Diyarbakır Bar takes legal action over human skeletons found at former JİTEM base

The Diyarbakır Bar Association announced on Thursday that it has started the process to determine the identity of human skeletons found during work at a former JİTEM base, asking the public prosecutor to order a forensic examination of the bones, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

Clandestine military organization JİTEM, the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-terror Unit, has been accused of involvement in the torture, disappearance and execution of many Kurdish politicians and businesspeople during the 1990s, a period of bloody conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants.

Following reports that human skeletons were found during a restoration project by construction company YSO İnşaat at the Saraykapı Prison in the Sur district of Diyarbakır, which was once a JİTEM base, representatives from the bar association carried out an inspection of the area on Thursday.

In a statement released afterward, the association said the construction company stated that it had come across three human skeletons during the work in May, documented them and turned them over to the Diyarbakır Museum Directorate for safekeeping.

The bar association further confirmed that it had started the legal process with the prosecutor to determine to whom the skeletons belonged.

According to Mezopotamya, human bones were also found during the excavations in the same area in January 2012. Although the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office expanded the excavations after the incident, no further steps were taken regarding the bones.

The activities of JİTEM had first been acknowledged officially by former prime ministers Bülent Ecevit and Mesut Yılmaz following the Susurluk incident, a fatal car crash in 1996 that exposed links between state officials and organized crime bosses. JİTEM was later accused of involvement in the torture, disappearance and execution of Kurdish politicians and businesspeople during the 1990s.

The disappearances are also known as the “white Taurus” (Beyaz Toros) incidents since gendarmerie intelligence and the JITEM counterterrorism unit put people into white Renault Toros cars and never brought them back. Some remains of people who were forced into those cars were found in forests, garbage cans and rural areas, and some people were never found.

Enforced disappearances made a reappearance during the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) following a failed coup in July 2016, according to a report drafted last year by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu.

The country’s intelligence agency has reportedly abducted dozens of people since 2016, with dozens of victims reporting, after they were found, that they were subjected to harsh torture during the time they were missing.

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