What must it be like (Mr. President), when the State forces its way into your life, your space, your home, seizes your children, takes them away from you and locks you up?
“The lack of memory is a national feature of [Turkey]…You know, if you don’t have a memory of the Armenian genocide, you won’t have a memory of the killings of Kurds and others. So, I think the insistence for truth and reconciliation is extremely important to make sure the Turkish society will one day become a normal one, by being capable of facing its history.” Cengiz Aktar
What must it be like (Mr. President), when the State forces its way into your life, your space, your home, seizes your children, takes them away from you and locks you up?
…and what can you do?
Or, equally painful, what must it be like when the State, with its paid thugs pulls up at your house in a number of unmarked cars, pulls your wife, husband, son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister from you and disappears them into a void that not even the silence that follows can either penetrate let alone fathom?
And later (if there is a later) what is it like when you reach out to find help to locate the missing one(s) and all you encounter is silence, lies, denial, fear, ignorance, threats and someone then tells you that the lucky ones are those that found their loved ones’ bodies dumped in a laneway or nameless in a city morgue with only the marks of torture and murder left as a farewell note..?
Questions – endless questions to stand in for what could be, in another world, in a (socially) better world, the ‘simple’ absence of a loved one, a real live human being snatched away now not by nature nor disease but by these paid hirelings of a state whose currency is fear, whose oxygen its citizens breathe is terror and who have not the guts to keep all this madness to themselves (Yes, Mr. President!) but insist that the rest of humanity – for however long or short is the duration – share in their nightmare…
Finally what would happen if history itself was swallowed up in this silence like the way the Whale swallowed Jonah and each of us was left lost inside our own lonely desperation with even that on the verge of losing its voice, its ability to cry out..?
Wikipedia in their chapter on Forced Disappearance lists 43 countries as examples of the practice of States disappearing those they consider enemies of the status-quo, including of course, some of the usual suspects (right wing military dictatorship in South America) but, disturbingly enough, also countries closer to home for many of us reading this from the so-called developed world…
And in a month that one of the culprits you would be well aware of, Chile, the Chile of the Rettig Report, that:
“…concluded 2,279 persons who disappeared during the military dictatorship were killed for political reasons or as a result of political violence, and approximately 31,947 tortured according to the later Valech Report, while 1,312 were exiled. The latter were chased all over the world by the intelligence agencies. In Latin America, this was made under the auspices of Operation Condor, a combined operation between the intelligence agencies of various South American countries, assisted by a United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) communication base in Panama. Pinochet justified these operations as being necessary in order to save the country from communism.”
…brought the world’s attention to the plight of the disappeared and their fate by jailing another 9 junta soldiers linked to the torture and murder of the singer and left-wing political activist Victor Jara….
…the Kurdish News Agency ANF (Firat News) reminded us of a less known yet extended episode of the disappeared and one festering in the European heartland of a key NATO ally…
…reminding us of our need (if we do not assume responsibility to do it – who will?) to explore the history of “the disappeared” in Turkey in the decades after the Armenian genocide and now, disturbingly enough, apparently beginning again in the last 2 years; of course, not in broad daylight to Turkey’s allies, like the US or France or Britain who, of course, pride themselves on being fortresses of human rights and democracy – all 29 of them, all Turkish allies / member states.…
Like it or not it would appear the disappeared have become a part of 20th and 21st century politics, a tool of war that works equally well in so-called peacetime – a politics of fear and terror where no one is safe and where there is no accountability and where the sign on the door is: “Here Silence Rules”. The silence of terror. The silence of denial. Torture. Murder. All a part of some politician’s idea of policy, of course, (Mr. President)…
Yet still a cruel Silence to those waiting on the return of a loved one or information as to where their maimed body may lie…
Firat News (Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê – ANF) and the Stockholm Centre for Freedom have recently reminded us of the Saturday Mothers who just met in Galatasaray Square, in Istanbul “for the 693rd time this Saturday to demand truth and justice for the disappeared people.” (ANF) The following Saturday, July 15, they then met again, as usual, at Galatasaray Square on İstanbul’s İstiklal Avenue, now for the 694th time “to continue to demand justice for their loved ones.” (SCF) In a similar event, on the 14 July, the Human Rights Association’s (IHD) Amed Branch along with relatives of the disappeared people also “staged their weekly sit-in for the 492nd time on Saturday.”
