When Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu was unlawfully arrested in the recent past, I defined him as the “Mirror of Turkey’s Conscience.” I still think the same. He is such a prominent figure in human rights that you become impressed while listening to him and applaud him for his activities. When you consider the education, he had despite his origins from a typical family environment and the political climate in which he developed, you notice how profound a horizon and level of virtue he has in protecting and defending human rights, encompassing the entire society and even humanity — such a level has possibly been attained only by very few people in the world. I am not only surprised he has arrived in such a graceful manner, but I am also proud our country has such a precious citizen.
Think of a life: He always remained firm in the values he believed in, never strayed from his path, and always extended a helping hand without asking people “What is your identity?”. This is Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu. Although he is ethnically Turkish, he politically devoted his life and efforts to the solution of the issues that Kurdish people faces in Turkey. Despite his Sunni denomination, he is an activist who struggles for the rights of the Alevis and is the first to aid the adherents of minority faith groups in Turkey despite being a Muslim. He rushed to defend the rights of the participants of the Gülen Community, who have been marginalized in today’s Turkish society with the claim, “If you get near them, you will be burnt,” under oppression and persecution, again despite all risks. He has been harassed and surveilled in every way to be silenced. Seeing these do not work, he was jailed by the state to be silenced. He was thought to remain silenced if he remained in prison for a while. Despite everything, he does not give in and continues his struggle in rushing to aid people in distress. I do not believe there exists a day in which he does not rush to the assistance of an oppressed person and does not campaign for them in the public sphere to have their rights restored.
We delightfully conversed with Mr. Gergerlioğlu, a human rights expert and the Kocaeli Deputy for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). We talked to him about the Kurdish Question, its historicity, its causes, solutions, and current issues such as forced abductions, prisons, people dismissed by statutory decrees in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt, and many more. I leave you with this interview which I believe you will enjoy reading:
Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
I am from Urfa. I was born in 1965 in Isparta, where my father was posted. While I had my primary and secondary education in different cities due to my late father’s postings, I completed my high school education at the Imam Hatip High School in Bursa, where we settled after my father’s retirement. In 1990, I graduated from Eskişehir School of Medicine, which was affiliated with the Anadolu University back then and later I worked in various parts of the country. Later on, I took up specialization at the Istanbul Süreyya Paşa Chest Hospital and completed my specialization in pulmonary diseases and tuberculosis in 2000. Afterwards, I wanted to work in Bursa with the desire to be with my family. Since there was no vacancy there, I preferred Kocaeli, the closest city to Bursa. We have lived in Kocaeli ever since.
I started my job at Izmit Regional Hospital in 2000 and continued until 2017. Meanwhile, since I was also interested in social events, I actively participated in human rights campaigns. I have been involved in human rights activities since 2003, probably because of the Imam Hatip High School where I got my high school education and having grown up in a conservative environment. I served at the MAZLUMDER first as the Kocaeli Chapter Director and then the Chairman. During that phase, I was profoundly involved with politics and human rights advocacy, and I frequently visited Ankara as part of my duty as the Chairman of MAZLUMDER. Later, I had to quit my position as the Chairman because it was difficult being both a medical doctor and an active human rights organization chairman. Yet, I did not stop advocating for human rights. I and my colleagues upheld human rights advocacy by founding various initiatives. For example, despite five years passed since Hrant Dink’s assassination, justice had not been served. We brought this issue to the state officials’ agenda through shared wisdom and knowledge. Faced with increasing explicit and obnoxious content in news and media, we formed the ‘Do Not Remain Silent’ initiative and carried out activities to reduce such news.
While these continued, that renowned Peace process began. To contribute to this process, we established the ‘Kocaeli Peace Platform’ as a local peace initiative. Our sole purpose in creating this platform was contributing to the peace negotiations sustainable. We united people from all walks of life together around this objective. We held numerous events, panels, and symposiums, conducted various studies and published reports.
Unfortunately, the peace process came to an abrupt end politically. We did not stop and continued to say peace. In particular, I shared words, photos, and pictures reminding peace on social media. While doing this, our message was there is no way to get anywhere through conflict and that peace is essential. A time came when even using the word peace was considered a crime, and it started to be seen as a sufficient reason for you to be declared a terrorist. Think about it; using the word “peace” was considered enough for you to slandered as a terrorist.
After a group of academics known as Peace Academics published a statement and emphasized peace when the peace talks failed and led to an atmosphere of conflict, they were expelled from their universities and denied of their elemental rights and privileges. I was dismissed from the medical profession after my active service of 27 years due to my social media postings during that period. After that, I couldn’t find a job anywhere, including in the private sector, like every other affectee of a statutory decree. I liken this stigma and social exclusion to those oppressed by the Nazis. Even after I was expelled, I did not stop; we established the “Right and Justice Platform” with a group of Muslim intellectuals, carried out activities in the phase of the 2017 referendum, and organized events criticizing the government’s wrong policies.
You said you were dismissed by a statutory decree issued after the coup attempt…
Yes, I was.
After I lost my job because of dismissal thru a statutory decree, none of the job applications in my city and neighboring provinces were favored on the grounds I had been dismissed by a statutory decree. However, six months later, I found a job in a private hospital in Batman in eastern Turkey. Since there were few doctors in Batman, I could find a job only there.
I continued my editorial work while I was working in Batman. I have penned articles in different media outlets since 2007. In this way, I have continued to advocate for basic rights in the media and social life. I and my family could acclimatize to a new life and city when the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) offered me to contest elections as the top candidate from Kocaeli in the 24 June 2018 elections. I wasn’t even a member of this party when I received this offer. I didn’t even have an idea of going into politics. I focused more on my work and wrote columns. I was involved in civil society studies and reports. It was a tough decision to take, but I accepted the parliamentary offer because I thought I could conduct the rights advocacy I had done thus far more efficiently as a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. It was a difficult decision because I was worried it might also harm my independent and impartial stance. It is tough to mention and defend the rights of Kurds in western Turkey… With this awareness, I embarked on this task and, as I expected, I encountered severe obstacles. It is challenging to be a candidate for a party advocating the peaceful solution of the Kurdish issue in western cities. In a place like Kocaeli, we encountered significant obstacles on the field. Despite all those, we carried out our electoral campaign and increased our votes and becoming elected as a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly from Kocaeli.
You mentioned obstacles. Can you mention examples?
You would be genuinely astonished if you witnessed the phase. We experienced an election campaign during which groups organized by the police attacked us. Our colleagues were beaten and injured. We were meted out several other mistreatments which had never happened to us before. Despite the incredible blocking attempts by the state and the government and with all additional electoral challenges, we still won the elections in Kocaeli through a successful campaign.
As if all these obstacles weren’t hard enough, the public officials in Kocaeli who had me dismissed from my medical position did not want me to be elected from there. The Governor of Kocaeli province, who had dismissed me from the civil service, was later appointed as the Governor of Diyarbakır. When he heard I became a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, I got the news he was visibly upset. People like us have been personae non grata for them! The government and its elements have been hostile against all we — the government officials dismissed by a statutory decree after the 2016 coup attempt and the human rights defenders — tried to do.
