We live in times of unprecedented violence. Cradled in the wadding of our Western democracy (whose flaws and distortions we do not hide) we cannot even imagine what is happening all around us, starting with the martyrdom of the Ukrainian people, barbarously attacked by assassins sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin. But this inhuman massacre, which is nothing but a repetition of the foreign policy strategy applied by Moscow in Syria and Chechnya, must not make us forget the suffering of other peoples not far from us, such as the Turkish people, whose heroes are leaving themselves to starve in prison after years of torture and farcical trials – like the lawyer Ebru Timkit and the boys of the popular music band Grup Yorum.
Barbara Spinelli , a lawyer from Bologna, rejected at the Turkish border on 14 January 2017 with a re-entry ban, had tried to mark a Western presence at her trial. In vain: “Ebru has left us a challenging legacy, to question ourselves on the role of lawyers in defending rights and the rule of law. To understand her gesture, we need to understand the roots of the choice to dedicate oneself to advocacy, in a society terribly static in the dynamics of repression of dissent. What does it mean to be a young lawyer in Turkey after the events of Gezi Park? How has the Turkish legal profession experienced the state of emergency after the failed coup d’état? Why did Ebru choose to fast until death?”.
Spinelli followed with attention the last years of the Ankara regime, and was a witness of “elections held under armed threat, of life in Kurdish villages and neighbourhoods that survived the curfew regime, at the end of the peace process” and “met Yezidian refugees in the reception camps of Turkey, Rojava, Iraqi Kurdistan“, participating in “weddings, funerals, birthday parties, demonstrations, seminars“, all material put in writing and ended up on the tables of the UN and the Italian Parliament. Talking about Ebru Timtik and his sacrifice cannot be separated from an overall examination of the tragedy of a country and its regime, which survives only thanks to its strategic military position.
Why the West does not help the victims of the regime
NATO and its defence structure
On 23 and 24 March 2021 in Brussels, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias . The agenda included disputes in the eastern Mediterranean, US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-missile system, for which Turkey was forced to give up F-35 fighter jets. In spite of the crisis in Turkish-American ties, the US Secretary of State stressed how much Turkey is a valuable ally. The same statements were made by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in September 2020 , who called on Turkey to reopen negotiations with Greece. Rear Admiral Cem Gurdeniz, who directs the maritime studies centre at Koc University, said: “A war in the Aegean Sea would mean the end of NATO and push Turkey permanently into the Russian orbit” .
Ankara is taking advantage of its position of strength: on the one hand NATO fears a tear in the East, on the other the European Union fears an uncontrolled invasion of migrants. As the situation has worsened since the invasion of Ukraine, this position has been weakened instead of strengthened, as Ursula von der Leyen told the European Council: “Nothing justifies Ankara’s intimidation of Greece and Cyprus in the dispute over energy resources”. But on the defence of human rights in Turkey, since Europe willingly tolerates the mistreatment of migrants, no one says anything. So not only the United States, but also the European Union, on the eve of the European Council of 25 and 26 March 2021, have taken a more accommodating stance towards Ankara. A couple of catchphrases of deprecation, but basically a positive approach focusing on trade and migration. No support for the regime’s victims – at least from the EU.
From the United States it is useless to expect anything. Washington’s concern is to keep NATO together at a time when Vladimir Putin is risking a Third World War – as the Research and Development Centre of the Military University Institute reminds us: “NATO is going through a time of high complexity, stemming in large part from deep internal divisions that limit its ability to address various strategic challenges. (…) Most of the measures proposed to strengthen the cohesion of the Alliance can only be successfully implemented if two essential steps are taken: rapprochement with Turkey and strengthening cooperation with the EU”. For American pragmatism, this is about preventing an alliance between Ankara and Moscow, not saving the lives of a few dozen intellectuals.
An attitude also demonstrated by how the US has betrayed the Kurds, after having blandly used them against the Caliphate in Syria, namely with Donald Trump’s statement on Twitter: “It’s time for us to get out of these ridiculous endless wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. We will fight where there is an advantage for us, and only to win. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will have to fend for themselves” . Unworthy words in the light of the role played by the Kurds as a checkpoint against Isis. Moreover, Trump used the same pragmatism towards Saudi Arabia after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Erdoğan is fully aware of his role and has made it clear on several occasions that his cooperation with Moscow is not an alternative to his ties with the West. Moreover, a firm American stance on Turkey, even with effective economic sanctions, could fuel the nationalist rhetoric adopted by Erdoğan’s government and strengthen its consensus.
