Enforced disappearances a global issue, says Algerian activist in conference
Nassera Dutuor, the chair of the Euro-Mediterranean Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED), told a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, that enforced disappearances, desecration of graves and inhumane treatment of families of the disappeared were a global issue.
Speaking at the Conference for Respect and Justice for the Dead, Dutuor said:
"They take away our children, target their graves, try to destroy even what's left of them. This is double torture. It's already an act of violence not letting people know what actually happened. Like a friend has said, 'I do not want a mother to be forced into searching for her children. I don't want her to look for them over and under the ground."
"I founded our association in Algeria when my son was disappeared in 1997. I looked for him, just like you, for months. I then decided that we should search for them together. We, like you, were gathering every wednesday in front of the observatory for human rights. The police attacked us. They sprayed us from armored vehicles with hot pressurized water. We resisted. We still continue to resist. I met with the families of the disappeared for the first time in Istanbul. It was a meeting organized by the Amnesty International and I was invited. I met with the Saturday Mothers."
Saturday Mothers of Turkey is a rights organization initially launched by a small group in mid 1990s, which evolved into an influential movement that is led by the family members of the disappeared. Over 1,350 people have been forcibly disappeared in Turkey since 1980, the year that marks the 12 September military coup. The disappearances became a part of daily life especially in the 1990s as Turkish authorities used all means to suppress the growing Kurdish political struggle.
"I have never forgotten those mothers. We understood each other although we didn't speak the same language. We continue to ask, 'Where is our children?' with the photos of our beloved ones in our hands. We're all mothers, and we're all in the same situation. The mothers in Argentina did the same. We see what's happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen (...) We want to know why our children perished. We won't stop as long as you deny us the answer. What did you do to our children? If they are dead, at least give us their bodies. We are millions living through the same situation. We have thousands of documents filed for every disappeared. These files were sent to UN's Committee on Enforced Disappearances. They have been having discussion on these files for years now. FEMED emerged from Istanbul. It emerged from the mothers who held me by my arm and showed me the photos of their children."
"Gezi Park in Taksim originally an Armenian burial ground"
Murat Mihci, a journalist and a member of the Armenian community in Turkey, also spoke at the conference, saying that the unidentified burials of Armenians was part of the issue, and went back a long time.
Noting that there were many Armenians who were buried improperly in undisclosed locations, he said that some other kind of violence was subjected to those who were buried in Armenian cemeteries.
"For instance, Gezi Park in Taksim was originally an Armenian cemetery," he said, adding: "As a matter of fact, desecration of graves and cemeteries is a message not to the dead, but to the living ones."
He also recalled the case of of Levon Ekmekdschian whose remains had not been handed over for years to his family, who were later delivered the bones of a dog instead of their son's remains.
"The media, accomplice"
Journalist Ali Topuz, the editor in chief of +Gercek, said that when the concrete steps in Gezi Park were fractured during Gezi protests in 2013 and some tombstones with Armenian inscriptions became visible, the Turkish media did not even report.
"The tombstones with Armenian inscriptions emerged from underneath, because the place was originally an Armenian cemetery," he said. "It was like going through a time tunnel. The media didn't report on this. It was only bianet who did, as far as I can remember. Most of the opposition media didn't care about it."
"The media is not concerned about the truth. It takes a peculiar stance when it has been faced with delicate issues. Like it did during Gezi protests."
Referring to CNN Turk's broadcasting of a documentary on penguins even as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets during the protests, Topuz said:
"Gezi protests was like an uprising that disturbed the government. The media turned to broadcasting penguins then. It has actually always been a broadcaster of penguins. They had showed penguins on the screen while thousands of people were disappeared, as people were melted in pits of acid. During the 1990s, they either broadcast penguins, or they made their broadcasts from the perspective of the aggressor."