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Nearly 30 years after my father’s murder, investigative journalists are still under threat ǀ View

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1.08pm on 24 January 1993. First, my father went out of the house, then my mother. There came the deafening sound of explosion. The door glasses in the living room flickered, and the cups in the showcase were dislodged. I was 11 years old. My father's Renault 12 in front of our house was shattered, his body exceeded the wall of two meters from the severity of the explosion, falling onto the snowy soil of the water tank station. His glasses remained intact, and the pencil in the inner pocket of his jacket was broken into two.

That explosion would be a turning point in both our personal histories and the history of Turkey. Following my father's murder, assassinations would take place throughout 1993.It would be referred to as the year of the "unnamed coup" in some circles. However, we would never have a chance to find out who staged that alleged coup or who committed that crime.

My father, Uğur Mumcu, who started his writing career in the summer of 1968, devoted his life to examining the realities of the country as a lawyer. When there was an inspection report that was hushed up, it would come to my father. When there was an unsolved murder, it would come to my father. All these things would come with the same sentence: “Only Uğur Mumcu can write about this.” In the summer, he would write ‘Mobilya Dosyası,’ or The File of Furniture, together with Altan Öymen about the scandal of Yahya Demirel, the nephew of the prime minister, smuggling of furniture. Because of it, they would add the term “fictitious export” to the journalistic lexicon.

In the book, he would make the following observation: “This furniture story reveals how capitalism works in Turkey. The taxes given by the citizens with great difficulty are transferred to the nephew of the prime minister with the ‘various’ tricks of capitalism and the democratic order serves to the reign of brothers and nephews. In recent years, memoranda have been given, courts have been established, people have been thrown into the cells, tortured, young men have been hung on the gallows and finally, in this way, the prime minister's nephew has been enriched.”

He would follow the murder of journalist Abdi İpekçi, who was killed on 1 February 1979, and found himself as both a witness and a terror expert in the case of Mehmet Ali Ağca and his attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in Italy. The articles he wrote six days a week in his column called ‘Observation’ would include Turkey's deep history. He would reveal the details in all the files he handled by clinching his superior memory and his research ability with his law knowledge. He would work in many areas; from arms smuggling to terrorism as well as his book “Rabıta” (“The Connection”), where he detailed the structuring of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the investigation into the Cemalettin Kaplan community in Germany.

He would deal with the suspicious periods of Turkish Republic at the end of 1980 in his research books. Until the night of 22 January 1993, the subject he was working on was the possible connections of PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan with the National Intelligence Service. Baki Tuğ, who was the Military Prosecutor during the “coup by memorandum” in March 1971 and the DYP (True Path Party) deputy leader at that time, stated that he would submit a document on this issue and had made an appointment for 27 January to do so. Instead, on 27 January 1993, Ankara witnessed a funeral ceremony instead, with the tens of thousands walking behind Uğur Mumcu’s coffin.

Process of the lawsuit

Despite all the efforts of our family, the murder investigation did not start for a long time. The “words of honour” given by politicians were forgotten. The prosecutor investigating the incident, Kemal Ayhan, was found dead in his home a short time after he said, "there were international intelligence organisations, some mafia and dark forces behind the murder." His body was buried without an autopsy. The investigation of the murder would restart due to the presence of a plan of the site of murder on a floppy disk found in a Hezbollah home in 1999. The Trial of Hope followed the Operation of Hope, the Turkish for ‘hope’ being Umut, an acronym of Uğur Mumcu Uzun Takip (Uğur Mumcu Long Follow).

At the hearings, it was revealed that the perpetrator was a "sleeper cell" called the "Jerusalem Warriors," or "Tawheed Salam," which was linked to Iran. It was understood that the bomb set-up used on my father’s car was also used in different murders. This organisation would be determined to be a terrorist group making decisions on its own. And neither the one who gave the order nor the exerciser of the attack would be found. Baki Tuğ, on the other hand, would choose to refute the last interview he gave to my father.

Rabıta

His research titled ‘Rabıta,’ which he wrote in 1987, would resonate with the public and explanations would come from the various levels of the state. In his book, he would examine the connections of Saudi Arabian ideological orientations and financial resources in the world. In the end, he would write the following words: “The strongest guarantee of freedom of religion and belief is the principle of secularism. This principle was introduced to prevent political religious movements from dominating the state administration.

“We understand how important and indispensable this principle is with the events we experience every day… The financial institutions, companies and foundations with religious purposes of Saudi origin followed this political and ideological approach of the Saudi Kingdom. This network of relationships has affected society day by day… The history of humanity must show us that thoughts and beliefs cannot be destroyed by force.

“On the contrary, whichever regime wants to suppress and destroy the political views and beliefs violently, these thoughts and beliefs gather strength mostly in there. The remedy is to remove all obstacles on the left and right that restrict the freedom of thought and belief. However, in libertarian and democratic societies, people fight against this triangle of ‘politics - sect - trade.’ In closed regimes, these movements seize the state personnel cadres with their insidious and dark methods. ”. It is agonising to know and think that these sentences are still valid in Turkey.

Social Memory Platform

Over the past years, we have strengthened our network of solidarity with families that have lost their relatives in unsolved murders, establishing a platform named “Social Memory”. Such investigations as the Mani Pulite ("Clean Hands") anti-corruption operation conducted in Italy in the 1990s did not ever happen in Turkey. Turkey's deep wounds remain as they are in the nation’s memory. Politically-motivated murders went hand in hand with impunity. Neither the murder of writer Sabahattin Ali in 1949 was solved, nor that of İlhan Erdost in 1980 Hrant Dink in 2007 or Tahir Elçi in 2015. Political murders came one after another, with that painful past creating a culture of unquestioning today.

While we supposed that this systematic “cycle of impunity” was only taking place in Turkey, we started to see similar events happening abroad, right under our noses. Investigative journalist Slavko Curujiva, who was murdered in Serbia during the Milosevic period. Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak in 2018. All these murders appear to be examples of a similar structure taking root in our neighbours. First, kill the journalist, try to discredit the family, and then leave the murder in the “cycle of impunity” with ongoing trials.

First, kill the journalist, try to discredit the family, and then leave the murder in the “cycle of impunity” with ongoing trials.
Özge Mumcu
Coordinator and a board member of the Ugur Mumcu Investigative Journalism Foundation

Again, my father’s words ring true as much today as they did the day he wrote them: “We got into endless troubles because of uncovering such relationships and revealing corruption; we were imprisoned, isolated in cells, handcuffed, we carried stones on our backs; but those people, who founded an empire over the millions of state, who lived fairy tales with their cooks, gardeners, caravanserais, baths and million-year mansions declared us the ‘enemies of the homeland.’ They tried to intimidate and frighten us by using the newspapers they owned. I present them to the attention of conscientious people.”

I wrote this article on a snowy January afternoon. This year is the 27th Anniversary of my father's murder. The place where my father's body fell is now a park and a monument was built on the wall destroyed by the explosion. We were on the street and right beside his monument with candles and carnations. As I lit the candle for my father this year, I remembered once again that the values he represents did not die.

Although the murders went into the “cycle of impunity,” I will leave my personal tragedy aside and remember his immortalised name. I will continue to tell my story to the younger generations so that another child does not join our large family of unsolved murders.

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