Turkish gov’t covers up killing of lawyer, human rights activist Tahir Elçi

Turkish government has covered up the killing of Tahir Elçi, a Kurdish lawyer, human rights activist and  the chairman of Diyarbakır Bar Association, who was killed in front of journalists, cameras and police officers 2 years ago. According to a report by Gazete Duvar online news outlet on Sunday, there is still no progress in investigation on the killing of Elçi.

Tahir Elçi was assassinated in the Sur district of Diyarbakır on November 28, 2015. He was shot once in the head while giving a press statement beside the “Four-legged Minaret” of the Sheikh Matar Mosque calling for an end to violence in Turkey’s Kurdish dominated southeast.

Elçi was detained several times and received death threats after saying the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) should not be regarded as a terrorist organisation. In October 2015, Elçi was detained by Turkish authorities on charges of disseminating “terrorist propaganda” on behalf of the PKK. 

Two years have passed since Elçi was killed in front of the Dört Ayaklı Minare in Sur district on November 28, 2015. Three prosecutors have been changed so far in the investigation launched for the murder of Elçi,  and no progress has been made to unveil the dark points behind the murder. There is no one in the investigation who has been pronounced as neither a perpetrator nor a suspect.

According to the report, in this process, the cartridge used for murder of Elçi was missing, the memory card of the police camera was lost, the workplace camera that recorded the incident was not working, no information was given regarding the police attended in the incident and no criminal investigations were conducted for the guns belonging to more than 30 police officers. Almost none of the demands of lawyers were meet to proceed the investigation.

Elçi family’s lawyer Mahsuni Karaman, who is a member of the Investigation Commission of the Murder of the Tahir Elçi in the Diyarbakır Bar Association has closely followed the investigation of the Elçi’s murder, has evaluated the Elçi’s investigation and the stage arrived in it currently to Gazete Duvar. Stating that Elçi was the target of the deep and dark forces, Karaman said “Elçi is one of the building blocks of the human rights struggle in Turkey.”

Underlining the fact that after reviewing the unidentified murders and the files to be evacuated due to prescription, Karaman stated that Elçi had refiled criminal cases against the suspects. “Elçi was one of the dauntless followers of the cases such as Cemal Temizöz, Uğur Kaymaz and JİTEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti Terror Unit). As a result of his supreme effort in the incident that 33 people were killed aftermath of bombing of Koçağı and Kuşkonar villages in Şırnak with warplanes in the 1990’s, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on that case and this was recorded as a tremendous achievement on behalf of the struggle of justice and human rights in Turkey.”

“Elçi made an intensive effort as the Chairman of the Diyarbakır Bar Association in order to attract attention to disproportionate use of force and human rights violations during the conflicts that began in the second half of 2015 in the civil field. By visiting Silvan and Cizre districts, where the curfews were announced to, he made investigations and prepared reports. Likewise, when he went to draw attention to the historic and cultural heritage destroyed in Sur district, he was killed in front of the Dört Ayaklı Minare,” said Karaman and added that “If we look at the murder of Elçi as a simple and ordinary murder case, we should ignore what he has done in the past. For this reason, the Elçi’s murder can not be named as a simple criminal case.”

Lawyer Mahsuni Karaman


Stating that although there is no procedural confidentiality decision in the investigation, the investigation file has been hidden from them for a long time, lawyer Karaman said that “There is no practical way to feed the belief that the perpetrators of crime are being investigated effectively during the stage of investigation. The investigation has revealed that we are faced with a case that will result in impunity by continuing without a single suspect.”

“The person who shot Elçi is one of those attended in the event on Yenikapı Street. Although there were dozens of police in the street and many of them were using their weapons, there is still not a single police officer in the file as a suspect,” said Karaman and continued “This situation strengthens the opinion that the investigation is being conducted ineffectively and reluctantly. This ineffective stance of investigative authorities has reinforced the public’s opinion that the murder of Elçi is the last of the mysterious political murders.”


Karaman, who stated that “The reluctance and negligence shown in order to find the bullet that killed Elçi made the investigation cripple at the beginning,” pointed out that “No accurate evidence was searched in the scene of the incident by showing the ‘conflict’ in the region as a reason. So, the bullet that killed Elçi was not found. Thus, no step was taken to enlighten the murder.”

Underlining the fact that the maximum distance the bullet that enters through the Elçi’s neck and exited through the eyebrows is 5-6 meters, Karaman stated that “According to expert opinions we received, kinetic energy and high velocity of the bullet is pointing that it was stuck in the wall or the shutter. That bullet was somewhere in there. The area to be scanned is a narrow field in order to find the bullet cartridge. If a perpetrator is absent or is not caught in a homicide, the important thing is to reach the cartridge or core. Even if the bullet core fails to show the perpetrator, it shows the weapon he used.”

“In such an investigation, it was expected by the Diyarbakır Chief Prosecutor’s Office to preserve the crime scene immediately after the murder without getting lost the bullet core and searched for the bullet’s core. Later, the guns of over 30 police officers at the scene had to be confiscated and conducted a criminal investigations by the prosecutor. We consider this procedure, which was not followed, is a great negligence. It is never possible to compensate. Because the matter is that evidences vanished,” he said.


Reminding that as a result of the crime scene investigation on March 17, 2016 in order to determine from where Elçi could be targeted, a report was prepared and that was saying that it could not be determined from where and in what angle he was shot, Karaman stated that “The purpose of that investigation was not to find the core that killed Elçi. We knew we could not find the bullet core there. The curfew had been declared in that area. There were no crime scene due to months of conflict. The shutter that we thought the bullet was stuck had fallen, and it had become a pile of rubble. There were about 200 bullet marks on the shutter and the surrounding walls. There were plenty of gunshot marks on the wall and the shutter, but there was no any cartridge. This has given us suspicion that the crime scene was somehow cleaned up. This suspicion and vagueness still continues in the file.”

