Truth and reconciliation commissions are necessary in Turkey

When we look at the Latin American and African countries that have suffered from long-term armed clashes, we can see that truth and reconciliation commissions play an important role for social catharsis.

These commissions are unique to the conditions of the country in which they have been established. They do not serve as a court. These are research commissions which are usually set up by a law and whose members are appointed by the head of state or parliament. When we look at the successful examples of these commissions, we see that the members of the truth and reconciliation commissions were respected figures of the society. The commission members were assisted by a professional team during their investigation.

While some commissions have preferred to focus on interviews with the victims, others decided to work for identifying the perpetrators and referring them to the courts. And sometimes, the commissions brought the victims and perpetrators together in order to establish reconciliation between them. Usually the victims felt highly sentimental during the interviews. In some countries, the commission meetings were held open to the public and were even broadcasted live, while others countries preferred to carry out their investigation behind closed doors. Truth and reconciliation commissions are usually established for investigating a specific issue or event. The commissions usually focus on issues concerning summary executions, unsolved murders, disappearances, torture and displacements.

Many in Turkey would refuse the idea of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission simply because it was suggested by the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan. I hope that the government is not influenced by the ongoing debates and does not ignore the potential contributions of truth and reconciliation commissions to the peace processes.

In my opinion, Turkey should take as a model the truth and reconciliation commissions established in El Salvador, Guatemala, and South Africa for investigating and documenting the human rights violations committed by both the state and armed groups. I do not know if Ocalan was aware that truth and reconciliation commissions will also investigate and record the human rights violations which were widely and systematically committed by the PKK when he suggested the establishment of the investigatory bodies. But we know that when the commissions established in South Africa investigated intra-organizational executions conducted by South Africa's African National Congress (ANC), co-founded by Nelson Mandela, the testify of the victims in the commission meetings became a source of great shame for the ANC.

Just think if we were to succeed in establishing a truth and reconciliation commission whose independence and impartiality were approved by all segments of society in Turkey. Such a body would interview Kurdish people who have been exposed to state terrorism, tortured and targeted by unresolved murders and document these dreadful stories. The commission would also interview the victims and witnesses of intra-organization punishing mechanisms and records their testimonies as well. The state then pays compensation to the victims.

In other words, we are settling accounts with a history that is replete with violence. The glare surrounding past heroes is vanished and the victims who have been considered no more than numbers are embodied. In this way we are able to understand how low and inhumane we have gone over the past 30-40 years. We finally feel the pain of the victims. We touch on our wounds to heal them, and remember the past in order to forgive each other. It is our hope that starting from the Kurdish issue, these commissions would investigate all the incident of the past that have created deep trauma, and share the truth with the Turkish people.