Forced disappearance of the regime’s opponents, torturing them in secret sites for months or killing of them are practices seen in different periods of Turkish history. Those practices which Kurds suffered in the early ’90s are now in use after a long time for the Gulen movement’s members.
Since the start of 2016, 29 individuals were abducted. There are still no words on the whereabouts or wellbeing of some of them and hope is already lost for them being alive.
In February of 2016, six people were abducted in a similar way: Gökhan Turkmen, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Erkan Irmak, Salim Zeybek and Mustafa Yılmaz.
Gokhan Turkmen, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Erkan Irmak turned up in the Anti-Terror Department of Ankara Police Headquarter after 6 months of their forced disappearance.
Remaining 2 persons, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen, were found “being turned over to police”.
Their first words: withdraw the applications lodged before International Courts
The observations of their wives, able to see them after months, are the same: They have lost extreme weight, have blanched and are scared.
They have not been allowed to see their families or lawyers alone. The visits in police custody can be made under the surveillance of police officers or the surveillance of guardian in prison, despite being against the law. Besides, more than one police officers or guardians are present during the visit. And the whole visit is filmed by video cameras.
The first things they said were the same and they sound like to be dictated:
“I don’t want a lawyer, withdraw the applications filed before international courts and institutions regarding our disappearance and tortures, give up on the complaints filed before Turkish courts, stop twitting.”
They were not allowed to see lawyers retained by their families
The formerly abducted persons were able to tell their families and lawyers about the tortures that they had experienced before being jailed. Thanks to those statements of which the Courts had been aware afterward, the secret place of the Turkish Intelligence Service has been uncovered.
This time, a different method has been followed for those last six. Officials did not let them meet their lawyers or families alone. They said they do not demand a lawyer with the memorized phrases while being in fear due to tortures they had faced for months.
Then, some “surprise” lawyers, known by neither families nor appointed by a Bar association, have appeared. No one knows who paid those lawyers either.
Those lawyers who display a nationalist profile have avoided giving information about those abductees persons to their families.
One of those lawyers is Neslihan Koçer. She insisted upon there is no torture or abduction during our conversation. According to Koçer, they had hidden in an unknown place but then they decided to turn themselves in. She claimed that she came across Ugan and Kaya in the police headquarter where she was for another business. However, she left unanswered the question of why these persons did not ask for their lawyer. Following the publication by Bold Media of her interview, she applied to a Turkish court and blocked access to Bold Medya’s website in Turkey.
Applications to International Courts
Their families showed great efforts for months following their abduction. After exhausting all domestic remedies without any result, they tried remedies in international law. The Committee on Enforced Disappearance of the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights accepted to review their applications and requested a defense from Turkey. And, one of the repeated phrases by all those 6 persons was “Withdraw your applications from international courts”. In spite of their husbands’ requests, the families are determined to maintain their applications.
Twitter is the sole place of freedom
The families, who could not have their voices heard due to censorship over Turkish media, used social media, in particular, Twitter, very efficiently.
The tweets of families racked up thousands of share and in this way, they received public attention.
Sümeyye Yılmaz, the wife of abducted physiotherapist Mustafa Yılmaz, thinks that her use of Twitter played an important role to get her husband back alive.
She said “my husband wants me to stop tweeting, does not want a lawyer and asks for withdrawal of international applications. Those cannot be my husband’s phrase, they sound like memorized phrases. I will continue my fight.”
Zehra Türkmen, the wife of Gökhan Türkmen, said “I will not withdraw my applications to international courts. I will keep up my legal fight. I will bring those (responsible for my husband’s disappearance) to account.”
Ankara Bar Association not being allowed to appoint a lawyer
Ankara Bar Association has designated a committee of lawyers to visit the 6 abducted persons. However, the administration of prison did not allow the visit despite the provisions of law expressly authorizing it.
Since the abducted persons were forced to say that they do not want to have a lawyer, the Bar association has been left unable to intervene. Turkey has never seen this level of pressure before.
