Turkey: NGO demands notorious prison turned into human rights museum

Turkey: NGO demands notorious prison turned into human rights museum
Update: 15 October 2022 21:08
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The 78’ers Initiative objected President Erdogan’s plans to turn former Diyarbakir Prison into a cultural center and demanded to establish a “human rights museum” in the building

Members of the 78's Initiative, who were subjected to severe torture in Diyarbakir Prison wanted the facility to be turned into a museum so that the pain they endured never repeats itself.

78's Initiative, made a statement in front of the prison and told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “You know what happened here. An official apology should be made to the victims.”

Celalettin Can, the spokesperson of the 78’ers Initiative read the open letter he wrote to President Erdogan, referring to his words when he visited the prison last year in July. During that visit, Erdogan had said: “We are evacuating the Diyarbakir prison, we will build a cultural center. By doing so, we will remove a bad memory.”

Can said that this decision makes the unhealed wounds of the Kurds bleed.

 “You should know that Diyarbakir Prison has an intensely painful place in the collective memory of the Kurds. Diyarbakir Prison is the expression of the multiple injustices suffered by the Kurds, but nevertheless embodies the spirit of resistance that makes a nation,” he said.

 Can reminded that the case of the public prosecutor who was investigating the torture of 1500 former political prisoners was suspended although crimes against humanity have no limitation period according to Article 77 of the Penal Code of Turkey.

 “The crimes against humanity that were physically experienced have hundreds of books, thousands of articles written about them, they have been recorded in court reports, they have been told from generation to generation and have come to this day, cannot be ignored,” Can said.

78’ers Initiative demanded a formal apology to the victims and in order for these crimes not to happen again, the prison should be turned into a “Human Rights Museum.” 

“You should know that the way for Turks and Kurds to understand each other is to question and confront the inhumane practices in Diyarbakır Prison,” Can said.

 After reading the letter, Can gave examples from the world and said: “They make statues of the people who died there. They keep that prison alive and turn it into a museum. Do you know why they do this? So that the bad people, fascists, and torturers never torture again and a society without torture could emerge. They do it as an example. There are still traces of the Nazis in Germany. When we look at the streets of France, we see those killed in the French resistance. But unfortunately, we are making the Sultanahmet Prison a tourist place in Turkey. We shut down the Diyarbakir Prison and build a cultural center with a polished image.”

Diyarbakir Prison witnessed years of systematic torture 

The Diyarbakir Prison was established in 1980. After the September 12, 1980 Coup d’etat, the prison was transferred to the military administration and became a “Martial Law Military Prison.”

Memorialize Turkey, a project to memorialize those who suffered harm or grievance over the past 100 years in the late Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey notes that the majority of prisoners and detainees were Kurdish in the Diyarbakir Military Prison.

 The prison witnessed the most violent and persisting systematic torture techniques in the first half of the 1980s. Turkification practices were also implemented in the prison and more importantly, the number of incarcerated and tortured civilians who had nothing to do with political movements was also the highest in Diyarbakir Military Prison.

According to The Guardian, the prison is “the ultimate manifestation of the pain of the Kurdish struggle: in the 1980s and 90s, thousands of Kurdish men and women were imprisoned there and subjected to horrific forms of torture, earning it the reputation of being one of the worst prisons in the world.”

Although it is hard to determine the number of actual deaths, according to official records, 34 prisoners lost their lives due to systematic tortures between 1980 and 1984. Hundreds were injured and almost all prisoners experienced psychological traumas.