Umur Hozatlı’s film about JİTEM, ‘Lost Freedom’

2011, 91 minutes in Turkish and Kurdish (click for larger image)

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.

Umur Hozatlı: 'In making this film, I wanted to translate for the world the trauma that Kurds face while keeping in mind that art, as well as people and states, can be fascist too.’

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.

Watch trailer:


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.


Third Kurdish Film Festival in Paris

Si vous êtes à Paris …

The Third Kurdish Film Festival in Paris (Festival du Cinéma Kurde de Paris) opens today and will run through Tuesday, 07 December. The festival offers feature films, documentaries, and shorts produced between 2007-2010. The festival will also present the classic documentary from 1925 ‘Grass: A nation’s battle for life,’ which follows the migration of the Bakhtiari tribe of Persia across the Zagros Mountains in search of green pastures for their sheep and goats. Twice a year more than 50,000 people and half a million animals surmounted seemingly impossible obstacles, including torrential rivers and 15,000 foot high mountains. ‘Grass’ is considered one of the earliest ethnographic documentary films.

There will also be a concert and discussions about Kurdish cinema. Many directors will be on hand to talk about their films, including Roni Can Vesar, Bulent Gündüz, Kudret Güneş, Kazım Gündoğan, Ayten Mutlu Saray, Hiner Saleem, Selahattin Sural.

Download the programme here.


More than two dozen papers on Kurdish issues at MESA this year!

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual meeting will be held this year in San Diego, California from 18-21 November 2010.  San Diego is home to the second largest Kurdish community in the United States.

With more than two dozen Kurdish-related papers over four days, and given the location, this is a conference you do not want to miss!

If you are a presenter and would like your paper posted at Kurdistan Commentary so that others can read it, please send it along after the conference (in .pdf) to kurdistancommentary (at)

Here are some of the meetings/panels/papers to be presented at next month’s conference. The full conference programme is available at the MESA website.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Kurdish Studies Association Business Meeting (2-5pm)

Leftists after All?: The Kurdish Movement in Turkey and the Left, from the 1960s to the 2000s (5-7pm)

Organized by Marlies Casier

Sponsored by the Kurdish Studies Association

Chair: Erol Ulker, U of Chicago
Discussant: Janet Klein, U of Akron

-Ahmet Alis, Boğaziçi U—A Critical History of the Affiliation between the Kurds and Turkish Socialist and Leftist Movement: 1959-1974

-Azat Z. Gundogan, Binghamton U (SUNY)—From Fellow Townsmenship to Leftist Activism: Kurdish ’68ers, Turkish Labor Party and Eastern Demonstrations

-Joost Jongerden, Wageningen U—A Party Without a History?: The Kurdistan Revolutionaries (PKK) and the Left in Turkey

-Mustafa Gurbuz, U of Connecticut—Enemies of the “Deep State”: Narrative Contests and Transformation of Kurdish Nationalist Identity

-Marlies Casier, Ghent U—‘Another Middle East is Possible!’: Turkey’s Kurdish Movement’s Capitalization of the Social Forum–Instrument for Internal Change or Internationalization of the Cause

Structures, Relations and Subjectivites: Youth in the Middle East (5-7pm)

Organized by Ayca Alemdaroglu

Chair/Discussant: Heidi Morrison, U of Wisconsin-La Crosse

-Zeynep Baser, Sabancı U—Imagining Citizenship, Identity and Peace: The Kurdish Youth in Diyarbakır

Clientelism and Ethnocracy (5-7pm)

-Fuat Dundar, U of Michigan-Ann Arbor—Referendum in Kirkuk, Ethnocracy in Iraq: The Role of Statistics in Iraqi-Kurdish Nationalism

Friday, 19 November 2010

Navigating the Middle East Minefields: Regional Responses to the Emergence of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) (11am-1pm)

Organized by Michael M. Gunter

Supported by Ahmed Foundation for Kurdish Studies

Chair: Michael M. Gunter, Tennessee Tech U
Discussant: Robert Olson, U of Kentucky

-Mohammed M.A. Ahmed, Ahmed Foundation for Kurdish Studies—The Iraqi Kurds and Regional States

-Murat Somer, Koç U—Turkey and Kurds in Post-US Iraq

-Vera Eccarius-Kelly, Siena Col—The KRG and Democratic Space: Europe’s Kurdish Diaspora Faces Competition

-Nader Entessar, U of South Alabama—Entente Cordiale: Iran and the Kurdish Regional Government