At this sit-in, Amed Branch chair, Abdullah Zeytun, recalling the “thousands of unidentified murders committed in the Kurdish region” said:
“These murders were committed by public forces and paramilitary forces. At the time we learned they were carried out by the forces called JİTEM. These forces have yet to be brought to justice. None of the murders committed in the ’90s were accounted for.”
Of course the original Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo began to end their own silence in 1977 at the Plaza in front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace, in Buenos Aires, putting it up to the then right-wing military Junta’s brutality “intended to silence all opposition.”
But at what a cost:
“On 10 December 1977, International Human Rights Day, the Mothers published a newspaper advertisement with the names of their missing children. That same night, Azucena Villaflor (one of the original founders) was kidnapped from her home in Avellaneda by a group of armed men. She is reported to have been taken to the infamous ESMA torture centre, and from there on one of the “death flights” to the middle of the ocean. During these flights, the abducted were drugged, stripped and flung into the sea…” (Wikipedia)
Still, (and do we have a right to say it?) a beginning to the end of their enormous silence as well as beginning their epic journey to reclaim sons and daughters, tortured, murdered and ultimately disappeared without trace by the Argentinian generals.
“The military government saw the organization as politically subversive; the founder of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Azucena Villaflor, along with French nuns Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet who supported the movement, were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the military government at the command of Alfredo Astiz and Jorge Rafael Videla, both of whom were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the repression of the Mothers and other dissidents during the Dirty War.”
18 years later in Turkey
…the “Saturday Mothers” — also known as the “Saturday People” — first gathered at noon, May 27, 1995, in front of central Istanbul’s Galatasaray high school.
Turkey’s history of disappearance, in the current period, goes back to the military coup of 1980 – 1983:
Caleb Lauer (in the 2015 article says):
“Up to 2,000 people are believed to have been forcibly disappeared in Turkey after the 1980 coup d’état, Turkish human rights groups say. About 450 cases have been confirmed. “Enforced disappearances” — defined in international law — have been seen in civil conflicts around the world. They aim to terrify. Typically, victims are detained by people claiming state authority. Blanket denial, zero information and blocked investigations follow. Sometimes a corpse is found, often not.”
Sebla Arcan (spokeswoman for the Commission Against Disappearances Under Custody at Turkey’s Human Rights Association, “who has been with the Saturday Mothers from its first days”):
“The state was denying it. The mainstream media wasn’t covering it. And the universities were silent…News that so many young people were being disappeared was not reaching the public.”
And once again, without diminishing the impact on other perceived opponents of the Turkish state nor other minorities, these disappearances apparently became state policy in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south-east in the 1990s as a result of the conflict between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the Turkish state — under endless versions of emergency rule at the time — as well as in Turkey’s major cities. In 1994 Amnesty estimated disappearances had reached a peak at 518 that year…
“Turkish human rights groups accuse the Turkish security forces of being responsible for the disappearance of more than 1,500 civilians of the Kurdish minority in the 1980s and 1990s, in attempts to root out the PKK. Every week on Saturdays since 1995, Saturday Mothers hold silent vigil / sit-in protests to demand that their lost ones be found and those responsible be brought to justice. Each year Yakay-Der, the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) and the International Committee Against Disappearances (ICAD), organise a series of events in Turkey to mark the “Week of Disappeared People”.
In the early days the “Saturday Mothers” were mostly ignored. However this was not to last: “By the summer of 1998 the Saturday Mothers were no longer tolerated by authorities. Support fell away and the group — now just core supporters — were clubbed and locked up week after week…” Caleb Lauer says.
…So much so that by March 1999 the “Saturday Mothers” were forced to “retire’.
With the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Party there was hope that the situation would change. In 2007, “Turkish prosecutors began compiling charges against hundreds of active and retired army officers and others, a so-called “deep state” gang — called Ergenekon — for plotting a coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).” In 2010, the “Sledgehammer” trial saw more army officers being brought to trial.
“Several of the accused in both trials are considered by the Saturday Mothers, and others, as key suspects in many enforced disappearances. Turkish gendarme officer Cemal Temizöz and six others, including the former mayor of Cizre, were put on trial in 2009 for the alleged forcible disappearance of 20 people from around Cizre. HRW described the case as “one of the first credible prosecutions of security officials for serious human rights violations committed in [Turkey’s] south-east during the 1990s”.
