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Although the practice of enforced disappearances by the state in Turkey dates back to the early years of the Republic, its more widespread implementation has been predominantly directed towards Kurds in the context of the armed conflict that began between the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in 1984. 

The period of the most intense occurrence of this crime was during the years 1993-1996 when the concept of low-intensity warfare was applied most harshly. Those who were forcibly disappeared were typically apprehended by state officials in front of witnesses, either from their homes, workplaces, or public areas, and their detention was openly acknowledged. The act of enforced disappearance created immense terror within the Kurdish community, subjecting both the disappeared individuals and their families to multidimensional, continuous, and systematic violence.

 

The Toll of War 

The reliable figures regarding the deaths of soldiers, militants, and civilians as a result of armed conflict are not yet available in Turkey. Relatively more reliable data, as in other countries, can be obtained during post-conflict periods when effective access to data sources is possible. Currently, the available data in Turkey is entirely sourced from the state. Since we do not have any other data and we want to provide an idea of the toll of the war, it is important to approach these data with caution and skepticism.

 

Enforced Disappearances According to Years

The approach of the Republic of Turkey towards the PKK evolved from the early 1980s' perception of "a few handfuls of bandits" to a different stance in the 1990s. Within this context, two significant developments took place: the implementation of state of emergency practices and the transformation of the military, political, and administrative institutions of the state to align with the new concept of the "enemy." 

Definitive and conclusive data regarding the total number of enforced disappearances in Turkey has not yet been established. However, when we examine the lists compiled by all institutions working in this field, while keeping in mind that this is an uncertain figure that needs to be verified, we see a total of 1,352 individuals who were reported missing since the September 12, 1980 coup d'état. According to these unconfirmed figures, the number of enforced disappearances, which stood at 108 in 1993, increased to 532 in 1994. This tremendous increase is consistent with forced migration data and illegal and arbitrary executions.

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Key facts

Special Security Strategy and the New War Concept after the 1990s: In 1993, a special security strategy called "Area Dominance and Prevention of PKK Presence in the Region" was implemented by the team led by Prime Minister Tansu Çiller and Chief of General Staff Doğan Güreş. This security strategy primarily aimed to regain control over the territory by cutting off the support given by the civilian population to guerrilla forces. The forced evacuation of villages and other settlements, the increase in "unsolved" murders and extrajudicial killings, as well as enforced disappearances, became more apparent precisely after the implementation of this new "area dominance" strategy in the 1990s. 

State of Emergency Governorates (OHAL): The state of emergency was initially implemented in eight provinces in 1987: Bingöl, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Hakkari, Mardin, Siirt, Tunceli, and Van. Later, with the inclusion of Adıyaman, Bitlis, Muş, Batman, and Şırnak, the number increased to 13. Some provinces were continuously governed under a state of emergency and martial law for 23 years. The application was extended a total of 46 times, every 4 months. The State of Emergency Regional Governorate had powers such as evacuating or banning settlements in specific locations, restricting or stopping the entry and exit of food supplies and animal feed, limiting or seizing all means of communication within the region if necessary, and even seizing them, and suspending the education in all levels of educational institutions. Moreover, through decree-laws, the status and practices of this institution were completely taken outside the scope of the law. The state of emergency ended after the last extension in the provinces of Diyarbakır and Şırnak until November 30, 2002. However, after the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, the AK Party government implemented the state of emergency once again, this time nationwide, on July 20. 

Gendermerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Unit (JITEM): The Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Unit, known as JİTEM, operated as a paramilitary/counter-guerrilla structure within the framework of the "low-intensity warfare" strategy. It is primarily associated with enforced disappearances, illegal and arbitrary executions, and is based on the testimonies of a few confessors and military personnel who have spoken on this matter. According to Colonel Arif Doğan, who served in the region for a long time, confessor witnesses, village guards, civilian elements of gendarmerie intelligence, and mixed teams consisting of military personnel would abduct, torture, and assassinate individuals who were claimed to have connections with or were accused of being affiliated with the PKK.