Because we witnessed their cruelty and we endeavored to show it to them and others. We did this through civic initiative activities. This upset the government and its elements because we could carry out these mainstream activities to the political arena and increase our pressure on them. Just as it was expected, we could carry all our activities through civil society, media outlets, and social media into politics. This bothered them. What’s more, I have completed three and a half years in politics with a more effective and intense working performance. Meanwhile, the incumbent regime prevented me for 4 months from practicing my duties in the Turkish Grand National Assembly by detaining me on superficial legal grounds. No matter what, I am one of the three parliamentarians in the Turkish Grand National Assembly who submitted the most questions in the parliament. I am the only member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly who submitted the most questions to the Ministry of Justice. The same as I started to this struggle, I continue my struggle for rights and advocacy with higher momentum through political activism. I haven’t given up on my struggle.
You have mentioned shortly but could you briefly describe the peace process and its details?
Of course. It is necessary to answer this question by explaining the process and its history. The matter is actually a pressing ethnic issue in Turkey. There are numerous and diverse ethnic and religious issues in Turkey, but the Kurdish issue comes first. Despite a Kurdish population of nearly 20 million and the constant wish of the Kurdish people to have their problems solved through peaceful means, this issue has always been deferred and left unsolved.
One may ask, “What do these people want?” They want the freedom to speak their mother tongue and practice their culture in the public sphere. Unfortunately, I must state that the government and state policies have constantly developed against the Kurdish people and no result has been achieved. Why? The period marking the founding of the modern Turkish Republic and the new state witnessed several tremors and watershed events. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the newly established Republic had to choose. The Kurdish issue was one of several agenda discussed at the table and the founding leaders were not willing to settle this issue equitably. What did they do, then? They implemented the strategy of uniting everyone under a pact or meta-identity of Turkishness, which they thought would be easier for governance. It was clear this would not work eventually. Events like the Sheikh Said revolt, the Dersim incident resulting in the massacre of thousands, and the Koçgiri rebellion showed that the Kurdish people did not accept these policies and that they would fight against it. From the first years of the Republic onwards, significant objections were made against these policies also in clash with the sociological nature of nations. Trying to reject the essentials such as race, language, religion, culture, customs and traditions of a nation only deepened the problem and nurtured it to survive to this date.
I would like to draw your attention to something here. In the first years of the Republic, the Kurdish society showed a stern reaction, but they could not be very active because of their underprivileged socioeconomic level. They knew little about what to do and how to defend their rights. Over time, socio-economic changes and transformations also took effect in the Kurdish society, and the number of intellectuals increased. The expansion of university education played an important role in this. The Kurds with low socioeconomic and socio-cultural levels may not have objected or thought, but new Kurdish university students broke a new ground.
You said while people think or have a perception of the Kurdish problem as a problem of the last 40 years, this problem started in the early years of the Republic and reached a different dimension with the Kurds who became more educated and equipped.
Of course. The first implementations of the Republic immediately created a reaction among the Kurds; they demanded respect for their rights. There has been a rising intellectual Kurdish movement since 1950. A movement started after the imprisonment of a group of Kurdish university youth and aristocrats in 1959, but it remained weak in political activity and social mobility. This movement gains popularity. In the 1960s and during the rise of the leftist movements after the 1968 student protests, the Kurdish movement continued its rise and they split with the Turkish left. While the search for rights in the Kurdish issue was carried out within the left-wing circles in Turkey, the right-wing movements had almost no effect on the Kurdish movement. One reason behind the ineffective attention may be that the right-wing movements’ lack of belief in a Kurdish problem. Besides this Kurdish movement, which emerged from the left-wing discourse, the right-wing conservative and religious Kurdish community did not consider protesting and rebelling, no matter if they were disturbed by some developments. I would also like to point out the reason behind this mentality as the thought the problem may be resolved by implementing the notion of Islamic brotherhood and not seeing it as an ethnic issue.
Youth movements sprung from the 1968 student protests helped to separate the Turkish left and the Kurdish left, making the Kurdish left even more evident. The PKK appears as the most evident of this mindset. Before the PKK, several Kurdish organizations had emerged in the name of defending Kurdish rights. Until September 12, 1980, those organizations and structures fought and led the Kurdish rights. With the emergence of the Öcalan movement under the armed PKK, the condition of these Kurdish organizations and structures changed. Öcalan coerced different to unite under his setup. Albeit an illegal outfit, Öcalan’s PKK solicited and found a social response. Although it resorted to conflict with the state and led to deaths, the PKK also found support among Kurds by the way it stood against the feudal lords and structures in the Kurdish-populated regions. Normally, when Turkish left-wing ideological and armed organizations resorted to active armed conflict with the state, they were wiped out in a short time because they lacked the essence of holding out through public support. The likes of left-wing activists like Mahir Çayan and Deniz Gezmiş can be mentioned as examples here to better understand this argument. When this is analyzed from the perspective of the Kurdish issue, some observe that it is unlike any Turkish leftist movement and takes place at different levels. The biggest factor in the dissemination of resistance was that the Kurdish issue had a social basis and response.
The Kurdish people suffered injustice for years. Groups emerged first passively and then actively struggled against discrimination, inevitably helping to support the Öcalan movement and graduated to Öcalan founding the armed PKK. Despite all the obstacles from the state, this armed movement has survived to this day. Let me also tell you this: Despite all the torture the state officials implemented to end this organization in the Diyarbakır Prison in 1984, the public support increased even more. Had the Turkish left been placed under a similar pressure, it would have been wiped out immediately. The state never understood or did not want to understand the Kurdish left-wing discourse. They considered the Kurdish left no different than the Turkish left and thought, “If we suppress these Kurdish movements for three to five months, they will disappear,” and they acted so, but this extinction never arrived. It was the Kurdish issue differed and had been sustained by a social context. The PKK illegal armed organization has survived to the present day despite fighting the state on the front. Social support has been the biggest factor in powering this organization. What happened after all these years of struggle? Why no solution could be found to this problem? Because all these protracted events have clearly shown this issue needs to be resolved politically, not militarily.
You stated the issue could be resolved politically. Did this need arise as a demand from the society or did the state evolve the incidents to this point?
State and government officials have always acted with a policy of suppression and denial about this problem. They always said, “We do not know about the existence of such a problem” or even “There is no such problem”. While they behaved so politically, they always knew the policies they followed were wrong. How do we know this? From their memoirs. We know from the memoirs of the retired National Intelligence Organization (MIT) officials and the high-ranked military officers. For example, former Land Forces Commander Aytaç Yalman noted this issue in his memoirs. He wrote “the Kurdish issue cannot be solved by smashing; it is politically possible to solve it”, as if he were a member of the Kurdish political movement. Let me say here: The state officials also know this issue cannot be solved with violence, but they do not dare to develop a strategy.
Could it be that the Turkish state’s failure to give the Kurds their rights originated from having other nations rebelled and broke away from the Ottoman Empire leading to a trust deficit in the mind of the state and their fears that a similar breakaway would occur?
