Boy, who battled Turkish state to be with parents, dies from cancer

Eight-year-old Ahmet Burhan Ataç was thousands of kilometres away from his parents when he died of cancer. His father was in prison for alleged links to a banned religious group that Turkey’s government blames for organising the 2016 coup attempt, while his mother was kept in Turkey due to an investigation against her.


A 9-year-old cancer-stricken Turkish boy, who was in a months-long campaign against the state to be reunited with his parents, succumbed to his illness on Thursday.

The plight of Ahmet Atac, who suffered from osteosarcoma (bone cancer), has become renowned in Turkey and abroad through social media.

Ahmet’s father, Harun Reha Atac, a former teacher, was dismissed by an emergency decree and has languished in jail pending trial on terror charges that stem from his alleged membership or support of the Gulen movement.

His mother, Zekiye Atac, is also being tried on similar charges.

The charges are part of a broader crackdown carried out by the regime in Ankara following a failed coup in July 2016.

Zekiye was not allowed to accompany her son, who was being treated with a new method called immunotherapy used in a medical center located in Cologne, Germany, due to the travel ban imposed because of the charges she faces.

Ahmet’s deteriorating health, as well as his mother’s inability to travel abroad as a result of what many critics in Turkey see as political charges, prompted many to raise money to fund his treatment in Germany.

Fifty thousand euro required for the treatment he would receive in Germany was raised, and in January, he traveled to Germany, albeit without his mother.

After a month-long campaign by activists such as pro-Kurdish MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, Armenian-Turkish Natali Avezyan, and Turkish singer Haluk Levent, the travel ban of Zekiye Atac was lifted, and she joined her son on March 3.

After the COVID-19 outbreak, Ahmet had high hopes also to see his imprisoned father, as countries around the world released inmates temporarily. Turkey was expected to follow suit in emptying its overcrowded prisons. However, the controversial release bill approved by the governing AK Party MPs excluded those imprisoned on terror charges.

Ahmet was only able to see his jailed father for a mere five hours on March 27, after an intense social media campaign calling on the Turkish government to release the father.

Harun Atac has been in pretrial detention since March 2018.

Zekiye Atac had struggled for a month to get a passport to accompany her son for cancer treatment in Germany due to the travel ban.

On March 3, she was finally allowed to travel to Germany with her son, following a social media campaign supported by rights activists and celebrities in Turkey.

However, cancer had spread throughout the nine-year-old’s body, his mother said, resulting in their recent return home.

A diverse range of people expressed their condolences over the death of Ahmet Atac.

“Ahmet passed away. Before our eyes. I am so sad,” tweeted the Islamist opposition Felicity Party (SP) MP Abdulkadir Karaduman.

“Ahmet left us. He left his mother, his brother, and his father, who he could not get enough of. We did everything we could to bring his [imprisoned] father to him. But the prosecutor said he could only release [the father] in the morning. The father missed his son,” Peoples’ Democratic Party MP Gergerlioğlu tweeted.

“Eight-year-old boy with cancer who said ‘thank you for everything,’ had died,” tweeted former Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) MP Baris Yarkadas.

Ankara blamed U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the failed 2016 coup and set about cracking down on his supporters as more than 91,000 people have been jailed and over 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs over alleged links to Gulen in the last four years.


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