Murdered Human Rights lawyer Tahir Elçi remembered five years on

Lawyers from the Diyarbakır Bar Association gathered on Saturday to mark the five-year anniversary of the death of their former chairman Tahir Elçi, marching to the spot where he was killed.

Alongside Elçi’s colleagues and widow Türkan Elçi were Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Mithat Sancar, Democratic Society Congress (DTK) Co-chair Berdan Öztürk, Democratic Regions Party (DBP) Co-chair Saliha Aydeniz, as well as representatives from human rights organisations, workers’ unions, and chambers of medicine and engineering from across the region.

“We have been searching for the killers of Tahir Elçi for five years as they are protected under an armour of impunity,” current Diyarbakır Bar Association Chairman Cihan Aydın said in his speech at the historic Four Pillared Minaret in Diyarbakır’s Sur district, as reported by Mezopotamya Agency.

The first hearing of Elçi’s killing “has shown that the policy of impunity present during the investigation has reflected in the court as well,” Aydın continued. “The Diyarbakır Bar Association and our colleagues in support and solidarity will fight against this effort to veil the truth.”

The chairman of the bar association said:

“What has changed since Tahir Elçi was taken from us? Nothing, all remains quiet on the eastern front. The darkness we as a society are trapped in has gotten deeper. No citizen in this country can safely rely on the law anymore. Eighty million people are now suspects. It has become routine to start the day with the news of doors broken down and dozens of people detained. We are witnessing the deafening silence of the judiciary in the face of torture, extrajudicial killings, femicides, child abuse, and environmental massacres.”

Since Elçi’s death in 2015, Turkey has reversed most of the progress made on the Kurdish issue, with “the whole matter abandoned to the care of security bureaucracy as the (state’s) policies of non-solution continue to take lives and hurt people”,  Aydın said.

Thousands have faced persecution for expressing their ideas, and lawyers have been imprisoned for taking on clients, he said.

Following the gathering at the Four Pillared Minaret, a group of mourners moved on to the site of Elçi’s grave.

At the cemetery, HDP Co-chair Mithat Sancar said Turkey “has no intention to solve Tahir Elçi’s murder, because they know how far the darkness behind it goes if they were to shed a light on it”.

“Justice was a passion for him,” Sancar said. “With great determination, he had taken on cases most couldn’t dare during the time of extrajudicial killings and village burnings. He worked with great care, and diligently followed cases at the European Court of Human Rights when the court was still new for Turkey, influencing important rulings.”

In the days before his death, Elçi told Sancar he was worried about his safety due to a campaign of harassment campaign against him in Turkish media. “He was targeted for days because he spoke his mind on a television programme,” Sancar said.

“I was also worried because I was reminded of Hrant Dink,” he added, referring to the Armenian journalist who was murdered in Istanbul in 2007.

A month prior to his killing, Elçi told a televised discussion on CNN Türk that the classification of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) as a terrorist organisation was not correct in his opinion, and that the group would be better classified as an armed political movement. In the day following the broadcast he was targeted by right-wing groups who called him a terrorist and a traitor.

Elçi was shot dead during a shootout between the police and unidentified gunmen in the historic Sur district moments after reading out a press statement calling for an end to the street violence.

“We don’t want guns, clashes, operations, wars in this centre for human civilization,” Elçi said.

Following the collapse of the peace process between the government and the PKK, youth organisations affiliated with the group launched what they described as a self-government campaign in urban districts including Sur in the summer of 2015.

In the months that followed, police and military operations saw the widescale destruction of Sur’s central district, including many historic buildings under protection. Almost all the area’s residents were forced to flee, and many remain in temporary housing.

Sur has still not recovered having been subjected to the “the longest curfew in the world,“ according to long-time resident and journalist Nurcan Baysal.

The trial of those implicated Elçi’s death didn’t start until October this year, five years after the fact. Three police officers face manslaughter charges while a civilian faces three counts of first-degree murder. Elçi’s family, lawyers and colleagues say the investigation has been insufficient, with critical pieces of evidence not included.

“We are concerned that the prosecution, as well as the court before which this case is being heard, fails to respect fair trial rights,” more than 40 international bar associations and human rights organisations said in a joint statement published on Friday.

“We are further troubled by the Turkish authorities’ continued violation of Turkey’s international legal obligations to carry out a prompt, effective, impartial, and independent investigation into the death of one of its citizens and to ensure a fair trial by an impartial and independent tribunal for those accused of the killing of Tahir Elçi.”

Not only were the police officers at the scene not regarded as suspects, but the investigation itself was undertaken by their colleagues, the organisations said.

“The current prosecution did not begin until after a London based group, Forensic Architecture, published its report on the incident in February 2019.”

On Friday, Tahir Elçi’s widow Türkan and Kardeş Türküler, a multi-ethnic music collective who perform in many of Turkey’s indigenous languages, released a requiem she had written for her husband.