Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Philippe Bourgois

Second Advisor

Petryna Adriana


This thesis concerns the struggles over the production of the truth of state violence in Turkey in the three decades following the infamous 1980 military coup. Specifically, it focuses on cases of torture and enforced disappearance, two forms of violence which the state not only used extensively but also around which it built a specific regime of denial in collaboration and complicity with the official forensic institution. The latter is the ultimate authority that produces medical documents and reports that can be used in making legal claims.

Based on two years of fieldwork in human rights NGOs, forensic medicine institutions and hospitals, and interviews with human rights activists, forensic physicians, victims and the relatives of victims of violence, this thesis aims at a genealogy of the terms by which evidence making, claim making, and state making occurred in Turkey in the last three decades (1980-2013). These terms are crafted in the encounters between state officials, victims, and physicians, each of who hold different relationalities, epistemologies, and desires, and who find themselves to be in constant negotiation and struggle.

The thesis shows that while human rights activist physicians' challenge to the state has been crucial in documenting and restricting violence, its partial success also shaped the political sphere, transforming political crises into medical problems that can be solved by ordering, regulation, standardization and normalization. While oppositional public discourse relied extensively on the concepts of scars, illness, DNA and bones, its demands hinged on procedural and legal transformations rather than on a shift in power.

Although forensic evidence has become increasingly more valuable, I refrain from adhering to a linear narrative that would shift from personal and subjective to objective and forensic modes of witnessing. Instead, I recount how testimony and medical knowledge enforce one another or, enter into contestation at the site of medical institutions, graves, at home, on the street and in courts and produce not only a unique forensic history in Turkey but also a unique regime of bearing witness to violence alongside the one of denial.