That also has an effect. This state was created by a psychic trauma effect. The Ottoman Empire lost on most fronts and, as a result, it disintegrated in a way even to endanger Anatolia — the heartland — for total invasion. Republic of Turkey was established under such an atmosphere. This subconscious state and psychic trauma continue. The state always continues to consider and assess events with the worry and fear that “if we give the Kurds the slightest right, the same thing will happen again, and they will leave us”. If the Kurdish people had not acted with fear in this sense and the rights of this community had been given, the events would not have come to this level. It would have been closely seen things such as separation and fragmentation would not have happened because the Muslim Kurdish community given their rights would not point a gun at the Muslim Turkish community and the issues would not reach this level. We are talking about a Kurdish society with high religious sensitivities with the Turkish people. They coexist at home and abroad including during the Pilgrimage. They are two communities which lived as one in this geography for thousands of years, intertwined through marriage and spread throughout the country. For example, Istanbul is the largest Kurdish city in the world. Kurds are not only in the southeast Turkey. They are all over Turkey. Everyone now knows this is not about division or separation, but by integration. Unfortunately, the state did not assure the Kurds. You know, it didn’t say “I know you; I give you these rights without a second thought”. The understanding “if I give you this right, you will leave. You want to be divided” has always prevailed. The state always wanted to negotiate on how much these rights should be given.
I’m not a Kurd, I’m a Turk. Now I’m told, “Let’s negotiate on using your mother tongue”. Can this happen? We grow up with whatever language we learned from our mothers. Now it is wrong to say “If you forfeit such-and-such about this language, I will give you this right” and to consider this issue as a bargaining chip. I know no other language! How can you bargain on such a thing? Learning another language afterwards is one thing, but the mother tongue is another. This is also my most basic way of expressing myself. When it was said to “provide education Kurds in their mother tongue” during the Peace Process, the state again refused this similarly thinking it eventually led to division or separation. Dozens of subconscious delusions and fears prevent the state from understanding and solving this problem. Europe is multilingual and there are countries with more than one official language. In those countries, everyone can study in their mother tongue. The Turkish state could not carry out this reform in this sense, and the problems remain unsolved under the influence of the officials’ fears. If an actual poll were conducted among the Kurds and they would ask, “Do you want to be divided?” 90% would say “no” and add “why should we separate from these lands we live in together?” with the note they want “no one to violate their rights in the name of state interests”.
All these events have shown the solution to these problems, which cannot be solved by conflicts, can be provided through a political way. This is how the political party processes emerged. Since the 1990s, many Kurdish parties have been established and most were permanently closed, just like the parties of the Erbakan movement. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was founded in 2012. Have the party shutdowns stopped? No. Nowadays, a closure case is underway against our party. They are even uncomfortable with a political party that demands to solve the problems of the Kurdish issue in the political milieu and as per legality, especially the issues of the education in the mother tongue and the recognition of the Kurdish language as an official language. For example, the state-founded TRT Kurdish TV channel is proof there is an “if I wish, I will” attitude behind the state’s rejection of the right to education in the mother tongue. “In the past I did not open such a channel, now I open one.” When you say, “It’s high time you give the people their right to education in their mother tongue”, you encounter the arbitrary stance “No, I will grant what right I wish, I will not grant what I do not wish”.
There was also a period when those who spoke Kurdish were punished in Turkey. While people could not speak Kurdish in government offices, they were also humiliated. These agonies and experiences were passed on from grandparents to their children, from generation to generation. People were forbidden to speak their mother tongue even on the street. They naturally objected to this. The state considered even those objections excessive and threw the objectors behind bars. People spent their lives in prison. Now, if you look at the life of a Kurdish citizen, which I do as the Turkish deputy of a Kurdish political party with centerline Kurdish policies, you see the lives of these people have always passed around the prison. Either his grandfather, father or brother or himself is or was imprisoned. This is how it always goes. This causes great pain. This happens to the Kurds because they want their rights. When asked to the Turks, they say, “What is wrong with the Kurds, let them do where they are told”. It is necessary to ask this question to the Kurds who experience those pains because they suffer materially and emotionally. Another problem here is that the Kurds have difficulty in describing their problems.
When the events are generally in the southeast, it is very difficult to explain the pain experienced to people in different provinces of Turkey. Most conflicts took place in Kurdish-majority provinces and civilians, especially children and women, died in conflict. The youth witnessing the conflict resorted to fighting as guerilla on the mountains. Families who lost their children and this society is in a state of great trauma. Socioculturally speaking, a ball of fire landed on each house and this fusillade continues. There are still thousands of Kurdish inmates in prisons. On the one hand, here is a state imposing a deadlock on a community, and on the other hand is the HDP, which has become the third party in the Turkish parliament due to the impact of the problem on the society, has prescriptions to solve the issue. Let’s also point out here that if the issue of Kurdish rights were as insignificant as the state says, HDP would not be able to win the votes of millions of voters and enter the parliament as the third largest party. 99% of those who voted for the HDP did so because of its activities to restore the Kurdish rights. These show how important the Kurdish issue is and that the public wishes it to be resolved. Here, the state and the people need to understand they cannot solve this issue with bombs and guns in general.
These sufferings and the life conditions of the Kurdish people are saddening. Is this why the solution process is so important, as once it was considered a prominent hope?
As a person following the Kurdish issue closely for years and constantly demanding a solution to it, I have been the person who supported it the solution most when there was a chance. When the solution process started in 2013, we celebrated. We said, “If there is a chance for peace in this issue, where great suffering has been caused and tens of thousands of people died, as Turks and Kurds, let’s take responsibility and do our best.” I was not in the HDP then. I was not a member of any political party either. During such periods, our motivation is stoked by human rights advocacy rather than political reasons. Therefore, we applauded and supported the start of this process. The government nominated a 63-person Wise People Committee, including intellectuals, journalists and artists, formed to materialize the solution with common mindset. When this delegation visited to Kocaeli, the officials asked because of my knowledge, “Can you host the delegation in Kocaeli?” Some members of the delegation such as our current party chairman Mithat Sancar and journalist Ali Bayramoğlu said to me, “We trust you as someone who knows this issue well in Kocaeli. We want you to plan and organize this”. I agreed. We first planned all the programs and activities and then requested the assistance of the Kocaeli Governor’s Office and the Kocaeli Police Department.
During the resolution process and because we were respected people in Kocaeli, the Governor’s Office and the Police Department did not turn down any request. Before the Wise People delegation’s visit to Kocaeli, I brought together the provincial chairman of the ruling party AKP and the provincial chairman of the HDP at a press conference. These people spoke to the public under my moderation. With these people, we jointly prepared the visit program of the Wise People delegation. I was there, of course, as a catalyst, facilitator and accelerator of those two parties. Considering potential backlash from nationalist circles in Kocaeli, the program went smoothly and was concluded with no incident. Such programs served as the PR activities of the Solution Process back then.
