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Hafıza Merkezi was established at the end of a research and thinking process during which we kept asking ourselves; “What can we do? What have others done for dealing with atrocities of the past?”


Hafıza Merkezi was established in November 2011 by a group of lawyers, journalists, academicians, and human rights activists based in Istanbul. However, the story of the organization began a few years prior to its establishment. 

Aside from the founders' personal stories, the key milestone for the Center's creation dates back to 2009. It was during this year that the founding group embarked on a two-year-long learning, consultation, and needs assessment process for a new association that would exclusively focus on addressing past atrocities in Turkey. 

From the very first day, the Kurdish question was identified as the top priority issue among the potential focus areas related to addressing the past in Turkey. This is because any progress on this pressing case of state violence would serve as a catalyst to create momentum and progress in other areas related to democracy. 

Establishment process

One key aspect of the preliminary work was a consultation process with non-governmental organizations on the field's needs in February 2010. At the end of this process, a report was published in 2010, based on findings from interviews with NGOs working in various areas, including gender, children, poverty, forced migration, health, disappearances, peacebuilding, human rights advocacy, and education. 

The report highlighted three primary themes: i) the role of truth commissions, documentation, and prosecutions as tools of transitional justice; ii) the role of commemorations, memorials, and museums; and iii) alternative ways of circulating and communalizing information through media, art, and activism. Later, an international conference was held to discuss these three themes. The conference, titled "Truth, Justice, Memory: Experiences, Testimonies, Quests" took place on December 4-5, 2010, in Istanbul.

Subsequently, a study visit was organized to Argentina between April 11-15, 2011, to observe efforts there in dealing with past atrocities. Argentina is often mentioned as a country that exemplifies how truth commissions, memory studies, and legal reforms can aid the transition from a period of state terrorism. The findings of this visit were later published as a report, which gave valuable insights into establishing Hafıza Merkezi and played a crucial role in designing and implementing its initiatives. 

Finally, a series of meetings were held between July and December 2011, in which we discussed with civil society actors in Turkey some of the transitional justice mechanisms that have been successfully implemented around the world. These meetings also opened up discussions on requirements regarding the needs in this field in Turkey, as well as the transfer of experience on the different good practices.

Establishment to today 

In line with this mission, the Center initially focused on enforced disappearances to contribute to uncovering gross human rights violations, and to confront these violations from a perspective of transitional justice. 

At the time of its establishment, the Center identified the documentation of i) gross human rights violations in universal standards, ii) monitoring and documenting precedent-setting cases, and iii) conveying the truths related to all of these gross violations to the wider society, as the main axis of its activities. 

Taking into account the importance of a peace process for the impact and agenda of our reconciliation efforts, the Center also defined peace as a field of work during the peace process between 2013-2015 and after. Since then, it has continued its work on the assessment and documentation of various peace processes and the peace process in Turkey. 

The narrowing of the civic space that constitutes the basis of the struggle for democratic values and human rights in Turkey has been another factor that has affected the focus of our work. After the end of the resolution process in 2015, a violent conflict process began. The state of emergency declared after the unsuccessful coup attempt in 2016 was instrumentalized to intimidate all opposition groups. 

In order to respond to these current needs brought about by these developments, the Center added recent gross human rights violations to its monitoring and documentation activities. In this context, it began to describe its activities to support human rights organizations and advocates who have been suppressed in various ways as a new field.