Istanbul -- The disappearance of Houmouz Diril and his wife Şimoni in south-east Turkey last January, followed by the recent discovery of her body, is part of a state policy "to prevent" Christians from returning to their place origin, this according to Tuma Çelik, a lawmaker with the opposition People's Democratic Party (HDP)[*] who spoke with press agency Bianet.
The man's fate and his wife's death remain shrouded in mystery. "We have the impression that some - presumably - powerful people within the state are preventing this (finding the truth) from happening. The villagers, our people, including a priest, were previously detained and arrested in this area."
Houmouz and Şimoni Diril are Assyrian (Chaldean), from the Christian village of Meer[†] (Turkish: Kovankaya), Beytüşşebap district, Şırnak province, south-eastern Turkey, where the Turkish government is fighting an insurgency by Kurdish separatists.
According to an eyewitness account, armed men entered Meer last January and picked up the couple; bad weather and local authorities effectively blocked search operations.
The woman's body was discovered on 20 March (AINA 2020-03-20), on the edge of a stream whilst her husband is still missing.
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Following their disappearance, Meer's only resident said that they were abducted by the pro-independence Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)[‡]. However, he changed his statement a few days later, saying that the couple had left home alone. They have not been heard or seen since.
Activists and members of civil society groups started a petition on change.org (#WhereIsHurmuzDiril, #JusticeForSimuniDiril) to get the authorities to provide an answer, so far in vain.
At present, the cause of the woman's death has not yet been made public, which the Turkish government blames on delays due to the coronavirus emergency.
For Tuma Çelik, based on the information available, the PKK was not involved in the abduction. At the same time, he does not believe that it was done by the state. However, since the 'incident took place in an area where the state dominates 24/7," some group tied to it probably did it.
For the HDP lawmaker, if the authorities really wanted, they could bring the facts "into the open". Since they have not done so, "it means that there is something else going on".
Turkey's record about "missing persons, disappearances and unidentified murders" is not reassuring. The current situation is a throwback to the 1990s. The investigation and the contradictory witness statements "all leave a question mark".
The area is home to several Syriac Christian villages, whose residents fled amid the fight between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces.
"With the beginning of the de-escalation and the peace process, Syriacs have started to return," Çelik said.
However, Turkish authorities have responded to this with a campaign of intimidation and attacks, to discourage the return of Christians. The Diril were among the first to come back and among the few to challenge the government's action.
[*] Halkların Demokratik Partisi.
[†] Alternatively transliterated as Mer or Mehri.
[‡] Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê.