Turkey’s Purge Victims Mourn Death of a Hero Professor

Professor Haluk Savas is a symbol of the post-coup era while both alive and dead. The truth is that cancer did not kill him. The injustice and purge did.

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Professor Haluk Savas. (Photo Credit: Stockholm Center For Freedom)

“I’ll not be drowned in Meric (Evrosa/Meritsa), I will die while screaming out in my country and everyone will know who persecuted (me).” (Professor Haluk Savas)

When he scrambled to spur the authorities into action to lift a travel ban imposed against him, Professor Haluk Savas, a psychiatrist who was summarily discharged from duty in the blanket post-coup purge in Turkey in 2016, uttered the words above. It was last year and he was fighting lethal cancer. The medical treatment he desperately needed was being provided only in a handful of countries such as Japan, the U.S. and Cuba.

But the professor ran headlong into a set of obstacles generated by a callous political climate where the most vulnerable was susceptible to the most heart-rending treatment by authorities.

“My expected life left is 39 months, 30 of which already passed. It seems that I’ll spend the remaining nine months by communicating with various departments of the state,” he on Twitter last year.

Instead of an obedient submission, he chose to combat cancer as well as injustice with only tools available to him: civil disobedience, social media and personal resistance in a peaceful way. As his attempt hit a snag, he launched a campaign on social media and managed to sway the unmoving authorities.

The unflinching fight against injustice and all forms of persecution until his last breath became the defining mark of the professor, cementing his vanguard role for a generation of public servants who were sacked by the government without any semblance of due process.

The annotation refers to the tragic death of people, who lost their lives during a risky endeavor over the river that demarcates the porous land border between Turkey and Greece, in a bid to reach the Greek land.

“I’ve nine months left,” Savas once conceded. A little more than nine months, the professor passed away on Tuesday, the last day of June in 2020. And as he promised, he laid out a memorable resistance against an oppressive regime currently governing Turkey until his last moments in the world.

His wife, also a doctor, announced the tragic news on Twitter.

“Let my hands touch someone, let me warm him if he is cold. So my warmth would not be wasted.”

This was the altruistic character of the man described by his wife who depicted a great human being with an angel heart who always lived with a mindset to help others at every possible moment.

Haluk Savas: Fighting For Justice

The professor won his long-lasting battle in court and was acquitted off all the charges last year. But a commission set up by the government to deal with the complaints of (nearly 150,000) sacked public workers did not restore him to his post at a prestigious university hospital in the southern province of Gaziantep. The commission, Savas contended, was designed to dodge reviewing and proper handling of the reams of files submitted by the dismissed servants. He even clamored for the complete shutdown of the seven-men commission, which did little good for the majority of the applicants but served as to deflect international criticism. It also functioned to stymie efforts of Turkish citizens applying to the Strasburg-based European Court of Human Rights from within. Appalled by the torrent of so many Turkey-originated applications, the European court forwarded the Turkish citizens first to exhaust the channel of Commission infamously dubbed as “OHAL Commission.”

The professor was briefly detained in prison after the 2016 coup over politically-motivated charges of ‘terrorism and coup involvement,’ the same set of accusations that landed more than 50,000 people behind prison bars and briefly kept half a million in policy custody for varying amounts of time. There, in the filthy and cramped conditions of the jail, he was diagnosed with cancer, which eventually overwhelmed his frail body today.

The professor died but his name, reputation and rebel spirit remains very much alive. He has left a living legacy of resistance and struggle; he presented a portrait of a benevolent doctor who, even while battling cancer, still gave online sessions to console and treat people with mental problems. In prison, too, he voluntarily treated other inmates who suffered psychological and physical torture and who were on the verge of total mental breakdown.

Besides being a brilliant doctor, a soulmate and mentor for countless people, Haluk Savas was also a dedicated activist fighting for the rights of the persecuted on the front lines. Frustrated by the media blackout for the plight of the KHK community (KHK refers to the public workers who have been in the post-coup purge), the professor took the lead of forming a Youtube Channel, KHK TV, to cover the tragedies of purge victims and to back. As long as his health allowed, he as editor-in-chief of the social media platform whose Youtube channel was banned by a Turkish court given its increasing appeal and widening reach to a growing audience.

Last year, I whether it was more difficult to combat Azrael (angel of death) or the Turkish bureaucracy. Overcoming the latter seemed more challenging, but in the end, Savas lost the battle to both.

When the symbol of the KHK people dramatically came to the end of his journey, there was a shared sense of grief, lamentation and a common vow to make his legacy alive and to honor his name by fighting for the rights of the wrongfully persecuted.

“We are all Haluk Savas” was a trending in Turkey soon after his death. It is a tribute to someone whose life story presents a microcosm to everything that defines a purge victim’s life, to all the things that characterize the suffering of an entire community of people and their tenacious fight for justice. It is a testament to the underlying respect for his personality and living legacy.

Rest in Peace, Professor…

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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