Seeing Roboski

Curator's Note

During the night of December 28th 2011, an intelligence report about a possible guerrilla group was given to the Turkish military. Consequently, the air force ordered an airstrike with limited information on a “suspected terrorist leader” knowing that there may be civilians in the group. 34 out of 35 villagers in the group were killed. No “terrorists”. Erdogan quickly moved in to conceal the incident. First, he offered ~$10000 US dollars per person, later he increased this to around $50000. Families rejected the offer steadfastly, demanding justice. Erdogan attacked the opposition, and shamelessly likened the incident to abortion, saying that women kill their babies, however, no-one says anything about it. The Gezi Uprising crystalized political fault lines. The Islamist front, the Hizmet Movement—a religious movement led by Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gülen—and Erdogan’s Party, once allies, became enemies. Since December17th, there has been an ongoing corruption investigation, which involves many ministers, including Erdogan’s son with recordings made by the police of corruption leaked to the media. These leaks also betrayed something more deeply corrupt than a simple bribery case. It showed an absolute dissolution of the separation of powers. Among these, a phone conversation between the editor of a major newspaper and the PM’s close associate is noteworthy. The conversation entails a journalist reporting to the minister the following “thanks to Allah, we saw the event [referring to theRoboski memorial] neither on TV nor in the newspaper”. The politician approvingly responds “exactly,exactly”. This dialogue exposes how a media conglomerate decided not to cover a major news story. Ignoring newsworthy events isn't surprising, however, thinking how maliciously intertwined with Islamist religious morality, its astounding to thank Allah that journalists did not “see” the mothers who lost their loved ones holding pictures of their sons. Talking about regimes of visibility, when I visited Roboski village, I shot some video portraits. The mothers insisted that they appeared in videos with photographs of their sons. They held and hug the frames. Every time I see them in the media, I can recognize them with the same picture in their hands. Photography is intrinsically tied to the idea and the impossibility of death. Seeing is not simply seeing, it is also appreciating the void. Perhaps when the government censored the news of the mothers holding their son’s pictures, it was not political agency that terrified them but their own inability to see and appreciate this void.


Thanks Hakan! When I read your piece I thought of the surveillance video of Ali Ismail Korkmaz, the 19 year-old who was beaten to death by police officers during Gezi protests. As you know, this video did not come to daylight (so to speak!) for a very long time. The police, if I remember correctly, even claimed that there was no video footage. This is yet another example of the regime of visibility whereby politics, image-making and claims to truth and reality are all intertwined.

Thanks Hakan. Holding the lost ones' portraits in order to gain them visibility has of course been adopted by Saturday Mothers as well, and you could take it back to the early days of photography, to the idea of documenting the dead. And in response Bilge's comment, the footage of Mehmet Ayvalıtaş (first person to be killed during Gezi protests) had also been "lost" for over 8 months, when they mysteriously resurfaced last month. At an age when every street corner is under surveillance 24/7, the question becomes not whether we are being watched, but what happens to that material when it becomes relevant.

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