-Michael M. Gunter, Tennessee Tech U—Syria’s Response to the Emergence of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)

Cooperation, Resistance and Violence in Kurdish Politics (2-4pm)

Organized by Gunes Murat Tezcur

Discussant: Cihan Tugal, UC San Diego

-Ceren Belge, Harvard U—Policing Loyalty: Resistance and Control in Turkey’s Kurdish Provinces

-Gunes Murat Tezcur, Loyola U Chicago—The Early Years: The Formation and Rise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party

-Nicole Watts, San Francisco State U—When Remembrance isn’t Enough: State-Society Relations and Symbolic Politics in Halabja

-Ahmet Serdar Akturk, U of Arkansas—‘Good but Ignorant’: Kurdish Self-View under French Mandatory Rule

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Kurds in Turkey, Syria & Iraq: Historical Experiences (5-7pm)

-Umut Uzer, Harvard U—Gükalp and Arvasi between Turkish and Kurdish Identities

-Omer Ozcan, U of Texas at Austin—Prison and Fortress: Home in the Kurdish Experience of War

-Sargon Donabed, Roger Williams U—Misconceptions and Politics: Reconceptualizing ‘Historic Realities’ in Iraq 1960-1990

-Sevin Gallo, U of Akron—Modernity and Honor Violence: The Case of Turkey and the Kurds

-Christian Sinclair, U of Arizona—Kurdish Political and Cultural Rights in Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria

MESA will be at the Manchester Grand Hyatt

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Kurdishness in the Vernacular (11am-1pm)

Organized by Diane E. King and Shayee Khanaka

Sponsored by the Kurdish Studies Association

Chair: Diane E. King, U of Kentucky
Discussant: Janet Klein, U of Akron

-Shayee Khanaka, UC Berkeley—Kurdish Women under Ba’athist Rule

-Susan Benson-Sokmen, U of Toronto—Beyond the Nation: Celebrating the Kurdish “Counter-Diaspora” in the Streets of Toronto

-Mustafa Kemal Mirzeler, Western Michigan U—Cemo

-Omer Tekdemir, Durham U—European Union and Kurdish Relations and the Transformation of Kurdish Identity within Turkey’s Democratization Process

Gender and the Organization of Dissent (11am-1pm)

-Salima Tasdemir, U of Exeter—Kurdish Women’s Political Activism in Turkey: ‘Feminization’ of Kurdish Politics?

Perspectives on Nationalism: Turks, Arabs & Kurds (1.30-3.30pm)

-Zeynep Sahin, U of Southern California—Political Representation of Kurdish Nationalist Women in Turkey in the 2000s

You ARE Turkish

Yusuf Sayman

Short film by Yusuf Sayman, a New York-based photojournalist concentrating on the relationship between the state and the individual. The first half of this 12-minute video is reminiscent of the documentary about Diyarbakır’s Prison Nr. 5.  Sayman’s  video then touches on forced evacuations of Kurdish villages and refugees from the region now living in the Mexmur Refugee camp.

A description of ‘you ARE turkish’ from the International State Crime Initiative website…

‘You ARE Turkish’ is a multimedia piece that tries to communicate how it felt to be Kurdish in Turkey during the 80s and the 90s. It tells the stories of torture, forced migration and a banned language. It is photographed in south east Turkey, the predominantly Kurdish region, and in northern Iraq where the famous Mahmour refugee camp is located. The interviews with people who lived through the atrocities committed by the Turkish Military add a personal commentary to this piece about the plight of a people.

Click image to watch video at State Crime website

Prison Nr. 5: 1980-1984, a documentary about the Military Prison of Diyarbakır

Prison Nr. 5: 1980-1984

Went to see the film ‘Prison Nr. 5: 1980-1984’ today. It was playing at the film festival here at WOCMES in Barcelona. An emotional and sobering 97 minutes into the hell that was the Military Prison of Diyarbakır.

The film by Çayan Demirel (2009) weaves together personal narratives of the men and women who were former inmates (including Ahmet Türk) with black and white footage from the early 1980s, scenes of snow-covered mountains, and drawings by Zülfükar Tak. Tak was also a prisoner at Nr. 5. He was arrested in 1980 and during his time in the prison, he sketched a series of drawings that represent the horrors of the abuse and torture that occurred there. The drawings were smuggled out.

