Where Is Huseyin Galip Kucukozyigit? The Story of a Missing Official in Turkey
Turkey’s season of mysterious disappearances is back after a purged public worker went missing in Ankara.
On Feb. 17, Huseyin Galip Kucukozyigit, a high-profile former public official who previously worked as a legal advisor in the now-defunct Public Ministry, turned 48. This past Wednesday was his birthday. But there was little motivation for a celebration among his family members. It has been more than 50 days since he mysteriously disappeared without leaving a trace behind, plunging his family into a desperate search for his whereabouts amid renewed fears about his wellbeing.
On Dec. 29, Kucukozyigit left his office in the Maltepe district of Ankara on a cold December day. Purged by an emergency decree during the post-coup crackdown after 2016, he somehow was lucky to land a job to offer his legal expertise at a private company. The last time he communicated with his family was that Tuesday when he notified that he could visit the family residing in the western province of Kocaeli (a three-hour drive from Ankara) after his work was over. Since Dec. 29, his family did not get a word from him. Since that day, the officials have offered no explanation about the bizarre incident.
The family wasted little time in pursuing the matter. They went to Kocaeli Bekirpasa Police Station on December 31. They submitted a request for information on CIMER, the national database for inquiry, the next day, on the first day of the new year. As their efforts yielded no result, they only intensified the process by going to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Jan. 5. This followed by other steps such as lodging a petition to the United Nations on Jan. 12, submitting a file to the Constitutional Court in Ankara on Jan. 22. None of these steps have produced a satisfying result, or even an answer, to this day.
The moment the police began to shirk the questions, the family started its own investigation and reached the camera records of Kucukozyigit’s workplace with their own means. According to their accord, the legal advisor was followed by three unidentified people while entering the office as the camera footage revealed. The family submitted camera footage to the prosecutor’s office. Yet, they came back with zilch from the prosecutor, too.
After going through a wave of disheartening setbacks, the family lawyers held a press conference this past week to update the public about the state of progress (or the lack of it) over Kucukozyigit’s disappearance.
“My father was lost in one of the busiest places in Ankara. There is neither car nor evidence. Our signal tracking request in Ankara has been denied. The file was closed in Kocaeli,” Nursena Kucukozyigit told Euronews Turkce following the press conference. “We’ve made every legal application. I have a hard time understanding why the process works like this.”
“I think my father is under torture,” she added, expressing the supreme fear of the family. What animates her fear is not driven by paranoia but rather hardened by the bulk of evidence that came to the fore after the emergence of cascading cases of disappearances over the past few years.
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At the first glance, it might seem a quirk of the country’s recent political climate, a random incident that a former public servant suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. There is no contact between him and his fear-gripped family members since then. If this was a single case with no precedent, then the family would be much more occupied with the peculiarity of the situation. But, as we extrapolate from an emerging body of enforced disappearances in the late years — a hallmark of the fear regime that has enveloped the country’s political landscape — there is an unmistakable pattern here. Unidentified men with perceived links to the security apparatus are believed to be behind the mysterious disappearances in recent years. Some of the missing ones reemerged at police custody, while many of them still remain missing.
And this is what aggravates the Kucukozyigit family’s fears, amplifies their suspicion that we face another case of a missing person in the same way that beset more than a dozen people since the 2016 coup.
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As recently as this past week, three college students in Ankara went missing. They were, according to their families and friends, abducted by civilian men and later were released in distant neighborhoods.
“Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit’s story is very similar to the stories of who were kidnapped and disappeared before. It is actually quite remarkable that the prosecution offices, administrative authorities, and politicians have not made any explanation on this issue,” lawyer Gulseren Yoleri, the president of Human Rights Association (IHD) Istanbul branch, told Euronews.
For Yoleri, this amounts to an official denial policy.
“Because we usually see denial policy in such cases. It is always denied, it is said that we have not been taken into custody, we do not know where it is. Therefore, the prosecution does not conduct any research. As a matter of fact, the case of Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit was also closed. (Yoleri, IHD).
The fact is that authorities did not pull the plug under investigation to find the former legal advisor. There has been no proper investigation in the first place. This is still so even 55 days after the family reported the loss of communication to law enforcement and other relevant agencies. Under the weight of credible accusations that taint authorities’ integrity in handling such matters all these years, they inspire little hope for a break in the case that would illuminate the questions that have bedeviled the family and the public.
Speaking almost on daily basis, the daughter Nursena expresses her dismay over the authorities’ palpable foot-dragging to adequately probe the matter. According to her and the lawyer Yoleri, the official indifference is simply impossible to comprehend.
Recalling the past record of authorities’ handling of controversial missing cases, Yoleri offers a poignant reminder: whenever there is a denial policy, there is no effective investigation either.
The statements released by the IHD, Amnesty International, and others demonstrate an undeniable fact that officials repeatedly shirk questions when pressed about Kucukozyigit’s whereabouts. For this particular reason, Amnesty International has called on the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor to thoroughly investigate the disappearance by looking into the details and available data provided by the family.
Amid this unbroken wall of silence, everything reeks of failure on the part of authorities, mostly by design.
The lawyer Soleri’s remarks about the official denial policy reveal the reign of cynicism among the society about some cold cases and unresolved high-profile murders (or disappearances). This official obstructionism in such cases only reinforces the public suspicion about authorities’ involvement one way or another.
This notion is also shared by some members of the literary community and media. Ahmet Umit, a famous writer of crime fiction and Turkish noir, reasons that it is the ‘whodunit’ that hooks the Western readers and animates an entire genre of its own in crime fiction. But in Turkey, everybody knows who committed the crime. There is no thrill to offer here. The perpetrator of most of the unresolved crimes (cold cases), Umit muses, usually happens to be the (Turkish) state — the strongest actor of the land that pulls the strings behind the scenes in many social and political conduct. (The state, according to this reasoning, refers to a loose group of public/political authorities mostly nested across security bureaucracy.)
Umit’s insinuation indisputably evokes the deep-seated public belief about the omnipresent but subtle existence of the deep state behind the observable scene of political affairs in Turkey. The death squads operating under the shield of gendarmerie intelligence (JITEM) across southeastern Turkey during the 1990s and the counter-insurgency operations of the military special forces (OHD) during the 1970s (amid the vicious cycle of political violence in the Cold War’s ideologically divided Turkey) feed the intellectual and public imagination about the blurred lines that presumably demarcate the realms of the legal and the illegal. This gives ample reason to at least indulge in thinking about the powerful influence of some shadowy actors who are able to strong-arm elected governments or local politicians to do their bidding in some corners of Turkey’s modern political history.
In today’s Turkey, the government openly acts like a mafioso structure with the public embrace of mob bosses like Alaattin Cakici and Sedat Peker with no scruples. The state of government affairs, according to the government’s critics, has more than a passing resemblance to Vladimir Putin’s Russia where the mafia is the continuation of politics by other (illegal) means under the cover of the corrupt regime. This analogy also evokes the mafia’s blending with elected politicians in countries such as Bulgaria or other Eastern European states after the disintegration of the Soviet Empire and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. The assassinations of critical journalists in Malta and Slovakia reveal the nexus between politics and the mafia even within the boundaries of E.U. where the rule of law and political legitimacy are regarded as sacrosanct and unassailable. In reality, not so much.
The Kucukozyigit family’s commendable endeavor to locate their beloved one takes on a special meaning in this disconcerting context. To complicate the matter, the prosecutor who is just appointed for handling the missing case has been relieved of the duty once again. Within less than a month, three prosecutors have been assigned to the case and then withdrawn. It leads to the conclusion that a hidden hand within the positions of power systematically thwarts the prospect of a proper investigation.
Still, the question Where is Huseyin Galip Kucukozyigit? has become a driving public curiosity. In sharp contrast to the official nonchalance, the campaigns on social media already kicked into overdrive to solicit empathy from the public and to spur action by law enforcement in a meaningful way. Saturday Mothers has offered its organizational support to the remaining family for efforts to find the missing man.
Lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, who closely monitors the situation, appeared aghast by the verdict of non-prosecution by the Kocaeli Prosecutor’s office and the subsequent lack of progress. Authorities, the lawmaker reasoned in one of his speeches, seem oblivious to what this state of limbo means (mentally, psychologically, and physically) for the surviving family.
Against this backdrop, what animates the family’s fear is the prospect of police’s obstinacy against properly investigating the matter indefinitely. Aware of such a likelihood, the IHD issued a call for a robust official inquiry to clear the fog of ambivalence and mystery.
“We call the judicial, administrative and political authorities for duty to ensure that the truth about Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit, missing since December 29, 2020, is revealed, his life safety is guaranteed and he reunites with his family: The whereabouts of Küçüközyiğit must be found by carrying out an effective inquiry and investigation and his family must be informed.” (Human Rights Association, IHD)
Both real history and fiction offer little consolation in Turkey. But they offer a fleeting glimpse into the world of possibilities. If there is no answer to where Huseyin Galip Kucukozyigit is, we at least know why. Because the authors of the official denial policy want it that way. No answer, no clue, no trace, no investigation. Even this bulk of Nos reveals more than its obscures about the Kucukozyigit case.
If the perceived obstruction of justice tells anything, it is that we have legitimate reasons to suspect the potential responsibility of the very same authorities who are responsible for the safety of their own citizens in the first place.
As the novelist Ahmet Umit’s remarks (during an interview with students at a college in Istanbul during the mid-2000s)* reveal the lacking presence of ‘whodunit’ in the Turkish noir, it is not because the plot is weakly structured or the storyline is saddled with logical flaws. It is because we know who committed the crime (in high-profile cases). It is he who sabotages the investigation, who suppresses the truth, who stymies the whole process, and even issues non-prosecution.
We know who it is…
*The interview took place at a literary class while I was a freshman at Istanbul Bilgi University in 2005.