One of Turkey’s leading human rights defenders has given a detailed account of Turkey’s human rights record, as she described the hardships faced by her organisation.
Eren Keskin, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association (İHD), has been one of the most prominent figures in the area of human rights. She has followed thousands of cases concerning rights violations and has been vocal in her criticisms of the current abuses committed by the Turkish government.
Below is a translation of an article entitled “İHD, a struggle without obedience” that she penned for the daily Yeni Yaşam:
“We live in a country where the official ideology intervenes in all aspects of our lives and imposes its own oppressive methods on us. It’s challenging to carry out a struggle for human rights in this country.
The Human Rights Association has been carrying out this struggle since 1986 in such a difficult environment. As an institution that deals with rights violations that show themselves in all areas of our lives, it has been trying to continue its existence since the very beginning.
The İHD is the first non-governmental organisation that was founded after the 1980 [military] coup. Relatives of imprisoned individuals, as well as a group of intellectuals and authors, were among its founders.
During its initial years, the association’s main focus was the rights violations and torture in prisons in addition to the death penalty. Then came the 1990s…
The 1990s were utterly challenging for human rights defenders. These defenders went through this period, during which the Kurdish issue made its way onto the country’s agenda in the most brutal way possible and which the war and the ‘Dirty War’ methods were witnessed most intensely, in a very lonely way. It was a period when the deep state or JİTEM (a clandestine gendarmerie intelligence unit) inflicted intense fear on the public through enforced disappearances, murders, and torture methods. Perhaps we shouldn’t call this a clandestine organisation. Maybe it was part of the state’s official policy…
Many people were killed in Kurdistan and many others disappeared whilst in custody. This, needless to say, showed itself in major cities as well. Many Kurds and leftists suffered from major injustices.
Administrators of İHD, intellectuals, Kurdish intellectuals, authors, journalists, and newspaper distributors who were minors were among those targeted by this annihilation policy of this “clandestine organisation.”
The villages that were burned and the pressure on the people to become village guards were on the human rights defenders’ agenda. The human rights defenders were trying to deal with all of the cases of rights violations.
The İHD’s Diyarbakır [in southeastern Turkey] branch was bombed and many İHD administrators and members were jailed. These events however, did not prevent the human rights struggle from continuing.
We can say that the İHD dealt with plenty of issues that are not voiced or are afraid to be voiced in this country. The Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the genocide towards Christian populations are among the basis of the official ideology created on this soil. Unfortunately, even those who call themselves progressives or leftists refrained from commenting on this genocide for many years.
In 2005, the Istanbul branch of the İHD made a call for recognising the genocide, apologising to the victims and calling to compensate them for their losses. Although it received plenty of threats because of this call, the association never gave up on this policy and has been continuing to call for this since 2005.
The trans movement led by trans women was also on the agenda of the human rights defenders in the beginning of the 1990s. Human rights defenders became a part of their struggle and took part in the LGBTI+ movement that followed. Human rights defenders never gave up on standing side by side with women, the Kurdish movement, the anti-war movement, LGBTI+ and the working class.
There are significant rules in the human rights struggle. These form our constitution, so to speak. For instance, rights defenders took to the streets to denounce the death penalty as murder during the years that capital punishment was on the country’s agenda. On the issue of torture, they have been continuing to act with the stance, “Even the torturer can’t be tortured.”
The İHD has always been against wars and the human rights violations suffered by civilians from all parties of wars. Even though some circles continuously criticised the İHD because of this principle, the association did not change its course.
As I’ve said before, it’s very difficult to carry out a struggle for human rights in this country. Today, many rights defenders face the threat of being imprisoned over their statements, their pieces and the remarks they make in press briefings. However, as we’ve always said, there is a certain group of people that correspond to the 15 percent who don’t obey. This 15 percent mostly consists of human rights defenders.”