One year after the abduction and disappearance of an elderly Christian couple in southeast Turkey, their children are still asking the Turkish authorities for help in locating their missing father and holding the perpetrators accountable.
Hurmuz Diril (72) and Şimuni Diril (65) are Assyrian Christians who lived in the village of Mehr/Kovankaya in Şırnak Province before their disappearance on January 11, 2020. Two months later, on March 20, Şimuni Diril was found dead by her children in a nearby river. There has since been no news concerning the whereabouts of Hurmuz Diril.
Father Remzi Diril, a priest of the Istanbul Chaldean Church and one of the couple's sons, said in an interview with the Turkish newspaper Milliyet that his mother's body had bullet wounds in the head and back, and that his father was probably killed. He added that the search for his parents by authorities has been insufficient:
"About 20 people who knew us wanted to help us with the searches, but the gendarmerie prevented them from coming. Neither AFAD [Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency] helped us, and civilians were not allowed to help. If the permission required had been given, we would have found my mother right away at that time, and we would have found some traces of my father. We do not know what happened to my father in the past year. We think that those who killed my mother and threw her body into the water also killed my father. We have been trying for a year to find out what happened to my father and we will not stop looking for him."
The Iraqi Christian Relief Council (ICRC) is leading the efforts to bring the diaspora Assyrian organizations and international human rights organizations to a united front to demand justice for the Diril family.
The ICRC sent an open letter to Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül and Turkish Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu. The letter urges the Ministry of Justice to:
"mobilize prosecutors to respect the right to life of the victims and honor the procedural requirements stemming from Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and bring perpetrators of these malicious actions before the judicial system.
"The Ministry of Justice to launch an investigation into the procedural failures involving Şimuni Diril's autopsy report performed by Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institute. We also request a full disclosure of the autopsy report to her children and their attorneys.
"The Ministry of Interior to launch a serious investigation about Mr. Diril's fate; to establish whether he is still alive or dead; to establish whether he is a victim of abduction or murder."
An investigation was opened by prosecutors upon the disappearance of the couple, but there is still a confidentiality status listed on the case file. Gulcan Diril Uzumcu, the daughter of the kidnapped couple, said:
"The investigation remains ongoing. But the investigation file is conducted confidentially, so we can only access a limited amount of information. Authorities generally state that they will not allow the situation to remain 'a murder by unknown assailants' and that they are hopeful about finding our father.
"The government should fulfill its responsibilities for its citizens," Diril added.
"From now on, we demand that our government speed up its steps and bring clarity to the fate of our parents. We also ask international organizations to be vigilant and observant about the rights violations we may experience."
Assyrians -- an ancient people indigenous to Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran -- for centuries were builders of great Mesopotamian civilizations. Most Assyrians are Christian and still speak Assyrian (also known as Syriac, Aramaic or Neo-Aramaic), one of the oldest languages. Ancient Assyrians ruled the Assyrian Empire, one of the world's earliest great empires, from 900 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E. Since the Islamic conquests of the Middle East beginning in the 7th Century C.E., however, Assyrians have been stateless and exposed to massacres and persecutions within the Muslim-dominated Middle East.
The Diril family is one of the few Assyrian Christian families remaining in southeast Turkey, where Assyrians have lived for millennia. The 1914-24 Assyrian genocide largely exterminated the indigenous Assyrians in Turkey. Systematic oppression and lack of official recognition of the community by Turkey, as well as violent conflicts between the Kurdish PKK and the Turkish military near the end of the last century also accelerated the Assyrian exodus from Turkey and the collapse of their population.
The Diril couple are not the first Assyrians kidnapped in Turkey since the genocide. Minority Rights Group International reports that during the 1980s and 1990s, Assyrians in southeast Turkey "suffered forced evictions, mass displacement and the burning down of their homes and villages." They were exposed to severe persecution "including abductions (including of priests), forced conversions to Islam through rape and forced marriage, and murders. These pressures, and other more insidious forms of discrimination, have decimated the community."
Today, EU candidate and NATO member Turkey is still not willing or able to provide security and basic human rights for this persecuted minority.
According to Juliana Taimoorazy, the founding president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council:
"The past year has been the most horrific year for the Diril family. The suffering they have endured and how they have been kept in the dark regarding the heinous crimes committed against their parents is truly abominable.
"Why the Turkish government has not taken this case more seriously is lost upon me. This is an absolute human rights violation. And we are asking the authorities to continue the investigation in a more effective and swift way and shed light on this despicable crime.
"Our global Assyrian nation has been patiently waiting for answers from the Turkish government. It is our solemn hope that Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials will help this grieving family have closure by bringing perpetrators to justice."