Around 40 skulls believed to belong to the victims of unsolved murders in Turkey have been found in a cave in the southeastern province of Mardin, pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency said on Sunday.
Human Rights Association Mardin chair Fevzi Adsız said he believed the skulls likely belonged to victims of forced disappearances that took place in 1990s, and are likely linked to JİTEM – a clandestine state security unit responsible for dozens of unsolved murders.
İrfan Yakut, whose father disappeared after he had been detained in 1993, had seen a number of bones in the Gülbiş Cave in a rural area of Dargeçit. He then applied to the Dargeçit Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office requesting further examinations.
The examinations determined that there were skulls and bones belonging to around 40 people, and sealed off the area to everyone except Yakut – who said that he had asked for further examinations to be carried out to determine whether any of the bones belonged to his father.
“They’ll carry out DNA examinations. We hope that they belong to those seeking them if they’re not ours. The revelation would be good for everyone,” Yakut told Mezopotamya news agency.
The bones will be sent to the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institute for examination, Mezopotamya said.
Mardin Governor’s Office released a statement on the issue, saying that the provincial tourism authorities had been notified “due to the possibility of the skulls belonging to historical periods.”
In the 1990s, at the height of the conflict between the Turkish state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), hundreds of people were subject to informal detentions and extrajudicial executions in Turkey.
Tens of people in the Dargeçit district disappeared and their bones have still not been recovered.
Bones of some victims have previously been uncovered in the area, with other excavations carried out in the Dargeçit district between 2013 and 2015, Mezopotamya reported.
Turkey is still carrying out arbitrary killings, disappearances, and suspicious deaths of people in custody, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Turkey.
“Significant human rights issues included: reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons, including former opposition members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, foreign citizens, and employees of the U.S. Mission, for purported ties to ‘terrorist’ groups or peaceful legitimate speech,” the 72-page annual report said.