AntiNote: The following interview was conducted by phone in the final hour of last month’s hostage situation in Istanbul by Ahmet Şik, a prominent Turkish opposition journalist who has been jailed for his writing in the past, with the two hostage-takers themselves.
Earlier in the day, a photo began circulating in social media showing one of the two hostage-takers, Bahtiyar Doğruyol and Şafak Yayla, posing in front of their group’s hammer-and-sickle insignias with a pistol to the head of their hostage, state prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz. It was a disturbing photo, and spread quickly without much benefit of context or explanation in most cases. For those unfamiliar with the history and current landscape of militant left politics and conflict in Turkey, the photo was a cipher and prompted much speculation.
At any rate, there was not much time for this kind of social media speculation, much less for real information-gathering, since the Turkish authorities immediately forbade the broadcast media from reporting on the hostage situation, the violence that ended it, or the public outcry that followed. Alternative and opposition print and online outlets insufficient in their condemnation of the act were tarred as supporters of terrorism, a pretext the Turkish authorities have used in the past to harass, intimidate, imprison, and incite violence against journalists. And a few days later, the Turkish government imposed a short-lived ban on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the country.
The still ongoing campaign of censorship around this ordeal has reached beyond Turkey’s borders as well, as the government there also persuaded Facebook to shut down a list of pages it deemed in violation of their gag order. One such page was that of our comrades at Lower Class Magazine, which had published a German translation of Şik’s interview with Bahtiyar Doğruyol and Şafak Yayla along with a short foreword, all of which we present here in English.
Both the threat of unwanted attention from the Turkish authorities and the original violence of the hostage situation itself—not to mention its horrific conclusion—have induced compliant self-censorship worldwide. Leftwing publications writing on the topic risk appearing to endorse the actions of Bahtiyar Doğruyol and Şafak Yayla, thus endorsing their militant group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKC), which has been listed as a terror organization in Turkey and many Western countries since the 1970s.
But the impulse to distance ourselves from their actions should not prevent us from trying to understand them, as well as the context from which they emerged. They are the tip of a giant iceberg that cannot simply be ignored out of existence.
“Berkin was our heart, our brother, our comrade.”
Translated from the German by Antidote
1 April 2015
Yesterday, two militants from the Marxist-Leninist guerilla group Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKC) entered the office of Mehmet Selim Kiraz, the prosecutor investigating 15-year-old Berkin Elvan’s killing by police, and held him hostage there.
Negotiations went on for several hours. The abductors’ principal demand, that the names of Berkin Elvan’s murderers be made public, seemed rather easy to meet. Ultimately, however, special units of the Turkish police force stormed the office in Çağlayan’s “Justice Palace” and killed both militants.
Whether the prosecutor’s eventual death was also caused by police bullets remains unclear. The leftwing Turkish lawyers’ association CHD wrote in an initial assessment that the state was responsible for fatally wounding the prosecutor. An audio recording, they claim, indicates that negotiations were still underway when the police began shooting.
The action by the two DHKC militants and the state’s response to it incited heavy, armed clashes later that evening between revolutionary leftists and state power. Militants from myriad left factions in Turkey—including those skeptical of the DHKC, of Doğruyol and Yayla’s tactics, or of each other—showed solidarity and began erecting barricades and attacking police.
A half-hour before they were killed, Doğruyol and Yayla were interviewed by the well-known Turkish journalist Ahmet Şik, which first appeared in Cumhuriyet. We have translated their conversation.
AŞ: Are you going to break off your action? Where do the negotiations currently stand?
BD/ŞY: We have made public, via Twitter, the badge numbers of three police officers that had been removed from interrogation records. In the department of criminal justice’s own records, these three of the 21 officers being investigated had been marked for special scrutiny. We have ascertained that these three officers could be the ones that killed Berkin. The prosecutor himself gave us this information.
We are demanding in the negotiations that the identities of these three police officers be made public in a live broadcast. The people with whom we are negotiating have also told us that these three officers are 99% certain to be Berkin’s murderers. Therefore we demand that their names be shown on television.
We have been studying the files here in the prosecutor’s office. We have looked at the photographs of the 21 suspected police officers. In a report from the department of criminal justice, these three officers were circled in red. One’s name is G.T. and his badge number is 35***. We have tweeted the badge numbers of the other officers, and want their names to be made public as well.
AŞ: Do you think your demands will be met?
BD/ŞY: The names of Berkin Elvan’s murderers have been known to the authorities all along, but have not been released. With our initiative the names will be released and a process will be started against the killers.
In the cases of Ali İsmail Korkmaz and Ethem Sarısülük [two of the better-known victims of police shootings during the June Uprisings of 2013], it was also known who the killers were—but how these investigations will come out is clearly a foregone conclusion. The murderers never receive the necessary punishment. For this reason, we want the murderers to be tried in a people’s court. This is our second demand.
AŞ: What will happen if your demands are not met?
BD/ŞY: Our demands are clear. The names must be released. The negotiators should be able to commit to this goal. The identities of the officers should be made public. The officers should also make a public confession on live television.
