The Monument in Tribute to the Victims of Torture

İstanbul, 2013

Like many other countries around the globe, Turkey experienced substantial social changes and multifaceted forms of social and political activism in the 1960s. Rapid urbanization and the acceleration of industrialization led to deep social transformations, which also affected the political sphere. The growing discontent against the government led to the radicalization of left-wing and right-wing militants. Students’ protests, occupations, and strikes multiplied, as well as violent clashes between leftists, nationalist activists, and the police.

On March 12th, 1971, the military forces ousted the government of Süleyman Demirel (Justice Party) and proclaimed martial law to restore law and order. A non-political government, led by Nihat Erim, was formed under the pressure of the military forces. This military memorandum, a half coup, was followed by repressive measures particularly targeting the left-wing groups. The revolutionary youth organizations were shut down, syndical rights were restricted and the Turkey Workers’ Party (TİP) was banned. A high number of political activists, leftist intellectuals, journalists, and trade unionists were arrested. 

The Zihni Paşa Villa, also known as Ziverbey Villa, located in Erenköy, on the Asian shore of Istanbul, was one of the sites of detention and torture used during the years following the March 12th coup. The villa and its large garden were built on Tuccarbaşı Street in the early 20th century by Zihni Paşa, a trade minister of the Sultan Abdulhamid II. During the first decades of the Republic, it continued to be owned by descendants of Zihni Paşa. In 1941, a fire destroyed the house, which was rebuilt as a 21-room villa. In the early 1960s, the villa was rented by the military forces. After the military intervention of March 12th, 1971, it started to be used by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as a place of detention and torture.  As recalled by Atilla Özsever, a military officer detained and tortured after March 12th in the villa, Faik Türün himself, the commander of the martial law in İstanbul and of the 1st army, stated in an interview given to the journal Yankı in 1973 that he had opened the villa to serve as the center of the Counter-guerilla activities. Activists, journalists, and leftist military officers were victims of severe torture there. 

In the aftermath of March 12th, the function of the villa was revealed by İlhan Selçuk. The journalist inserted in the statement he had to write under duress a modified acrostic which read “I am under torture”. In 1987, İlhan Selçuk published Ziverbey Köşk, a book where he gave details about the torture he went through and the use of the villa as a center for counter-guerilla activities. Murat Belge and Uğur Mumcu were also among the intellectuals detained and tortured in the villa, together with revolutionary members of the military forces, such as Talat Turhan. 

In the 1990s, the villa was demolished and the ‘Ateşpare Erenköy Residence’, composed of several blocks was built on its estate. In 2013, a joint initiative of Kadıköy municipality and the ADAM-DER association had a monument built in memory of the victims in the Kuşluk garden, located in front of the residence.





'The monument in tribute to the victims of torture’ was inaugurated on September 12th, 2013, by the then mayor of Kadıköy municipality, in the presence of members of the association ADAM-DER, torture survivors of the Zihni Paşa villa, and inhabitants of the neighborhood. The inauguration coincided with the anniversary of the September 12th coup. The idea of the monument belonged to Faik Güleçyüz, a former military officer detained and tortured in the villa after March 12th and a member of ADAM-DER, whose members used to gather each March 12th and  September 12th in front of the villa. The association submitted a proposal for a monument to the then mayor of Kadıköy Municipality, Selami Öztürk, from the CHP party, who accepted it and commissioned Rahmi Aksungur, a sculptor and professor at Mimar Sinan University, to design the monument.  The association had a chance to intervene in the process and voice his preference for an abstract monument. 

The monument is a 2.5-metre-high sculpture, which represents three persons, two men and a woman with banded eyes and hands tied behind their backs. The inscription on the pedestal of the sculpture reads: 

‘In tribute to the victims of torture and those who were tortured to death’. This monument was commissioned by the Municipality of Kadıköy to the sculptor Rahmi Aksungur, in memory of the citizens who lost their vital organs, were left physically impaired or killed by torture during the period of the military coup of 12 March 1971 in Zihni Paşa Villa, commonly known as Ziverbey Villa, as a dark stain in the history of this country”.

While the inscription refers directly to March 12th, 1971, the name of the monument and its inauguration on September 12th broadens its scope to all victims of torture. As the former president of ADAM-DER, Tuna Atalay stated, the objective is “to draw attention to all kinds of torture and to increase awareness about torture among the broader public.”

This universal scope is also reflected in the aesthetics of the sculpture. Rather than representing famous victims of torture in Zihni Paşa Villa, such as İlhan Selçuk, an abstract design was preferred. The fact that one of the three characters is a woman is also a conscious choice to commemorate the women victim of torture, while torture against political prisoners is often associated with male figures. Since the erection of the monument, the oral history collection of the Memory Museum for Historical Justice has shed new light on the experiences of women who survived torture following the September 12th coup and opened a digital space for their testimonies. 

The sculpture remains to this day the only monument explicitly dedicated to the victims of torture in Turkey. Twice a year, on March 12th and September 12th, ADAM-DER and other civil society organizations organize public gatherings in memory of the victims of torture of the two coups. Since 2016, the press releases delivered during these commemorations do not take place anymore in front of the monument, but in Kadıköy square, following a decision of the authorities.

Commemorations are attended by some inhabitants of the neighborhood, who have positively reacted to the erection of the monument and showed sympathy to the members of the association and survivors of torture. Yet, attendance remains limited, and the monument seems to be little known among the broader public. In this respect, the monument has so far failed to significantly contribute to public awareness about torture, while the documentation work of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) and the Human Rights Association (İHD) provide substantial evidence about the continuous use of torture by security forces over the years and the impunity of the perpetrators.

The monument was erected in reference to a space that is no more there. The destruction of the villa where torture took place, and its replacement by a gated residence, made it impossible to turn the place into a site of memory. In this respect, the monument is a symbolic evocation, only loosely connected to the space it commemorates. While the lack of a physical space of memory is an obstacle to reaching a broader public, it also offered the opportunity to give a more universal meaning to the monument. Beyond the victims of the Zihni Paşa Villa or those of the 12th March and 12th September Coup, the anonymous characters represented in the sculpture and the inscription symbolically stand for all victims of torture.

The monument is the product of an original collaboration between a civil society organization (ADAM-DER), the municipality of Kadıköy, and a professor and sculptor, Rahmi Aksungur, who had been collaborating with the municipality for other monuments as well. It is also the result of a political context which was still relatively conducive. As a local initiative, the sustainability of this monument remains dependent on the goodwill of the local authorities and the general political context. The fate of monuments in the Kurdish region, such as Uğur Kaymaz or Ceylan Önkol’s monuments, reminds us of the vulnerability of these kinds of initiatives, although the stability of local politics in the district of Kadıköy makes this monument's removal relatively unlikely. The municipal commitment to protection against possible degradation and maintenance work will be decisive for the sustainability of the monument in the long term.

Finally, the absence of political acknowledgment of past and present human rights violations and the lack of interest of mainstream media in these issues limit the impact and visibility of such monuments. Without comprehensive human rights education in schools and state institutions, inclusive politics of memory, and the development of clear state policies to ban the use of torture and hold accountable its perpetrators, it remains difficult to reach a broader public and increase public awareness about the uses of torture in the past and present of Turkey and its long-lasting impact on the victims.