Journalist Abdurrahman Gök, who prevented a big lie and manipulation by taking a photograph of the moment when 22-year-old Kemal Kurkut was shot, says that he could not sleep at night he took the photo and could not get rid of the effect of the incident for a long time. Saying “I wish this had never happened” Gök is being judged with the question “Why did you take those pictures?”.
WHO IS ABDURRAHMAN GÖK?
Abdurrahman Gök, born in Batman in 1980, went to high school in Batman. Following 5 years of Arabic language education, He then studied journalism at Ege University, Faculty of Communication. From 2004, he followed the marches from Mount Fermani and Mount Shengal to Rojava, where the militants
faced slaughter during the ISIS attack on Shengal while he was working at Dicle News Agency. He followed up the war there in September 2014 when ISIS attacked Kobanê.
He was the editor-in-chief of Jiyan TV, Turkey’s first channel broadcasting in Kırmancki-Zaza languages. After the shut-down of dozens of television, agencies, newspapers, radio and broadcasting organizations by Decree Law (KHK), he worked as an editor at the newly established Dihaber Agency. After Dihaber’s
shut-down with KHK, he worked as a news director for about a year and a half at the Mezopotamya Agency and still continues his journalistic activities as an editor at the Mezopotamya Agency.
Owing to his documentary, news and photographs; he has been granted awards in different periods by Yılmaz Güney Culture and Art Festival, Musa Anter and Free Press Martyrs Journalism Awards, Metin Göktepe Journalism Awards, Association of Turkish Southeastern Journalists.
Kemal Kurkut is a young man who was killed when he was only 22 years old. Kemal lost his dad at the age of 5. Her mother cleaned 13 barns at different times and built a home (!) for herself and her four children.
Despite growing up in such an environment, Kemal studied at the Fine Arts Faculty of the İnönü University, with the direction of his gentle and aesthetic character. Maybe his dream was to become a musician like Ahmet Kaya, whom he loved so much.
“He wasn’t an aggressive boy,” his aunt says. She hesitates for a moment. “But,” she says, “On Newroz day when the police wanted him to remove his clothes, he might have gotten angry. Even if I asked for water forty times, he wouldn’t complain and bring it.
When his mood was bad, he wanted to be alone, and never talked to anyone. He was a very beloved child because he did not hurt anyone. “ (İrfan Aktan, Newspaper Duvar)
This young man, in the prime of his life, was shot and killed in front of everybody by the police in Diyarbakır, where he came from Malatya to attend the Newroz celebration on March 21, 2017.
Immediately after Kurkut was killed, the Diyarbakır Governorate made a statement in a hurry to hide something that a suicide bomber was killed. When the mainstream media published the description of the Governor’s Office without question, the whole of Turkey believed that Kemal was a suicide bomber. Of course, it was until the journalist Abdurrahman Gök published the photographs of the moment of the murder. These historical photographs, which changed
the course of the case, also have caused Gök’s house to be raided by the police and the ongoing lawsuits to be opened.
The trial of journalist Abdurrahman Gök, editor of the Mesopotamia Agency, regarding those photographs he took, continues and his second hearing will be held next month.
We talked with journalist Gök about the murder of Kemal Kurkut, his photographs, and what happened afterwards. It was the morning of a Newroz day in Diyarbakır and you were waiting for the program in the square where the celebration would take place. Suddenly you were startled by the sound of guns and everything was getting mixed up. What exactly happened there?
I was assigned to follow the Diyarbakır newroz by Dihaber (the news agency closed by the Decree-Law) where I worked as an editor. At around 07.00 in the morning, I came to the entrance point on Evrim Alataş Street, which was called the protocol entrance. A large number of armored police vehicles, police officers from each unit, journalists, members of the Newroz Organization Committee were waiting here. We were waiting for the searches to end to enter the area of newroz. When I turned around with the sound of a gun at 08.04 a.m., I saw a young man with a knife pointed to his chest, half-naked, among several policemen.
Did he point the knife we saw in his hand at himself?
Yes, that’s right. I guess as a reaction to the taking off his clothes.
There was such a view in front of me; dozens of policemen waiting in a position to open fire with their weapons pointed at him and a young man among them. I immediately started taking pictures. After taking the first photograph, Kemal got out hands of the police and started running. Just at this time, gunfire came over and over again. At those moments, I was running towards Kemal involuntarily and pressing the shutter button repeatedly.
