Hierarchy of suffering
by Eren Keskin
For over 30 years, I have been actively involved in the human rights movement. During this time, my colleagues and I have witnessed many rights violations, many of which remain unknown to the public.
The scale of rights violations, particularly in the Kurdistan region, is so vast that they cannot be contained in books. We have seen a lot of wrongdoing and suffering that many people in this area have forgotten.
Incidents such as burned villages, individuals disappearing while in custody, the discovery of mass graves, people meticulously gathering the remains of their loved ones with their bare hands, the anguish of relatives who have lost family members to violence, and the horrifying deaths of people in villages engulfed by flames — these have been part of our experience.
Among the numerous human rights violations we have witnessed, one of the most searing examples was the sight of individuals bound to military vehicles with ropes paraded through villages in our presence.
Whenever we embarked on missions to document rights violations and directly encountered these agonies upon returning to Istanbul, an impulse constantly gnawed at me to halt passersby on the streets and implore, “Do you know? Are you aware of this? These unspeakable events are transpiring, and they are not distant from you. Why do you look the other way? The reality is far removed from what you’re told; you’re not being informed accurately.”
I desired to jolt people from their complacency and apprise them of these realities.
Sadly, even in this region, suffering adheres to a hierarchy. Certain sufferings are conspicuous to all, while regrettably, others are acknowledged by a mere handful. Some forms of torture are endowed with considerable “dignity,” yet others are denied any semblance of it. Mazlum İcli’s plight is a stark illustration of this painful truth.
A period of peace negotiations had started in the 2010s. For the first time, the Kurdish people, who had suffered from the effects of war for so long, dared to dream of true peace. The entire region was engulfed in this hope for genuine reconciliation, but regrettably, the outcome was anything but happy.
On October 7, 2014, a significant clash unfolded among young individuals in the Baglar district of Diyarbakır. The clash was politically motivated, pitting the offspring of religious families against young people self-identifying as patriots. The state’s rhetoric insinuated violence, and unfortunately, it resonated with certain children, leading to tragic consequences. Among these youths, a horrific incident transpired, resulting in fatalities. Yasin Boru, Ahmet Dakak, Hasan Gokguz, and Riyad Günes lost their lives; others were wounded. Tragically, only Yasin Boru’s death, occurring within a family holding a particular perspective, received public attention. Yasin Boru’s demise was, without a doubt, a grave atrocity, an immense crime, but Mazlum İcli was not the perpetrator.
Following a statement by a minor named S.C., “I saw someone resembling Mazlum,” a police search was initiated for Mazlum İcli. Accompanied by his father, Mazlum presented himself at the police station and surrendered. Mazlum was accused of Yasin Boru’s murder. Yet Mazlum was innocent; ample evidence attested to his innocence. During summers, he worked as a musician, performing at weddings; in winter, he assisted his family by cleaning carpets. His lawyer, Mahsuni Karaman, consistently demonstrated his innocence. Expert testimonies confirmed that Mazlum had been at a wedding in a village 140 kilometers away when the incident occurred. Mobile phone records provided additional substantiation.
The young witness, S.C., recanted his testimony against Mazlum. Initially convicted, Mazlum was later acquitted at the prosecutor’s request. The prosecutor, initially convinced of Mazlum’s innocence based on evidence, tragically altered their stance later in the judicial process, urging Mazlum’s conviction. Despite abundant exculpatory evidence, Mazlum İcli has unjustly languished in prison for nine years for a crime he did not commit. Mazlum İcli stands among the many children who have matured within prison walls.
Regrettably, Mazlum İcli seems to live at the nadir of the hierarchy of injustice. The state had unequivocally branded him as guilty. Dishearteningly, Mazlum İcli’s sentence was also intended to serve as a cornerstone in the Kobane Trial. The sentencing of 14-year-old Mazlum was invoked as a precedent for those older than him.
Numerous lives were lost in the so-called Kobane protests, some belonging to children. Tragically, their names went unmentioned; even the deceased were vilified as criminals. The proper focus of concern should be the counterproductive policies, the language of violence, and the violent actions that led to the deaths of these young individuals, fostering profound animosities among them.
Unfortunately, children who should live together as siblings experience severe injustices because of these policies of non-resolution and this language of violence.
*This article was initially published in the Yeni Yaşam newspaper on August 24, 2023. It has been translated into English for Gerceknews.