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Mysterious reappearance of Turkey's missing

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Ankara (AFP)

News that a loved one was in custody would be unwelcome in most circumstances -- but when the police called Sumeyye Yilmaz, she felt her prayers had been answered.

Her husband Mustafa Yilmaz had been missing for eight months. At last, she knew he was alive and she would see him again.

But she could not take in the news, asking the officer on the phone if he was sure. "There are many Mustafa Yilmazes, I didn't want to be disappointed," she told AFP.

The next day, he was finally back in her arms.

Police told Sumeyye that her husband was "found" on October 21 and was in good health, but she could see he had lost weight and his hands and face were "ice cold".

Sumeyye feared her husband, a 33-year-old physiotherapist, had been tortured and said he looked anaemic, but he gave no account of his missing months and told her only that he had been "hiding".

She knew this was untrue: he had just started a new job when he vanished on February 19 and had no reason to disappear.

- 'Enforced disappearances' -

Ozturk Turkdogan of campaign group Human Rights Association told AFP a unit within the security services was likely to be behind 28 disappearances recorded since a failed coup in 2016.

Similar techniques were used by agents against suspected political dissidents in the 1990s.

Turkdogan said the 28 were probably abducted to obtain information, though it was unclear why they would have been singled out -- tens of thousands were arrested in a post-coup crackdown.

The interior ministry and police did not respond to requests for comment on the cases.

Mustafa had already been sentenced to six years in prison over links to the Gulen movement -- a religious organisation that Turkey blamed for the failed coup -- but he had been released at the start of the year pending an appeal.

He was one of six men who disappeared within a few days of each other around the country in February -- all with alleged ties to the Gulenists.

Four of the six reappeared in July in police custody.

The last -- Gokhan Turkmen -- reemerged a few days after Yilmaz on November 5.

Turkmen's wife also described "extreme weight loss and very pale skin", according to an account from Amnesty International.

Turkmen urged his wife to stop using Twitter "to ask questions and raise awareness about his disappearance," Amnesty said.

The rights group called on Turkish authorities to carry out "a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the circumstances" of what it described as "suspected enforced disappearances" and to make sure there are fair trials.

The Ankara prosecutor's office told AFP that charges had not yet been prepared for Turkmen or Yilmaz and that further details could not be given.

- 'Like a nightmare' -

The disappearances have continued.

On August 6, 38-year-old Yusuf Bilge Tunc vanished without a trace. He, too, had been accused of Gulenist ties -- which he denied -- and fired from his job at the state agency overseeing the defence industry.

His wife, who did not wish to be named, said there had been "no active investigation" into his disappearance.

Tunc's three children are asking more questions about their father, she said through tears: "This is so difficult, it's like a nightmare."

She said the family and an opposition lawmaker, Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, had applied to international and Turkish organisations, including the European Court of Human Rights, so far to no avail.

The reappearance of the other men had, however, raised her hopes, she said.

"What keeps me going is thinking about that moment when I will see him again, to hug him when I first see him."

As for Sumeyye, seeing her husband again was like "seeing someone you love but haven't seen for years... You're just so grateful.

"But I really had to stop myself from crying. I didn't want him to see me crying, I don't know what he has been through.

"It doesn't mean I'm completely relieved but a large burden has been lifted from my shoulders," she said.

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