At this site in south eastern Turkey archaeologists have accidentally discovered a mass grave.

Once it would have disappeared without a trace, but forensic work has been taking place all year which threatens to reveal political crimes from the last 30 years.

Nilgün Turkler lives in Istanbul.

Reluctantly she comes to the area where she grew up. This is where she had to watch as her father, a leading trade unionist, was shot.

0'25 OT Nilgün Turkler

There was grass here then, it looked different from how it does now. There was a green strip.

And there was a small iron fence all around it.

0'32 OT Nilgün Turkler
My father got into his car. He had a young policeman who was supposed to protect him. Suddenly, shots were fired from three sides. Then the officer opened the car door and threw himself onto the grass verge.

That was 32 years ago. The murder of trade unionist Kemal Turkler was only the beginning. A few weeks later, the military staged a coup. Trade unions and political parties were banned. Turkey became a dictatorship and about half a million people vanished indefinitely into its prisons.

1'02 OT Nilgün Turkler
We lived on the fourth floor and I saw everything from there.

One of the men saw that my father was not dead. He looked up briefly. At that moment I looked closely into his eyes. Then he stopped… and shot my father once more. The bullet passed through his head. .

Even in the years before the coup, the military declared war on the trade unions. Marches were broken up by tanks - or were outlawed altogether.

While the Western world looked admiringly at Poland, the birthplace of the ‘Solidarity’ union movement, all civil rights in Turkey were being suppressed, despite its allegiance with NATO.

Modern Istanbul has changed completely. Today, it’s modern shopping malls, not military barracks, that dominate the landscape.

A new, forward-looking, more globally- minded generation, is seeking the best opportunities.

And it’s not just in Istanbul, Izmir or Ankara.

Turkey’s economic boom has been spreading across the country.


For the first time in decades, the military is on the defensive.

General Evren, the powerful leader of Turkey’s1980 coup, recently went on trial.

The turning point was a referendum in 2010

in which General Evren and his collaborators suffered a humiliating defeat. The majority of the population decided that coup leaders should be prosecuted, and that civilian courts should decide their fate.

General Kenan Evren went to great lengths to shore up the power of the Turkish military.

His constitution, which stands to this day, can all too easily label Turkish citizens enemies of the state. The Cold War also gave the general and his comrades the backing of the U.S. government.

Teachers, writers, journalists and trade unionists were put on trial; 500 were sentenced to death. Politically motivated killers– like the murderer of Kemal Turkler – were protected by the authorities. In the first weeks of the coup, soldiers assumed the role of judges.

Many more then took over as civilian judges and prosecutors in charge of implementing military law.

Tural Ahmed was a young judge when the military took power.

The leaders of the coup were antagonistic towards him, but at the time, he could not be sacked. For a long time Tural tried to stay true to his principles, but eventually things became so uncomfortable that he was fired and he continued working as a lawyer.

4'02 INSERT: Tural Ahmed, former Judge
Many of the judges were forced to submit to the state, or felt compelled to bend over.

But there were also those who chose to be complicit; who believed that it was a good thing to protect the authority of the state. Turkish society has always had a tendency towards authoritarian leadership.

When the military withdrew from the government in 1982, it still had a firm grip on power. Civil governments continued to receive instructions and guidance from General Evren and his successors and for thirty years the National Security Council was the real center of power in the country.

The crimes of coup leaders and their henchmen were covered up by the justice system without trace.

For thirty years Nilgün Turkler has tried in vain to bring her father's murderer - t

he man she saw with her own eyes – to justice. Her testimony has been brought into question and the legal process has been halted numerous times.

5'26 OT Nilgün Turkler

The only question I could not answer in court was about the type of gun.

I said that I had never been taught about weapons as we were brought up to love peace.


The brutal suppression of the trade unions has changed Turkey forever. We have to travel to the outskirts of Istanbul to actually find a firm which has a union. Despite the economic boom, wages are still low.

It’s one of the reasons for Turkey’s economic miracle. This is how a new class of employers got rich.

This cable plant is something of an exception.

The owners, goldsmiths from Istanbul’s Bazaar, are allowing their workers to unionise. Elsewhere, this would be a sackable offence.
OT workers 6'19 1

We only know from the older ones about what happened in the past. We know nothing of that time. Until I started here in 2003 I thought that every trade unionist was a communist, and that communists are all evil.


For the last two years, people have been allowed once again to march on Taksim square on Labour Day. But workers stay at their posts, still in thrall to their employers.