I took 28 photographs with the shock of the incident until Kemal collapsed and the policemen waiting by him checked his pulse. I was awake when a policeman with a long-barreled gun blocked and pushed me. When I turned on my camera to check what I was taking, I saw the last photo of
Kemal, covered in blood, eyes open, and holding his wound.
Thinking that the police might confiscate the photographs, I removed the memory card from its slot, and the police surrounded me at that moment.
They wanted to confiscate my camera, but I did not allow them. They demanded the photographs I took. I said that the incident had occurred before I inserted the card into the machine and that I pressed the empty shutter reflexively.
Expert police officers from the photo-film team searched my bag, formatted all the memory cards they found, and gave my cards and bag to me after making sure that all existing photos were erased. However, they could not find the memory card containing Kemal Kurkut’s photographs. And obviously, they served the “suicide bombing” statement to the public, with the convenience of making sure that no pictures were taken.
How could they not find that memory card? Where did you hide it?
First, I hastily put it in the back pocket of my trousers. Then I hid it in my socks. I didn’t take it out until I went to the office. I uploaded the photos to the computer in the office. I sat down at the computer to write the story of the governor’s office, my observations, and the photographs I took. I had to
watch Kemal’s last 50 seconds, which fit into 28 frames, over and over again. I carefully watched every detail reflected in the photograph, and we published the eight photos we selected with the title “Here is the moment when the young person was shot in Diyarbakır!”
What effect did it have when you published the news?
When the photos were published in Dihaber, which was not closed by a decree at that time, there was a serious reaction against the governorship’s “suicide bomber” statement. And four days later, two policemen were investigated. The governor did not state that he was “misled” with an official statement, but at a ceremony, when asked by a journalist, he was contented with stating that “the information given to him and the photographs did not match and therefore he
was sorry”. Y.Ş., working in the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Branch and O.M., temporarily working at the TEM Branch while he was working in the Riot Force Directorate, were taken into custody on March 25, 2017. The prosecutor’s statement of detention was followed by the “suspension from office” decision of the Diyarbakır Governorship.
I think the police are asked to be banned from the profession first, but then …
Yes, it was like that at first. After the photographs were published, the Ministry of Interior inspectors came to Diyarbakır. Inspectors made investigations and applied for five police officers’ statements, including Y.Ş. and O.M. in Diyarbakır.
In the reports kept by the inspectors, there is the conviction that these police officers should be banned from the profession for disobedience to the order. Also, according to the report of the Diyarbakır Provincial Police Disciplinary Board, one of the two bullets that hit Kemal Kurkut was the bullet that ruptured the vein. The other is the bullet that tears between the index finger and middle finger. According to ballistic inspection, this second bullet came from police
officer O.M’s gun. In the investigation, “it was decided not to prosecute” this police officer, and O.M. never been tried.
Has the other police been dismissed from the profession?
No, on the contrary. Despite the “dismissal from profession” opinion of the inspectors and Diyarbakır Police Provincial Disciplinary Board, Y.Ş. was returned to his post three months later before the indictment was submitted to the court. He was tried as a police officer on duty. In another scandal, again according to the inspector’s reports, all the police at the scene, including the defendant cops, washed their hands even though they knew that Swap traces would be
taken. (Swap analysis: Blood and gunpowder analysis report spilled on hands after firearms use)
How did you get involved?
About ten days after the incident, the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor made a call for me through the Kurkut family’s lawyer to attend court as a witness and hand over the photographs I took to them. I met with the Attorney General, told him about my testimony, and handed over the photos I took to him. Later, the investigation opened against the two police officers was followed by the indictment prepared for “murder with possible intent” and was accepted on October 2, 2017. But, it was decided that there was no need to prosecute police officer O.M. The trial against Y.Ş. began on 14 December 2017 in Diyarbakır 7th High Criminal Court. As far as I know, two institutions prepared reports at this stage, but these reports contradict each other. Exactly. Two institutions prepared reports. At the hearing on December 20, 2018, the report of the Forensic Medicine Institute(FMI) stating that “Kemal Kurkut’s death was not possible due to the bullet bouncing from the ground” was added to the file. When Kurkut’s lawyers objected to this report and demanded another report from independent institutions, the court requested a report from the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB). Based on the photos I took and the images attached to the cameras of the police vehicles and armored vehicles, which were later in the file, the NCRB prepared a report examining the posture of the police. In this report, which was added to the case file at the hearing on February 28, 2019, unlike the FMI’s report, there was information that Kurkut was shot directly by the defendant police, without any doubt. The court requested a second report from the NCRB. The NCRB denied its previous report, claiming that Kemal Kurkut died due to a bullet bouncing off the ground, in its new report at the hearing on May 30, 2019. However, it did not change the information that the police concerned was again Y.Ş. As a result, despite the photographs and the NCRB’s first report, the defendant was declared innocent and acquitted by court decision.
