The case of Shmuni and Hurmüz Diril has more questions than answers

The Diril family feels let down by Turkish authorities in their search for their father. "We were never taken seriously."

ISTANBUL / MAHRE, Şirnak, Turkey – After the discovery of the lifeless and mutilated body of their mother, Shmuni Diril (65), the eleven grieved Diril children are anxious and desperate for answers as to the whereabouts of their father. Is he even still alive? One of the Diril sons found their mother’s body on 20 March at a stream near their village of Mahre after snow had melted and uncovered her body. She had been dead for a long time. Now, the Diril children fear the worst but have not given up the search for their father and the perpetrators of the crime.

The case has raised many concerns and questions as to why the Dirils were kidnapped on 11 January and who murdered Shmuni Diril. There is much consternation and anger among the Diril children about the way in which Turkish authorities have attached little importance to the couple’s disappearance and their unwillingness even now to investigate in depth.

They feel abandoned by local authorities and left to search for their father, Hurmüz Diril (70), on their own. “We were never taken seriously,” said one of the Diril sisters.

Background: Forced evictions and large-scale displacements

During the second half of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s in southeaster Turkey, Syriacs belonging to the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church were caught up in the armed conflict between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Turkish government and military undertook a large-scale campaign to clear villages and settlements in the mountainous Hakkari region. Syriac Chaldeans suffered forced evictions and displacement. Their property was confiscated, their villages destroyed or burned. The Chaldean villagers were left to fend for themselves.

Mahre is such a Chaldean Christian village, located on Kato Mountain in the Hakkari Mountains of Turkey’s southeastern Şırnak province. The nearest town is hours away. Villagers used to live a mostly subsistence-based lifestyle of farming and herding livestock. In the 1980s and 1990s, the village had become part of a forbidden military zone. The PKK had dispersed hideouts in the region and continued to move around the area. The Turkish state began recruiting and arming so-called “village guards” from the Kurdish community to counter the PKK alongside the Turkish military presence.

The Diril family, as with other villagers, were forced to leave Mahre in the 1990s under official military order. They relocated to Istanbul. Many other villagers from Mahre emigrated to Antwerp and Mechelen in Belgium and Sarcelles, a northern suburb of Paris. It was only from 1999 onwards that the displaced Chaldeans were allowed to return to Mahre. In the 2000s, Shmuni and Hurmüz began returning for longer periods to the village and rebuilt their destroyed houses. Their beloved village had become their home again.

“No search was done. No one cared.”

It was there on 11 January 2020 that the couple disappeared from their home and it was there on 20 March that the lifeless body of Shmuni Diril was just a ten minute walk from the family’s house. French newspaper Le Monde addressed the Shmuni and Hurmüz Diril case, reporting that the Chaldean couple may have been kidnapped. The only neighbor of the couple said to Le Monde that he had seen three armed persons forcefully taking Hurmüz Diril. When Shmuni Diril strongly objected and started screaming to prevent the persons taking her husband alone, they were both taken.

Le Monde was unable to answer why this elderly couple has been kidnapped or who may want to harm them but wrote that Turkish police and security forces have been negligent and have done little thorough investigating. Turkish authorities from the start have not wanted to make a case of the disappearance. The case has apparently been labelled as being “sensitive” — in other words, the facts of the case reflect poorly on the country and the authorities.

The couple’s son Remzi Diril is the priest of the Chaldean parish in Istanbul and blames Turkish authorities for showing little interest in his parents’ disappearance. He told Le Monde that, from the start and under the pretext of harsh winter conditions in the mountainous area, no real search was carried out and no proper investigation was done. Turkish authorities only flew twice over the area with a drone. “That was all.”

In an interview with Bianet news agency, family member George Diril said:

“We constantly asked state authorities for help. But they were not sincere and a confidentiality order was imposed on the dossier. On the day when this order was issued, authorities came to the village. It was an utter show: They circled the house, took pictures and left. Then, news was circulated that ‘a search was carried out despite harsh weather conditions.’ But no search was done. Our voice was not heard. No one cared.”

MP Tuma Çelik calls for urgent action 

Syriac Member of Turkish Parliament Tuma Çelik (HDP) closely followed the case and visited the area several times to bring the case to the attention of the competent authorities. This week, he raised the case in Turkish parliament: “To find Hurmüz Diril a full and comprehensive search needs to be conducted. By bringing the case to parliament, I call and the urge authorities to take urgent action to find Hurmüz Diril.”