Alas, this was not to be, despite the prime minister (now president) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meeting with a “Saturday Mothers” delegation in 2011 where he promised action to address their losses. “The Saturday Mothers say there has since been no follow-up.”
No follow-up. Nothing. Except the usual silence – to equal the absence of the Disappeared.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
This UN Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 “to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives”. In early 2016 the UN group spent 5 days in Turkey, visiting Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir following which they released a lengthy statement, the substance of which was that it was “high time for Turkey to come to terms with past enforced disappearances”
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (18 March 2016)
Houria Es-Slami, Chairperson, Vice-Chair Bernard Duhaime and Henrikas Mickevicius:
“There is still the need to bring truth to the families of the disappeared, who keep searching for their loved ones, including by thoroughly investigating all burial sites, as already recommended by a number of international human rights bodies…
Equally important to address truth, justice and reparation for past disappearances is to create an adequate legal and institutional framework to prevent enforced disappearances to occur again in the future, and ensure its adequate implementation…
While the Working Group fully acknowledges the serious security challenges that Turkey is currently facing, it is at the same time concerned at the increasingly worrisome situation in the South-East of the country and its impact on human rights…we heard a number of troubling testimonies, including of families not being able to have access to the bodies of their killed loved ones or of bodies being disposed of. These and other allegations of human rights violations in the context of the current security operations in the South East need to be thoroughly and independently investigated”, emphasized the experts.”
The Stockholm Centre For Freedom (in the introduction to their June 2017 Report: Enforced Disappearances in Turkey)
“Illegal abductions and enforced disappearances in Turkey, often perpetrated by security services or clandestine groups with the approval or knowledge of the authorities, have recently made a comeback just when this abhorrent practice was thought be a thing of the past, primarily confined to the dark period of the 1990s, when Kurds were victimized by extrajudicial killings.
The brutal regime of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now engaged in depriving many victims of their liberty without acknowledging their unofficial detention. The principle of due process was totally disregarded in these cases under emergency rule, which has been renewed for a fourth time. It looks certain that the European Court of Human Rights will receive a series of complaints of enforced disappearance in Turkey just as it had dealt with numerous such cases arising from a military campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey’s Southeast in the 1990s.”
This recent study, published in June 2017 by the Sweden-based Stockholm Center for Freedom, has compiled 12 individual cases of enforced disappearances in Turkey since 2016 and the imposition emergency rule. The research entitled “Enforced Disappearances in Turkey” once again alleged that the perpetrators are clandestine elements within the Turkish security forces.
“The abductions appear to have been perpetrated by elements linked to the Turkish government as part of an intimidation campaign targeting critics and opponents of Turkey’s president. Most victims in recent waves of kidnappings are believed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement which is inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen who has been a vocal critic of Erdoğan on corruption and Turkish government’s aiding and abetting of Jihadist groups.” (SCF)
As for the ongoing protests by the “Saturday Mothers”, ANF writes:
“Ibrahim Çelik and his 19-year-old son Edip Çelik were commemorated this Saturday and justice has been demanded for them…50-year-old Çelik and his son were abducted on 10 July 1994. …Feryal Çelik, daughter of Ibrahim Çelik wrote the words that were read by Maside Ocak, sister of Hasan Ocak, who was detained and disappeared on 21 March 1995…
“I am a Saturday child. Every Saturday since I was little I have come to Galatasaray to ask ‘where is my father?’ In fact, I am Galatasaray. Every Saturday I ask ‘where is my brother?’”
“My father İbrahim Çelik and my brother Edip Çelik were taken into custody in Batman. It happened in front of our eyes. Armed masked people took my father saying they were looking for a peasant. My 19-year-old brother went after his father to make sure nothing happened to him. From that day on, we never heard from my father nor my brother again.”
“My father and brother had committed no crime. But they were Kurds. We have been crying for 24 years. We went everywhere searching and demanding truth but we got no answers. Three generations of my family has been looking for my father and brother. We want a grave to be able to go to and mourn.”