Kerem Altıparmak, a human rights lawyer, summarises the situation as follows:
“People have gone missing for months. Their families have been looking for them at that time. This person turns up after months and says I was hiding. So he knows how his family’s situation is but do nothing. The person, coming out of nowhere, persistently decline his family’s and Bar association’s offer for having a lawyer. He insists upon working with a lawyer who is not known by himself or his family. The person who has been running for months suddenly become an informer and give many persons’ name away. Those persons are secretly tried by a special court. What a coincidence that the same scenario plays out for each abduction.”
Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a rights activist and an MP from the pro-minority rights Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), noted the similarities of the last abduction cases:
“Forced disappearances are the most important human rights violations. We receive reports of intense torturing in the aftermath of the abduction. They have been kidnapped and then turned up in police custody. In the latest cases, none of the abducted persons want to speak in police custody. Their wives believe that their husbands were forced to speak against their will. The same story goes for Gökhan Türkmen, the very last to be found, and all the other five persons; they have lost weight, their skin has got white due to lack of sunlight and been asking for the withdrawal of applications filled to international courts. All the cases are the same.”
A special court
The special court, referred to by Kerem Altınparmak, is Ankara 34th Heavy Penal Court. It is also known as “MİT (Turkish Intelligence Office) Mahkemesi” by the public. The cases in which MİT takes interest will be judged by this special court which was formed in September 2019. This is a kind of a court special to MİT.
Four of them were brought to this court on 24 and 25 September for the first time. CHP lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkılu, a prominent human rights activist, went to the Ankara Court House to observe the first trial.
He describes what he has seen as “I searched the courthouse with the families for two hours to find in which hearing room Salim Zeybek and Özgür Kaya’s trial is being held. No official in the courthouse gave us information regarding the place of trial. The hearing room of 34th Heavy Penal Court was empty. A secret trial is being conducted and this is against the law.”
The 6 persons, after missing for months, are not being let to choose their lawyers, to meet their families alone and been tried secretly. They are even isolated in their prison cells. Thus, they could not find an occasion to talk about the tortures they underwent when they were missing.
However, Ayten Öztürk and Zabit Kişi, apart from those 6 persons, had the occasion of telling the tortures they experienced in MİT’s torture center called “Çiftlik” in Ankara.
They were able to describe, both orally and written, what they had gone through.
Here are some of the things that Ayten Öztürk experienced:
“I was taken blindfolded to the torture room. They were first undressing me and handcuffing me in a hanging position to iron rings on the wall. They were pressing an electric shock device on all over my naked body. When they did this, my whole body was shaking and I was screaming at the top of my voice. They kept doing it until I passed out. Marks, looking like holes, were appearing on every part of my body where they applied the taser. Marks in which there are 2 cm gaps between its edges. When I was sent to a prison, my fellow inmates counted my marks of which there are 898. When I was about to pass out, they were taking me to a bathroom and continue torturing with high-pressure water. Sometimes they were doing waterboarding for hours. While one was spraying high-pressure water, another one was holding me to fill the sack on my head with water. They used the shock device also while waterboarding me. And sometimes they were taking the sack off, opening my eyes and pouring the water in my nose.
Moving was impossible in the place called “coffin”. In the cell, though, there was beaten, threat and swears on every occasion. They hit me in the head and face very harshly more than twice. They were doing this until my mouth and nose were covered with blood and got bruised. I was also given an electric shock through my little fingers and big toes. They wrapped a metal ring around my fingers and gave the shock by using a remote control. I passed out a few times so that I could not stand on my feet. When they stopped giving an electric shock, they were harassing all my body with their fingers and sticks. They were trying to thrust the stick into my genital area.”
