Gökhan Türkmen, a Turkish national who was allegedly held in a torture center for 9 months after his abduction, met his wife for the first time recently. His wife Zehra Türkmen told about the meeting which took place in the presence of police officers.
The most damning rights violations perpetrated by the Erdogan regime against the Hizmet Movement, during the ongoing crackdown in which tens of thousands of members have been arrested, are the enforced disappearances.
Gökhan Türkmen, one of the about 30 people who were abducted by the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT), was handed over to the police after being tortured in a secret center for 9 months.
Months later, Zehra Türkmen met her husband face-to-face at the Ankara Police Department for the first time.
Zehra Türkmen described her impressions as follows:
“My husband was thinner than I expected. His hands were so white, which caught my attention the most. He was afraid. ‘Think about the children,’ he said constantly. Then he told me to withdraw our applications to international organizations and courts, such as the United Nations and the ECHR, and not to share anything on Twitter about his abduction. He said he didn’t want a lawyer. All those who were kidnapped and left were saying the same words to their wives. I said that I would not withdraw my applications.”
“There was one policeman in front of the door and two behind us when we were talking. We couldn’t talk very easily between three people.”
“‘Will you wait for me?’ my husband asked.’ Of course, I will,’ I answered. I said it won’t take much time, not as long as he expected. I explained that this is a political process. ‘No matter how many years, we’re here for you, don’t worry!’ I said.”
“My husband’s case was the first of the six abductions that occurred in February 2019. The other abductees were handed over [to the police]. There was no news from my husband. Frankly, I was scared that they harm him. Nine months later they told me my husband was alive.”
“I always thought before whether he was alive. Now, I am thinking about whether there is any scar on his hand, face, and body, or permanent damage. What is his mood? That’s my concern. But it’s good to know he is alive.”
“I stayed in prison for 9 months”
“One of my kids is 6 and the other is 11 years old. We did not tell my children that their father had been kidnapped. But my children have many problems such as biting their nails, excessive fear, lack of attention. My son can’t even go to the bathroom alone. We have been living this process for four years. I stayed apart from my children for nine months while I was imprisoned. I was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment. My sentence has not yet been finalized at the Supreme Court.”
Legal struggle continues
“Now we have another struggle, the legal struggle. I’ll be a follower of this law process to the end. No matter what international courts it goes to, I will not quit ”
One person is still in the torture center
Gökhan Türkmen, who was abducted on February 7, 2019, is a chemist. Together with Turkmen, Yasin Ugan, Ozgur Kaya, Salim Zeybek, Erkan Irmak and Mustafa Yilmaz were abducted in February.
All of the abductees in February were handed over to the police after months of torture.
Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who was abducted in August, has not got away from the torture center yet.
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.