Why Hafıza Merkezi?


The history of the Republic of Turkey, like so many nations who share an imperial past, has been afflicted by the massacres, rights violations and atrocities committed over the years in the name of nationalistic ideologies.  The purpose of Hafıza Merkezi is to lift the veil on these previously concealed realities and begin a dialogue of reconciliation and healing.

State sponsored oppression is anathema to the most basic and fundamental of democratic principles. The Turkish government has nevertheless waged a systematic campaign of oppression against all ethnic minorities, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.  The late Ottoman policy of addressing the Armenian issue through bloodshed, as well as the genocide of 1915, has fueled the notion of an Armenian enemy that remains a problem today.  In 1934 Jews were expelled from Thrace; in 1944 a discriminatory Capital Tax was imposed, causing looting and the reallocation of non-Muslim property; in 1955, under the pretext of the Cyprus question, attacks were plotted on the Greeks in what is known as the September 6-7th events. On the other hand, Muslim minorities have also suffered their share of discrimination. A military massacre in 1938-39 targeted the Dersim Alevis, for their different religious identity. In Maraş (1978), Çorum (1980), and Sivas (1993), Alevis have also been slaughtered by community organizations and state-backed paramilitary, while state security sources have merely watched.

Military interventions have served to constrict civil society. On May 27th 1960, in Yassıada a blatant butchery of the law was staged and politicians were hanged. On March 12th 1971, attempts were made to suppress leftist opposition through state terror.

What was done during the 1980 military coup era has assumed the quality of a crime against humanity; in prisons, particularly the Diyarbakir prison, unimaginable acts of torture were executed. Fascist politics were introduced in order to abolish Kurdish identity. The Kurdish people have been subject to assimilation, their rebellion and resistance suppressed through bloody means, and Kurdish identity faces annihilation by executions and deportations. Under the guise of a “fight against terror,” aggressive policies such as forced disappearances, mass graves and extra-judicial killings have been committed against the Kurdish people. The recognition of the Kurdish identity and the political struggle of the Kurdish people have been threatened by oppression and despotism.

In other words, the accumulation of everything we have been unable to confront or address has built up a wall of lies and injustice. We have arrived at a vicious cycle in which the Kurdish revolt and the continuation of armed conflict feed off of one another… Violence as a state policy, villages evacuated and burned down, hundreds of thousands of people subject to forced migration, unresolved assassinations, the rape and torture of those in custody, the disappeared, and horrifying acts of violence that have not and cannot be brought to light due to misinformation… The gunfire at the Newroz demonstrations (1991 – 31 dead; 1992 – 94 dead), the bombing of Özgür Gündem newspaper (1994) , Güçlükonak killings of villagers (1996 – 11 dead), mass graves (www.ihd.org.tr) , and most recently, bombing of civilians in Uludere (2011 – 35 dead)…

State terror in Turkey has to stop… State terror is not a “normal” political method, nor should it be. It is Turkey’s obligation under national and international law to take all necessary legal measures to put an end to this.

In a country where the word “terror” remains at the center of our lives, the inadequate analysis of state terror is both the Achilles heel and bleeding wound of democracy in Turkey. Because such practices have become historically formalized, they continue to be committed habitually by the state today.

Our memories are dulled by violence and injustice; our consciences are wounded. True democracy necessitates a lucid collective memory, a collective consensus on what happened and a strong sense of justice through mutual understanding.

This is an unsustainable path for a democratic nation. Hafıza Merkezi was established as a thought/research process to ask the question, “Since we can not keep living like this, what can we do? What have others done?”

Confronting the past—for societies, just as for individuals—is actually more important in relation to the present and the future rather than just to the past. Recognizing violations and rendering them visible, holding responsible parties accountable for their crimes, and institutionalizing justice, with all its legal indemnity, facilitate not only collective healing but also mutual trust and the desire for peaceable coexistence.

Preliminary studies have revealed that in other countries that have been subject to inhumane policies, the invisibility of and failure to prosecute violations have led to the intensifying of both the personal traumas of individuals who have suffered rights violations and collective social trauma. Democratization could therefore only be rendered possible through publicizing the truth about the violations. The process of healing begins first and foremost with a reckoning with the recent past.

Today the right of societies to know the truth is affirmed as a fundamental requirement for a democratic system. If state terror is being covered up instead of going before a court; if cases are prosecuted but perpetrators go unpunished; if large-scale massacres perpetrated in the name of the state remain immune to prosecution; then the establishment of justice will be impossible.

In the last 30 years, the need for truth and justice after massive human rights violations have led to the development of the field of transitional justice. The concept of transitional justice refers to activities and research focused on societies coming out of authoritarian regimes and post-conflict societies and how they confront past human rights violations, large-scale massacres, or other kinds of violent collective traumas in order to construct a more democratic, equitable, and peaceful future. Transitional justice is composed of an array of complementary judicial and extrajudicial strategies that include the prosecution of perpetrators, the establishment of truth commissions, the development of methods of reparation for those most affected by violence or violations, and the commemoration and remembrance of victims. Transitional justice is a response to systematic and widespread human rights violations. It aims to foster the recognition of victims, peace, reconciliation, and to generate the potential for democracy.

By the end of the first ten years of the twenty-first century, academics and practitioners have developed an increasingly unified perspective on the basic elements of the transitional justice framework. Depending on the particularities of the local context, this framework, as it has been accepted, can contribute to national practices of accountability intended to confront past human rights violations. It can also help to end legal immunity, restore the relationship between state and citizen, and build up democratic institutions.

In Turkey, despite similar histories of gross human rights violations, the collective impression of those subjected to these violations is that the perpetrators have remained immune from punishment, the institutional and social indifference towards the crime and its perpetrator deepens the wounds of the victims and the practices of reckoning with, understanding and redeeming the past, as well as prosecution and retribution mechanisms, remain inchoate.

This is why we found it necessary to establish a center to work on Truth, Justice and Memory in Turkey. Hafıza Merkezi aims to establish the grounds and processes for transitional justice and thereby contribute to the democratization of Turkey and the establishment of social peace.