Syriacs hopeful about clarification of Mardin murders

Excavations revealing bones believed to belong to victims of extrajudicial killings in Turkey’s southeastern provinces have raised Syriacs’ hopes of finding those responsible for the murder of dozens of Syriacs in the 1980s and 1990s.
Two sets of bones, believed to belong to Syriacs, were recently found in an excavation in Şırnak’s Silopi district. Turkey’s Syriacs are now hopeful that excavations might shed light on the unsolved murders of nearly 60 Syriacs who were killed between 1980 and 1997. Members of Turkey’s Syriac community told Today’s Zaman that some of the victims were shot to death or set on fire by unknown assailants.

Painter Şerro Melke, whose older brother was killed by unknown assailants, said he hopes that somebody provides information regarding the assailants of the murders committed in Mardin, as has happened in other unsolved murder cases. Retired National Intelligence Unit (MİT) department head Mehmet Eymür gave a testimony regarding those involved in the unsolved murders of the 1990s. Melke argued that his brother was killed by a group of village guards. At the time he said that village guards frequently followed Syriacs.

Yuhanna Aktaş, head of the Midyat Syriac Culture Association, argued that the recent developments regarding the extrajudicial killings are historic steps, and he believes that the murders of Syriacs will be solved as well. “I think that all governors, police chiefs, gendarme officers and all other civilian authorities who were in charge between 1985 and 1995 are somehow responsible for these murders,” he said. Aktaş added that all of these people must be summoned to give statements. He said that his father was tortured by village guards in 1994. He added that the Syriac population in Mardin and surrounding towns and provinces used to be 40,000 between 1985 and 1990, and this figure has dropped to 3,500 now.

While noting that the excavations are important to him, Erol Dora, a lawyer representing the Syriac Christian community in Turkey, said the excavations serve as a proof of Turkey’s improvements in human rights. “Many people were killed and their bodies even went missing. They don’t even have graves. People say 17,000 extrajudicial killings took place in Silopi,” he said. Dora suggested that the authorities in southeastern towns were involved in these murders.

The number of skulls believed to be the remains of individuals executed in the ‘90s by JİTEM, a clandestine intelligence organization within the gendarmerie, found in ongoing excavations in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır has recently risen to nine. In Şırnak’s Silopi district, dozens of bone fragments have been found in recent years in excavations. The fragments are believed to belong to people who mysteriously went missing in ‘90s. Roughly 1,000 bones have been discovered in the region in the past two years at seven different sites in southeastern Turkey, investigated in an attempt to cast some light on the region’s dark history of unsolved murders. Some 530 of these bones were later deemed by forensic investigators to belong to animals.