Unsolved IV: We must duly take on the responsibility to not let the truth be forgotten

İstanbul – On December 13, the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) held the fourth of its annual “Unsolved: Fighting impunity” panel series. Taking place at the Yesayan Hall in İstanbul, the panel brought together Sebla Arcan, Katerina Sergatskova, Ayşe Tepe Doğan, Rumet Serhat and Ferhat Parlak, to draw attention to what can be done to bring the perpetrators of these unsolved political murders and enforced disappearances to justice. 

Among those invited to the panel were the former speakers of the 2018 and 2019 panels, Alaz Erdost, Dicle Anter and Matthew Caruana Galizia

The panel, which was planned to be moderated by the Co-Director of the Truth Justice and Memory Center, Murat Çelikkan, was moderated by his colleague Burcu Bingöllü, as Çelikkan bore the risk of being in contact with COVID-19. MLSA Co-Director Barış Altıntaş opened the panel. After thanking the panelists, Aras Publishing and all participants, she gave the floor to Sebla Arcan, who made the introductory speech.

Burcu Bingöllü (©: Mevlüt Oğuz)

Arcan, a member of the Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Commission on Missing Persons began her speech with the following words: “I greet you on behalf of the Saturday Mothers who are leading the longest struggle for truth and justice in this country.” Stating that major human rights violations such as political executions, disappearances under custody, torture, massacres, and genocides happened in this country in an organized manner and have been covered up, Arcan reminded that “against systematic politics aimed at burying the past, we must take on the responsibility to keep the collective memory alive and not let the truth be forgotten.”

Sebla Arcan

Taking the floor after Arcan, moderator Burcu Bingöllü, began her speech by emphasizing the issue of what can be done in order to prevent these crimes from being committed in the future. Before leaving the floor to Katerina Sergatskova, Bingöllü posed the following questions: “What are the struggles of journalists being targeted by the Ukrainian state? Katya will speak about the investigation into the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet, in order to draw parallels with Turkey, it is important to comprehend the public’s point of view with regards to the murder. Do those struggling to enlighten the case feel supported by the public?”

Katerina Sergatskova (©: Mevlüt Oğuz)

Ukrainian journalist Katerina Sergatskova responded by saying that the investigation has become highly politicized, and that the former President Petro Poroshenko has instrumentalized it to pick on the new President, Zelenskiy. Reminding that Poroshenko openly supported those suspected of committing the murder, Sergatskova noted that all defendants in the case were released after only two years in prison. Sergatskova told the audience that the journalists striving to make progress in the case became targets themselves, and that Sheremet’s name became the target of a defamation campaign accusing him of being a “Russian spy” as he previously practiced journalism in Russia and Belarus.

Taking the floor again after Sergatskova, Bingöllü reminded that although the 90s witnessed severe losses, it was also the time when families of those slain began to make use of the existing judicial mechanisms, and gave the floor to the next panelist, human rights defender Ayşe Tepe Doğan, the sister of reporter Ferhat Tepe who was killed in 1993 in Elazığ.

Ayşe Tepe Doğan (©: Mevlüt Oğuz)

“Accounting for the ways in which Ferhat’s disappearance and the unsolved murders took place during that time, would, in itself, reveal the mentality of the government and the state,” Tepe Doğan began her speech, and laid out the events that followed the abduction of Ferhat, a 19-year-old reporter for Özgür Gündem, on July 28, 1993. She told the audience that they penned numerous petitions addressing law enforcement units, the mayorship, prime ministry and interior ministry; ultimately, all of their attempts were left inconclusive. Noting that the lawsuit they filed resulted in a decision of non prosecution, and that the case was closed due to the statute of limitations despite the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court, Tepe Doğan concluded by saying: “What matters is not to forget about what happened, and not let future generations experience such pain, by not giving up on our struggle for truth and justice. Because, as is known, impunity is encouraging. We can only retain hope via cracking the door open to confrontation and reckoning, by giving voice to the Saturday Mothers.”

The next panelist to speak was journalist Rumet Serhat, the son of lawyer Medet Serhat, who was murdered in 1994 in İstanbul. Medet Serhat was among those from the first generation of the Kurdish advocacy tradition that originated towards the end of 1950s persisting throughout the 2000s. His son began his speech by remarking how he felt when waking up to the morning of November 12, 1994, as a 16-year-old child, after the attack that brought about the death of his father and the serious injury of his mother. Serhat also shared some details of the proceedings regarding the death of his father. He pointed out that during the trial, the defendants acted very comfortably, almost as if they were confident that they would not be punished, and defined the trial as “ostensible.”

Rumet Serhat (©: Mevlüt Oğuz)

Journalist Ferhat Parlak, the son of journalist and writer Yaşar Parlak, who was murdered in Diyarbakır in 2004, began his speech by giving some striking examples of how Silvan was like at the time when his father was murdered. Parlak explained that his father continued to work as a journalist in Silvan, despite the severe rights violations, and emphasized that he was targeted because he had recorded the events in Silvan that everyone knew but could not do anything about.

Ferhat Parlak

After the speeches, the panel ended with contributions from the audience and the panelists of the previous years.