U2 calls on us to remember grave human rights violations in Turkey

In my previous article I said the 1980 coup plotters should be put on trial for the crimes against humanity they committed. As soon as the article was published, I started to doubt if we could do this in Turkey. I believe I presented strong legal arguments about why and how 1980 coup plotters should be tried for crimes against humanity. My doubts are not about my legal arguments but about the political and legal culture in Turkey.

After posting the article, I tried to visualize how it would be to try those generals for the systematic torture and manmade hell they created in 1980 in Turkey. Victims, leftists and nationalists who were tortured after the 1980 coup appeared before a criminal court one by one to tell their grievances. They recounted all these terrible memories once again, but also lived through a kind of catharsis, which was always denied to most victims in Turkey. The victims’ statements are all being carefully recorded, not only to substantiate the verdicts about generals with strong evidence but also to preserve these statements for history so that they can be known by younger generationsThis kind of trial would be a real revolution for Turkey. Trying coup plotters for crimes against humanity would be much more valuable and meaningful than trying them for the military coup. Are we ready for that much openness? Are we ready to confront our history on an emotional level? Are we ready to clean the state of all kinds of crimes?

In my opinion, we are not fully ready for this kind of confrontation yet. This confrontation requires a fundamental change in our attitude and mood because it requires doing two extremely difficult things at once. We will first start to remember painful memories in our past and then present an unshakable will to clean the state apparatus of its culture of illegality.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you already know that I wholeheartedly support the Ergenekon case. But this does not mean that I refrain from criticizing it. For exactly the same reasons that make our confrontation with the Sept. 12, 1980 coup on an emotional level difficult, we cannot touch on the very serious crimes committed by the state in the Ergenekon case. Dealing with coup attempts is much easier for our prosecutors than dealing with disappearances, extra-judicial killings and systematic torture — all of which have somehow been orchestrated by Ergenekon and other deep state elements in Turkey. These are dealt with as side products of the Ergenekon case. In the Temizöz case, for example, some activities of JİTEM, an illegal extension of the gendarmerie, are being tried, but these have not yet been connected to the main Ergenekon case.

If we try 1980 coup plotters for crimes against humanity and if we deepen the Ergenekon case to deal with massive human rights violations, we will also be challenging the culture of forgetfulness. Trying coup plotters for crimes against humanity requires much courage on our part that enables us to confront all crimes committed on this territory against humanity. Therefore, our confrontation with our past is only on the mental level; we do not look at the past event with our hearts; we do not have enough courage to remember everything yet.

U2 calls on us to remember

All these thoughts raced through my mind when I read this exceptional news coverage in the Taraf daily. A photo was included on the right hand side of the piece. An Anatolian lady whose head was covered was holding a picture of a man in her hands. The sorrow in her face is very obvious. The headline read “I owe Bono a thank you.” This lady, Ms. Hanım Tosun, is the widowed wife of Mr. Fehmi Tosun, who was kidnapped in broad daylight in İstanbul 15 years ago. The men who kidnapped Mr. Tosun carried walkie-talkies. In other words, they belonged to the security forces. As was the case in thousands of other cases, neither did Mr. Tosun come back nor was a proper investigation conducted to find out who the kidnappers were.

In those days “disappearances” became routine in Turkey, but one thing singled out Mr. Tosun’s case. The famous U2 rock band mentioned his name in their 1997 album. Ms. Tosun gave a statement to Taraf to express her wish to meet with members of U2, which will stage a concert in İstanbul on Sept. 6. I was deeply touched by her words:

“I was very surprised when they mentioned my husband’s name in their album. I was extremely proud that during those terrible years, when no one would listen to us and we were immediately detained when we questioned the fate of our relatives, a music band as famous as U2 commemorated our lost ones by mentioning my husband’s name. The album carried our voice to the world. I believed our struggle was not in vain. I would really like to meet them. They did not forget about us during those difficult times. I owe them a thank you. I am thinking about going to the concert, but they say tickets are sold out. I wish I could go to the concert. If I could speak to them for just a minute or two, that would be enough for me. Certainly, I invite them to my house. But I don’t know what their schedule is like. Would they be able to come? I wish they had the chance and they could come to my home.”

I really wish Ms. Tosun will be able to meet the members of U2, whose 1997 album bore this on it: “Remember Fehmi Tosun ‘disappeared’ in Turkey October 1995.” We all need to remember the Tosuns and millions of other victims who lost their lives or suffered from grave human rights violations in this territory. When we start to remember, a real transformation will begin. I would like to thank U2 for reminding us of what we need to do.

03 September 2010, Friday