Updated: Feb 1
Almost a year after a burning execution video hit social social media, Turkish officials have recognized that one of the victims was a Turkish soldier, Sefter Tas, The soldier was burned alive before the eyes of the whole world, and while our hearts wrenched, the Turkish government kept mum.
On the evening of Dec. 22, 2016, social media accounts affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) shared a gruesome execution video, showing two Turkish-speaking soldiers being burned alive. The Turkish authorities were quick to restrict access to major social media sites to prevent the spread of the video.
Still, the two soldiers were soon identified as Sefter Tas and Fethi Sahin. Tas was already familiar to the public as the private whom IS militants had abducted on Sept. 1, 2015, in the Kilis region at the border with Syria, where he was doing his military service.
Both his family and opposition parties had queried the government about his fate, but no one had managed to extract an answer. Eight months after his abduction, Tas had been featured in a Turkish-language online magazine published by IS. He was quoted as asking the Turkish authorities why no one was looking for him. The remarks suggested that the government had taken no action to rescue the soldier.
Ankara maintained its policy of silence after the release of the execution video as well. Pro-government media claimed the footage was a digital fabrication, citing information allegedly shared at a Cabinet meeting. The then-government spokesman, Numan Kurtulmus, even warned the media “to watch their step” and “not agitate the people with made-up images.” Following the warning, the mainstream media chose to ignore the execution story.
Yet lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) continued to press the government for answers, though without any success. HDP deputy Mehmet Emin Adiyaman tried to raise the issue in parliament, but his speech was obstructed by members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
When it comes to the Tas family, the media reported that the soldier’s mother had a nervous breakdown after watching the video. After some time, officials reportedly visited the parents in their village in the eastern province of Igdir and assured them the footage was a fabrication. “I believe my son is alive,” the soldier’s father, Aydin Tas, told the press.
Heavy-hearted but still hopeful, the parents waited for almost a year to hear from their son, but nothing happened. In early October, the father went to court, seeking a judicial declaration of disappearance. On Oct. 9, the day the court was to make a decision, the local garrison commander and the sub-governor visited the family to inform them that the video was in fact authentic and that their son had been “martyred,” the father told the press.
According to Adiyaman, the AKP did whatever it could to make the public forget the execution footage. “Those were images of big savagery and sparked outrage all over the world. Everyone was shaken in Turkey, be they rightist, leftist, believers or unbelievers,” he said. “Hence, the AKP could not afford to confirm that Sefter Tas was the soldier in the footage and adopted its typical attitude, trying to get the issue out of public attention, which it eventually managed to do.”