ISTANBUL (Today’s Zaman)—Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) oft-quoted promise of a “new Turkey” is a scary place, where rights violations and threats against opponents are common, according to Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the winner of the International Hrant Dink Award and head of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV).
In an interview with Today’s Zaman, Fincancı shared her opinions about the government’s new slogan — “New Turkey.” She said: “The new Turkey rhetoric is very scary. This means new violations and more threats, and we are already seeing the signs of this. We know about the actions of this government that promotes the new Turkey. The new Turkey is about having crowds jeer at the mention of a mother who has lost her son.”
The TİHV head was referring to a rally speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had his audience boo at the mention of the name Gülsüm Elvan, the mother of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan. Berkin died last year after being in a months-long coma that was caused by a tear gas canister being fired at him by the police during last year’s Gezi protests when he was out buying bread. The canister struck him in the head.
The International Hrant Dink Award was presented to Professor Fincancı on Sept. 15 — Hrant Dink’s birthday — for her activism regarding the plight of the Saturday Mothers, a group of women whose children disappeared while under state custody.
In response to a question about what she felt about the Dink award, Fincancı said: “I am flattered and humbled because I have been given an award that was earlier given to the Saturday Mothers. I am also a bit heartbroken. They are the ones who have suffered and are still suffering. What would our murdered brother [Dink] have done if he were with us at this time? I felt confused emotions that day.”
She also shared her opinions about the future of the murder trial of Hrant Dink, who was shot dead by an ultranationalist teenager outside the offices of the Turkish-Armenian Agos newspaper in Istanbul in January 2007.
“I don’t think the murder will be illuminated at this time. It looks like it will become one of the many trials that will be stonewalled with one trial after another. The course of the trial and the stance of the government on this issue indicates that. Temizöz’s release gives an idea about the future of the Hrant Dink trial.”
The activist was referring to the release of Col. Cemal Temizöz on Sept. 12. Temizöz, notoriously known as the “death well colonel” due to his role in the death of more than a dozen people in acid wells in the early ‘90s, was released by a high court. The trial against him was launched after investigators found human bones in wells in the Cizre district of Şırnak province, believed to be the remains of people killed by the illegal structure established by Temizöz.
She also said that she has no hopes that the current government will take steps to improve Turkey’s human rights records because “we know that they [the government] are the main actors who commit rights’ violations.”
Fincancı said activists and democrats should make their best efforts to change this course. “Detentions period were shortened because people demanded this. That was a result of the fight for human rights. We have to keep the government and the state at work. There can be reversals at times, and there can be disappointments, but we should continue to speak out about the negatives,” she said.
A medical doctor, Fincancı has dedicated her professional career to the struggle against torture in Turkey. She has been the president of TİHV since 2009. In the 1990s, when torture was prevalent in Turkey, she was subjected to oppression at the hands of the state since she wrote articles on medical ethics and penned reports documenting torture. Fincancı currently teaches and serves as a dissertation advisor at the graduate and postgraduate levels in the department of forensic medicine at Istanbul University’s medical college, and she teaches in Galatasaray University’s school of law.
The International Hrant Dink Award is presented annually by the International Hrant Dink Foundation at a ceremony held on Dink’s birthday.