Those who supported this solution process the most wanted the Kurdish issue to be resolved in a fair and equitable way. I can even say, despite many issues to criticize AKP supporters as of that day, they worked to “let the process progress and be completed” and did not highlight the points of conflict. Since they suffered the most with families and children killed and their language and culture denied, all what the Kurdish community wanted to end this suffering and have their rights restored. They said “We’ll even sit down with Erdogan for the solution.” The desire for peace brought these people together and this mattered a lot. Despite all these, we finally observed the state mind did not think of a solution and wished the ancient regime to continue. They did not want to sustain the solution process, so they resorted to excuses and they “upturned the table” to sum it in the expression used back then.
What happened? Why did they kick and upturn the discussion table? While the solution process was underway, Syria slipped into a civil war. Suddenly, the PKK, which carried negotiations with the AKP, disagreed in discussions. Meanwhile, the state held these talks with the PKK under a legitimate plan and program. In doing so, the HDP assisted the state. In this process, letters arrived and were dispatched to Qandil — the PKK’s Mountain headquarters — and the prison compound where Öcalan was held. The state also wanted these letters to be read at the Nowruz rallies, which the HDP did at exclusive political rallies. After an intense traffic of negotiations, this process could not be concluded as the state wanted to continue with the old logic. Soon, the solution process left its place to conflicts again. It was already a difficult issue to solve and when the table was upturned, conflicts arose unavoidably and led to ruin. If you, as a state and government, sit at the table saying, “You must end the conflict” and engage in the conflict once you leave the solution table with excuses, you will get no solution from there. Since the government changed its axis there, it also moved away from the solution of the Kurdish issue. By moving away from restoring his Kurdish identity and solving the Kurdish issue on a political basis, the government tried to crush the HDP, the party that raised this issue.
In the form of detentions, arrests and conspiracy cases, the government aimed to end the HDP, the political party with which it sat at the table some days back. In other words, the state considered ending and solving this issue by closing the HDP, a political party, and disbanding the armed PKK. We know such issues do not end like this. Such legal or illegal movements arise due to social problems and injustices. If one cannot solve such social problems in their mind, it will be inevitable for such structures to emerge. Similar objections arose in the Islamic community as well. The Islamic community was beaten by the state for years. Through headscarf bans, imam hatip bans, this ban and that ban, the state always assumed “we can solve these problems by closing Erbakan’s parties”. The more they closed Erbakan’s parties, the less change happened. Religious people insisted on headscarves and ‘Imam Hatips’ (Religious Schools) and finally got their rights. The Kurds cannot get the rights they want, they are also exposed to coercion, exclusion, and marginalization. They are sidelined from the political arena and the mainstream parties they found are closed.
Like many, you said “the solution to this issue is politically possible”. However, when you look at the developments we have discussed here, do you really think it is possible to solve this problem politically?
Now, according to my observations both in the fields of human rights advocacy and in politics, the state does not want to solve this issue. They wish the century-old logic to continue.
When you say state, you don’t just mean the ruling party, do you?
Yes. I mean the entire state, with all its elements. No matter how much the political parties come from an opposition wing, they maintain the understanding of the state on this issue. That’s the point. However, this thing we call “state mind” does not want to find a new method to solve this problem going on for a century. They do not consider the solution of this issue due to the prevailing understanding of “I will solve this issue with the method a hundred years ago. Otherwise, I will impose it. If they go further, I will crush them in conflict”.
Meanwhile, the state does not say, “Let me stop and try to understand this issue.” They have no thoughts such as “Let me take a step back and try to understand this issue and try to win over the Kurdish people in this way”. There are thousands of Kurdish political prisoners in prisons right now. Think of their parents and siblings. While this attitude of the state solves nothing, it only fuels the current fire. As you asked in your question; yes, this issue can be resolved politically, but an imposing logic of state and power does not want to solve this issue. Their attitude is always, “you will accept what I say. You will bow down and I will see that. That’s the only way we will settle this matter”. This complicates the resolution.
Why is the government failing in these policies?
I have been following the Necmettin Erbakan movement since the 1970s. The most important factor in that is I grew up in a political family. My family, especially my father, was attached to the late Erbakan and Necip Fazıl Kısakürek movements. We opened our eyes to the world and grew up in an environment that followed Islamic movements. In 1973, I followed the election results of the National Salvation Party with my older brother, even though I was so young. Because our home was a political place and we as a family followed the election results until the morning. Back then, we saw Erbakan was victorious and rising despite all pressures. No matter how much the state hindered this movement, they eventually gained this right by going through some changes. Coming from this movement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan founded a new party and took over the state. You can’t stop things; there is a similar situation in the Kurdish movement. It is impossible to stop a movement that has a social base. The ruling powers do not understand this and they think that “Let’s hurl a couple of bombs and close a party. Let’s drop bombs and let this be over”. While this is not like that, it is also a deep issue. This matter here has a 200-year history. Although the last century of the issue has been related to the Republic of Turkey, it has been a bleeding wound of this land for the last 200 years. When Atatürk founded the Republic, there was the Kurdish issue on the table and he could have solved this issue in a positive way, but he did not think of solving it.
He considered the way to solve it with the policies we are talking about now. What happened this way? With this issue remaining unresolved, still a bill be paid by the people and the issue still stands before us in a locked state. This issue can be resolved with a political solution, but with different methods. Because the Kurds are generally pro-solution and the Kurds supported the solution process the most. According to the people in the western provinces, the Kurds gave greater support with the notion “as long as there is a solution and our children do not die anymore”. Almost 100% support. Despite all what the state did and the attitudes of respective governments, there is a Kurdish movement that says, “Come, let’s solve this issue”. These people don’t say “Damn, let’s break up, divide”, they say “Let’s figure this out”. As long as a solution is not found, violations and conflicts do not end. When guns blaze, the people, especially children, are always the most affected by these conflicts. Look in the last 10 years: If I remember correctly, 289 children died in these incidents. Some lost their lives when they were run over by armored vehicles, and some died in explosions. If you are in a conflict due to where you live, something can hit you. These conflicts do not happen in İzmir; they are experienced in Diyarbakir and the cities around it. Only when the funerals are held in western provinces, people hear and feel the incidents and say “Yes, there is a conflict”. Since all Kurdish people living in this conflict are affected by this, the effect is much different and deeper than those in the west. That’s why the Kurdish people do not know any other solution but a solution. This is a society intertwined with blood ties in Anatolia. If you do some research, people will say “My mother is Turkish, my father is Kurdish” or vice versa. The Kurdish people know well that the solution is through peace.
I would like to ask you about Selahattin Demirtaş and other imprisoned HDP deputies. Why does the state keep these people as prisoners despite the decisions of the ECHR?
