Diyarbakır Military Prison Project

The Kurds in Turkey, who have constituted 15-20 percent of the whole population, have been subjected to denial, repression and assimilation policies since the establishment of the Turkish nation-state. Although the Kurdish movement actors started to make demands for the collective rights of the Kurds beginning from the late 1950s, the Turkish state showed no tolerance such peaceful demands for recognition and continued to apply systematic discrimination policies on both political and economic grounds in the upcoming decades. Thus, the Kurdish movement experienced a quick radicalization process after the military intervention in 1971 and the movement organizations started to mobilize Kurdish masses with the demand of nations’ right for self-determination in the 1970s from within the Marxist-Leninist ideology. The Kurdish movement for the first time since the establishment of the Republic achieved to mobilize hundred of thousands of Kurds in the second half of the 1970s. However, the advent of the 1980 military coup in Turkey launched a campaign of state terror against the leftists and/or Kurds and approximately 112.000 people were detained in a one-year following the military coup and most of these people were subjected to systematic torture. Mamak, Metris and Diyarbakır Military Prisons have been the most notorious prisons regarding the extent of rights violations that occurred in those jails. Diyarbakır Military Prison, in which the majority of prisoners and detainees were Kurdish, witnessed the most violent and persisting systematic torture techniques in the first half of the 1980s. Not only brutal repression but also Turkification practices were also implemented in the prison and more importantly, the number of incarcerated and tortured civilians who had nothing to do with political movements was also the highest in Diyarbakır Military Prison. According to the list of “The Most Notorious Prisons in the World” that was prepared by Time Magazine in 2008, Diyarbakır Military Prison was ranked as the fourth most notorious prison in the world. While it is hard to determine the actual number of people killed in that prison, according to official records, 34 prisoners lost their lives due to systematic tortures between 1980 and 1984. Hundreds of people were physically injured while almost all prisoners experienced psychological traumas.

Scope and Purpose

Justice Commission to Research the Truth about Diyarbakır Prison was established in 2007 by the aim of turning Diyarbakır Prison into a site of conscience or human rights museum. The 78’ers Foundation was the main organization behind this initiative and it mainly worked with academics specialized in law, sociology and psychology. Following 2007, this commission conducted in-depth interviews with 462 ex-prisoners, collected pieces of evidence and testimonies, organized conferences and symposiums, prepared reports based on the findings and finally started a trial process in November 2010 about the state terror in Diyarbakır Military Prison. In May 2011, the commission achieved to reach indictments of a thousand ex-prisoners to the court and the trial process still continues. The commission asked from the court determination of military and civil personnel worked in the first half of the 1980s and demanded a judicial process that will investigate the case in the scope of crimes against humanity.


The main aims of this memorialization project in progress have been [1] creating awareness about gross human rights violations occurred in Diyarbakır prison, [2] fostering the constitution of a truth commission that would investigate facts of Diyarbakır Prison and [3] also mobilize people for the cause of creating a memorialization project via peaceful ways and stopping the culture of silence from which perpetrators have enjoyed impunity so far. In the last 8 years, numerous protests and collective actions were organized in various cities of the Kurdish region and Turkey. Participation for collective actions has been significant and these collective actions created a considerable impact in terms of spreading awareness about the issue at stake and voicing the demand of victims to societies. Two symposiums were organized in Diyarbakır and Ankara with the title of “Turkey is Coming to Terms with Diyarbakır Prison” which also included other human rights organizations as well. Recently, The 78’ers Foundation started a petitioning campaign in which turning Diyarbakır Military Prison into a human rights museum is demanded. In April 2013, 100.000 petitions were collected and they were reached to the Turkish Parliament.


The main challenge has been the resistance of the Turkish state against demands for turning Diyarbakır Military Prison into a site of conscience. The main strategy of the AKP government about such demands in the last decade has been recognition of past wrongdoings claimed by the victims but also not letting the realization of memorialization projects which have serious symbolic and political potential to harm the reputation of the state. In 2009, Turkish Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that they are aware of what happened in that prison. Nevertheless, he also stands against the transformation of Diyarbakır Military Prison into a site of conscious. During the speech of Erdoğan, it was also announced that their plan is to turn this building into a school.