Thousands Mourn Murdered Kurdish Lawyer Tahir Elci, Funerals Held for 2 Policemen Also Killed


Tahir Elçi

Tahir Elçi

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) — Thousands of people have gathered for the funeral of Tahir Elçi, a Kurdish lawyer and human rights activist gunned down in Diyarbakır, which has been at the center of months of violence. Funerals were also held for the two policemen killed in the attack on November 28.

The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on November 29 that the gun found next to Elçi’s body was the same weapon used in the attack on the police officers, as he vowed to catch the killers.

But Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP), cast doubt on whether those responsible would be exposed.

“Our skepticism is fair as so many similar sufferings have taken place on our land in this past,” he said at the funeral. “We were never able to say goodbye to them with our minds at ease thinking those responsible will be caught.”

Police surveillance footage released on November 28 showed officers being shot at from inside a cab. Another video shows plainclothes police shooting at two men running in the direction where Elçi was believed to be.

Elçi, who died after speaking to journalists, was facing trial for saying the banned Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) was not a terrorist organization, as the government describes it. He had, however, denounced PKK violence.

Hundreds of people have been killed since a ceasefire between the PKK and Turkish security forces collapsed in July, reigniting a conflict in which 40,000 people have died since it began in 1984.

Elçi’s killing was likely to fuel further unrest in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast.

A curfew had been called in the Sur district of Diyarbakır where the killing took place. Security forces continued operations to drive back the youth wing of the PKK, removing barricades and trenches, with occasional gunfire and explosions heard.

HDP deputies and leaders of Turkey’s local bar associations gathered at the funeral, where a casket draped in red and adorned bright yellow flowers was carried by a dense crowd.

Members of the Diyarbakir Bar Association stood in front of the hospital from where the body was taken holding a banner stating: “We will not forget you,” in Turkish and Kurdish.

Four investigators have begun work to determine whether the death was an assassination or the result of crossfire.

Elçi’s brother Ahmet was convinced that the lawyer had been a target: “My brother is not our first martyr and neither will he be the last,” he said at the funeral. “As a Kurdish intellectual, he was slain by the state. We have seen this state murdering Kurdish intellectuals throughout the history. But we will not give up and we will win.”