This is the technical and bureaucratic side of the event. What I am curious about is what you experienced emotionally during and after taking the photographs? Can you share your feelings?
The effect of those photographs on me has not diminished in course of time. The moment of murder rushed into my memory on that day, the night of that day, the next day, and every time I passed the place where Kemal was shot, every time I saw his name, every time his photograph appeared. For example, I could not sleep on the night of newroz. I thought of that young boy whose name I don’t even know in my bed until the morning. It was as if he was looking at
me, he seemed to have noticed that I was taking a photograph… Until the morning I thought about his gaze, the expression on his face, his gripping and control of his wound, fading of his color, falling to the ground, his water bottle in his hand that he did not leave until he fell weak.
But you left a very important photograph in history…
Yes, maybe it did, but I don’t even remember how many times I said to myself “I wish I wasn’t there, I wish I hadn’t witnessed the murder of this boy.” Because it affected me so much. However, I found solace in the words of Kemal Kurkut’s family. It turns out that the fake news was about to convince even his family that Kemal could be a suicide bomber. Even his closest neighbors were afraid to share the family’s pain and offer their condolence. But when those photos were published, the family was delighted at least because Kemal was not a suicide bomber! So the neighbors went to express their condolences ashamedly.
The most important reason why I say I wish I hadn’t taken this photograph is the wish that this incident never happened and Kemal was still alive.
How was Kemal’s mother? I guess it is the greatest pain a mother experiences.
Kemal’s mother Sican’s pain is the same today as the first day. She still laments. The acquittal of the accused police officer in the case deepened her pain. When we first met with the mother, Sican said “the last eyes that saw Kemal’s eyes” and kissed my eyes over and over again. There can’t be a heavy feeling as a mother’s gratitude to a journalist who photographed the last moments of her murdered son. You have also been sued and you are still on trial.
Did you guess what would happen to you before publishing the photographs?
Some said, “Don’t publish the photographs, you get into trouble.” Because the country I live in is a country where there are a lot of journalists shot in the back of their backs for writing the truth. I thought about what could happen to me. I thought about even being arrested or killed like that young boy. But not publishing the photographs would have been part of the killing. It would betray the universal principles of journalism, the conscience, and the truth.
I’m sure the police are following you closely!
Unfortunately, they are. 28 days after I took 28 photographs of the moment of Kemal’s murder, the first investigation was initiated against me. Upon the investigation initiated by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office because it was a denunciation, an instruction was sent to the Diyarbakır Police Department to take my statement and my house was raided. A broken cell phone and some of my books were confiscated during the search. I gave my statement and it was decided not to prosecute. I still have no information about the content of this denunciation.
Another investigation was opened a few months later. I shared a report published by the United Nations about the basements in Cizre on Twitter. Upon a comment made to this post, an investigation was launched against me instead of the person who commented. It’s unbelievable, but it’s true. In this investigation, it was decided that there was no need for a prosecution. After a while, I was called for another investigation. My phones had been tapped between 2012-2014, and it was said that an investigation was initiated upon this. Questions were asked about my news sharing with the journalists, telephone conversations, and the news I made. This investigation also resulted in non-prosecution. On October 9, 2018, my house was raided again and
as a result of a new investigation, I was told that there was a detention order against me. After being detained for three days, my statement was taken on the order of the prosecutor and I was released. The investigation was turned into an indictment on the days when police Y.Ş, who was tried for killing Kemal Kurkut, was acquitted and this indictment was accepted by the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court. I have been asked to be sentenced to 7 to 20 years in prison. After my first hearing was held, the case was postponed to 3 June 2021.
I have fulfilled the requirements of journalism. These photographs prevented the perpetrators from writing the story the way they wanted. The stories of many people who were killed before were written by the perpetrators because such photos were not available. The photographs prevented it in the Kemal Kurkut trial, but as a result of the policy of impunity, the whole world witnessed the acquittal of this execution documented with photographs.