As a ‘footnote’, Hasan Ocak himself was allegedly detained by police in Istanbul. He was seen by a fellow detainee at Istanbul Police Headquarters. “When his family examined photographs in the archives of the Forensic Medicine Institute, they discovered that his body had been found on vacant ground in the Beykoz district and later buried as that of an unidentified person.” (Amnesty International – Turkey Report – 1996)
No words. Not, in this instance, because of the silence perpetrated by fear and terror but by an overwhelming sense of grief and loss that humans are forced, unnecessarily, to endure…
The Turkish state’s habit of disappearing its enemies is also identified and addressed in many other Reports
Amnesty’s 1996 Report on Turkey:
“At least 35 people were reported to have “disappeared” in the custody of police or gendarmes. Mehmet Sirin Maltu, a Kurdish farmer, was detained in January by members of the security forces who arrived at his village, Yanbölük, near Kozluk in Batman province, in a convoy which included an armoured vehicle. He was brought back to the village in custody once on the following day when his family home was searched with a metal detector. Released detainees reportedly later saw him in custody at Batman Gendarmerie Headquarters, but his detention was not registered with the local prosecutor. His family never saw him again….Shortly afterwards, the body of Rzdvan Karakoç, wanted by the police and missing since February, was also identified in photographs at the Forensic Medicine Institute. His body had been found on the same patch of ground as that of Hasan Ocak and also buried without informing his family.
There were nearly 100 political killings, many of which may have been extrajudicial executions. Among the victims were people who had previously been arrested on political charges or had served sentences for political offences, and people involved in organizations which challenged government policy towards the Kurdish minority, such as Halkzn Demokrasi Partisi (HADEP), People’s Democratic Party, a mainly Kurdish political party.”
“The European Court of Human Rights found Turkey guilty on the 1996 disappearance of 5 shepherds in Hakkari province, ordering the Turkish state to pay a total of 100,000 euros to applicants.
The court unanimously ruled that Turkey violated Article 2 of the Convention by “failing to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances of the disappearance of the applicants’ relatives”. The court also ruled that Turkey violated Article 13 of the Convention.”
Amnesty International (2016):
“Recent security operations in south-eastern Turkey are being carried out beyond the reaches and protections of the law. Kurdish politician Hurşit Külter, a vocal advocate of self-rule for Turkey’s Kurds, disappeared almost three months ago on 27 May, and has not been heard from since. Local authorities and security forces have denied taking him into custody, though Külter contacted his father shortly before his disappearance to say police were at his house. Amnesty International is dismayed by the apparent failure of the authorities to initiate a prompt, effective and independent investigation into the alleged enforced disappearance.”
Hurşit Külter was to later surface in Kirkuk after being held for 13 days and escaping to Iraq “after hiding in evacuated houses for 40-45 days”. This despite Şırnak Security Directorate and Şırnak Governorship anouncing that Külter was not in custody.
Human Rights Watch (2018):
“There were credible reports of unidentified perpetrators believed to be state agents abducting men in at least six cases, and holding them in undisclosed places of detention in circumstances that amounted to possible enforced disappearances. At least one surfaced in official custody and three others were released after periods of two to three months. The men had all been dismissed from civil service jobs for Gülenist connections.”
And on and on and on…
…whether post 1980 coup, in the 1990’s war against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party or since 2015 in Northern Kurdistan following the collapse of peace talks with the PKK…and now post the July 2016 failed coup…on and on and on, without end, apparently…
Sebla Arcan, (spokeswoman for the Commission Against Disappearances Under Custody at Turkey’s Human Rights Association):
“In this land, denial is a state tradition. With denial and by refusing facts this country’s rulers reinforce their power…Whoever has had political power has created memory and history. In such history the oppressed have no place.”
So, to state the obvious…it is the disappeared that are silent/silenced. They cannot speak for themselves…
In Mother Jones Magazine in 1981 the arrested journalist Larry Johnston, Mother Jones Reporter in a bloodstained Colombian cell reports being told the fateful words by one of his torturers:
“No one knows you are here…No one cares what happens to you…. Reagan doesn’t care about human rights anyway…”
How many times have these words been spoken..? And to how many that did not live to tell the tale..?
It thus behoves the rest of us to raises our voices…loud…to match the silence and the lies and the power of states like the Turkish State in, by now, too many of its incarnations, to disappear those who chose to disagree with it.
…while we can.