Because of what I just said. These people are being held in this way because they stand against imposing the state and forcing people to submit to these impositions. It was said, “Let’s remain seated at the table during the solution process”, many things once considered as illegal were no more so and Selahattin Demirtaş, with a seat at the table, was given duties and requested to act as conduit between Imrali (the place where Öcalan is kept) and the state. While all these were happening, the people concerned did not swim to Imrali, nor did they go themselves. The National Intelligence Organization MIT took Demirtaş to İmralı with its own gunboats from Bursa. An intense exchange of letters ensued. As I just said, these were also the letters asked to be read to crowds at the Nowruz rallies. Former FM and PM Ahmet Davutoğlu was at that table with Selahattin Demirtaş. Yet only Demirtaş was declared a terrorist. Why? What is it? A photo was taken with Öcalan. Sending this person there as an envoy and then asking, “Why do you have a photo with that man?” Demirtaş was imprisoned due to the state’s imposition of “You will accept everything as I said” or the threat of, “You will go to jail”. They haven’t released him since then.
I mean, the state says, “I am strong, and you will submit to my power”. The Kurdish movement also says, “I am also right; you may be strong, but we experience massive injustices.” This time, the state says, “Well, if you are wronged, stand by, brother.” As I just said, who else was told this at the time? The Muslim conservative groups were told about their headscarf and ‘Imam Hatip’ rights demands.
Look, I know the grievances of both Muslim conservatives and the Kurdish people closely and I live with them. I also attended the pro-hijab rallies. The MAZLUMDER was a human rights organization more supported by religious people. We had two main agendas; one was the headscarf, and the other was the Kurdish issue. We tried to solve all these issues. When the headscarf was on the agenda, I was the president of the MAZLUMDER, an association that issued a press statement every week for 5 years. We wanted these rights to be given and we took solemn serious actions on this issue. Why? Because the state was violating our rights. The rights of a headscarved person, such as education and work without hindrance in the public sector, were prevented. The state kept on saying “I will treat you as a third-class citizen” back then. Today, the people who were subjected to these oppressions are in power and they show no empathy for the Kurdish issue, which has similar problems. They also say, “This is what our state wants” and turn to the Kurdish people and say, “Do not cause trouble”. People victimized by the state yesterday say these words. I say these easily because I know both sides well. Things happening are similar.
Another aspect of the Demirtaş incident is his immense popularity and attraction of attention and love throughout the country. This causes his imprisonment. While this is not legal, we see that the decisions of the ECtHR are not implemented. These show these incidents are arbitrary practices. This shows Demirtaş has been held in prison as a hostage.
If you had the opportunity, what method would you follow for the solution of the Kurdish issue? How would you make peace happen?
As a human rights defender who knows the political environment in Turkey and has been patiently fighting against rights violations for years, as a HDP deputy and as a person who has fought against human rights violations in the Kurdish issue before, I think this issue can be resolved on the social level. Unfortunately, with the state and power practices, this issue has been elevated from a political issue to a social one. I mean, not only the state but also the society has adopted a stance. Therefore, it has become difficult in the society to explain the Kurdish issue to the Turks. Turkish society often asks “What injustice have the Kurds suffered? What do they want? Here they go to school, and they can do business. What problem do they have?” Over time, the society has transformed to adopt a different stance. There are many unaware of this 200-year-old Kurdish issue besides some who are but say “I don’t want to hear anything about this” and “What special did the Kurds experience?” We encounter a Turkish social response that does not empathize and does not want to tackle this issue on a humanitarian basis. I think they would understand this issue if they showed a little care and thought about it. Look, I’m a Turk too, and I have experienced none of the traumas the Kurds have gone through. As a human rights defender, I see they have suffered a great injustice. This is how Turkish intellectuals think about this case. Anyone who examines this issue at an academic level immediately sees the incidents manifest human right violations.
This issue has been tried to be solved by the governments for a long time. It awaits solution still. However, in the recent solution process, the public did not react massively due to Erdogan’s charisma leading the policy. Otherwise, if it were other leaders and governments, the people would react strongly against these policies. Here, the society has such a view, and the Turkish people are not ready for such a peace process. This is why, a social education should be given to prepare people for it. For example, young people who leave the eastern provinces and go to a western province like Muğla can be beaten up a ton just because they speak their mother tongue in public. Why? Because of speaking their own language! We come across such cases every day. These young people enter universities with many difficulties, but due to such discrimination, they leave their education halfway and return to their hometowns.
Here I want to say this: The government and some of the Kurdish people approach this issue from a religious perspective. Here is “We are religious brothers; we can solve it this way” … It should be explained this issue is not a religion-based problem. You have just asked; there are Kurds who support Erdogan, and while the state sees these Kurds as acceptable Kurds, they see other Kurds who seek and demand their rights as evil Kurds. What happened? The 52% support AKP received from the Kurds has dropped to 23% today. The reason is this issue is not wanted to be understood by the government and it is thought as if it is a religious issue. Actually, this issue is an ethnic problem and not a religious issue. Since the state does not see this as an ethnic problem and wants to Turkify everyone, it does not want to look at this event that way. The government has a mistake about the Kurds who voted for it, let me tell you this here: Kurds who vote for AKP do not think there is injustice done to the Kurds. Every Kurdish citizen knows injustices and says they happen. Why do they support this party? They do this because they are more conservative, because of factors such as religious fraternity. These Kurds are also cold towards the Kurdish political movement that emerged as a leftist movement. We see that the government’s attempt to present this issue as a religious one and try to solve it in that way does not differ from hiding its head in the sand like an ostrich and not wishing to see the truth. That’s why the Kurds, who support the ruling party, have begun to withdraw their support.
As for current events, there has been a serious deterioration in the human rights record in Turkey recently. How did the country get to this point?
Look in Turkey, the problems are not solved. What do you do to leave the problems unsolved? You move the country away from democracy and law and transform it into a more oppressive regime. Let’s imagine an oppressive father at home: If he cannot or does not want to solve domestic problems, he gets angry. He beats and shouts at the household. Everyone is silenced this way. Are the problems solved? No. Can we talk about justice? No. This is the state practice now. Problems can be solved with democracy. In this country, both devout Sunnis and Alevis experienced problems due to their religious positions. The Kurdish issue is a similar issue. How did this process come about? First, Turkey wanted to join the European Union; she wanted to take steps towards democracy and law, but then she gave up on them. The solution to the problems in Turkey lies here. These conditions can be resolved not only by entering the EU, but also by returning to democracy and law. The state does not prefer this. The state says, “I will be like that angry, hitting, shouting and calling father.” Erdogan didn’t just settle for that, he also said “I will be the only man”. Erdogan first drove away anyone who tried to restrain himself, and then took control of everything. He thought in this way the state would be managed more comfortably. Erdogan, who is already a dominant character, has gathered all powers in his hands. When an issue comes to Erdogan, he is not someone who can say “Come, let’s talk about this issue and have a consultation”, but someone who comes up with solutions for everything according to his own mind, someone who whistles his own tune. Our society cannot be governed like this.
