Vartînîs massacre case risks ending in impunity

The Turkish judiciary and administration, protecting the murderers of 9 members of the same family in Altınova on 3 October 1993, is pushing for the statute of limitations in the case to expire.

It has been 33 years since Altınova (Vartînîs), one of the massacres committed in Kurdistan. The trial of those who murdered the 9 members of the Öğüt family will expire on 3 October this year.

On 3 October 1993, 9 members of the Öğüt Family, whose houses were set on fire, were burned to death in Altınova in the province of Muş. The 16th hearing of the "Vartînîs Case", which resumed after the Supreme Court's reversal of the decision, was held at Kırıkkale 1st High Criminal Court on 5 July. Bülent Karaoğlu, the 'fugitive' murderer, has been protected under the auspices of the Turkish state for 33 years. Karaoğlu was not brought to court on the grounds that he had not been caught. The hearing was postponed to 8 August, as Karaoğlu, who was protected despite the "red order" decision given in October 2022 and approved by the Ministry of Justice in February 2023, did not show up. If the murderer Karaoğlu is not caught and brought to court, the case faces the risk as the statute of limitations in the case will expire.

The Vartînîs massacre

It was claimed that a non-commissioned officer was killed in clashes that took place on 2 October 1993 in the countryside of Vartînîs. The soldiers, who came to collect the body of the officer after the clashes, opened fire in the air while passing through Vartînîs and left the area, saying, “We will come and burn your village tonight”. One day later,the soldiers went back and set the Öğüt family’s house on fire, claiming that they "aided an illegal organization". As a result of their house being set on fire, Nasır and Eşref Öğüt were murdered along with their 7 children, the eldest 12 and the youngest just three years old. The only survivor in the family was Aysel Öğüt, who was not at home. Öğüt later filed a criminal complaint regarding the massacre.

Immediately following the incident, Aysel Öğüt, the only remaining member of the family, said that the house had been set on fire by soldiers and filed a criminal complaint.

Upon the second criminal complaint by Aysel Öğüt in 2003, an investigation started, followed by a trial in 2013, during which the following persons were charged with "purposefully burning down a house and causing multiple deaths": Gendarmerie Captain at the time Bülent Karaoğlu, Hasköy County Gendarmerie Commando Unit Commander Senior Infantry Lieutenant Hanefi Akyıldız, Muş Police Headquarters Special Operations Unit Chief Şerafettin Uz, Gendarmerie Gökyazı, and Gendarmerie Police Station Chief Major Turhan Nurdoğan.

The trial was transferred to Kırıkkale on the grounds of security. During the hearing held on 10 June 2015, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence the defendants with 20 to 25 years imprisonment for each of the nine victims, meaning a total of 180-225 years of prison sentence for each defendant.

Before the final hearing on 1 March 2016, when the judgment of the court was expected, the only remaining member of the family, along with some friends and constituents of the Coalition Against Impunity, held a press conference. In the final hearing held at the Kırıkkale Assize Court, the prosecutor, in a modification of his earlier opinions, asked for the acquittal of all defendants except Bülent Karaoğlu.  All of the defendants were acquitted.