Zabit Kişi also revealed in the (court) hearing his experiences of the torture center where he remained 103 days :
“Once I got there, they undressed me. I am not able to talk about the harassment and dirty talks that I witnessed. Two persons held me by my arms and hit me on a kind of wall. They gave electric shocks of which they sometimes increased the voltage to different parts of my body starting from the top of it. When I was in sitting position, they turned the sole of my feet upwards and crashed my fingers one by one. One month later my fingers started recovering and some of my nails came back. While I was sitting handcuffed behind the back, they stepped onto the handcuffs.
For a few days, I struggled to hold a spoon to eat the food they gave me. I had to take pills in prison due to the loss of sensation in my fingers and nerve damages.
They threatened to rape me when I was naked and they attempted to do it with a hard object. They repeated this despite my begs.
As I was sitting, two persons held me by arms and hit me in the back, my ribs got cracked. I suffered a lot each time I breathed due to the pressure of ribs on my lung. They were asking me to answer aloud, even though there was a sack on my head. To do that, I was taking deep and fast breathes through my mouth and because of that I experienced a respiratory problem and heartthrob.
The torture team was changing but the torture was going on.”
Zabit Kişi and Ayten Öztürk were not even permitted by the courts to see doctors despite revealing the torture they went through. No probes were launched over the torture allegations.
Bias about Gulen Movement in light of The Economist column
The Kemalist viewpoint in Turkey perceives the Gulen movement as a menace that had served as an instrument of President Tayyip Erdogan’s quest for power. This outlook suggests that if it weren’t for Gulenists’ aid, Erdogan would have faded out a long time ago.
The aforementioned talking point has found its way to the columns of acclaimed global media outlets.
Recently, The Economist published an article that exhibits the same bias.
The Gulen Movement is not the only group in Turkey that had incurred the wrath of the Kemalist nationalism.
The country’s liberals, who supported Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) in the past when they seemed committed to upholding democracy, had their fair share of vilification.
It’s a fact that the Gulen movement has endorsed AKP’s policies for a long time. However, it’s crucial to take the AKP’s stance during this support into account before sitting in judgment. Having it the other way around would be distorting the facts.
The Gulen movement’s open support for the AKP entails a period from 2002, the year it came to power, to 2011. Then-US President Barack Obama paid his first visit overseas to Turkey in the same period.
Then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of Turkey’s most vocal supporters in its EU membership path.
European Union, together with all its entities, supported the Erdogan government.
The core supporter of the AKP was Turkey’s intelligentsia.
Democrats, many Kurds, the representatives of Armenian and Jewish minorities also supported it. Even some members of those minorities served as AKP members of the parliament.
Setting the EU criteria as goals to be met, for the most of AKP’s first decade, it enjoyed the support of a broad coalition of different ideas and factions. The Gulen movement and some other camps in the country supported it for the sake of the vision of promoting democratic values.
Prominent people from different political and social fractions took part in the AKP’s rule as a coalition of democracy supporters.
Reform bills voted in the parliament implementing the regulations to make Turkey closer to the EU membership were supported widely by democratic countries.
However, Erdogan took a step towards authoritarianism after the constitutional referendum of 2010 when he had more than %50 support for the first time.
Instead of considering that he obtained this massive support with the help of democrats, Gulen movement, liberals, and Kurdish people, Erdogan preferred reading the polls differently, thinking that he is not obliged to share power with the same stakeholders anymore.
Initially, he brushed aside people from different political backgrounds in his party. He chose Ahmet Davutoglu, a hard-core supporter of the idea of Neo-Ottomanism, as the key person in the party.
He implemented new regulations making the Turkish intelligence MIT as powerful as intelligence bodies of Baath regimes.
Dismissals of people from the state institutions started within the same period over affiliation with the Gulen movement.
AKP gradually alienated liberals and democrats, resulting in those social factions, including the Gulen movement withdrew their support from the party.
Eventually, all these factions have become “enemies” for Erdogan.
To sum up, the Gulen movement, liberals, democrats, and Kurds supported AKP when Erdogan’s government was heading towards the west and received full support from the western democracies.