6'50 OT worker 2
The unions have been broken up and fragmented for a number of reasons. And this has weakened the force of the workers. But perhaps we can unite again.


In the union building, a memorial room dedicated to Kemal Turkler has been set up by his family. For his daughter Nilgun, it still feels as through the murder happened yesterday, because those responsible for her father’s death are still protected by the state.

7'20 0-Nilgün Turkler tone (NB starts in the off)
Just before he was shot, he had a jacket on.

From the balcony I could see how he took it off when he got into the car and put it in the back. His blood was sprayed on it there and on the sleeves there are two marks. I still have it at home.

Eighteen months ago, the suspected murderer was brought before a judge again, only to then

inform Nilgun that the statute of limitations had been reached. But she still has hopes for the trial of the coup leaders.

7'47 OT Nilgün Turkler
The most important thing is that those who have tortured and killed others are found and punished. Only then will the coup of September 1980 be put to rest.

The newly discovered mass grave in the southeast of Turkey lies next to a former police jail.

In Diyarbakir [check with Jack for pronunciation] in the 80s and 90s, many Kurds including children and teenagers, were arrested and tortured. It was during the dirty war between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK and many Kurdish families fled to Istanbul.

8'41 Here, in theTarlabasi [check with Jack for pronunciation] district in Istanbul, Kadri Dogan runs a small grocery store.

Every Saturday at noon Kadri goes to a demonstration for his little brother.

Every weekend, In the middle of Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul's busiest shopping street, mothers and sisters of the disappeared come and meet. They demand to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones and to find out clues as to where they are buried.

Kadris’ younger brothers were at school when they were abducted one night by the military. Hazni, the youngest, was later allowed to run back. But his brother Seyhan who was only two years older could not have survived the torture.

9'47 Hazni OT Dogan

The last time I saw my brother he was hanging upside down from a pole.

They had stripped him naked and had him hanging. His clothes were nearby. At night they let me go. My mother went to the base early in the morning at around six o’clock. They said: we have let your son Seyhan go> He must have cleared off to the mountains. But the last time I saw my brother he was in such a state that he would not have been able to put his arms in his shirt.

Kadri 10'20 OT Dogan
We went to dig for 10 days.

We found bones, but no one can be sure who they belong to. Without the help of the state we will never know. Even if I find something, like remnants of clothing, a shoe or a bone. How do I know who it is?

One Turkish human rights group is trying to break the silence using a shocking mix of art and paperwork.

This exhibition in Istanbul is here because of the courage of forensic doctor, Sebnem Fincanci.

11'22 INSERT: Sebnem Fincanci, medical examiner [ENGLISH]

You see the pictures here; these are all very sorrowful events, a kind of memory, and it’s very important for us because these pieces are the history of Turkey.

11'34 Continues… [ENGLISH]

In the name of the flag, in the name of nationality, people are killed, people are suppressed and it is important to just black out the flag through remembering. [to look behind that flag and bring forth the memories.]

What she has discovered in the course of her work led her to become a human rights activist 20 years ago.

Sebnem Fincanci 12'04 OT, Medical Examiner [ENGLISH]
It means that bullets are a part of our lives. And unfortunately, although they cant take any belongings [to the grave as part of tradition] they took bullets with them.


Because she often came up with the wrong conclusions as a coroner, Sebnem lost her job several times.

Sebnem Fincanci 12'24 OT, Medical Examiner [ENGLISH]

During the autopsy we noticed that it wasn’t a normal shooting because many of the victims would have one bullet entrance just behind skull, or in the back.

Just before the Kurdish Newroz festival there is an unusual amount of hustle and bustle at Mardin airport. But Kadri Dogan did not come to celebrate.

He’s read in the newspaper about newly-found graves and now wants to see them for himself.
He avoided the southeast for a long time. But he’s now returned for the second time in just a few weeks. The first time he came, he tried, on his own, to dig up the corpse of his brother.

At the height of the war in the mid nineties, many villages in this deserted landscape were razed to the ground. The army didn’t want the PKK fighters to be able to take shelter.

When Kadris’ brother was kidnapped, he lived in the city. But evidence suggests that he was taken by the military to this village, which had already been abandoned.

Kadri 13'53 OT Dogan
Here the authorities have allowed us to dig.

We have done that, and we have brought out a dead body. Just one. They tried to burn them, and covered them with stones. All the dirt that you see here, we have dug up.