If you use the power of the state to acquire a position, the state’s legal record will hit the bottom. The problems got worse because the state thought the problems could be solved with rigidity and pressure. Look, here is the Kurdish issue and the chance of a solution has hit rock bottom. They think they have solved this problem by putting thousands of people in jail. This is not the case. The Kurdish issue has become such that the equation has become much more difficult. After the issue became so complicated, the Kurdish people also lost their trust in the state. People are now saying, “This state cannot solve our problem and knows nothing but to harm us”. Because of this, our community has withdrawn into its shell and lost its good intentions. Although the HDP is under enormous pressure, it has not lost its voter base. Although all parties in Turkey lost votes, the HDP vote rate remained the same and is still on the 12–13% band. There is another thing here: Because HDP builds its policy on a very specific issue, maybe it can’t win new voters, but it doesn’t lose the existing one either. Where do these pressures get us? It’s getting us nowhere. HDP is still in a key position as Turkey’s third largest party, and it is getting good votes. I have mentioned the pressures generally experienced around the HDP here, but the attitude of the state is the same for all opposition groups. It tries to silence diverse voices.
The attitude of the state towards the Gülen Movement has been the same. After earthshaking social events, the declaration of the State of Emergency and the subsequent dismissal of hundreds of thousands of people from employment in the civil service, and the subsequent grievances the Kurds have had for years, are similar to the ones the Gülen Community has experienced. Regardless of the voices, the attitude of the state is always the same. They try to silence these voices through pressure and intimidation.
The number of people abducted in broad daylight has also increased in Turkey. Who abducts these people? Why is this happening?
First, government agencies are amazingly liars. I had been in a broadcast just recently and shared this there as well: 28 people died in prisons in the last 4 months. That’s an incredible number. In this sense, we occupy the first position in the world. We are the country that imprisons its citizens the most, with a rate of 89.3% in one year. We are in the second position in the world after Russia with a rate of 325 prisoners per 100,000. We narrowly lost the first place to Russia with 328. It looks like we will soon claim the top position. An oppressive mentality tries to solve the problems like this and fills the prisons so. Now, in an environment where such violations are experienced intensely, abductions as the most serious human rights violation have increased. As human rights defenders, we observe many violations, but violating the right to life is the worst. Violation of the right to life is the most vital. Therefore, abducting people, torturing them, destroying the security of life and property are serious right violations. I annually dedicate and declare a year to a human rights violation, according to the most common violation in that year. I declared 2020 the Year of Abduction, as abductions increased so much.
The lives of the abductees and their relatives are destroyed. Often, despite the CCTV footage of the abductions, you ask government officials, “Where is this man or woman?” and they reply “We don’t know”. Let’s remember the Saturday Mothers here again. They are the mothers whose sons and daughters went missing under custody in the 1990s. These mothers have been asking the same question every Saturday since 1995, “Where are our children?” and still get no answer. Thousands of people kind of vanish in thin air under the state surveillance. When you ask what happened to them, you get no answer. For 30 years, these mothers have been asking the same question, but there is no answer. There is obviously a big crime, no one wants to open this file. Nowadays, similar forceful disappearances recur. Just when we utter “EU harmonization process, democracy, law”, we reverted 30 years. We’re back to those crushing and extraordinary government practices of the 1990s. We encounter a mindset which oppresses dissidents and abducts people, keeps them in one place for months and tortures them, and when you ask them, they deny it. You ask the ministries, “Did something like that happen?” they say, “We have no news.” I’m sure they know about everything, but they’re so good at lying; they lie morning and night. Allah knows how skillfully they lie.
Why does the state abduct people when it can arrest people at will?
The state thinks it cannot make certain inquiries in a legal milieu. They may think they will reach information through months of interrogation in illegal setting. They are very comfortable while doing this, you know, they need not worry about “someone questioning the method”. Since state officials say, “I have full command on the media, I am the judge upon the judiciary, I have command on everything national and I somehow convince international organizations,” they carry out such abductions to their hearts’ desire. They do not care about the decisions of the ECHR. When the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations ask questions about these issues, the state authorities give answers that do not comply with the solemnity of usual state discourse.
In the 1990s, when there were unsolved murders and target killings, the state used to do those clandestinely. Nowadays, people are abducted in broad view of CCTV cameras. Three or four operatives seem forcibly pulling people into black vans. No news arrives from the abductees for months. The state operatives do all this with great ease.
When asked, the authorities can sometimes even openly say “It is us”. They say, “We abduct people abroad as well, whenever we deem necessary.” This recklessness is extreme. They commit these crimes comfortably by saying “Either it is the state’s way or the highway with corpses fed to ravens” and using the pretext “There is a State of Emergency, the rule of law and state are under threat”. The authorities are unaware how they undermine the state with what they do and how they cause the grossest damage to it.
Here, I would like to ask you, how did the Islamists, who were the oppressed of yesterday, become the oppressors of today and could defend all this evildoing?
This has something to do with the human nature. If one is not a human rights defender, they are only a defender of their own identity and when they gain power, they persecute other identities. Look, this is the root of the matter. If you’ve been a human rights advocate, you wouldn’t do that. If you’ve been focused on your own rights from the start, the rights of others don’t matter to you. I experienced this while I was struggling for the headscarf rights. I have said to the conservative religious Turks in the west, “Look guys, I’m not a Kurd. I’m a Turk, but please take heed: The Kurds also have a lot of problems.” Like us religious Turks, Kurds are having a lot of problems. It has not been only the reaction; we have also been targeted. In the same way, when we said, “Alevis are also subjected to a lot of injustice in this country, let’s understand them”, we were insulted again. For example, a Protestant church in Kocaeli was arsoned with Molotov cocktails and I was the first to condemn the incident. Receiving such unexpected support, the pastor was so surprised. He called and thanked me. He said “I swear by God, you are a man who advocates for hijab and when our church was attacked, no one spoke out. You stood up and condemned the incident. I have been both very surprised and very happy, Mr. Ömer.” Look, that’s what human rights advocacy is like. We have always looked at the matter like this from the beginning. There were those who said “Mr. Omer, you made a statement in support of a church. What’s that got to do with your job? Don’t you know them as infidels who are the enemies of Islam? Why do you make statements for them?” Such were responses. There is a basic human privilege called freedom of religion; you pray at a mosque or a church. When we said so, they didn’t understand it. Look, when people with such mindset rise to power the next day, the oppressed of yesterday become the oppressors of today. Once they come to power, their own problem becomes resolved, while they have no understanding or concern about human rights for all. They are cruel because they say, “Let me hurt those who do not belong with me.” Not being cruel is not an easy matter. Not being cruel is something that can be achieved with human rights advocacy, morality, conscience and compassion.
I want to ask you about the public personnel dismissed from civil service especially in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt. Why did the state purge these people? Do you think the government will solve this problem in the near and far future?