It’s not the previous supporters of AKP when it had a democratic vision and practices to criticize but rather the supporters of Erdogan after he declared his one-man rule after 2011.
For example, Republican People’s Party (CHP) said “yes” to AKP’s constitutional amendment concerning the impunity of lawmakers, which led to the arrest of the pro-Kurdish party’s leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksedag along with many other deputies.
Demirtas’ arrest was one of the most significant breaking points in Turkish democracy in recent years. The main opposition Kemalist party CHP cooperated with Erdogan, who declared his one-man rule regime.
Opposition parties CHP and IYI supported all the bills in the parliament, authorizing Erdogan to use military force in Syria targeting Kurds.
Kemalists were the leading supporter of mass military operations in 2015, reducing the Kurdish-majority cities to rubble.
CHP did not even appeal to a higher court regarding a regulation giving impunity to public officers for their activities during the state of emergency and protecting the torturers. Therefore torture can not be tried in today’s Turkey.
CHP, nationalist parties IYI and MHP acted with AKP to implement all regulations aiming to oppress the Gulen movement and Kurds, closure of media outlets, appointing state-sponsored trustees to the municipalities run by Kurdish mayors, confiscating dissidents’ properties.
We need to question the support to AKP today after AKP turned out to be a one-man rule more than the support given when the party resembled a coalition of democrats before 2010.
Accusation: State institutions were under the control of the Gulen movement
Naturally, people close to the movement have their place in the state institutions just like any other Turkish citizen.
Setting up groups’ cadre in public offices or nepotism is undoubtedly unacceptable.
However, the Gulen movement’s existence is 95% based on civil society rather than the state institutions.
Many critics claiming the Gulen movement is not transparent has been bringing it forward by losing touch with Turkey’s reality.
Almost all people and groups excluded by the Turkish state from the list of “persona grata” have had to hide their backgrounds and affiliations.
The primary human source of the Gulen movement is the education segment. People working in this field are registered as employees at the schools, courses, and institutions that are known to be affiliated with the movement.
The majority of them were the members of a union close to the movement.
Therefore, they are all registered and transparent.
The very morning after the July 15 coup attempt, the Turkish government canceled the licenses of 20.000 teachers, subsequently dismissing some other 50.000 teachers from their posts.
Transparency has been a heavy toll for those targeted by the mass purge.
Ankara also closed down official schools, courses, educational institutions, and universities shut down and banned several publication houses, newspapers, magazines, tv stations over links to the movement.
The Turkish state played havoc with the Gulen movement from it’s “transparent” side. 500.000 people out of 600,000 who have been prosecuted are those in public life.
Around 100.000 people were dismissed from the public duties and prosecuted, which is 1/46 of 4 million 600 thousand public officers of Turkey. Thus, claiming that Gulenists took control of all the state institutions is nothing more than a false allegation.
On the other hand, it’s important to underline that the Gulen movement is one of the groups with the highest level of education in Turkey.
%99 of its followers have university degrees. Considering that half of Turkey’s population are primary school graduates, it’s understandable for a group with high education to be seen as more active in the public and private sectors.
Scapegoating the Gulenists for the arrest of Kemalist military officers
Some also claim that several Kemalist military officers and journalists were arrested before 2010 by judges close to the movement.
Kemalist soldiers have done all coups in Turkey’s history. Around 300 military officers faced trial over coup-planning charges before 2010. Considering Turkey’s coup history, it’s not odd that military officers arrested or faced trial were Kemalists.
Let alone those prosecuted soldiers’ coup plans have been proved with concrete shreds of evidence.
Erdogan government released these military officers and appointed some of them to sensitive positions not because they were proven innocent but to ally with them to destroy the Gulen movement.
The Economist article miscalculates the number of Gulen movement-affiliated people in the police by claiming that half of the police officers was Gulenists.
The number of personnel in the police is 293,000. Only 33,000 people have been dismissed from the police over alleged links to the movement, which is 10%.
