Loss of a friend never easy

I’m in Diyarbakır to fulfill my last duty to my friend. Tahir Elçi was not only a very good lawyer and a human rights defender, but he was also a very good friend of mine. We met in 2000.

As part of a group of human rights defenders, we were trying to establish the Turkish section of Amnesty International at that time and Tahir Elçi was involved in the Diyarbakır group. He dealt with Kurdish villagers’ cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). He was an expert on torture, ill treatment and village burning cases. He had an ability to criticize objectively and I learned from him to look at both sides of the coin.

Elçi was critical of both the state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). For those who want to view matters superficially, Tahir’s stance may come across as pro-Kurdish. Indeed, he was a Kurd, but he had the ability to criticize the PKK. He had a universal understanding of human rights that made him look at matters objectively and gave him a bird’s eye view. In fact, he was one of the few people who could do this in the region. If you look at the Cizre report of the Diyarbakır Bar Association in which Elçi had written about the latest situation in his hometown of Cizre after the curfew in October, you may see how courageous he was to criticize both sides.

Tahir Elçi was the Diyarbakır representative of the Human Rights Agenda Association, of which I am the president. The previous president, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who is another columnist for this newspaper, Tahir Elçi and I gathered together in Ankara nearly two weeks ago for a dinner and we laughed blackly at the current situation of Turkey. We all agreed that we are living in absurd and surreal times. Elçi gave several examples from the region of this surreality and we couldn’t help but laugh together.

The terrible loss of Elçi reminds me of the loss of Hrant Dink, another hero who had the ability to criticize both sides. The pattern that resulted in their deaths is nearly the same. First, they were shown as a target by a fake judicial process and “unknown” bullets killed them. This land can’t stand this kind of intellectual. You can add Musa Anter to this list of intellectuals who were shot down. In my opinion, the ability to criticize both sides is something dangerous to both sides, and that’s why they are always picked as targets. Now I’m writing this column in a hotel while listening to the sound of bullets from outside. I will attend the funeral of my friend today, but, believe me, Elçi’s irreplaceable loss will affect the work of human rights in Turkey. All the friends I’ve spoken to say that they do not understand the Turkish state as it uses and abuses its own citizens.

Tahir Elçi’s friends will gather today in Diyarbakır, as we had done before in İstanbul in the name of Hrant’s friends. I sincerely believe that they are now together in heaven, looking down and smiling at us. I sincerely apologize to my readers for this personal column today, but there are moments in life when you can’t find solutions and I really can’t find any other words to express my sadness. Tahir Elçi was a good friend. I send my condolences to his family, to his friends and to the country in which we still live.