Cases of the missing Turks

Cumhuriyet An?t? midst of Taksim Square seen f...
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We interviewed the columnist Raif Ertem, who’d also spent time in prison, but for his pen and not for his sword. He told us tales of torture in jail – close encounters with electrified cattle prods; his teeth all being knocked out.

We then went to film Eren Keskin, the head of Istanbul’s Human Rights Organization, but our timing was very bad. Right before we had arrived, she was informed that her client, a Kurdish man whom the police were questioning, had accidentally slipped and fallen from the fifth floor of a police building. (He died the next day after filming.) We wanted her to talk about the human violations of the coup leaders, but she was distracted, keeping steering the conversation to the Kurdish problem, which may prove to be great for another film but not for this one. Keskin also does work with the Saturday Mothers, whose sons (mostly Kurdish, but many from arrests following the coups) have “disappeared” in the jails, never to be seen again. Every Saturday they show up to protest in Taksim (so that’s why we weren’t allowed to film in Taksim Square!), and every Saturday they get arrested.

I didn’t know that Turks were so klutzy; they always seem to be getting lost or getting hurt, falling against police batons. The cops try to do their best with these cloddish stumblebums, and they take brave risks in possibly torturing the wrong suspect in the hopes of improving the country. Although the newspapers are getting louder about these unfortunate accidents, just recently, there was a mini-scandal. An elementary school Principal saw a police chief’s wife taking a stroll around the school with her friends and had made the grave mistake of asking her for ID. He barely escaped from the police office; the official report is that he bumped his head pretty badly against the door frame on the way out.

The next shoot we did also was pretty much unusable. We filmed Ahmet and Reha Isvan. Ahmet was the mayor of Istanbul when the coup happened in 1980, and he found himself in prison shortly thereafter. He had some good stories to tell about the events leading up to the coup and his experiences during and after the military takeover; I’m certain he would have had more, had his wife let him get a word in edgewise. He’s a real Ataturkcu, while his wife is more liberal about tolerating religious expression; she prattled on and on while he became angrier and angrier, gritting his teeth and rolling his eyes on camera, shooting down everything she said. We left scratching our heads, wondering how two people could be married for so long with such completely divergent political viewpoints.

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