States resort to purges in their times of crisis; yet what we had has been the largest purge in the history of the Republic of Turkey, possibly even in the modern history of the world. Such purges did not occur even in Nazi Germany or Maoist China. Even hundreds of thousands of people in East Germany, believe me, were not purged in this way. The world’s largest purge takes place in Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people have been dismissed from their public and private jobs and are still being dismissed. Look, over 150,000 people were dismissed. Even though the State of Emergency seems to be over at the moment, the government fosters the idea “Let’s purge 100,000 more people”. People still get purged and it seems a never-ending process. It’s an incredible thing. There is a perpetual State of Emergency. Now, similar to the Kurdish Question, the state also does not wish to restore the dismissed personnel to their posts and professions. I told the government deputies in the parliament, “Look, you purged these people as if they were rags. You declared cadets, those young men and women, coup plotters. What you’re trying to do will not happen; revert to justice. Look, it’s been 6 years to this date” and they said “No, we will not revert from anything!” They say, “We will crush our opponents like bugs”. They treat the dismissed government personnel like insects. What they said and did to the Kurds yesterday, they do the same to the people purged with statutory decrees in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt. Here, I am telling you something very briefly. The dismissed government personnel also understand the Kurdish issue, for example. They say, “For years, we considered the state a sacred thing and a father figure. We died and did not let anyone say anything untoward to the state. The same state now crushes us as if we were insects.” In other words, the state condemns to civil death and total annihilation by saying, “You will not be able to work in public. You will not work in private. You will be miserable, and you will crawl. I will not give you social relief. You will not even be able to have a credit card issued from any bank. If these do not suffice and if you want to go abroad, I will not issue you a passport.” This is only saying, “You have been condemned to a bitter death.” We hear incredible events every day about the people purged through the statutory decrees. We have scientifically proved that 138 genocide methods are implemented in Turkey.
The purged also face massive pressure in social life. Imagine the past how the doors of the Jewish households were marked. If there is a small problem in neighborhoods, people point fingers at people purged through statutory decrees and slander, “Look, there’s the traitor, the terrorist!”. When the children of the purged go to a grocery store, they are addressed as “terrorists’ offspring”. These have been commonplace. This passes on from generation to generation. It doesn’t just end with your and/or your spouse’s dismissal. Your children cannot get jobs and even your grandchildren are stigmatized. That’s why it’s not enough just to restore the purged to their jobs, their honor and dignity in the public sphere must also be restored. However, the current power mindset is conditioned to trample these people, who think differently than the state’s oppression, whom the system sees as insects. In the wake of the 1980 coup d’état, a group of academics were dismissed from their universities under the Law №1402. They returned to their posts 9 years later. The state said, “Okay, you can now report back to your universities thanks to the decision of the Council of State”, but now the state has a more stubborn mindset. When you talk to people from all walks of life, either from left and right, everyone says, “We’ve never had such a bad period in history!” “The rule of law reigned even in the wake of the September 12, 1980 coup d’état” people say. Look, this is voiced by significant figures both from the right-wing and left-wing schools of thought. They say, “Even in the post-September 12 milieu, prosecutors would have complied with certain legal frameworks,” and there is nothing these people comply with.
CHP and Iyi Party, and their leaders in particular, remain silent on the matter of the purged via statutory decrees. Especially Meral Akşener of the Iyi Party is criticized on this issue. What do you think about this?
Before I come to that, I would like to touch on the main issue again. In the Kurdish issue, many parties knew the existence of a crucial issue. Since they considered it as something “which burns one who touches it”, they were afraid their votes would decrease”. In another case, some thought, “If we hit the right spot on this issue, we can increase our votes by 20%”. Just like Ecevit’s capture of Öcalan increased his votes by 20%. It’s such a nerve-wracking issue. Everyone knows this problem exists. For example, PM and President Süleyman Demirel accepted the Kurdish reality and PM Mesut Yılmaz said, “The way of the EU passes through Diyarbakır”. You know, all those who have been cold towards this issue know there is a Kurdish issue, and it needs to be resolved. Yet, there is a massive state mindset encountering them and this time these political parties say, “Is it up to me only to solve this issue?” The same issue currently happens to the purged through the statutory decrees after the July 15 coup attempt. A substantial segment of the society in Turkey have been branded and persecuted on these grounds by the state which derogatorily addresses the purged as terrorists. What are we going to do with these persecuted people?
Let’s take a look at the Iyi Party, for example. When this party was about to be founded, the state authorities said to scare the party founders, “Look, you are a member of the FETO organization. You are establishing a party with treason. Look, we will kill you.” That’s why Meral Akşener has that subconscious psychic trauma we have mentioned earlier. If you ask Meral Aksener, “What do you think about the solution about restoring the purged to their posts?”, there is no answer. Why? She is afraid, she has second thoughts. “Now, if I utter ‘solution to the purged by the statutory decrees, I will be in trouble. I will be labelled a member of the FETO,” so she hesitates. It’s the same with the mindset that goes, “If we say our state is in the wrong on the Kurdish issue, something will happen to us”. That’s why the Iyi Party can’t be a solution to anything.
CHP can’t do much at this point either. It will revisit the same place the day after tomorrow. “What special is to happen if I save the Kurds and the purged government officials whom the state has cursed?” the party officials will say. People should not be deceived by the way the party distributes so many colorful beads to lure voters. Politics cannot be based on anxiety and fear. Only if these can be overcome, politics can be made. Look, this is my own style of politics. I am doing everything I can to defend their rights without asking for any return and without looking at anyone’s identity. Now, if someone from the Gülen Movement comes, I will help him or her. That’s why the naysayers call me a member of the FETO the most. If I respond to a Kurdish citizen’s request for help, they still call me a member of the PKK the most. I have defended the rights of everyone without discrimination until now. Now, if you fear all these and calculate your every move, you will never get into these things. “What do I have to do with this task? For God’s sake, let’s not delve into anything dangerous; things that burn anyone with the slightest touch!” If you say and do not involve yourself and if you continue to act like this, you cannot generate prolific politics and any solution to any problem.
There are big problems out there. You can’t solve these problems by saying things for boondoggling. Look, it is the same in terms of economy. At the moment, people talk about getting jobs. Sirs, you will take radical steps; this society will also take responsibility and governments will also do that. We will take radical steps and save the country. This is so. The same is true for human rights issues. Together we will take the risks. You will step in the Kurdish issue, and you will step in other issues. This time, they say, “Then the country will be divided!” Friend, take your step and trust yourself. Only in this way can politics be produced. This is also the case with the purged government employees.
Serious rights violations are committed in Turkish prisons. You talked a little bit about the state of the prisons, but is there anything you would like to add at this point?
Of course. First, the primary reason such violations occur a lot is the nature and structure of the prisons. Prisons are the places where discrimination and ill-treatment between the state and opposition individuals are experienced first. The state is very strong there, and the individuals are very weak. In normal life, the state is powerful in its sphere and the individual is in their sphere. The rift enlarges much in prisons. The state is incredibly powerful, and the individual is incredibly weak in prisons. As someone who was imprisoned, I observed this closely. Your freedom is taken from you. Your rights and privileges are violated easily. Your most natural rights are violated. Someone who loves you sends you a pack of sweets or a cute bookmark and the prison officials say “No way! We cannot allow these to pass through!” In the winter, your family sends you warm headgear and thick clothes from home, because prisons are usually cold, “No, we will not pass these” the officials say. Access to books is blocked. When you ask them why they do not allow books, they say “We simply do not allow, do you have anything say about it?” Look, I had these experiences too. It is easy to take away such rights and the place where you feel this the most is a prison. You won’t feel such things so close outdoors. Prisons are the places where the most painful episodes of alienation from democracy are experienced at the moment. The prison conditions are the worst in the history of the Republic. It’s so, crystal clear. Prison occupancy rates are also at the peak of the Republican period.
