Sippenhaft is a deplorable act that belongs to the European Middle Ages. It refers to family’s liability when a person commits a crime. Up until the European nations have adopted the Roman Law, German Law’s Sippenhaft was practised by Europeans. In the 20th century, Hitler reinstated it especially after the would be assassination of July 20. It targeted the families of military members who allegedly involved the assassination attempt to Fuhrer. With decree laws, its scope was extended to include all the dissidents. According to Loeffel[1], The Nazis aimed to spread fear among the dissidents by practising Sippenhaft. A very much similar case to Hitler’s Nazi brutality is the ongoing witch hunt in Turkey. The Erdogan regime targets families of alleged criminals after the “controlled coup[2]” of July 15, 2016.

The military members who Hitler found dangerous for his goals were convicted with no investigation after the staged assassination attempt. The Nazis had started implementing Sippenhaft with arresting and exterminating families of those military members in concentration camps after the plot of July 20. Later on, Decree Laws issued by Hitler extended its scope to dissidents from all walks of life. With the radio broadcastings and newspapers, the dissidents were demonized and doomed to civil death. Not only the alleged criminals but also their families had to be annihilated so that the society could be safe. In Turkey, many of the members of the military were arrested, publicly tortured and dehumanized during and after the botched coup attempt. Also, thousands of police officers and jurists were dismissed, arrested and tortured in detention centres. Their families received their shares from the witch hunt. Some of them arrested because of their blood link to the alleged coup plotters.

Nazis argued that even the babies of the alleged criminals must be killed because the crime committed stemmed from the family’s blood and the babies already had the same blood. Similarly, when you look at the Turkish case, a large number of babies and little children are victims of the witch hunt. During the coup attempt, one of the video records which was obviously recorded by the pro-government police officers in a detention centre and released to spread fear among the dissidents shows the extend Sippenhaft arrived in Turkey. In the video, a half-naked soldier who was allegedly among the coup plotters was detained, handcuffed and beaten. A unanimous officer was interrogating him. The conversation was as follows:

Police: “Do you have children we can f..k?”.

The detained soldier answered crying: “Yes, a ten months old daughter”.

The Police: “We all gonna f..k her. Shall we make her pregnant for ten years, you traitor?”[3]

That video was circulated widely on social media channels by pro-government accounts. Recently, one of the arrested generals said during the hearing that his 13-year-old daughter was sexually harassed when she came to visit him in prison.

There are now a lot of women who are now in jail in place of their husbands. Some of those women have to live with their little children or newborn babies in prisons. Also, it is now a daily routine that a woman is being arrested hours after she delivers a baby. Usually, the police are informed when a Gulenist woman came to the hospital to give birth. Immediately after the labour, police detains the woman with the newborn. According to Gamze Ilgezdi, a member of the opposition party, nearly 700 small children are now in jail with their mothers under inappropriate conditions[4].


Dilek Dundar, wife of senior journalist Can Dundar

Preventing people from travelling is also a form of Sippenhaft in Turkey. Can Dundar published a report on arm-transporting trucks that allegedly belonged to secret service. According to his report, heavy arms were being delivered to terrorist groups fighting in Syria. President Erdogan’s rage against Dundar was big. “I will not let him go. He will pay a heavy price” said Erdogan in an interview. Immediately after this statement, Dundar was detained and put in prison. After staying a couple of months in prison, he was released on a Constitutional Court decision. He didn’t wait too much to flee Turkey after being released. However, fleeing Turkey jeopardized his family back in Turkey. On Sept. 3, 2016, when his wife, Dilek Dündar, wanted to travel to Germany where her husband was living, airport police would not let her depart the country. She was told that her passport had been cancelled by a decree law dated Aug. 22, 2016. Her lawyers said she was literally taken hostage for the crime that her husband allegedly committed.

In 2013, during the Gezi protests, Berkin Elvan, who was then a 14-year-old teenager, was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer. He lost his life after spending nine months in a coma. According to his family, Berkin did not even join the protests but was going to buy bread from the grocery. His tragic death, among 11 others, initiated a heated debate about then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s excessive use of police force against the protesters. His parents appeared on many TV shows to share their frustration at losing their young son. Erdoğan did not like their public appearances and targeted the family. He referred to Berkin as a terrorist at a public rally and made the crowds boo his mother, who had earlier said: “the killer of my son is Erdoğan.” According to Erdoğan, Berkin was a terrorist who rebelled against the (Erdoğan’s) state and the responsibility for this belonged to the family. In August 2017 Berkin’s mother was taken into custody during a protest against the detention of hunger strikers Gülmen and Özakça, who were dismissed from their jobs by a decree law. The mother’s arm was reportedly broken by the police during her detention.

An example cited by the US Department of State in its human rights report is Sermet Sukur, 75, father of renowned football player Hakan Sukur. He was arrested when police were unable to find his son who is a former member of the ruling party. Hakan Sukur submitted his resignation due to corruptions in his party and became a leading critic of Erdogan. Sermet Sukur was denied medical care in the prison although he is diabetic and serious heart problems.


Hatice Yildirim, mother in law of Adil Oksuz.

Another victim of Sippenhaft is an old couple who are in-laws of the prime suspect of the controlled coup attempt. Adil Oksuz, an academic, allegedly organized the coup attempt together with his men in the military. According to Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the opposition party, he was working for the secret service and the coup was staged by Erdogan to  eliminate all dissident voices in the country. Oksuz was detained on the night of the coup attempt with 100 other people but he was the only one released among them. After his release, it turned out that he could be the leader of the coup. The judiciary issued an arrest warrant but they could not find him anywhere. Instead, they arrested his in-laws who are older than 70 years old. His mother in law was arrested and sent to prison although she was severely ill and wheel-chair bound.


Birsen Atayun, wife of Anadolu Atayun

Recent examples of Turkish Sippenhaft are the children of two police officers who were known for their success against radical terrorist organizations. Anadolu Atayün was a police chief who was dismissed from his position after the December 2013 graft investigations in which Erdoğan himself, his family and members of his cabinet were involved. Atayün was arrested in May 2015. His daughter Yasemin, 17, and his son Harun, 15, were arrested on Aug. 18, 2017, with no legal justification. They have been released after a while but this time Atayun’s wife and son were arrested while they were allegedly trying to flee the country. Another police chief sharing the same destiny, Ali Fuat Yılmazer, was also dismissed from his job and arrested for not being loyal to the government. His daughters Fatma, a lawyer, and Rabia, a trainee solicitor, were arrested three years after their father, again with no legal justification.

There are many others who cannot make their voices heard suffering from Sippenhaft in Turkey’s witch-hunt. It goes without saying that in an atmosphere where Fethullah Gülen is accepted as the failed coup’s mastermind with no concrete evidence — although almost all international observers disagree over his involvement – his relatives including his brothers, nieces and nephews are all in jail now. The prosecutors do not need to present a legal justification or evidence for their arrests as long as they have a blood tie to Gülen. Well, indeed, this is how it works in the most advanced democracies!

  1. Loeffel, Robert (2007). Sippenhaft: Terror and Fear in Nazi Germany: Examining one facet of terror in the aftermath of the plot of 20 July 1944. Contemporary European History, 16, 1, 51-69.
  2. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the opposition party CHP, called the failed coup as “controlled coup” as he argues that the coup was staged under Erdogan’s control to create a pretext to exterminate the dissidents.
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