The Turkish Education Ministry is facing criticism for renaming a primary school in İzmir’s Buca district after Esat Oktay Yıldıran, a notorious figure associated with torture during the 1980 military coup.
Yıldıran, the then commander of Diyarbakır Prison in the Kurdish majority city of the same name, was linked to serious human rights violations, particularly against Kurdish political prisoners. This decision has provoked strong reactions from education unions, politicians and human rights activists, who argue that honouring such a controversial figure in an educational setting is inappropriate and underscores a troubling endorsement of a dark chapter in Turkey’s history.
Esat Oktay Yıldıran, a Turkish military officer, was known for his role in the torture of prisoners during the 1980 military coup in Turkey, especially as the commander at Diyarbakır Prison. He is remembered for his involvement in widespread human rights abuses during this period.
The decision was met with immediate condemnation from various arenas, including the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim Sen) İzmir 5th Branch. In a statement, the union called for an immediate reversal of the name change, denouncing it as a disgrace.
Prominent figures in Turkish politics and human rights advocacy have also voiced their opposition. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Chairwoman of the Turkish Medical Association, lamented the glorification of a figure linked to torture. Eren Keskin, Co-Chair of the Human Rights Association (İHD), criticised the move as legitimising violence and torture against Kurds. Members of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the moderate Islamist Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA Party) also expressed their disapproval, pointing out the irony of honouring someone responsible for severe human rights violations.
The Buca District National Education Directorate organised a ceremony to unveil the new name, attended by Yıldıran’s family, local officials and community members. However, no explanation was provided for the name change.
Esat Oktay Yıldıran’s tenure as the commander of Diyarbakır Prison, notorious for its brutal treatment of Kurdish prisoners, has been a subject of condemnation in Turkey’s recent history. The prison itself was converted into a museum by the Culture and Tourism Ministry in 2021, following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration to transform the site, historically associated with oppression, into a cultural centre.
Kurdish politician Gültan Kışanak, now imprisoned in the ongoing Kobani Trial along with 108 politicians from Turkey’s now defunct pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has revealed the harrowing experiences she faced in Diyarbakır Prison when she was only 17. She described a prolonged period of torture and inhumane treatment, including being confined in a small, filthy kennel belonging to a dog named Co for six months. This punishment, meted out by prison commander Major Esat Oktay Yıldıran, was a response to Kışanak not standing up when he entered the women’s ward.
The renaming of the school has reignited discussions about Turkey’s struggle with its past, particularly regarding human rights abuses during the 1980 military coup period. The decision is seen not just as a step backwards, but as a slap in the face to human rights advocates and those advocating for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.