by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 5, Sha'ban, 1433)
When Israeli soldiers savagely attacked the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 30, 2010, they shot and killed nine Turkish activists; 60 others were wounded.
One of those wounded activists, Uğur Süleyman Söylemez has been in intensive care ever since. Images of the heinous Israeli attack on civilian aid ships in international waters caused widespread outrage not only in Turkey but also globally.
Since then the Turkish government has pursued, both domestically and internationally to seek justice for the victims and their families, but with little progress so far. Under Turkish pressure, the United Nations conducted an investigation and published its findings in September 2011 but the report fell far short of Turkish expectations. The UN report was clearly influenced by pro-Zionist governments and found that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was “lawful” and that Israel had the right to enforce it even against civilians who were still in international waters. In order to avoid more direct confrontations with Israel and upset the powerful Zionist lobby further, Turkey initially aimed to pursue justice through international institutions but Ankara may have underestimated the influence of the Zionist lobby.
With the disappointing UN report, Turkey’s hopes faded insofar as international platforms were concerned. It was left with no option but to seek justice using domestic tools since the Turkish public was growing impatient and became frustrated with lack of progress in the pursuit of justice. This increased pressure on the government. Eventually, two years after Israel’s criminal attack, prosecutor Mehmet Akif Ekinci completed the long awaited indictment relating to assault on the Mavi Marmara and submitted it to the Istanbul Criminal Court on May 23, 2012.
There are allegations that the government has been trying to slow the investigation. For instance, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) did not respond to the Prosecutor’s query regarding the identities of Israeli officials who were involved in the killings. The Foreign Ministry, headed by Ahmet Davutoglu also did not respond to the Prosecutor’s query, further prolonging the process. Identifying suspects is an important part of the Turkish legal procedure to complete the indictment; without establishing the identities of the suspects legal procedures cannot commence. Thus, the attitude of MIT and the foreign ministry which are both well equipped to answer such queries, has led the victims’ families to conclude that the government was reluctant to launch domestic legal proceedings.
The lawyers who represent the victims’ families and İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri İnsani Yardım Vakfı, the Turkish Humanitarian organization that goes by the initials IHH, have also been pressing the prosecution so that legal proceedings can begin immediately. Lawyers for the victims’ families submitted a complaint to the Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors against the prosecutors for deliberately slowing the investigation. The aim was to keep up the pressure on the prosecution.
According to reports the lawyers held a meeting with Turan Çolakkadı, the Chief Prosecutor of Istanbul district one day before the submission of the indictment and the lawyers provided them with the names and details of Israeli soldiers who were involved in the attack. They collected the information from Facebook and other internet sources. After this meeting the prosecutors decided to go ahead with the indictment.
In the 144-page indictment, then Chief of Israeli General Staff, Rav Aluf Gabi Ashkenazi who ordered the assault, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom and many other Israeli officials were named as suspects for “giving orders to kill with monstrous feelings and torture”. The crime deserves the highest punishment according to Turkish criminal law. Further, the suspects were charged with nine life imprisonments for the killing, wounding and numerous other criminal acts. Aside from the prosecution’s claims, 490 plaintiffs were also named in the indictment for personal claims.
The Court accepted the indictment before the 15-day legal period expired and is expected to announce the schedule of hearings in the coming days. Commenting on developments, İsmail Yılmaz, Chairman of the Mavi Marmara Freedom and Solidarity Commission said: “We consider it a late but auspicious step; after this, I think individual compensation claims will be filed by other activists who were on the same ship. Many prosecutors from abroad also have been waiting for the progress of the legal process here… Now I believe they will follow the same example… This move to a certain extent will ease the pain of those who were martyred and wounded.”
From the government side, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed the official position on the issue cautiously: “We cannot make the final judgment on this issue. However, as Turkish government, it is our duty to defend the rights of our citizens domestically and internationally.”
On the other hand the Israeli government has been trying to achieve a settlement with the victims’ families. According to the British daily, the Guardian, Ramzan Ariturk, a lawyer who represents the victims’ families, the Israeli government has made a proposal to the lawyer through another foreign ambassador in Ankara. According to the proposal they agreed to pay four million pounds in compensation to the families so that they would drop the lawsuit against the Israeli government. The money would be distributed to the families through a Jewish organization based in Istanbul.
However, the Guardian also reported that Ariturk replied to the ambassador that the offer was neither appropriate nor moral. “I also discussed the issue with the victims and their friends and they also stated that they could not accept this,” he said. The lawyer refused to name either the foreign ambassador or the Jewish organization.
Meanwhile, according to some media reports, Turkish prosecutors were carrying out an investigation against IHH, organizers of the Gaza Aid Flotilla. According to Haber Turk, a widely circulated Turkish language newspaper, the special prosecutor in Istanbul has been carrying out a secret investigation about IHH chairman Bülent Yıldırım who is suspected “of send[ing] financial help to al-Qaeda through IHH.” The author of the news report later sent a message on twitter to say that “the Attorney General and the Istanbul Police have denied such an investigation.”
Bülent Yıldırım, answered media queries on the reports and said he has no information about such an investigation and he considers the claims as Zionist propaganda. Israeli newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz as well as others have picked up on the Haber Turk report and splashed it on their front pages as if this is an established fact. It is clear that there is a determined attempt by the Zionists to deflect attention from their own crimes by indulging in vicious propaganda.
Israel has a track record of getting away without paying any price for the atrocities it commits against innocent people. While the Zionists have yet again managed to dodge international justice, they might be convicted for their crimes by the Turkish justice system, thanks to the efforts of the Turkish activists.