The film, ‘Lost Freedom’ (Kayıp Özgürlük in Turkish and Azadîya Wenda in Kurdish), by director Umur Hozatlı describes one of the most brutal organisations in the Turkey, JİTEM (Turkish: Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele), the über-clandestine Intelligence and Counterterrorism Police Force) which was formed by the Turkish government and is believed to be responsible for thousands of disappearances in the country’s Kurdish dominated regions in the ‘90s. Hozatlı describes his film as a ‘call to confrontation.’
‘Lost Freedom’ reveals the dark side of JİTEM to the rest of the Turkish community, which remains ignorant of its own history. This is the first film of its kind to hold JİTEM accountable and openly criticise the organisation.
Hozatlı discusses what inspired him to make his first full-length movie: ‘Kurds launched an organised fight after a long-period of slavery and captivity. Since then, Kurdish people have been living in a time of enormous tragedy. Ignoring this tragedy is a vital mistake. I cannot be one of those people who turn a blind eye to this problem.’
Hozatlı’s ‘Lost Freedom’ was previously shown at a number of festivals. It had its public release last week but was screened at only two movie theatres in Istanbul and in two theatres in the mainly Kurdish cities of Diyarbakır and Batman. The director has not commented on the reasons why so few movie theatres have been interested in the film, but the film is highly political and takes a daring look at the abyss of thousands of disappearances and unsolved murders in Turkey’s recent history. In an earlier interview with news site Bianet, Hozatlı said the film had limited funding and he took out personal loans to fund the project. The film was two years in the making.
The movie is set in Istanbul some time in the mid-90s. It starts with the abduction of a young man, Deniz Şahin, by a group of armed individuals not wearing gendarmerie uniforms although they later prove to be JİTEM officers. He is taken to the interrogation centre of a gendarmerie black ops unit, JİTEM. Their aim is to extract information from Deniz, whom they accuse of belonging to a terrorist organisation. The cast includes actors Serdar Kavak, Vedat Perçin, Musa Yıldırım and Öznur Kula.
The existence of JİTEM was first reported by Ayşe Önal in 1994. Önal was introduced to JİTEM’s founder, Veli Küçük, by fellow journalist, Tuncay Güney. She wrote about what she learned at that meeting and was fired immediately thereafter (along with 19 of her co-workers) from her position at Ateş Magazine.
Rationale and speculation around JİTEM’s mission are varied. Some say it existed to foment infighting in the PKK and to raise stakes in the fight against PKK terror. The Turkish military needed the PKK (as the US military needs al-Qaeda) to keep it operational. JİTEM carried out assassinations and bombings that were blamed on the PKK and gave the military justification to continue its operations and presence in Kurdish areas. One well-known example is the 2005 bookstore bomb attack in Semdinli.
Abdulkadir Aygan, a former PKK member and later a JİTEM operative, claimed that JİTEM executed between 600 and 700 Kurds in the 1990s and that ‘JİTEM operations always ended in death…those who were reported to JİTEM as having any relationship with the PKK were executed.’ Aygan is now living in political exile in Sweden.
Tuncay Güney, a suspected former member of Ergenekon now living in Canada, said a large number of the Kurds executed by JİTEM in the 1990s were doused with acid and buried in wells located near facilities of the state-owned Turkish Pipeline Corporation (BOTAŞ) in Silopi.
Both Güney and Aygan have said that many Kurds were thrown into wells between Şırnak and Cizre. Aygan claims to have knowledge of 16 such wells. Güney also claimed that one of the torture centres of JİTEM was based in northern Iraq.
The Turksih Human Rights Association (IHD) estimates that between 1989 and 2008 JİTEM was involved in 5,000 unsolved killings of journalists, human rights defenders, intellectuals and political activists and was responsible for 1,500 cases of ‘disappearances.’ Former chair of Diyarbakır Bar Association Sezgin Tanrıkulu put the figures above 4,000, close to 5,000.
Director Umur Hozatlı was born in 1969 in Dersim (Tunceli). He began his career in journalism in 1992, working for Özgür Gündem, Özgür Ülke, Yeni Politika, Demokrasi, Özgür Bakış and Yeni Gündem as a reporter, editor and columnist. Because of an article he wrote in 1993 on the Kurdish issue he was sentenced to three years and 9 months in prison and fined 400 million Turkish Lira.
JİTEM movie has restricted screening in first week. Today’s Zaman, 27 April 2011.
JİTEM and the ‘deep state’. Kurdistan Commentary, 09 February 2009.
Kayıp Özgürlük. Politik Sinema.
Missing Freedom reveals horror of Jitem. Firat News Agency, 28 April 2011.
Kayıp Özgürlük, Bir Yüzleşme Çağrısıdır. bianet, 25 April 2011.