Boy struggling with leukemia needs jailed parents’ support, grandfather says

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The grandfather of Hakan Dağdeviren, an 11-year-old boy diagnosed with leukemia in January whose parents are imprisoned as part of a crackdown in Turkey targeting followers of the faith-based Gülen movement, has told Deutsche Welle Turkish service that Hakan needs his parents to be able to battle his disease.

“He is just a kid. He’s in a hospital, he’s ill. This is a period when he needs his parents the most,” 70-year-old Ali Dağdeviren told DW about Hakan, whose cancer metastasized to his liver, abdomen, neck and armpits, according to his doctors.

Sabriye and Gökhan Dağdeviren, Hakan’s mother and father, were arrested in 2018 for alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen and critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The Erdoğan administration accuses Gülen and his followers of masterminding an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 and labels the movement a terrorist organization. Both the preacher and members of his movement, however, strongly deny involvement in the coup or any terrorist activity.

Hakan’s mother was sentenced to six years, 10 months in prison and his father to 19 years. Both are serving their time in Eskişehir Prison, while Hakan and his sister Halenur, are under the care of their grandparents.

“According to his psychologist, Hakan, once an active child, withdrew into himself following the latest developments because he tries to carry his own burden as well as that of his sister and parents, and he can’t do it,” the grandfather said.

He added that Hakan has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy since January and that the second was especially hard for him. “By then, he had scars in his mouth and throat. He needed respiratory support and his hair started to fall out,” he said.

Hakan to have bone marrow transplant between May and June

The grandfather also revealed some good news, saying that Hakan had a match for a bone marrow transplant with his sister and that the operation was scheduled to take place between May and June, DW said. Hakan is also expected to be allowed to go home next week.

The hashtag #DirenBeHakan (Be strong, Hakan) was shared widely last week by Turkish social media users appealing to the Turkish government to postpone the execution of the jail sentence of Hakan’s mother.

Referring to the campaign, the grandfather said: “It’s not just Hakan. There are many people, babies who are really ill and cannot have the company of either one or both of their parents. It’s not supposed to be like this. Be that as it may, I believe that they [the AKP government] will not release those parents. They won’t do it because they don’t want to do it.”

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt in 2016 and launched a massive post-coup purge that has taken a huge toll on human life, making no exceptions for children. Several children such as Ahmet Burhan Ataç, Mehmet Fatih Dedeoğlu, Selman Çalışkan, Eymen Küçükaydoğan, Ali İhsan Başer and Furkan Dizdar were diagnosed with cancer after their fathers were arrested. Some of these children were unable to cling to life and succumbed to their illnesses.

According to a statement from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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