Eylül Deniz Yaşar – Ankara
This exclusive series of interviews investigates the controversial case of the disappearance of a young Kurdish woman, Gülistan Doku, giving voice to the concerns of close friends, women activists and lawyers in Turkey regarding their year-long struggle to find Gülistan. They do not want a cover-up of what might have actually happened and seek justice.
Gülistan Doku, a young Kurdish woman studying at Munzur University in Dersim, a Kurdish majority province of eastern Turkey, has been ‘disappeared’ since 5 January 2020. Zaynal Abakarov, the adopted son of a Turkish police officer and the ex-boyfriend of Doku, has been addressed as the number one suspect in the disappearance of Doku as she was officially recorded as having visited his home and his workplace on 4 January 2020, on the eve of her disappearance.
Zaynal Abakarov was also reported to have violently forced Gulistan Doku to climb into a vehicle. However, he was released after his initial statements and he and his family moved out from the city in the early days of the investigation. Whilst Abakarov is suspected as having fled abroad, there is no official statement from the Turkish authorities regarding his whereabouts.
The Doku family, women’s organizations and human rights activists following Doku’s case suspect the Turkish authorities and the security officials in charge of the Gülistan Doku investigation of protecting the prime suspect and his stepfather, Engin Yücer, who is a police officer.
The first attempts to find Gülistan Doku – conducted for 227 days in the area of Uzunçayır Dam Lake and Dinar Bridge, where the security cameras filmed the last images of Doku – did not yield any results. Having previously announced that the searches were suspended on 18 August 2020, the Tunceli (Dersim) Governorship launched a search on the same dam lake in October 2020. The final attempt to find Gülistan in Uzunçayır Dam Lake, launched on 15 October, had ended by 23 November 2020.
Gülistan Doku’s mother and sister were detained by the Turkish police in their sit-in protests questioning the nature of the disappearance and the efficiency of the investigations into their beloved Gülistan and many women activists also faced police violence and pressure from state authorities during their democratic protests. The whereabouts of Gülistan Doku remains unknown even a year later and the lead suspect remains free from further questioning.
A close friend and the roommate of Gülistan Doku spoke to MedyaNews about Doku’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend and also about the number one suspect in the case, Zaynal Abakarov. She shared her testimony of Abakarov’s previous “acts of violence” against Gülistan.
Close friend refutes claims of suicide
Kadriye Gengeç – the roommate of Gülistan Doku in her dormitory, one of the last places she had been before she disappeared – spoke regarding suspicions of “suicide” that have been levelled and followed upon as a key possibility by the police. These suspicions had been raised as searches were intensified in the waters of the lake at Uzunçayır dam, since two minibus drivers declared seeing Gülistan there. Gengeç stated that in all her statements and conversations with the police, she and all of Gülistan’s friends refuted the claims of suicide.
“They want us to believe that she committed suicide: there is an insistence on this claim, but we never believe that she committed suicide. Gülistan loved life and she was always cheerful. Some rumours regarding a suicide note spread, but it was a note of jest between us about how messy she was! ‘If something happens to me, tidy up my room, so no one will know how messy I am!’ Some media organs highlighted the claim and suspicion of suicide based on this note, which had no serious intention, but was aimed as a joke to us! We had a good laugh with her after she wrote this”, Gengeç said.
The lead suspect was violent towards Gülistan before her disappearance
Gengeç knew Zaynal Abakarov and had personal interactions with him as Gülistan introduced him to her as her boyfriend. “We have sat together multiple times. At first, Gülistan was happy with him, but later on he began to put strains on her. Gülistan had to inform him about her daily routine. He was restricting her quite a lot. He did not let Gülistan go out with her friends. I actually warned Gülistan about staying away from him”, she said.
Gülistan’s close friend Gengeç recalled Zaynal Abakarov’s approach to Gülistan during their relationship. She stated: “He used violence against Gülistan. He slapped her in the face. Gülistan told me this. When I heard that, I reacted and told her to leave him. Later on, they broke up: they broke up two months before Gülistan vanished”.
Gülistan had dreams of running a kindergarten
In response to the question ‘How was Gülistan’s state of mental health after this break-up?’, Gengeç replied: “She was sad at first: of course, since she loved him but she pulled herself together. She continued with her life. She found a job in a café because she wanted to buy a smart phone for her mother as a gift. She bought books for an exam related to becoming a civil servant. She wanted to be a teacher. She wanted to hold on to life. She had ideals and dreams. Our dream was to open up a kindergarten”.
Gengeç noted that she and her other roommates not only suffered from huge psychological distress after Gülistan’s disappearance but were also subjected to extreme pressures by the police. “We could not sleep in our dorm room: my bed was next to Gülistan’s. We used to chat until the morning hours. I miss her so much. We had memories in the university, in the dorm, in all corners of Dersim. I feel a part of me is missing without Gülistan. We actually blamed ourselves: we felt so bad at not having been able to keep her safe and alive. We want Zaynal Abakarov to be brought to justice: they do nothing to him, but when they brought us to the police station, we were exposed to serious pressures. I was in a room, alone, questioned by five police officers”, she added.