1/3 of those have been acquitted. They proved that they had no connection to the movement, but the government has not reinstated them back to their duties.
No doubt, some wrongdoings took place in the trial procedures between 2006-2012. But at the same time, it should be kept in mind that those years when allegedly the Gulen group was effective in the judiciary was the period the European Union gave the highest numbers to the Turkish judiciary.
Another bias: All hate Gulenists in Turkey
Another bias about Turkey is all factions hate the Gulen movement in the country. The movement is a demonized group in today’s Turkey. People are aware of the consequences of being a Gulenist or sympathizing with any.
Torture, confiscation of properties, years of imprisonment, labeling, and preventing them from finding a job are some of the consequences.
Considering this, it is not possible in Turkey to say anything positive about the Gulen group.
Melek Cetinkaya, an activist, was arrested last month after she said on a TV show that she had some Gulenist neighbors, and they were good people.
Based on the consequences, no one can speak out anything positive about Gulenists without being persecuted in Erdogan’s Turkey.
The educational institutes affiliated with the Gulen movement were better-than-average and were educating hundreds of thousands of students each year. It’s out of the question that the group had a close connection with society.
In the past, the Turkish state demonized Armenians, Greeks, Alawites, and Kurds with the same methods; people had to hide their backgrounds and opinions for years.
Only 50 years after the oppression of Greeks, someone could say in public that they had Greek neighbors, and they were good people.
It’s quite unlikely that the same sentence could be said about the Gulen movement publicly in Turkey any sooner.
Bar Association files criminal complaint over enforced disappearences
Ankara Bar Association compiled a joint study report on seven people who became victims of enforced disappearance in 2019. The report was sent to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office, along with a criminal complaint.
Mustafa Yılmaz, Salim Zeybek, Özgür Kaya, Gökhan Türkmen, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan and Yusuf Bilge Tunç were abducted by men with black transporter vans in 2019. Four of them were handed over to the Ankara Police Department after being tortured for six months. The two were similarly given to the police in the 9th month — no word from Yusuf Bilge Tunç.
Many claimed that these people were abducted by government officials and tortured in the area called “Çiftlik (Ranch),” which belongs to the Special Operations Directorate of the National Intelligence Organization. Among them, Salim Zeybek was abducted in front of his wife, Betül Zeybek, and his children. However, the criminal complaints made by neither the Zeybek family nor other families have been adequately pursued by the prosecutors.
Report on enforced disappearances
Ankara Bar Association, Human Rights Center, crafted a report on the issue and filed a criminal complaint with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
In the criminal complaint, the studies conducted as a result of the application of the relatives of the abducted were elaborated and following the issuing of the Joint Monitoring Report, it was stated that with the decision of the Ankara Bar Board of Directors dated 05/02/2020, numbered 77/28, it was decided to convey the denouncement to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The criminal complaint stated the following:
“As a result of the researches and evaluations made by Ankara Bar Association Human Rights Center on the alleged enforced disappearances; as applicant Nuray TUNÇ’s husband Yusuf Bilge TUNÇ’s whereabouts are still unknown, an investigation that complies with international standards regarding her complaint needs to be carried out without delay. In terms of other applications, whose relatives have been enforced disappearances for at least five and maximum nine months, and which appeared in the police after the applications, it was determined that the suspected were deprived of the following: rights in the light of the state’s obligation to protect the right to life-related to enforced disappearance and to conduct an effective investigation, the right of everyone accused of crime to have a one-to-one meeting with their lawyers, the right to benefit from the assistance of the advocate of their choice, the right to appear before the judge immediately and the liabilities of the person whose freedom is restricted, having investigations open to public supervision and no investigation was carried out in which victims’ relatives participated in the process.”
In the criminal complaint, which stated that allegations of violations of rights were not duly carried out following the universal standards on rule of law, lawyers demanded from prosecution to deepen the investigation.
