More than 400 Kurdish separatists went on trial here today, accused of crimes ranging from murder to banditry, and they attempted to turn the opening session into a forum for accusing Turkish authorities of torture and unsanitary conditions in their imprisonment.
On trial are 447 members of the Kurdish Workers Party, which is accused of forming "armed gangs" to "annex" southeastern regions of Turkey where an estimated 7 million Kurds live in the remote, underdeveloped provinces bordering Iran and Iraq. About 2,000 others alleged to be connected with the party are in jail and under interrogation.
The trial is in the newly refurbished hall of an army headquarters on the outskirts of this city of 300,000. Security was tight with military police, special forces and troops around and in the courthouse.
At the front of the courtroom sat the accused, row on row of shaved heads, exaggerating the gauntness of their faces. This contrasted with the smart civilian clothes they were wearing for the occasion. All sat during the day-long hearing with their hands in regimented fashion on their thighs -- except for the two women defendants, who were permitted to clasp their hands in their laps.
The military prosecutors have demanded the death sentence for 97 people and the minimum requested is five years in prison. d
About a fifth of the defendants refused to respond to the military judge during the roll-call or to cooperate with the trial, to protest alleged prison brutality.
"We have been tortured for the past three months," said one, a 20-year-old youth who appeared barely able to stand. "I am thirsty, hungry and without sleep. I can hardly walk."
Other defendants, however, strode in military fashion to the microphone and briskly identified themselves.
The judge refused to listen to the protests, saying that they could state their cases after the roll-call ended. At one point, however, he replied to another maltreatment complaint by saying, "This is between you and the prison authorities."
Two defendants, who reportedly had been on a hunger strike, collapsed and were carried out by soldiers. Eight were forcibly removed for their statements. Some of the 15 defense lawyers complained that they had not been allowed to talk to their clients but most of the defendants have no lawyers.
The Kurdish Workers Party grew out of a meeting of Apdullah Ocalan and 17 Kurdish university students who got together in a slum district in Ankara in 1974 to form a militant secessionist group. The party was founded in 1979 and quickly became the most violent of the half dozen Kurdish underground organizations active in southeastern Turkey.
The indictment claims that the party murdered 243 people in the last three years. It allegedly financed itself through banditry and extortion.
The indictment and citizens in the area change that the party behaved more like bandits than liberators. Most of the defendants -- aged between 18 and 25 -- were poorly educated workers, farmers, shepherds and unemployed, as is much of the population in the underdeveloped area.
Gen. Kenan Evren, the Turkish head of state, made his first trip after the coup of last September to eastern Turkey, clearly to underline his regime's concern for the plight of that region.