The financial crisis is being tackled by repressing any form of dissent – as in the case of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the country’s third largest party (of the libertarian left and pro-Kurdish persuasion), the judiciary is working to have it shut down and to demand the resignation as an MP of its leader Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for asking the Turkish government to resume the peace process with the Kurds. Added to this is the fact that Erdoğan, as of 2018, no longer has a majority in parliament without the support of Devlet Bahçeli’s Grey Wolves neo-fascists. Erdoğan and Bahçeli are convinced that they can stop the haemorrhaging of support by cultivating the electorate of the extreme nationalist right and that of the most radical Islamism.
The sacrifice of Ebru Timtik
What happens to Turkish families affected by regime repression
The lack of separation between the executive and the judiciary is a serious breach of the universal principles of justice. Nothing has changed since the reform, under UN pressure, which on the contrary has increased the politicisation of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK): “The increase in the number of cases of arrest, detention and initiation of investigations on terrorism-related charges of lawyers defending individuals accused of terrorism is of particular concern to the Special Rapporteur. Basic Principle 18 provides that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients, and Principle 20 states that lawyers shall enjoy civil and criminal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court. These principles are among the most violated on an almost daily basis (…) in Turkey” .
Prophetic words, since the political use of the judiciary system has made it possible, after the Gezi Park demonstration, to target lawyers, defenders of journalists and human rights activists, simply for defending themselves in court. The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe is, unfortunately, dealing with this problem, among others, with no little effort. This activity is proceeding in two directions: a) supporting the threatened lawyers by sending letters to the national authorities of the countries concerned and raising awareness in the international community; b) supporting the work of the Council of Europe in view of a Convention on the legal profession which, it is hoped, will become globally binding. On 27 November 2020, this organisation recognised a Special Award for Ebru Timtik .
Ebru Timtik, a Turkish lawyer and human rights activist of Kurdish origin, died on 27 August 2020 at the age of 42 after 238 days of hunger strike, a strike that began in February in order to demand a fair trial, not a farce like hers was in 2018, when she was sentenced to 13 years and 6 months because she was found guilty (on the basis of anonymous depositions accepted by the judge Akin Gurlek , the man who forbids the presence of defenders in the courtroom during hearings) of being affiliated with the DHKP-C (Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of the People), an extreme left-wing group considered a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government, the European Union and the United States.
In 2015, the DHKP-C made headlines for kidnapping Savci prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz , the magistrate who oversaw the investigation into the death of Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old boy who was hit in the head with a tear gas in June 2013 during anti-government protests in Gezi Park and died in hospital on 11 March 2014 after 269 days in a coma, one of the symbols of the Gezi Park protests – an abduction that ended with the judge being killed in a gunfight between kidnappers and Turkish police. Ebru Timtik was part of a group of 18 lawyers, members of various progressive associations, arrested in September 2017 on charges of collaboration with the DHKP/C .
The story is sadly known: 16 lawyers, including Ebru Timtik and other influential figures in the Turkish legal profession, such as Çagdas Hukukcular Dernegi, Selçuk Kozağaçlı and Yaprak Türkmen ), were arrested on 12 September 2017 , shortly before a court hearing against two of their clients, Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça , two teachers guilty of daring to protest against their unlawful dismissal . Their arrest was accompanied by a vehement pro-government press campaign , a practice initiated since the so-called “Soma miners’ massacre” in 2014 : 301 miners dead, 80 injured due to the absence of any security tools . A disaster that saw the active involvement of Ebru Timtik , as well as several other lawyers , who came to the scene of the tragedy to assist the families of the victims .
