The Tenkil Museum, a civil initiative dedicated to sustaining the memory of the victims of Turkey’s massive crackdown on the Gülen movement, has launched a documentary series focused on the suffering of child victims caught up in the persecution.
Titled “Büyümez Ölü Çocuklar” (Dead Children Don’t Grow Old), the series depicts the tragedies that befell children, based on the testimony of women who witnessed them. Filmed in a former Gestapo prison in western Germany, three episodes of the series have been released on Tenkil’s YouTube channel. New videos are scheduled to be released on October 21 and November 11.
In the first episode titled, “There Was A Baby,” Hozan Canê, a Kurdish musician previously imprisoned in Turkey over her songs, talked about her experience.
“What this place reminds me of,” she said, referring to the Klapperfeld police prison, where the documentary was filmed, “is that right now there are women and children in Turkey who are being held in cells worse than these. What I want to do is be their voice.”
“I lived in a ward with a 20-day-old baby for seven days, with hot water for only half an hour a day, with the temperature at 44 degrees Celsius [111.2 Fahrenheit]. I want to tell this to the world.”
“We should touch every mother [with this story],” Canê said. “How would you feel if your child were in such a predicament?”
“I have seen many innocent people there who were on trial. I have witnessed the pain of newborn babies. I have seen soldiers raiding the wards at 3 o’clock in the morning. I have seen every kind of mistreatment.”
“My luck was that I was a German citizen and a famous Kurdish singer. They saved me, but thousands of people continue to suffer from the persecution. My plea to everyone is: Please have empathy. It could be your children as well. This monster will devour everyone around it as it grows.”
“Soldiers raided our ward and destroyed all my books, pens and notebooks. There was a bird that would always come perch on my windowsill whenever I played music. I took a burnt piece of wood from its nest and wrote [a song] on the wall. My fellow inmates were upset because it prompted prison guards to come in and mistreat us. But I had to write the lyrics at that very moment: The prison is for lions. Cowards can only lock them up in such places because of their fear.”
In the second video Gonca Kara, a former kindergarten teacher prosecuted over her work for a Gülen-affiliated school, tells the story of 6-year-old Mustafa and 8-year-old Gülsüm, her children who died in the Aegean in September 2019 after their boat capsized during their attempt to flee to Greece.
“I have close German friends here,” Kara says. “When I tell them my story they say: ‘We used to see such stories in the media, but your story has been much more wrenching. When I heard your story, I could no longer stay indifferent to news about a child’s death at sea.”
“What I feel towards my country is resentment. We did not deserve this. I have always wanted to be of service to my country and to children as a kindergarten teacher. I loved my profession.”
The third video featured Zekiye Ataç, the mother of Ahmet Burhan Ataç, who died of bone cancer at the age of eight. Ataç was imprisoned along with her husband for having worked for a Gülen-linked student dormitory. When she was released pending trial, she found that her son had already become sick.
“Doctors told us the [emotional] shock caused his immune system to collapse,” Ataç said. “They said this type of bone cancer was very uncommon among children.”
Ahmet Burhan needed to travel to Germany to receive treatment. However, his mother was under a travel ban and was unable to accompany him. Ahmet Burhan refused to stay in Germany without his mother and returned to Turkey. Due to a widespread public outcry and calls from a number of celebrities, his mother would be granted a passport months later, at which point the illness had advanced too far.
“I believe he’s in a better place now. I believe his pain has ended. He went through a lot in Turkey,” Ataç said.
Tenkil means “purge” in Turkish, and the Tenkil Museum aims to highlight the human cost of Turkey’s persecution of the faith-based Gülen movement since a failed coup d’état in July 2016.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen group of orchestrating the attempted coup, although the movement denies any involvement in it. Turkey’s narrative about the movement has been met with skepticism outside the country, with the US and the EU refusing to comply with Ankara’s demands to designate the group as a terrorist organization.