What are the biggest complaints?
The first thing that comes to my mind as the biggest complaint is the way the prison officers shoehorn inmates in wards beyond capacity. They place 15 inmates in a ward designed for one person. What happens if you stuff people this way? First, you witness the violation of the right to health. The most common violations in prisons also include denial of books for reading, cancellation of rights to chat and sports, besides lack of adequate and healthy diet, insults by the prison guards, battery, and exposure to ill-treatment such as torture, eavesdropping of conversations, private searches and naked searches of your relatives, inmates being subjected to naked searches, for example on the way to and from the hospital, and several other violations. Among all these, the most serious violation of rights violates the right to health. Why? All these violations aside, our health, which is the most humane common denominator, needs to be protected. In such an environment, even a healthy person will get sick if they are put behind bars. If they are sick, they will become terminally ill. In addition, if the treatment and diagnosis of these diseases are delayed and if rights such as postponement of sentence are not given to these sick people, they are either released in coffins or on their deathbed. Despite the extreme occupancy rates in prisons, the state does not want to release the purged inmates from there. Men and women are in intensive care, what will the state do by keeping them in jail under those conditions? The state is so obsessed with ill-treatment it does all things possible not to release the sickly before they die. I know some terminally ill prisoners, from both the Kurdish political movement and the Gülen Movement. The state is obsessed with these people, and it says, “I will not take your soul out of this prison! Do whatever you can, you are here until you die!” When the state mindset works this way, it brings up a perilous situation. What happens then? There have been 28 deaths in the last four months, and this is a world record. People do not collapse only physically, they also — after this understanding and treatment — have tattered psyches; they fall in depression, and some even commit suicide. There is a tremendous increase in both cancer and degenerative diseases.
Suicide rates in prisons are high compared to the normal population and this rate is around 13–14%. Suicide cases are rare in a normal society; it is about 1 in 1000 people. In healthy societies, people mostly die of natural causes. When you look at the prisons, this rate has increased to 13–14%. What does that mean? You are in a troubled environment: Between four walls and behind iron bars. It’s not a humane environment. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a prison, but prison is a truly inhumane environment. As if that wasn’t enough, the officials also violate your basic rights. Everywhere in prison turn into a torture chamber where you suffer; because our freedom is already restricted, and prison officials insult you out of the blue. Your letter arrives and they say, “I won’t give you your letter”. Your book arrives, “I won’t give you your book”. Your pack arrives, “I won’t give you that”. Your visitor comes and they don’t let you meet comfortably. On top of these, they even give you disciplinary penalties. The conditions of the inmates, whose lives and freedoms are restricted in every way, are extremely tough.
I would also like to ask you about the Gülen Movement detainees. The grievances of these people come to the fore a lot on social media. What would you like to say about this?
In such periods of oppression, there are severer oppressions against some communities. This is real. You know, when we talked about the things to be worried about, the state tackles dissent with the logic of “I will wipe, crush, destroy” and therefore the officials do cruel things against these detainees. There are thousands of women who thrown into jails with their young children. What is the crime of these children? We are talking about babies and children aged 0–6 years. Thousands of children remained in these prisons. For example, it is stated that there are 396 children in Turkish prisons nowadays. This is an instant number; in the last 6 years, for example, thousands of women were imprisoned with their children. This is a shocking number. Several sick prisoners died in prisons. We consider the current numbers, but the situation is much worse in every respect. The state supplies inmates in a constant state of circulation through hundreds and thousands of detentions and arrests. Such a circulation exists. With these numbers, we occupy the second position as the world’s top jailer. If we calculate the total of people investigated in this way, the figure is in millions. Look, in the last year, the occupancy rate of the prisons reached 89 percent as the government constantly sent people behind bars. It is no longer possible for the average Turkish citizen not to meet the prison conditions. It has become a common occurrence for people to be imprisoned. Especially the common people stigmatized as public enemies after the coup attempt experience these intensely. The state does the same thing it did to the Kurdish movement yesterday to the purged government personnel and the participants of the Gülen Community today. Although the victims are different, what remains the same is the brutal and tyrannical attitude of the state. The state purges and punishes someone with a statutory decree, and the person serves some time in the prison. When it is time for their supervisory release or probation, the judiciary does not let him released saying, “You will serve your whole sentence until the end”. Why? Here is a matter of a criminal procedure applied on enemies. The state sees you as an enemy who has to be crushed into annihilation. This is how several people are victimized and their cases must be proclaimed far and wide to highlight how they are punished through such an enemy criminal law in practice.
Finally, I would like to ask you about the Turkish economy, which is in bad shape. There are also early election debates. It is also seen that other parties did not include the HDP in joint talks. Could you briefly remark?
Erdogan runs the state with all his might and wants to maintain this power after 2023. You know, there is an alliance of interests pushed upon us. Deterioration of human rights inevitably deteriorates the economy. The Erdogan administration performs poorly. Despite that, this alliance of interests continues and does great harm to the country; yet, the state officials don’t care about this situation. Faced with all this, the opposition tries to unite. Unfortunately, the opposition is not brave. For example, why do you exclude HDP? What will happen if you involve it in the joint talks? I mean, you have labelled the Kurdish politicians as terrorists for 40 years, what did you solve in that way? Know what I mean? No distance can be covered with such a discourse! Be brave too, “What if you say I will cooperate with the parties you call terrorists”, so what? They don’t mean to solve the issue. Look, if you are not sincere, you can solve no problem with politics. This issue is Turkey’s biggest issue right now. It is necessary to manage and solve this issue in a humane way. This does not work without due consideration, as you can see. You keep dropping bombs, but nothing has been solved for 40 years. Come to a humanitarian solution. Look, the people are with HDP. Why don’t you sit down with the HDP and consider it? Unfortunately, this mindset continues. There is no place to go this way. I think everyone should see the problems and offer solutions for the normalization of politics. If these things do not happen, this imposition and unlawful government will continue on its way in 2023 and sustain its power.
If what you say comes true, how will it reflect on the society?
A lot will happen. First, the dissidents are divorced from the society. You know, I know many people who say, “If Erdogan comes to power, I will not stay in this country anymore, I will go away”. I meet them every day; people see the upcoming election as a turning point. Meanwhile, Erdogan finds what he wishes to accomplish is something rare. If he wins in 2023, he will consolidate a more diverse and more oppressive police state. That’s why Erdogan doesn’t lie when he says “These are your better days” time after time. He says, “I will do more, these are your good days.” Statutory decrees await to return, but Erdogan has no such intention. People ask me, “Sir, will an amnesty be announced?” or “Will we be restored to our jobs?” Erdogan’s discourse reveals he has no such intention. The man says, “This is a little of what I’ve done.” This is the mindset we witness these days. That’s why the continuation of Erdoğan and Bahçeli’s joint rule will spell irreversible doom for Turkey.
Originally published at https://politurco.com on May 17, 2022.