Lawyer Karaman stated that the report of the Forensic Medicine Institute (ATK) regarding the type and caliber of the weapon that led to the death of Elçi made it more difficult to progress of the investigation file. Karaman added that “The determination or vagueness that will be important for this report is that; the ATK said that the bullet core that killed Elçi could be 9 mm caliber or a military weapon. ATK is doing a review on the structural characteristics of the entry and exit hole of the bullet at the head of Elçi. In other words, it says that the type of weapon belonging to the bullet has not been determined yet. Now, if ATK says 9 mm caliber bullet used in the incident, your research area is getting narrower.”

“At the crime scene, there are a large number of policemen carrying weapons of 9 mm caliber, and militants passing there have a weapon in their hands. Therefore, we will continue to concentrate our investigation on those who carry the weapon using the 9 mm caliber bullet. Unfortunately, due to military weapon said by ATK as second option, there will be many long-barreled weapons included, such as Kalashnikov, Uzi, Kanas and so on. For this reason, our investigation area has expanded. It is stated in the report that a long range shooting has been made. Although the distance between the short and long range shootings varies from gun to gun, this distance can be 1 or 1,5 meters. The smoke coming out of the weapon is the scale that is relevant to the substances we call the gunshot residue that if they reach the target or no,” said lawyer Karaman.


Stating despite the fact that the homicide was committed in front of dozens of people and the cameras, there are no images showing the person shooting Elçi and the moment he was shot, Karaman added that “There are three images we care about at the time of the incident. One of them is the security camera recordings of Mardin Kebab House, the second is the images taken by the staff of Foto Film Şube, and the third is the camera images belonging to post and telegraph corporation (PTT).”

Karaman, who stated that he applied once again to the Diyarbakır Chief Prosecutor’s Office for the purpose of determining the cause of the 13-second blackout in the police camera’s image, including the time of the shooting of Elçi, said that “The fact that the cameraman expressed his intention that when he heard the gunshot he was out of the record and then he was back on record. We asked the camera and memory card to be seized and sent to Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) and ATK to determine whether the image was cut, cropped or mounted. It has been over 2 years. Interestingly, the camera and memory card were not confiscated up to now. Just a copy of the images sent. This is a very important point, if the memory cards of the cameras were seized at that time, they could have been examined. It is clear that there is a very serious negligence of the authorities. Actually we are not very hopeful. Two years passed; it’s a vagueness that where the camera or the memory card is. The prosecution is investigating it as of today. If it can not be found, we will be deprived of the examination of that evidence.”


Karaman, who stated that the resolution of the camera belonging to Mardin Kebab House covering the street, where Elçi lost his life, given by ATK in 2017, said that “When we examined the cameras, there were no problems or disinformation in the image recordings of the 3 indoor cameras that in the restaurant. There are no images of the murder in these three indoor cameras. But there is no image in the 4th camera as well, which is an out door camera covering the crime scene and could enlighten the murder. We applied to the Diyarbakir Chief Prosecutor’s Office. Did not this camera actually record video? If recorded, was it unable to be technically resolved? Or did this camera record an image, then was this intervened? Were these evidence spoiled?”

Reminding that an administrative investigation was initiated for police officers and supervisors at the scene about 2 years ago, lawyer Karaman stated that “The investigation is conducted by an investigator in Ankara on whether or not they have responsibilities or omissions in the event. Even though we applied in written twice, we couldn’t get an answer about the fate of this inquiry. We do not know that the phase of administrative inquiry, the scope of it, whether it is completed or not. We had an inquiry about this one month ago. We have not been answered yet.”

Karaman pointed out by underlining the need to investigate the current places of police officers attended during Elçi’s murder, whether they have a link to the Gülen movement or not, dismissed from the job or not,” continued that “We do not have any information in this regard. We had a request to investigate this. We have not received any response.”

Türkan Elçi


Saying that a complaint was filed against the police officers who were seen shooting in the direction of the Elçi in the image of recordings and their demands for the retrieval of statements as suspects were not met, Karaman said that “All of the law enforcement officers at the scene were testified as witnesses. Türkan Elçi, the wife of Tahir Elçi, who was listened in the investigation as a complainant, complained about all law enforcement personnel attended at the scene. With this complaint, despite the fact that every police officers, who were listened as witness, became the suspects of the case. Our demand regarding them to be listened once again as suspects was rejected. As witnesses, some of the police officers referred to their testimonies were contradictory and untrue. However, our demand for the police officers’ written testimonies taken for the second time was rejected too.”


Karaman, who pointed out that “None of our efforts to illuminate the murder help us to proceed for the solution of Elçi’s murder,” said that “There are no witnesses in the investigation, no bullets, no recordings. In other words, whatever we thought about the evidence, that could contribute to the illumination of this murder and change the course, either they disappeared accidentally or were intervened from outside. Now, if all the negativities and coincidences get overlapped, it is impossible not to doubt the criminal file of the murder of Elçi. I would like to express regret that it is not possible to proceed after this stage of the investigation.”

“Unfortunately, if the current practice shown in Elçi’s file persists like this, the mysterious murders will remain unsolved. Anyone, who has knowledge and aptitude in this regard and who can contribute to this issue, has to apply to us or the Diyarbakır Chief Prosecutor’s Office. We need to take a step forward in this regard. As long as the murder of Elçi is not revealed, the society’s conscience and his family will not be relieved,” said Karaman and added that “Elçi murder is not a very simple criminal case. The process that started with the murder of Elçi can create a result that can shed light on many social and political issues. We want the state authorities to keep their promises to illuminate the murder. They have duties and obligations to do this.”

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