Erdoğan defines everyone as the left that betrayed our martyrs . The reason for this is evident since Selçuk Kozağaçlı, the lawyer spokesperson for the families of the victims of Soma, was arrested . The same doggedness is being used against the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and against opponents of the FETÖ, the organisation founded by a former ally of the regime, Fethullah Gülen: in June 2018, on the basis of data provided by the Turkish Ministry of Justice, as many as 83,722 people were on trial for links with the FETÖ and another 203,518 for links with the PKK. According to the Turkish Ministry of Justice, 17% (almost 45,000 people) of the entire prison population are convicted or on trial for terrorist offences.
The Turkish government has closed down many lawyers’ associations, paying particular attention to those most focused on human rights violations: the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği), the Free Lawyers’ Association (Özgürlükçü Hukukçular Derneği) and the Mesopotamian Lawyers’ Association (Mezopotamya Hukukçular Derneği) , while dozens of others, such as the Law and Life Association (Hukuk ve Hayat Derneği), have been closed down on charges of having Gülenist affiliations . In this context, the sentences imposed by the court on 19 March 2019 do not surprise anyone: 1) 18 years 9 months imprisonment for Barkin Timtik, 13 years 6 months for Özgür Yılmaz, 13 years 6 months for Ebru Timtik, 12 years for Behiç Asci, 12 years for Şükriye Erden, 10 years 9 months for Selçuk Kozağaçlı, 10 years 6 months for Engin Gokoğlu, 10 years 6 months for Aytaç Ünsal, 10 years 6 months for Suleiman Gokten, 9 years for Aycan Cicek, 9 years for Naciye Demir, 7 years 6 months for Ezgi Çakir, 3 years 9 months for Yağmur Ereren, 3 years 9 months for Yaprak Turkmen, 3 years 9 months for Didem Baydar Ünsal, 3 years 9 months for Ayşegül Çağatay, 2 years 7 months for Zehra Özdemir .
In fact, the rule of law in Turkey is dead. Ankara has suspended the agreements of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) . The intervention of the Strasbourg Court, requested between January and February 2017, had no effect – as had unfortunately happened in the case of the 27,000 of the 30,000 appeals filed by Turkish citizens against convictions arising from the attempted coup in 2017 . On the basis of these decisions, Turkey is considered a “safe” country, so that those who try to leave it do not enjoy the support of the laws in favour of refugees, an odious and pragmatic decision that serves to justify the concentration camps for migrants in which Turkey keeps millions of people who, in this way, do not arrive in Europe.
The European Union is, in its own way, icy consistent. As in the case of the two journalists Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Asan Altan, convicted in yet another farcical trial, and then released on 27 June and 16 March 2018 (they are still under house arrest pending trial), for which the Strasbourg Court decided that their release is a positive signal coming from the Turkish government, despite Erdoğan commenting on their lawyers’ victory with a threat: “Those lawyers who defend people accused of terrorism can only be terrorists. If they act in this way, they must also pay”. The release of these two journalists was the last act of clemency. The Turkish Court of Cassation on 6 March 2019 sentenced Judge Altan to 11 years and 3 months imprisonment, and ruled that suspicion of membership of a criminal organisation is sufficient to fulfil the requirement of flagrante delicto without the need to establish any factual elements or other indicators of an ongoing crime .
May 2016: The Kurdish town of Cizre after attacks by Turkish militiamen
Kerem Altiparmak, a former professor of constitutional law, explains: “Since the failed coup, the penal code has been changed to hinder any form of political opposition. Article 314/2 criminalises membership of an armed organisation, so it is enough to have spoken to an alleged terrorist to be accused of membership”. The persecution has worsened since Ebru Timtik’s death. “In Turkey, according to the report of the Turkish Lawyers in Exile Arrested Lawyers Initiative, 1,600 lawyers have been arrested and put on trial, 615 have undergone lengthy pre-trial detention and 450 have been sentenced to a total of 2,786 years in prison on charges of belonging to terrorist associations or propaganda for terrorism”.
At the same time, the fight against the Kurds has also increased. NGOs denounce the continuous violence suffered by the citizens of Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi and many other Kurdish towns reduced to starvation: “The Turkish State has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilised in wartime, thus violating the right to life, liberty and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions. This deliberate and planned massacre is in gross violation of Turkey’s international laws and treaties to which Turkey is a party. These actions are a serious violation of international law” . Erdoğan replied, “This crowd that calls itself academics is blaming the government” and “these poor retorts of an intellectual unfortunately speak of a state engaged in a massacre. You so-called intellectuals, you are nothing but dark forces. You are so dark and ignorant that you have no idea where the southeast or the east of this country is”.