As soon as these demands are fulfilled, we are ready to negotiate on the demands we mentioned before, like a civil trial. Should these demands not meet with compliance, then what we have declared will happen, will happen.
We have released the badge numbers of the officers. We can break off our action after the release of their names. We are thereby giving our last interview and setting a half-hour time limit as of now [expiring at 7:40 p.m.].
Should the officers refuse to step before the cameras and confess, the negotiations will end. The telephone connection will be cut and we will punish the prosecutor.
AŞ: Was it your demands that gave the police chief and deputy attorney general occasion to make their public statement today around noontime?
BD/ŞY: Yes. This declaration came according to an initial demand. At the outset of this action, we allowed three hours for an official response. Shortly before this ultimatum expired, we were able to establish contact with negotiators. We told them that negotiations could proceed as soon as the relevant authorities commit to releasing the names of Berkin Elvan’s murderers, whereupon the police chief and the deputy attorney general made their public statement.
So we extended our deadline. Had this public declaration not been made, we would not have extended it.
AŞ: The rumor is spreading that you got into the building by showing attorney’s licenses, or that you are yourselves attorneys. How were you able to enter the Justice Palace with arms?
BD/ŞY: We won’t comment on that. It will come to light in due time, but at this moment we won’t disclose anything about that.
Such rumors turn lawyers into targets. In this country, lawyers get turned into targets frequently already. Simply for holding to the oath of their profession, lawyers get thrown in jail or even killed. Anyone not on the AKP’s or the system’s side becomes a target.
We are not lawyers, but fighters from the DHKC. We only resolved to go through with this action after trying every other avenue. We see ourselves as having been forced into this.
AŞ: Can an armed action produce justice?
BD/ŞY: Revolutionaries in this country have given their utmost in the name of justice. There have been many, many actions all along. But it’s activists that get arrested, instead of murderers. Activists that get put under investigation, activists that get tortured.
We, too, are here for justice. Our methods, and this action, are legitimate.
AŞ: You say that the prosecutor will be punished if your demands are not met. Is that legitimate?
BD/ŞY: We are doing our best to see that that won’t happen. Whether our demands are complied with, and whether something happens to the prosecutor, is completely in the authorities’ hands. Ultimately it is their prosecutors and their police officers. These prosecutors and police officers protect their version of “order.” If they don’t want anything to happen to them, then they should fulfill our demands.
We don’t think that this version of “order” appreciates even its own people. It uses people up and throws them away.
Everything from here on out is up to them. There’s nothing else up for negotiation.
AŞ: What is the prosecutor’s state of health? Can we speak with him?
BD/ŞY: I can’t let you speak with him. But his state of health is good. He has already spoken with another prosecutor and someone from the police department and told them himself that he is doing fine.
AŞ: Have you had any conversation with the prosecutor?
BD/ŞY: News stories throughout the media present the picture that he has been going to a lot of trouble to find Berkin Elvan’s murderers. Yes, we have spoken with him. He has tried to defend himself. But when one looks through his files, one sees only the unanswered inquiries of lawyers. We don’t see any evidence of the prosecutor having made any effort to move this case forward. We are familiar with how the case has developed up to now. The state prosecutor’s office has not engaged with it in any way.
The lawyers and the families of police victims have been seeking the video recording of Berkin’s murder. Revolutionaries have carried out many actions to this end. They were arrested, taken into custody, and tortured.
Nonetheless it is all too clear what the justice system has done in similar cases. They protect the state and its criminals, only and above all else. In this case, the prosecutor’s sole responsibility has been to protect the police. We have told him this directly.
Berkin Elvan’s murder sparked a massive public reaction. The hundreds of thousands of participants at Berkin’s funeral were rebelling against this injustice.
AŞ: Doesn’t your action diminish this otherwise legitimate expression of popular resentment?
BD/ŞY: Berkin Elvan was a child like any other. He was our child. We knew Berkin. We knew him personally from the neighborhood. Berkin is a child who grew up under our care. He is our heart, our brother, our comrade.
The participation of millions at his funeral didn’t come out of nowhere. Revolutionaries had been carrying out direct actions for the entire time Berkin lay in a coma, to point out this lived experience of injustice and to unite public opinion around it. Many martyrs fell during the June Uprisings, but none had such a funeral. Of course, Berkin was a child, so his age played a role in bringing the masses together.
When we decided to carry out this action, we made it clear from the beginning that every other option had been exhausted. It had been hoped that something could be accomplished in a democratic way. But since this has not brought justice, we said we would have to produce justice with the barrel of a gun. We draw on our ideology for the legitimacy of this.
Featured image: On the first anniversary of the death of Berkin Elvan last month, High School Anarchist Action (LAF) opened a banner on the stairs of Gezi Park. On it was written the slogan “Berkin is here.” They poured red paint on the stairs, shouting “If the government is thirsty for blood, then take it.” They were then assaulted, abused and taken into custody.
All other images and captions: Lower Class Magazine