A woman who has been watching all the time from a distance - seems to know something more.

When this happened, no one was in the village, but what happened here with the young prisoners has become all too clear.

Kadri 14'33 OT Dogan
Do you see the old aunt there, that's a friend of my family, she knows us all.

She says there are 5 people in there. The clothes that in there mean nothing, she says. They were thrown in there later. She’s says that’s she’s convinced that there are five bodies in there.

Kadri Dogan will not let go. He’s convinced the authorities know more than they say they do.


Sebnem is also occupied with the recent discovery of bodies in the southeast. She tells her students about her own experiences with victims of state violence. For her, young doctors need to think critically about their work.

15'21 INSERT: Sebnem Fincanci, medical examiner [ENGLISH]
More people coming and working in this field means that you are not alone now and in a way it is a kind of solidarity that makes you feel more confident with your work. And the people realise you are more confident - they trust you and come forward and talk about their own stories.

Kadri’s past and that of his brothers is part of a conflict that seems to have no political solution in sight. Kadri does not want to grow old as a refugee in Istanbul, but only ruins remain of his old village.

Kadri 16'08 OT Dogan
The conditions would have to be right. If all the families came back, then yes. But if one family does not come, then the rest won’t either. And our children need to go to school. There is no school anymore so what would we do with the children?

Earlier this year Kadri Dogan submitted a blood sample to the public prosecutor to see if there is a link between him and one of the corpses. So far he’s had no reply.

He’s thinks it’s a small victory that he’s been able to do this at all. And the lawyer working on the issue is clearly deeply committed.

Kadri 17'03 OT Dogan
I spoke with the prosecutor.

He said “we’re awaiting the results of DNA testing on the bones. We’re following it very closely. I will inform you, stay calm and relax and wait for us to notify you” …We’ll just have to wait and see.

It later emerges that the bones from Diyarbakir are not from the period of military dictatorship when many opposition activists were killed by secret death squads.

The bones are at least a hundred years old – and they give rise to new questions.

But Turkish citizens have become impatient.

Earlier this year, over 50,000 people took to the streets to remember the murdered Journalist Hrant Dink and to demand his case be pursued further.

The Armenian-Turkish journalist was shot dead on the street 5 years ago.

Although three men have been convicted of his murder, questions about a wider consipracy to kill Dink still remain unexamined by the courts.

18'16 INSERT: Ertugrul Mavioglu, journalist and author
Hrant Dink came out of his office here and wanted to withdraw some money over there. The bank surveillance camera shows Hrant’s face. In the background, there are some suspicious-looking people.

18'31 bank video
These were the last seconds before Dink's murder.
His friend, the journalist Ertorul Mavioglu has reconstructed events in the greatest detail.

18'40 Mavioglu OT
The perpetrator shoots, then runs up the stairs, and then carries on.

18'50 (surveillance camera)
The surveillance video from the bank shows a possible accomplice.

What do you normally do, when you bump into someone?

You look at who it was. But this man does not do that. It looks as though this person co-ordinates the whole thing.

The surveillance video from the bank was never analysed by the investigators.

19'18 Mavioglu OT

There was sufficient evidence to justify this person being found. But that’s never happened.


In Turkey it seems that difficult intellectuals need to be silenced. Much evidence points to the fact that the so-called ‘deep state' had a hand in it – the same dubious network that was responsible for the murder of Kemal Turkler and the young Seyhan Dogan.

19'52 Mavioglu OT
Solving a murder case is indeed not only about finding the man who pulled the trigger but also about finding those who have helped him, about finding those who instigated the murder and supported it.

This is what it is all about. The murder of Hrant Dink was not just any old murder. But they have not done this.

With protests continuing the Turkish government has called for a full investigation of the murder.

Like many critical thinkers, Ertogrul Mavioglu was imprisoned after the coup. But this has not stopped him from grasping the nettle.

20'40 Mavioglu OT

If you ask me now if I really feel truly free, then no. But inside prison, you feel even less free because there is no way to make a difference. I don’t really feel free at the moment, but at least now I have the opportunity to provoke a reaction, or disagreement. Inside you can’t do anything. You can’t change anything there.

In the last few years Mavioglu has dealt extensively with the "deep state".

He understands that there is a protective shield for people who do things on behalf of the state, that the state itself cannot do.