The tragedy of Grup Yorum
Grup Yorum is a popular music band formed in 1985 by four friends from the University of Marmara (Ayşegül Yordam, Tuncay Akdoğan, Metin Kahraman and Kemal Sahir Gürel). Inspired by Chile’s Inti-Illimani, the band quickly became the leader of the Halk Müziği (left-wing folk) genre: Between 1985 and 2020, the band released 25 albums and sold more than two million copies, creating a circle of fans throughout the European Union, especially in areas with a large number of Turkish and Kurdish exiles. The band is not liked by the powers that be, and the band has been forced to change line-ups several times because individual members have been persecuted, arrested, tortured, exiled or killed.
Grup Yorum stands for pacifism, tolerance, freedom, gender equality, intercultural and interethnic integration – all things that the politicians in Ankara hate and fight with violence: They sing about the 1993 Sivas massacre, the 2000s mining accidents and the 2013 Gezi Park protest, and participate in street demonstrations, as Altin Inan, one of its musicians, explains: “Grup Yorum was born as a reaction to the coup of 12 September 1980 to give a voice to young people, so we participated in forums, rallies and actions together with thousands of students. At Grup Yorum concerts we shout the slogans of the Revolutionary Left, but we are not members of any party, we are simply promoters of a democratic struggle against exploitation and torture”.
And it is precisely because of their socialist leanings, their committed lyrics and their support for demonstrations against the Turkish regime alongside students, workers, miners, peasants, and all the peoples oppressed by Turkey, that the members of Grup Yorum are hated by the power, which first limited itself to censoring and banning concerts (the last live concert was in 2015) and the sale of records, but then, seeing that this was not enough, moved on to violence and torture. They have been subjected to over 400 trials for terrorism and affiliation to the People’s Revolutionary Front, based on anonymous complaints and interrogations extorted by torture.
In 2002, singer Selma Altin and violinist Ezgi Dilanm were arrested by Turkish security forces while demonstrating to demand the return of the body of a boy killed in an attack on a police station in the Gazi district, and were “tortured from the moment of their arrest” and reduced to near death. Even the pro-government newspaper “Hurriyet” was forced to admit that the two women had been “repeatedly beaten” and their injuries “intentionally inflicted”. The two girls were “handcuffed, forced to lie on the ground and beaten by several officers for several minutes. The torture then continued in the car. The agents knew that Altin was the singer of the group and intentionally broke her eardrum, beating her repeatedly on the ears”. And things got worse after the failed coup in 2016. As well as Ebru Timtik, in the first months of 2020 Ibrahim Gökçek , Helin Bölek , Mustafa Koçak and Mustafa Koçek , all members of Grup Yorum .
The persecution continues even in very civilised Germany: a concert in solidarity with the band members imprisoned in Turkey was supposed to take place in Cologne on Sunday 24 November 2019. The German police cancelled it five minutes before the start, because it was judged by the Cologne public prosecutor’s office as “illegal propaganda of a terrorist organisation” . The police seize propaganda material that (they say) advocates violence: political caricatures of the artist İsmail Doğan. The band and the audience defy the violence of the German police: they play in the street, without amplification. This was a novelty: before then, the band’s concerts had never been banned abroad . Who would not play (they are all in jail): 17 bands from all over Europe played in solidarity with the Grup Yorum .
The decision is the effect of an agreement between the Turkish and German secret services: “Turkey is increasing the pressure and asking the German government to impose sanctions against people of Turkish origin it considers suspicious”. and which has led several Western countries to ban Turkish left-wing parties. The fact that this is happening in front of the doors of our houses (sang the poet Giorgio Gaber: “those houses in which we hide”) and in our streets is a sign of our fear, certainly, but also of the fact that we have lost the sense of how much freedom is worth and how much it should be defended – a freedom for which our peoples have paid a tribute of blood that the new generations have forgotten.
