Violence in Turkey has been on the agenda again recently. Images of police officers beating and violently detaining people for violating lockdown orders, and a policeman firing shots into the air and grabbing an eight-year-old with a learning disability in Turkey’s southeast for breaking the COVID-19 curfew, prompted an outpouring of anger on social media.
The country was then shaken by the sickening discovery of 261 bodies of Kurdish people buried under the pavement on the outskirts of Istanbul. The bodies had been exhumed from a cemetery in the eastern province of Bitlis and taken to Istanbul without the knowledge of their families.
Last week, the Hrant Dink Foundation, a human rights organisation founded after the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, announced that Dink’s widow and the foundation had received death threats.
“When we consider all these cases together, it will be understood that some are striving for Turkey to slide into chaos,” human rights lawyer Erdal Doğan told Ahval.
Doğan suggested that Turkey is on the edge of another spiral of deadly violence similar to 2007, when Turkey’s ultra-nationalist groups – for whom the ethnic and religious purity of the Turkish state is worth killing for – stepped up violent acts.
A Roman Catholic priest and four evangelical Christians also were killed in 2007, while the country’s western provinces were targeted by suicide bombings as the deadly conflict with Kurdish militants intensified in the southeast.
“During periods of deep political and economic crisis, Turkey’s age-old and deadlocked problems around equal citizenship have been exploited with the help of racism, violence and assassinations to create an intimidating atmosphere of fear. The aim is to take a share of power or continue the status quo,” Doğan said.
Powerful and clandestine networks, operating on behalf of those in power and preoccupied with maintaining Turkey’s national security at any cost, become more active in times of political turmoil and they are protected by a culture of impunity, according to the lawyer.
When perpetrators of such violence are charged, they are tried as individuals without reference to extra-legal groups and networks behind the violence, he said.
“These provocative actions will continue in a variety of ways, unless the organisational links are investigated. To reveal that, all kinds of communication-information networks, money flows, political or organised connections should be exposed,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this form of impunity encourages the perpetrators in racism, discriminatory murder or any other crimes.”
Doğan said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s denunciation of the killing of George Floyd – an African-American man who died after sustaining injuries during an arrest by Minneapolis police in the United States – was the right move since the struggle for human rights is universal.
“But president Erdoğan is expected to show the same sympathy to all human rights violations in Turkey. Especially against racism and discrimination,” the human rights lawyer said.