The investigation into Gülistan Doku’s disappearance raises critical questions

Eylül Deniz Yaşar – Ankara

This final article in this series features exclusive interviews with people who have been closely following the investigation into the disappearance of Gülistan Doku, a young Kurdish woman studying at Munzur University in Tunceli (Dersim), a Kurdish majority province of eastern Turkey. Gülistan Doku has been ‘disappeared’ since 5 January 2020. Close friends, women activists and lawyers in Turkey who seek justice have voiced their concerns about a cover-up of what might have actually happened.

Leading women activists fighting for justice for Gülistan Doku for a whole year, as well as a prominent feminist lawyer, argue that the case might actually be one of ‘femicide’. They also shared their suspicions that the Turkish state might be protecting the lead suspect even as it tries to suggest that Gülistan might have committed ‘suicide’.

An online petition highlighting these concerns – “Find Gülistan Doku: bring the perpetrators to Justice” – can be reached through this Change.org link.

The attacks in Dersim ‘reveal direct or non-direct representatives of the state’

Activist women from the Dersim Women’s Platform have been at the forefront of the “Where is Gülistan Doku?” campaign this past year. They have organised demonstrations and issued press statements, asked the Turkish authorities about the whereabouts of Gülistan Doku, and questioned why Zaynal Abakarov, the prime suspect, is being protected.

Tuba Apaydın, a young female activist from Dersim and a member of the Dersim Women’s Platform, sees a pattern in the attacks on women that are taking place and observed that transgressions by the soldiers, police, guards (‘korucu’) and all kinds of law enforcement forces must be seen as part of an organised, systematic attack by the state which has its connections with the Turkish state’s war policies in Dersim.

“Gülistan Doku was lost in Dersim, Sakine Oğuz and Esma Kılıçarslan were murdered in Hozat, three specialist sergeants raped a Kurdish woman. The latest murders of women in Dersim have reached the level of massacre. Furthermore, the increasing rates of harassment and rapes in the region are not coincidental or random acts of violence. Look at the profiles of the men who have committed violence against women in Dersim: the perpetrators are mostly family members of soldiers, policemen or guards. The attacks targeting women in Dersim reveal direct or non-direct representatives of the state”, she said.

The state targets women as a ‘special war’ tactic in Kurdish cities

Apaydın noted that the orientation towards attacks on women in Dersim forms part of the ‘special war’ tactics of the Turkish state. Attacks continue in all the other Kurdish cities such as Diyarbakır (Amed), Hakkari (Colemêrg), Bingöl (Çewlîg) and Şırnak (Şirnex) but Dersim, given its symbolic significance as a site of Kurdish assault, massacre and resistance (where it never bowed to state oppression) has a special democratic character which makes it a special target for state forces.

According to Apaydın, the women living, studying and working in Dersim are a special target of the Turkish state’s law enforcement officers engaged in a “non-direct violence” initiative: there is a special orientation towards targeting the region’s women in order to make them state agents and to make them work for the intelligence services through pressure, blackmail and threats of various kinds.

“This state is fed by the patriarchal mentality that sees women as ‘spoils of war’. By attacking women like Gülistan, they want to send people in the region a message. When it comes to organised, activist women, the violence towards them takes on a direct character such as police attacks, detentions and imprisonment as well as straight killings and murders. Remember that Gökçe Kurban’s head was cut off after she was killed in an air strike. The women engaged in a democratic struggle also reveal the true character of the state, because when we exposed a harasser, named Hüseyin Polat, we then faced direct police attacks. They attacked us with pepper spray in our demonstrations for Gülistan. As the Dersim Women’s Platform, we will never give up asking where Gülistan Doku is”, she said.

‘The Turkish state protects the lead suspect’

Justice Commissions for Gülistan Doku have united all efforts to find Gülistan Doku, organizing protests and social media campaigns to keep her high on the agenda of the human rights struggle in Turkey for the past year. The Commissions announced a country-wide protest on 5 January, the first anniversary of Gülistan’s disappearance.

Tuğba Yalar, a campaigner for the Justice Commissions, shared the reasons for their concern that the state might be protecting the lead suspect, Zaynal Abakarov: “A water scientist who reached us through one of our hashtag campaigns analysed the security footage and filming of the dam lake and prepared a report, but the state has never worked on this footage, despite all our appeals. Minister Süleyman Soylu ordered the lowering of the dam waters to the minimum level seven months after Gülistan vanished. Despite the expert report stating that Gülistan has not committed suicide, Zaynal Abakarov has still not been brought to justice. His step-father, Engin Yücer, had access to the investigation file from the beginning. The state let the Abakarov’s family move away from the city”, she said.

‘The investigation is held in favour of the suspects’

Candan Dumrul, a prominent feminist lawyer in Turkey, pointed out the legal irregularities of the case relating to Gülistan Doku’s investigation. “The investigation is far from being effective. The officers conducting the investigation are in a close relationship with the policeman father of the lead suspect. So, the investigation is held in favour of the suspects. Official reports were prepared without the prosecutor’s demand: this is just one of the many irregularities we have observed”, she said.

In response to the question, ‘What could have been done to advance an effective investigation?’, Dumrul replied: “Searches limited to searches in the water are not eligible to enlighten this case file. The range of the searches that needed to be undertaken must have been extended. In the places where no security camera footage could be obtained, not only law enforcement officers’ statements should have been taken into account and assessed, but also those of the experts, who are professionals in analyzing ‘disappearance cases’. They should have been consulted. The father of the suspect should have been restricted from gaining access to the investigation file from the very beginning. An objective team of specialists should have worked on the investigation, who are completely independent to the suspect’s police officer’s father. The searches should have been extended outside merely the waters of the Uzunçayır dam lake”.

Candan Dumrul: There is a huge problem with the conduct of the investigation

Noting the fact that the whole investigation is shaped by the assumption that Gülistan might have committed suicide, lawyer Dumrul said: “This is, in itself, a huge problem with regard to the conduct of the investigation, because Gülistan might be being held captive right now. She might still be alive. A delay of a whole year in trying to find her might actually cause her to lose her life. There is no solid evidence for the ‘suicide assumption’ anyway. In addition to this, the testimonies of Gülistan’s family and friends suggested that there was no sign of any suicidal tendency in her life. These are all crucial testimonies in legal processes that need to be considered. We cannot just base our assumptions on the claims of ‘suicide’ that have been projected in such a case. We should consider her story within the context of continuing male violence during her life”.

Speaking on a legal basis, suicide should be the last option and assumption to consider in the death or loss of a woman, noted Dumrul. “There are many suspicions that this might be a murder that seems to have been covered up as a ‘suicide’. We have the example of Şule Çet, so in Gülistan Doku’s case, this possibility cannot be disregarded”, she stated.

“The fact that Şule Çet was raped and murdered was revealed as a result of the consistent justice struggles of women, but the system of justice has always had a sexist approach, judging how the victim woman has lived her life, rather than judging the actions of suspects or perpetrators. Unfortunately, the system of justice in Turkey takes up a position in favour of the perpetrator via the impunity we see in people murdering women. Therefore we, as female law makers and as feminists, must continue the struggle to seek justice for Gülistan Doku”.

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The investigation into Gülistan Doku’s disappearance raises critical questions

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