The Tortures of Aksoy
Turkey's Kurds receive less attention than Iraq's Kurds, although they are perhaps three times as numerous. They receive less attention than the Northern Irish, although their conflict was ten times bloodier. And they receive less attention than the Bosnians or Kosovars, although their suffering posed a similar test for Europe's democratic self-image. An armed conflict raged between Kurdish separatists and Turkish state forces in southeastern Turkey from 1984 to 1998. At its height in the early 1990s, the conflict rose to the level of a full-scale war. Thirty thousand people were killed, and more than a million dislocated, with welldocumented atrocities on both sides. In dozens of cases, stretching from the mid-1990s to the present, the European Court of Human rights has held Turkey liable for torture, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and village destruction, as well as for mishandling the trial of the Kurdish insurgent leader Abdullah Ocalan. Strasbourg's sustained engagement with Turkey has shown the real if limited ability of a regional court to transform a national society and blazed new law on gross human rights abuses, beginning with torture.
The Kurdish chapter in Strasbourg began in 1990, when Turkey accepted the individual's right to petition under Europe's human rights convention. Soon Prime Minister Hikmet Cetlin was boasting that there were obviously no human rights violations in Turkey, because no one was petitioning. This enraged human rights advocates in both Turkey and the United Kingdom. The boldest among them took the prime minister's boast as a dare. In 1992 a lawyer from the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association, Fevzi Veznendaroglu, ran into Kevin Boyle, a professor at Essex University who was active in the European court's early Northern Irish cases. They began to discuss a Strasbourg strategy for the Kurds. That strategy was embraced by a young activist in London named Kerim Yildiz, who at the