“For the reasons explained above and to be considered as ex-officio; We kindly request you to initiate a criminal case against the suspects to be detected in the light of the minutes, reports and documents obtained regarding the allegations of enforced disappearances as a result of the applications received by the Ankara Bar Association.”
The report includes considerations about the relatives’ statements of the abductees and the documents they provided.
The members of the Human Rights Center of the Bar Association went to meet with Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya and Salim Zeybek in Sincan No.1 F Type Prison on August 27, 2019, only to be informed that the prisoners did not want to meet lawyers, and they only met Salim Zeybek. However, the minutes of their meeting with Zeybek were taken away from the lawyers forcefully, and the lawyers were subjected to insults and threats by the prison officials.
Pointing out to the denial of the right to a lawyer to the detainees by the authorities, it was emphasized in the report that the missing persons showed up in police custody in the same way, gave the same statements, had the same physical signs (weakening, distraction, etc.)
The report read that six people have never been able to meet with their families or lawyers alone and that there is a government official in all the meetings, so they have not had the opportunity to explain the torture or violations of their rights.
In the report, while emphasizing the right to hire a lawyer, it was mentioned that the family of the six people refused their lawyers, the impression that this was done as a result of pressure, and the circumstances regarding the lawyers sent to them were suspicious.
In the report, it read that probes into enforced disappearances, and the cases over which victims face trial must be separated: “The probes into the enforced disappearances must be separated from the probes into the alleged criminal acts of the victims. It is paramount that information regarding the probe into enforced disappearances, which are not dangerous to share, disclosed. The family must be notified regarding the development of the case, ensuring their participation in the process.”
FSA members employed in Turkish Army ranks after naturalization
Following the naturalization of 500 Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters by Ankara, the Turkish Armed Forces(TSK) and the National Intelligence Agency(MIT) employed these militants. The “jihadist” Simon Hassan, who started his career as a captain in the Turkish Army, is one of them.
Simon Hassan has been made a captain “fighting on behalf of Turkey,” in his own words, after three years in the Free Syrian Army. Two months ago, Turkish citizenship was granted to Hassan. He was employed by TSK as a captain and will return to his duty after receiving treatment for a short period in a hospital. He has all the social rights of a captain in TSK and is paid the same salary. Her family was also naturalized, along with Hassan. “I’m not the only one,” he says.
Same rights as TSK staff
According to a report by Serdar Fırat from Grihat; new names and identities were given to jihadist FSA members so that they would not attract attention. According to military sources, so far, 500 jihadists were granted citizenship and were employed by TSK. The FSA militants receive the same salary as the official staff of the TSK.
There are also 15 jihadists employed by the National Intelligence Service through the same process. Security sources informed that 15 militants who were naturalized are now the official staff of MIT, and more than 200 militants from FSA are used as intelligence staff.
Unrest in TSK
The jihadists’ employment by the TSK allegedly created severe distress within the Army. It is also reported that sergeants, who are in the lower rank, forwarded their discomfort through official channels, especially about those assigned to the upper positions within the command chain.
Currently, the jihadists who are acting with the Turkish Army in Syria are given 500 dollars per month.
Education from SADAT
The FSA militants, whose stance is likened to the spirit of ‘National Forces (Kuva-yi Milliye) by the administration of President Erdoğan, are now sent to Libya as mercenaries. So far, 3,000 jihadists have been transported to Libya via Istanbul, accompanied by Turkish soldiers. The jihadists wear military camouflage and bear the Turkish flag. They do not hesitate to loot in some areas while fighting in these uniforms. Two thousand five hundred dollars are paid to those who go to Libya, and a 6-month contract is signed.
Turkey sees FSA as a genuine power and wants to keep members of the FSA in Syria. So far, 15 jihadists have died in Libya. International Defense Consultancy Company SADAT conducts the FSA training and programming, and this company decides who will be naturalized and determines their ranks within the military.