21'22 Mavioglu OT

Whenever the state has a hand in a murder, the case is never solved. Take all these events in recent history which were unsolved and then reached the statute of limitations - from the Sivas massacre to the murder of Kemal Türkler. These have all been consigned to history because of this secret network.


Despite this the Erdogan [check with Jack for pronunciation] government was the first to try to shake the foundations of the deep state. The high-security prison in Silivri is at the heart of an unprecedented assault on the military.

To their complete surprise, one high-ranking officer after another was taken into custody.

They were arrested on suspicion of planning a coup to overthrow the government, or of supporting the crimes of the deep state.

For Islamists and liberals, these arrests were a coup for civil society.

But then, there was an astonishing turn of events. Ertogrul Mavioglus’ friends, Ahmed Sik and Nedim Sener, who had worked with him on exposing the deep state, found themselves sitting in the same prison as the generals and their henchmen.

22'47 OT Yonca Sik (German) [HAVE TO READ SLOW]


Ahmed doesn’t have high hopes for his country.

For over 20 years he’s written about the ‘deep state’. It makes him angry that he’s now in the same boat as the people he’s written about…

In place of the disempowered military, the police have got been emboldened and have used the law to their own ends, says former judge Ahmed Tural.

23'23 INSERT: Tural Ahmed, former Judge
I do not think that these unnecessary arrests have anything to do with the law.

This has much more to do with judges who are sympathetic to the state. Judges and prosecutors here see themselves as defenders of the state, while it’s the state that commits the most violations. Or at least, institutions that are tied to the state. So the real role of judges and prosecutors ends up taking a back seat: the fight for justice.

No civilian Turkish government has been strong enough to take on the military.

But Erdogan's charisma and his economic success make it possible. His moderate Islamism attracts far more followers than the other parties and much more than the generals.

People like Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik who take on the islamist-dominated police and judicial system can expect big problems. According to pro-government journalist Nazil Ilicak [check with Jack for pronunciation] they are of minor importance.

24'31 OT Nazil Ilicak, TV journalist
The case against the deep state, known as Ergenekon [check with Jack for pronunciation], is extensive.

It may be that sometimes wrong steps were taken. But Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik are really only peripheral figures. They do not play an important role. In essence, it's about the military commanders. Journalists are hardly affected.


Last March, after a year in prison, Nedim Sener and Ahmed Sik were finally released with no specific charges ever brought against them. But the case against them is still open. And around a hundred other journalists are still in custody.

25'20 OT Sik Ahmed, a journalist
All political parties in this country have a part in the deep state in Turkey, this dirty, bloody past -.directly or indirectly.

And because something will come to light that makes them guilty, no one takes on these investigations. If we really tackle this, then that would be an important step toward civilisation and democracy.

Ahmed Sik's wife Yonca is with the Saturday mothers.

For the first time in a long time, Turkish civil society is uniting again.

26'05 INSERT: Sebnem Fincanci, medical examiner [ENGLISH]
In Turkey, we are used to handling problems by just sweeping them under the carpet; if we don’t see the problem there is no problem. That’s beginning to change. The young generation have a different perspective.

But it’s not young people, rather the veterans of the civil resistance who have forced the trial of General Evren. Many of them have the feeling that the government is listening to them for the first time. A verdict on the leaders of the coup would at least represent a symbolic step forward.

27'04 OT Nilgün Turkler
But you mustn’t forget: those who are taking to court the 1980 coup leaders are doing so on the basis of a constitution that was drafted by those same coup leaders. I would like to draw attention to this.

Many countries in the Middle East see Turkey as a model.

But will Turkey stand up to her past or continue to ignore the skeletons in the closet?

Insert list, skeletons in the closet '
Nilgün Turkler
Istanbul, 1980
Ankara, 1980
Mehmed Tural, former judge
Hazni Dogan
Kadri Dogan
Sebnem Fincanci, coroner
Istanbul, 2012
Ertugrul Mavioglu, Author
Video surveillance, January 2007
Yonca Sik
Nazil Ilicak, television journalist
Ahmed Sik, a journalist

Designed by Christian Schüller
Collaboration: Yasemin Öymen
Camera: Christian Feiland
Sound: Mustafa Yilmaz
Editor: Wolfgang Beck
Our thanks go to the Turkish Human Rights Association IHD


© 2019 Journeyman Pictures
Journeyman Pictures Ltd. 4-6 High Street, Thames Ditton, Surrey, KT7 0RY, United Kingdom
Email: info@journeyman.tv

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more info see our Cookies Policy