Peace Portraits: A Look at the Lives We Lost on October 10, 2015

2015-2016 mark a turbulent time in Turkey, a time when the peace process collapsed and consecutive bomb attacks targeted civilians in public spaces. The peace process officially started on March 21, 2013 when Abdullah Öcalan’s letter calling for peace was read out. At the beginning of 2015, the two-year negotiations have reached an important milestone. On February 28, 2015, the actors of the peace process got in front of a camera for the first time at the Presidency Offices in the Dolmabahçe Palace. In this meeting known as the “Dolmabahçe Agreement” texts prepared by both sides were read. However, following this important meeting, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made negative statements, using the expression “I don’t approve it” for the Dolmabahçe meeting.

Later on, a series of attacks started taking place targeting particularly the HDP rallies. On May 10, 201, accusing the government of being responsible for explosions that had occurred during HDP election meetings, KCK (Kurdish Communities Union) declared that it is impossible to solve the Kurdish issue under these circumstances. The bomb attack carried out at the HDP Diyarbakır Meeting on May 5, 2015, killed 4 people and injured more than 400 people. The bombing attack carried out by ISIS in Şanlıurfa’s Suruç district on June 20 killed 33 young people and injured more than 200 people. These events were followed by the devastation in Kurdish populated cities. On August 10, 2015, the Democratic Regions Party made a statement in Şırnak “From now on, we declare to self-govern.” This was the first of self-governance declarations that would follow in the coming days and months. In response, the government started issuing curfews in provinces that had declared self-governance. In the meantime, intense clashes broke out in many provinces and districts with civilian populations. In this period, at least 310 civilians, which include 72 children, 62 women and 29 people over 60 years old lost their lives during the clashes. (TİHV, 2016) Many people were forced to leave their homes and relocate to other districts or cities.

The Peace Process greatly raised the expectations and hope that the Kurdish issue can be settled by peaceful means. The abrupt ending of the process encouraged various organizations to organize a large peace meeting which would put pressure on both sides to continue the talks. People who gathered in Ankara on October 10, 2015, believed that going back to the period of conflict would only mean new deaths and peace was the only lasting solution. The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (KESK), Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and Turkish Medical Association (TTB) called for a Labor, Peace and Democracy Meeting in Ankara. Many culture and arts associations, political parties and non-governmental organizations decided to join the peace meeting. Two consecutive explosions were heard as people were gathering in front of the Ankara Train Station to join the meeting. 103 people lost their lives, 391 people were injured, making it the deadliest attack in Turkey’s history.

The first indictment for the attack was confirmed on July 13, 2016. The indictment stated that the ISIS Turkey representative İlhami Ballı ordered the attack. Moreover, the accused were also responsible for the Suruç attack where 33 people lost their lives. The first hearing of the case in which 14 suspects including İlhami Ballı were tried for “attempting to murder” and “attempting to end the constitutional order” was seen before the Ankara 4th Heavy Penal Court on November 7, 2016. They were given prison sentences ranging from 5083 to 7820 years. The last hearing of the case was held on August 3, 2018. The Court handed down prison sentences that range from 7 and a half years in prison to 101 aggravated life sentences for 19 imprisoned suspects out of 36 suspects. Later on, a new indictment was prepared for Erman Ekici, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for being an executive of ISIS, accusing him of committing crimes against humanity. The first hearing of the case against the accused Erman Ekici who is charged with “committing crimes against humanity” and “murdering 100 people” was held before the Ankara 4th Heavy Penal Court on November 21, 2019.

Status
Completed
Date
2015
Owner
Form
Scope and Purpose

“Portraits of Peace: A Look at the Lives We Lost on October 10, 2015” is a book of commemoration and witnessing that feature the portraits of 85 out of 103[1] people who lost their lives in the explosion that occurred during the Labor, Democracy and Peace Meeting held at Ankara on October 10, 2015. On October 13, 2015, Punto 24, the Platform for Independent Journalism, made a call to collect the stories of people who lost their lives in the Peace, Democracy and Labor Meeting:

“We would like to know each individual we have lost.

Because each one of them has a unique story that tells about endeavors, hopes, sorrows and celebrations. And we would like to open up a space for them in our collective memory.

Because we owe to the people who have been separated from this life while calling for peace.

Because embracing their memory is also our way of embracing life and striving for the victory of peace, instead of the victory of murderers.

