After the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Republican People’s Party (RPP) consolidated one-party rule in Turkey and did not tolerate the existence of any opposition political parties, groups, or persons until the post-WWII period. The RPP relied on Kemalism, the ideological cement of the Turkish nation-state since its founding. Kemalism relied on radical secularism, ethnically-based Turkish nationalism, and staunch centralizing policies against a capitalist background. Individuals or political organizations that offered alternative political programs or perspectives were excluded from the power structures and subjected to repression. During the 1920s, the RPP eliminated or pacified two opposition parties by associating them with illegal activities, along with numerous opposition journalists, intellectuals, and politicians who were critical of RPP policies. Not even a limited scope for free speech existed during the era of the RPP dictatorship. Not only politicians, but also journalists and intellectuals, were imprisoned, exiled or murdered during this period.
Sabahattin Ali was a well-known intellectual and novelist who did not hesitate to express his opposition to the established regime during the period of one-party rule. In 1932, he was arrested for reading a poem critical of Mustafa Kemal, the founding father and president of the Turkish Republic. Ali was sentenced to a year in prison. Following his release, he was forced to write a new poem expressing his “love” for Mustafa Kemal in order to get his job back. At the same time, in the 1940s various political and humor journals initiated by Sabahattin Ali were closed down, and he was imprisoned again for three months. What makes Sabahattin Ali different from other opposition figures of the period was his murder by unknown assailants in 1948. Novels and poems written by Sabahattin Ali had caused strong reactions among racist, pro-German political groups, which had strong ties to the RPP government and gained substantial political power in the course of WWII. Because of them and the behavior of the government intelligence agency, Ali did not feel safe in Turkey, where he was considered a “dangerous communist.” Thus he decided to flee abroad. He tried to escape to Bulgaria illegally, since the state had forbidden him from travelling abroad, but was killed in 1948 under circumstances that remain unclear. He is one of the early victims of enforced disappearances which was a state policy against Kurds during the 1990s. The alleged perpetrator, Ali Ertekin, claimed that he killed the writer because he (Ertekin) was a patriot. In 2012 a book was published on the murder of Sabahhattin Ali which included an unpublished interview with Ali Ertekin. In the book and the interview it was claimed that Ali Ertekin was a member of the national intelligence agency.
2009 — 2011
Scope and Purpose
The emergence of a permanent memorial to Sabahattin Ali was the outcome of previous dynamic memorialization efforts. Since 1990, a cultural festival called the “Sabahattin Ali Culture Days” has been organized annually on the initiative of a group of intellectuals. In 1994, this festival gained the support of the non-governmental Association for Supporting Contemporary Life. The same local activists also created permanent memorials. In 2010, a public park named “Sabahattin Ali Park” was constructed in the center of Kirklareli and a statue of Ali was erected there. Besides Ali’s priceless contribution to Turkish literature, the main issue involved in remembering him was his death, which has never been cleared up. Therefore, keeping his name alive in the collective memory as one of the first victims of the enforced disappearances is very important.
The memorialization efforts have made a point of involving Sabahattin Ali’s close relatives in the process. His daughter, Filiz Ali, was invited to cultural activities taking place annually in Kırklareli. In addition to keeping the memory of Sabahattin Ali alive, these regular commemorations had a strong impact upon Filiz Ali. According to her, not having a grave at which to mourn her father was difficult. Relying on the testimonies of local residents who claimed to have been present at his burial, a symbolic cemetery was built at a site close to where the murder took place. In addition to its broader significance, the annual commemorations allowed Ali’s daughter to experience a degree of healing.
There were no serious political or legal obstacles during the design and implementation of the memorials to Sabahattin Ali. Nevertheless, one of the main challenges has been the loss of hope of finding the true perpetrators behind his murder. After the trials ended, in May 2013, parliamentary deputies urged the government to start a new investigation into the case. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs rejected these requests and insisted that the case was closed. A strong commitment to revealing government misdeeds in the history of Turkey would be necessary to end this vicious cycle. Thus the main challenge is whether this memorialization effort will lead to a serious truth-seeking process. Although the Turkish Ministry of Education has included Sabahattin Ali’s books on the list of Turkey’s 100 best books for children, this attention has not yet translated into such a process.