Apparent Assassination Latest in Spate of Targeted Attacks against Kurdish Peace Activists
NEW YORK—Project 2015 today condemned the apparent assassination of Tahir Elci, a prominent lawyer and Kurdish human rights activist who headed the Diyarbakir Bar Association. An unknown assailant reportedly shot Elci with a bullet to the head while Elci was delivering remarks at a press conference in Diyarbakir calling for an end to the ongoing clashes between PKK armed groups and Turkish security forces.
“We join the international community in mourning the murder of one of Turkey’s leading human rights activists, who advocated not only for Kurdish rights but also for the rights of the Armenian community in their quest for justice for the genocide,” said Nancy Kricorian, Project 2015 Board Member. “We hope the Turkish government will do a better job investigating and prosecuting those responsible for this crime than they have the murder of Hrant Dink.”
Elci led the first commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Diyarbakir in 2013, remarking at the time: “Today, we commemorate the genocide in Diyarbakir for the first time. This is a very important day for us. We bow respectfully before the memory of our Armenian brothers who were murdered in 1915, and condemn the genocide.”
The murder of Elci is the latest in a spate of targeted attacks against Kurdish political leaders, activists, and journalists. A suicide bombing in July targeted Kurdish activists in the city of Suruc, killing 34. The Turkish government referenced that attack as a pretext for a major crackdown against the Kurdish community in Turkey, leading to the collapse of peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish government. In October, another suicide bombing targeted a peace rally in Ankara killing more than 100 Kurdish demonstrators. The government’s policies of inflaming tensions with the Kurds and its turn to ethno-nationalist politics in the lead up to recent elections have created a permissive environment for acts of violence targeting pro-Kurdish groups and their supporters.
Government authorities had detained and were prosecuting Tahir Elci for “making terrorist propaganda,” after he called for the PKK to be treated as an armed political movement. As a human rights lawyer and peace activist, Elci was a long-standing critic of violent attacks committed by both the PKK and the Turkish government. In the days before his assassination, he had received death threats that were the predictable ultra-nationalist response to the charges against him by the government.
“Elci’s death today highlights the Turkish authorities’ duty to protect opposition groups and their supporters, especially pro-Kurdish leftist activists who are under constant threat,” said Asli Bali, Project 2015 Board Member. “Turkish authorities should ensure that those responsible for Elci’s killing are brought to justice.”