Because, we cannot prevent new massacres by forgetting, but we can prevent them by remembering. We can only heal when we remember collectively.”

Volunteer writers who came together under the umbrella of P24 decided to hold interviews with the families and people who were close to those who lost their lives in the Ankara massacre. Following the interviews, portraits prepared with the help of interviews held with the families and people who were close to those who died began to be published on 101015ankara.org. In October 2017, two years after the attack, a working group consisting of Evin Barış Altıntaş, Metin Yener, Murat Şevki Çoban, Özlem Altunok, Seçil Epik, Sibel Oral, Veysel Ok and Yasemin Çongar published a book called Barış Portreleri: 10 Ekim 2015’te Kaybettiğimiz Yaşamlara Bir Bakış [Portraits of Peace: A Look at the Lives We Lost on October 10, 2015.]

The book features 85 portraits written by 62 volunteers. All these portraits were based on in-depth interviews conducted with families and relatives. For this reason, the book is not only a commemoration work but also a witnessing work. Some portraits have not been included in the book as some families preferred to experience their suffering in silence. Some portraits are also missing because the team was unable to reach their families or friends. At the end of the book, 14 of these people whose portraits are missing are remembered with their names.[2]

[1] Two consecutive explosions were heard at 10:04 while people were gathering in front of the Ankara Train Station. Two simultaneous suicide bombings carried out by ISIS members killed a total of 103 people (excluding the suicide bombers) including 3 people who lost their lives at the hospital injured a total of 391 people, including 48 gravely injured.

[2] A total of 99 people who have lost their lives, including 85 people out of 103 are remembered with their portraits, and 14 others with their names. The reason behind this was during the preparation stage of the book, 3 people, who would lose their lives later, had still been under treatment and 1 out of 100 people who had lost their lives totally refused to include their loss’s name in the book.

Impact

The Portraits of Peace will contribute to our collective memory as long as we recognize that we have lost part of ourselves in this large attack that happened on Turkey’s soil, and in each event where innocent, peaceful, unarmed people have been victimized by violence. If we reduce these deaths to numbers, when we don’t know their names, lives and personalities, when we do not create a permanent space for them in our memory, it is harder for us to strengthen the demand for peace against violence, call to account and punish those who are responsible for the attack, prevent similar massacres and embrace this demand.

An important impact of the Portraits of Peace is its ability to separate the act of remembering from time and space. The commemoration of those who lost their lives in the attack in the form of a book and a website was especially important in a political environment where public commemorations are under immense pressure. Therefore, a permanent platform that can inform large audiences about the stories of those who died has been established until democratic conditions that would allow an actual commemoration event and even a memory space in front of the train station are ensured.

Challenges

The effort not to forget the October 10 massacre and ensure that those who died are not erased from our collective memory entails facing different challenges. The first of these challenges is the political pressure exercised on any kind of dissenting commemoration activity. 103 individuals who lost their lives in the massacre were commemorated for the first time in front of the strain station on the third anniversary of their death with a ceremony organized by the October 10 Peace and Solidarity Association on October 10, 2013. Yet, in the previous years, the security forces had prevented any kind of commemoration activity in front of the train station. The activities for the book were carried out in this pressure atmosphere.

Another challenge was public authorities’ unwillingness to build a permanent monument. The Ankara Municipality decided to build a monument five days after the attack to commemorate people who have died. Yet this project has still not been realized even though families and activists have been insisting on this demand. Families were unable to schedule a meeting with the new municipal management for a long time, but they met with the municipal officials in July 2019. Consequently, the City Council has been tasked with this monument project. What is worse than the intentional slowness of officials is the multiple attacks that targeted the symbolic monument in front of the Ankara Train Station. Security officers claimed that there was no security footage that could help identify the attackers.

In addition to the political challenges and difficulties on the macro level, there are specific challenges that arise from meeting with the families of people who lost their lives in the attack for the Portraits of Peace project. The project team defines the biggest challenge they faced while preparing the book as the rawness of the families’ pain. Stating that turning a visit of condolence into an act of witnessing is not always easy, the team adds that some families thought it would be inappropriate to talk because of privacy or security concerns. Lastly, it could be argued that the book has reached a limited audience despite its potential. The reason for this was that it was produced as part of a project and could not be sold because it was impossible to earn an income through its sale. Therefore, as the bookstores were unable to sell the book, it has lost an important means of access and the limited editions have only reached those who had already been interested in the subject.