Military Officers Tried in Attack on Kurdish Store; Case Called Democratization Test

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Birch, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

ISTANBUL - Two Turkish military intelligence officers are facing life sentences in a case widely viewed as a test of democratization in a nation long dominated by its powerful military.

Together with a Kurdish separatist turned informer, the two officers were arrested in November, seconds after a grenade exploded in a bookshop, killing one man in Semdinli, a town close to Iraq.

The car in which they were attempting to flee was found to contain grenades identical to the one used in the attack, plus a sketch map of the scene of the bombing.

The two officers went on trial earlier this month in the southeastern city of Van, with prosecutors accusing them of membership in an execution squad that targeted suspected Kurdish insurgents. The judge must decide whether they were working on their own or under orders.

The trial has stirred memories of the war Turkey fought against Kurdish insurgents from 1984 to 1999.

Of the 35,000 killed in that struggle, hundreds were Kurdish villagers and intellectuals who were either targeted in a dirty war of extrajudicial killings or disappeared without a trace. The culprits remain unknown.

In a country where successful prosecutions of members of the security forces are rare, hopes nonetheless were high that the Semdinli investigation will mark a turning point.

Prosecutor Ferhat Sarikaya who has since been dismissed indicted the two officers, claiming the bombing was a deliberate attempt to undermine Turkey's democratization process by stirring up Kurdish unrest.

The indictment also called for the nation's second-ranking general to be investigated for helping to set up execution squads at the height of the Kurdish war in the 1990s. …