Doğan Eşlik served at Mamak Prison, where many political prisoners arrested after the Sept. 12, 1980, coup d’état were sent, while completing his compulsory military service. He says he was forced to use unthinkable methods of torture on inmates that permanently damaged his emotional wellbeing. Eşlik said he was never able to marry because of his psychological state.
Yılma Durak, one of the political prisoners kept at the prison, was tortured by the junta. He was one of the leading figures of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in eastern Turkey.
After 32 years, Eşlik visited Durak in Ankara to personally apologize to him. Durak told the Cihan news agency that he accepted Eşlik’s apology because Eşlik had acknowledge his guilty conscience and has been suffering because of what he did. He added that what he would truly like to know is the psychological state of the real people behind the torture in prisons.
Durak added that both nationalists and left-wing prisoners were subjected to torture in Mamak Prison. “The prison turned into a center for torture. I read his statements. Doğan sets a great example with this heroic gesture. He came here from far away to apologize because he can no longer bear the psychological suffering.”
Until recently details of the atrocities and torture that occurred at Mamak Prison had only been recounted by the victims. Torturers kept silent until Kamil Atliman, who also served at a prison to perform his military service during the coup era, spoke out in late January and said he had been forced to torture inmates and had to undergo psychiatric treatment after his term in the military was over.
Eşlik is the second person to speak out about his experience as a torturer. He served as a prison warden in Block A of Mamak Prison, where his duty began in 1982. However, in spite of the 30 years that have passed since his ordeal, he says he cannot forget a second of the 20 months he served there. He claims that the wardens’ situation was no different from that of the inmates. “When I had visitors come to see me during my military service period, they [his commanders] sent them away, saying, ‘No such person serves here.’ I was allowed to see my family only once during the 20 months [I was there]. Our lives were like the lives of the inmates. We were also frequently beaten.
“Durak was weaker when he was staying at the prison than he is now. When I would walk through the cells, one of his [Durak’s] eyes would follow my movements. I have never been able to erase that picture from my memory,” said Eşlik. He added that there was indeed no difference between soldiers and inmates but one thing: Sometimes soldiers were able to get out of Block A.
Hundreds of criminal complaints were filed against the coup leaders after a referendum on Sept. 12, 2010, made such action possible. The complaints mainly target retired Gen. Kenan Evren, the former president and chief of General Staff, and his collaborators. Turkey witnessed its bloodiest coup d’état in 1980 when Evren and his cohorts overthrew a democratically elected government.