rights were still developing.

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