Sample drawing by Zülfükar Tak

After the military coup of 12 September 1980 in Turkey, thousands of Kurdish political activists were arrested and put in the Military Prison of Diyarbakır. The Turkish military authorities called the prison a ‘military school’ where the prisoners were in ‘training’ to be ‘proper Turks.’ It was a sadistic policy of Turkification that included beatings, rape, and being hosed down with ice-cold water if prisoners did not memorise Turkish songs or repeat nationalistic phrases in Turkish. Prisoners who only knew Kurdish were not exempt. Prisoners were forced to eat faeces, rats, and vomit, often simply for the amusement of the Turkish guards.

Thirty-two of the prisoners died during those four years. Hundreds were maimed. Thousands were forever changed by the brutality endured there. Some of them, no longer able to withstand the conditions, took their own lives. Many of the prisoners staged protests, setting fires or going on death strikes.

It is a hard film to watch, but it is a film you must watch. If you really want to begin to understand even some of the suffering the Kurds have endured in Turkey, start with Prison Nr. 5.

The film was named the winner of the best documentary prize at this year’s Ankara International Film Festival.


Note: for more on this subject, see .pdf download:

Welat Zeydanlıoğlu, Torture and Turkification in the Diyarbakır Military Prison” in Rights, Citizenship & Torture: Perspectives on Evil, Law and the State, Welat Zeydanlıoğlu and John T. Parry (eds), Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2009, pp. 73-92.

New film to be made about al-Anfal

photo: AKNews

Iranian-born filmmaker, Soheil Sokhanpazhuh, has announced that he will produce a film about the Anfal atrocities. Sokhanpazhuh hopes to start shooting the film in the coming weeks on locations in Kurdistan where the atrocities took place.

The Anfal campaigns, a systematic programme of ethnic cleansing, were carried out in 1988; the centrepiece of several years of genocidal warfare against the Kurds in Iraq. 180,000 Kurds perished in this genocide. Thousands of villages were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were forced to flee.

Kurdish soldiers carrying coffins of Anfal victims. Memorial ceremony, 2008. photo:

The filmmaker says that he wants to show the film at international festivals, raise awareness about the Kurdish nation and about the tragedies of al-Anfal.

Sokhanpazhuh, born in 1968, is a graduate of the Film Department at Tehran’s Academy of Fine Arts. He has participated in numerous Iranian and international film festivals. He produced and directed a film called ‘88’ about Halabja, where 5,000 Kurds were massacred in a chemical gas attack in 1988 by the Saddam regime.

In 2005 Kurdish director Mano Khalil co-produced a 52-minute TV documentary for Swiss TV called ‘Al-Anfal, In the name of Allah, Ba’ath and Saddam.’


مخرج ايراني ينتج فيلماً سينمائياً يتناول فاجعة الانفال .  AKNews, 15 July 2010.

Fîlma Al Anfal di televîzyona Swîserî de. Avesta

Genocide in Iraq. HRW report, 1993.

Under pressure from Turkey, festival pulls Kurdish film

Kazım Öz

The 10th annual Era New Horizons Film Festival is scheduled to open in a few weeks in Wraclow, Poland. This year’s international festival is showcasing the best of Turkish cinema from the past thirty years. Organisers had included two of Kurdish film director, Kazım Öz’s films: Fotograf (The Photograph, 2001) and Demsala Dawî: Şewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks, 2009).

But, reports Firat News, one of the festival sponsors, the Turkish Ministry of Culture, threatened to pull its financial support if Era New Horizons went ahead with the screening of The Photograph. Öz’s other film, as well as Gitmek/My Marlon and Brando (Huseyin Karabey, director) and Journey to the Sun (Yeşim Ustaoğlu, director), do not seem to have been subject to Turkish censorship and are listed on the festival programme.

The Photograph (2001) is a 66-minute film about a friendship that develops on a bus journey between two young men, Ali and Faruk. The bus departs from Istanbul for a 24-hour journey to the Kurdish area of the southeast. They swap cigarettes and stories and both claim to be heading east to visit relatives. In actuality, one is heading out to join the Turkish military, the other, the PKK. The film’s conclusion finds them reunited, but under extraordinarily different circumstances. The last frames of the film show a group of children in Istanbul, confused and afraid, as they look at a photograph in their hands.

Though short, it is a powerful protest film about militarism, folded around fate and injustice. Perhaps it is too reflective of what is happening now in Turkey and that led to the outcry from Turkish censors.

The film was awarded the best film in the Milano and Trieste Film festivals, the Jury Special Prize at Valencia Youth Films Festival and the 12th Orhan Arıburnu Awards.