This heinous crime not only deprives an individual of his/her most basic human rights, but is also a kind of collective punishment that makes all relatives of the disappeared person suffer endless emotional oscillation between hope and despair while also terrorizing large parts of society to which this individual belonged.
In the 1990s, mostly in the Southeast but in many parts of Turkey as well, people were deliberately and systematically made to disappear. Sometimes they were kidnapped in broad daylight in front of their relatives, sometimes they were taken from their homes after midnight and sometimes they were forced to get into vehicles and driven off with no one ever hearing about them or seeing them again. Many other victims were also made to disappear after officially being taken into custody — in this later type of disappearance, officials, of course, came up with many different excuses.
According to these official narratives, the victim simply broke out of jail or was released and went to the mountains.
All these things happened in connection with the Kurdish question, and the Gendarmerie Intelligence Anti-Terrorism Unit (JİTEM), an illegal extension of the gendarmerie, had always been implicated in connection with all these disappearances. The Turkish military has never acknowledged the existence of this unit, but everyone knows that it did exist and that it carried out endless murders across the country. Thanks to the Ergenekon trial, most of the founders and prominent figures of JİTEM are now behind iron bars.
As regular readers of this column know quite well, I criticize Ergenekon prosecutors for not looking at the evidence from the victims’ perspective and not following links that will connect these cases to unsolved murders and endless attacks on Kurds and religious minorities. While stating all these criticisms, I also try to explain how the Ergenekon trial changed the overall political atmosphere in Turkey, how deep state-sponsored murders stopped and how attacks and threats against minorities have decreased significantly.
I wish all JİTEM structures could be uncovered; I wish all these past atrocities could be solved and that their perpetrators could be identified. Ergenekon trials do not operate in as wonderful a manner as could be, but as a result of this general change of atmosphere in Turkey, things we could not imagine before are now happening.
One of the hopeful, yet painful, developments is the excavation of mass graves in southeast Turkey. Prosecutors, upon the demands of human rights lawyers and victims, ordered excavations to find mass graves. The results are shocking and disturbing. Every day new mass graves are being excavated anew. If this were to happen in any other country, I guess each excavation would be the headline of every single newspaper. Tragicomically, people who do not pay attention to these mass graves relentlessly try to convince us that Turkey became a republic of fear because of the Ergenekon case. They claim that it is because of the Ergenekon trial that “dissidents” were silenced.
While they engage in intense advocacy for the rights of Ergenekon suspects, they pay no attention to these mass graves, exactly as was the case when JİTEM was killing all these people in southeast Turkey.
With the excavation of these mass graves I think the empire of fear in Turkey is really collapsing. Just look at the following information provided by the Turkish Doctors Union (TTB) after carrying out research on these mass graves: “Bones belonging to 1,469 people have been found in 114 mass graves so far. The excavations of 26 mass graves uncovered the remains of 171 people.”
The TTB, after provided this information, cautioned the public, saying “the real dimensions of this issue were going to increase these numbers by far.”
The more these mass graves are revealed, the more parts of the puzzle will come together. These mass graves tell us the real story of the empire of fear, which has been in steady decline for a while. Pay attention to the story that has been told by these mass graves, not to the one told by propagandists and their crocodile tears.
ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ
25 February 2011
Image: Demonstration against the Kurdish mass graves in Turkey