When I was young we demonstrated against oppression in Chile, in Poland, today we are ready to ignore and forget the suffering of the Syrian people, the Belarusian people, and now the Turkish people. The result is that our freedom and democracy are also in danger today. That is why, despite the martyrdom of so many women and men in that country, Turkey’s long night will have to wait a long time before it sees a new dawn.
 https://www.huffingtonpost.it/entry/dalleuropa-sanzioni-cosmetiche-alla-turchia-erdogan-ringrazia_it_5fd360aec5b68256b1146cc9/ “Dall’Europa sanzioni “cosmetiche” alla Turchia, Erdogan ringrazia”
 Cruz, Marco António Ferreira da (2021). “NATO 2030”: survival in a new era. Janus.net, e- journal of international relations. Vol12, No. 1, May-October 2021. Consulted [online] at 21st of February 2022, https://doi.org/10.26619/1647-7251.12.1.2
 “Khashoggi, Trump «grazia» il principe saudita e ribadisce l’alleanza con Riad” https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/khashoggi-trump-grazia-principe-saudita-e-ribadisce-l-alleanza-riad-AEPVmSkG
 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers (A/64/181), para. 64. https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/4043/file/Turkey_Report_UN_Rap_independ_lawyers_2012_en.pdf
 https://ihd.org.tr/en/press-statement-for-immediate-release-interior-minister-suleyman-soylus-public-statements/ ; https://web.archive.org/web/20170813220846/http://www.milliyet.com.tr/bir-teror-orgutunun-bitmeyen-senaryosu-ankara-yerelhaber-2179760/
 https://st.ilsole24ore.com/art/notizie/2014-05-17/turchia-incidente-miniera-concluso-recupero-corpi-vittime-sono-301-172335.shtml?uuid=ABVJT4IB&refresh_ce=1 ; https://swab.zlibcdn.com/dtoken/f3be7b982706e936c8faec2a10663291
 Decreto sullo stato di emergenza n. 677 (Decreto esecutivo n. 677), Gazzetta Ufficiale, 22 novembre 2016, elenco n.6: http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2016/11/20161122-1.htm
 Decreto sullo stato di emergenza n. 667 (Decreto esecutivo n. 667), Gazzetta Ufficiale, 23 luglio 2016, elenco n.3: http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2016/07/20160723-8-1.pdf
 https://presidenza.governo.it/CONTENZIOSO/contenzioso_europeo/documentazione/Convention_ITA.pdf ; https://fedlex.data.admin.ch/filestore/fedlex.data.admin.ch/eli/cc/1993/750_750_750/20111027/it/pdf-a/fedlex-data-admin-ch-eli-cc-1993-750_750_750-20111027-it-pdf-a.pdf
 https://www.osservatoriodiritti.it/2021/03/22/turchia-diritti-umani-erdogan/ ; https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Defenders/longterm-detention-defenders/Submissions/CSOs/26_iohr-cso-turkey-en-y.docx
 Per una contestualizzazione del socialismo in Turchia dagli anni ’70 agli anni ’90, vedere Karpat (2004).
https://bianet.org/english/human-rights/210014-the-ones-massacred-in-madimak-26-years-ago-commemorated-in-sivas ; https://www.france24.com/en/20180702-turkey-marks-25-years-mob-attack-alevi-intellectuals
 İnan Altin, comunicazione ad Eliot Bates, 2010. pag.357 “The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies” https://s3p.manualzz.com/store/data/028464512.pdf?key=5f3a8e7c6ab5ea02b1f2b07c406356c5&r=1&fn=28464512.pdf&t=1647270539353&p=86400
https://www.infoaut.org/graphicscomics/grup-yorum-la-band-musicale-perseguitata-da-erdogan ; Korpe, Marie. 2007. Music Will Not Be Silenced: 3rd Freemuse World Conference on Music &
Censorship. Copenhagen: Freemuse
 https://www.infoaut.org/graphicscomics/grup-yorum-la-band-musicale-perseguitata-da-erdogan ; https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/it/notizie/rubriche/cronaca/2012/09/19/TURCHIA-MUSICISTE-GRUP-YORUM-DENUNCIANO-TORTURE-POLIZIA_7496459.html