The stalled Semdinli case, in which elements within the military were accused of bombing a bookstore in southeast Turkey in 2005 in order to stir up trouble in the region, has long been seen by Turkish human rights activists as a failed test of democratization for their country. Although several military officials were arrested as part of the investigation into the bombing, the Turkish government ultimately backed off from pushing ahead with the case. But now it appears that the Semdinili case may be coming back to life. From Today's Zaman:
A court in the eastern province of Van agreed on Thursday to authorize an investigation of former Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt and two other commanders in a trial of a 2005 bookstore bombing in the southeastern district of Şemdinli, in Hakkari province. The decision came during the first hearing of the trial after it resumed in a civilian court following a constitutional amendment that introduced restrictions on the jurisdiction of military courts. The Van 3rd Criminal Court also ruled for an investigation of two gendarmerie commanders in Van and Hakkari, Lt. Gen. Selahattin Uğurlu and Erhan Kubat, respectively, and Erdal Öztürk, the head of the General Staff’s Operations and Planning Department.
There are three suspects, including noncommissioned army officers Ali Kaya and Özcan İldeniz, on trial concerning the 2005 bombing in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari. Kaya and Özcan, who are both in the gendarmerie force, were captured as they tried to escape the scene after throwing a hand grenade at the city’s Umut bookstore, owned by a former Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) member. The third suspect is Veysel Ateş, a former PKK member who later started to work as an agent for gendarmerie intelligence.
Full article here.
I was in Semdinli in 2007 and interviewed the owner of the bombed bookshop, who had reopened his store, even keeping some of the pockmarks that were left in the wall by the blast. From that piece (in the Christian Science Monitor):
The Turkish government's first response to Semdinli was decisive, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promising to get to the bottom of the case. An aggressive prosecutor from the nearby city of Van, Ferhat Sarikaya, took on the case, but ran into trouble when he declared that top-level military officials had supported covert illegal operations in the southeast.
In the face of a powerful military, the government took Mr. Sarikaya off the case, saying he had overstepped his bounds. Turkey's Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges disbarred him for life.
Still, in June 2006, the two officers charged in the bombing were found guilty and sentenced to 39 years in jail. But this past May, Turkey's top appeals court quashed the verdict on procedural grounds and sent it to a military court. Observers in Turkey say the ruling could be the case's demise.
"It was a big chance to get to the bottom of rogue elements of the security forces doing violent, lawless activities in the name of counterterrorism, but the government made a mistake," says Emma Sinclair-Webb, a Human Rights Watch researcher on Turkey.
Despite the setback, there is still a sense of hope in Semdinli. The local authorities have responded by improving life in the dusty town, building new roads and a bridge.
Yilmaz reopened his bookstore with a cheeky new sign that incorporates a hand grenade into it and announces the shop as the site of the famous Semdinli bombing.
Several soot-smudged books – from a Danielle Steel novel to a volume about UFOs – are kept in two bookcases with glass doors, along with a teapot pierced by shrapnel.
Two small craters on the floor, marking where the grenades exploded, have been left untouched.
"I believe this is part of our history and I want it to be remembered," Yilmaz says.