Questions linger as thousands mourn slain lawyer Tahir Elçi

Published 29.11.2015 17:21
Updated 29.11.2015 22:55
Tahir Elçi speaks just moments before he is shot dead, on November 28, 2015 in Diyarbakır (AFP photo)
Tahir Elçi speaks just moments before he is shot dead, on November 28, 2015 in Diyarbakır (AFP photo)

Family and friends bid farewell to prominent human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi on Sunday while authorities vow to conduct a detailed investigation into his death to determine whether he was assassinated or caught in crossfire in a clash between police and PKK terrorists

A funeral ceremony was held for Tahir Elçi, a renowned human rights lawyer and head of the bar association in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, where he was killed on Saturday.

Elçi's death came minutes after he called for peace in Diyarbakır, a city plagued by PKK terrorism.

Authorities assured the public that a comprehensive investigation will be conducted to find out whether Elçi, who was holding a press conference outdoors when he was shot, was simply caught in the crossfire during a clash or deliberately targeted.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that the PKK, even if indirectly, was still primarily responsible for the attack. "What we've seen from videos of the incident and what we currently know about it shows that it wouldn't have happened if vicious attacks against our police officers weren't carried out," he said, referring to the killing of two police officers minutes before the shooting of Elçi. "A separatist terrorist organization caused this," Davutoğlu said, referring to the PKK which claims to fight for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey.

Cengiz Erdur and Ahmet Çiftaslan, two plainclothes police officers, were gunned down by terrorists after stopping them in a suspicious car. As the terrorists ran away, a gun battle erupted right at the site where Elçi was making a press statement in front of a historic building which has been damaged in attacks previously. The lawyer was killed by a bullet which struck the back of his head, though it is still unclear who fired the shot. The chaotic scene was caught on camera showing Mahsun Gürkan, a member of the terrorist organization, running past the crowd. Gürkan was in the car which was stopped by the two slain police officers. Terrorists also attacked a prosecutor who had arrived to investigate the crime scene and injured two police officers. Reports say the bullet which hit Elçi was "fired from a long distance," fueling rumors that the clash between terrorists and police created distraction for assassins to kill Elçi.

"This is a tragic incident that wouldn't have occurred if it weren't for the attacks against two police officers. Diyarbakır would be calm if they hadn't dug those ditches and if terror attacks did not happen. Thus, the terrorist organization is chiefly responsible for this and we are determined to continue our fight against them (PKK)," Davutoğlu said.

Diyarbakır, like the rest of southeastern Turkey, has seen violent attacks by the terrorist organization and clashes between security forces and terrorists since last summer. After announcing the resuming of their terror campaign in July after years of silence, the PKK has intensified its assaults, killing hundreds of police officers and troops since then.

Violence and clashes on the streets in cities and towns across Turkey have dealt a blow to the reconciliation process Turkey launched a few years ago to end terrorism. In just a few months, Diyarbakır, a predominantly Kurdish city where the PKK draws support, saw a surge in violence, making streets unsafe for civilians. Tahir Elçi, known for his work as a lawyer for the victims of extrajudicial killings carried out by military, police and intelligence officers in the 1990s, was appealing for an end to the violence when gunfire erupted at his press conference. "We don't want guns, clashes, or violent operations here," he said, pointing to the four-legged minaret, a 15th-century landmark of Diyarbakır riddled with bullets.

Davutoğlu said the state is determined to shed light on the murder of Elçi. "The terrorist organization obviously wanted to cover up their links to this attack when the prosecutor and his staff investigating the scene were attacked. We are committed to finding the perpetrators in Mr. Elçi's murder," the prime minister said. "We will look into all scenarios, whether he was specifically targeted or shot in the crossfire," he said.

The Interior Ministry assigned a delegation of four inspectors for a comprehensive inquiry into the killings. Inspectors questioned eyewitnesses, including reporters at the scene and police officers involved in the clash with terrorists, while a crime scene investigation will be held after the area is secured, according to a statement given by the office of the chief prosecutor who came under fire during the first attempt to examine the crime scene.

Tahir Elçi was buried in Diyarbakır on Sunday in a ceremony attended by lawyers and activists from all across the country. His coffin was draped in a lawyer's robe and the crowd carried banners reading "we will not forget you" in Turkish and Kurdish.

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