Babacan to follow up case of Kurds allegedly thrown from Turkish helicopter

Ali Babacan, a former deputy prime minister from Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) who founded a rival political group in March, said he would closely monitor the case of two Kurdish villagers allegedly thrown out of a military helicopter.

Villagers Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut had been detained by Turkish soldiers heading out to an operation in the countryside in Turkey's eastern province of Van on Sept. 11. Their families did not hear from them for two days, after which they were found at an intensive care unit of a public hospital in the province.

Turgut died after spending 20 days in the hospital. He had two brain hemorrhages, 11 broken ribs, and several tears in his lungs. Both of his cheekbones were broken, and there were fractures on his fingers, arms, legs and feet.

Eye-witnesses said Şiban and Turgut had been dropped from a helicopter. A preliminary report said their injuries were consistent with falling from a high altitude. It also mentioned soldiers saying that the men had fallen from a cliff.

The case, for which the chief public prosecutor's office in Van has issued a confidentiality order, has made no headway. Journalists reporting on the incident from the Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency and the all-women news agency JinNews were detained and later arrested, a week after Mezopotamya's website was banned in Turkey along with several other news outlets.

Babacan paid a visit to Turgut's family after a provincial meeting of his Democracy and Progress Party’s (DEVA) in Van on Monday. He also telephoned Şiban and wished him a full recovery.

"We told Babacan about the incident from the very beginning. He said that they would follow up and bring forward the case at parliament. He promised us that he would closely monitor developments," Hüseyin Turgut, the son of the dead villager, told Ahval.

"The prosecutor's office is investigating my father's case. We do not know what evidence they collected since there is a confidentiality order,” Turgut said. Soldiers involved in the matter have testified against the villagers, saying they had not been ordinary farmers and accused Servet Turgut of terrorism. “So, I have doubts about the collection of evidence," his son said.

Turkey's military has been battling members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) for four decades. More than 30,000 people have died in the conflict, mostly Kurds. The PKK, which is seeking autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority, is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Tayyip Temel, a parliamentary deputy of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), submitted a request for a parliamentary inquiry on Sept. 21, saying a report of the incident supported eyewitness testimony that they had been thrown out of a helicopter. Temel asked whether an investigation had been opened and which soldiers were involved in the incident.

The Van Governorate issued a statement on the same day, saying Turgut had refused to comply with soldiers’ orders and fell off a cliff as he ran. Şiban was “understood to have aided members of the separatist terrorist organisation”, it said. Both men had been “detained in an appropriate manner despite resisting arrest”, it said. 

“I am calling out to the governate of Van. Nowadays there is talk about judicial reform. Then, I make an open call: Come on, do what the rule of law requires. Reveal what was done to Servet Turgut and Osman Şiban, and put the perpetrators on trial,” Babacan said during the DEVA meeting.

“You have to clarify all aspects of the death of a 64-year-old person,” he said. “If you do not do it, this nation will remember you as the government that brought back torture. We will end torture in this country and we will never turn a blind eye to these practices.