Life in Mersin, a bustling city on the southern coast of Turkey, was usually filled with the sounds of laughter, bustling markets, and the warmth of shared stories. But one fateful day in February 2015, the cheerful melody of the city was overshadowed by a heart-wrenching incident that would send shockwaves across the nation.
Özgecan Aslan, a young woman with dreams as bright as the Mediterranean sun, was born into a humble family in Mersin. Her family, tracing their roots to Tunceli, didn’t have much in terms of material wealth, but they possessed a wealth of love and support for their children.
As the youngest member of her family, Özgecan had big aspirations. She dreamt of a life where she could make a difference, a life that involved helping others. With her boundless enthusiasm and a heart full of empathy, she set her sights on pursuing a degree in psychology.
Özgecan’s path was clear. She was a first-year psychology student at Çağ University in Tarsus, and her dreams were taking root. The passion for psychology had taken hold of her during her high school years at the tourism high school, and she was determined to follow her heart.
On the 11th of February, Özgecan set out to do what any young student would do—spend time with a friend. Together, they went to a shopping center, laughed, and shared stories. As the sun began its descent and the air grew cooler, Özgecan and her friend decided it was time to head back home. They hailed a minibus, a common mode of transportation in Mersin. Özgecan’s friend got off at her stop, leaving Özgecan alone on the minibus.
But what transpired next was a chilling nightmare. The minibus driver, Ahmet Suphi Altındöken, had sinister intentions. He attempted to rape Özgecan, but she was not a victim who would succumb to such horror without a fight. In her desperation, Özgecan used pepper spray to fend off her assailant.
The situation escalated into an unimaginable horror. In a fit of rage, the driver stabbed her multiple times, beating her with an iron rod until she drew her last breath. Her attacker, along with his father, Necmettin Altındöken, and a friend, Fatih Gökçe, decided to cover up their gruesome crime. Fearing that Özgecan’s DNA might be found under her fingernails, they took the drastic step of cutting off her hands. Her remains were then set ablaze in a remote forest. The three men then discarded Özgecan’s burnt body in a creek near the village of Çamalan, forever silencing her voice.
Investigation and Trial
As the hours passed and Özgecan did not return home, her family reported her missing. Meanwhile, the minibus driver, Ahmet Suphi Altındöken, who was the main perpetrator in this heinous crime, began weaving a web of deceit. Let’s quickly go back to the day of the murder.
On the day of the murder, after Özgecan and her friend had taken the minibus, it was her last known location. Her friend had exited the minibus at her stop, leaving Özgecan alone with the driver. As the evening turned to night and Özgecan did not return, the alarm was raised.
Meanwhile, Ahmet once stopped at a Gendarmerie checkpoint, ostensibly to ask for directions. But instead of following the directions given, he diverted the minibus into a nearby forest. The Gendarmerie growing suspicious of his actions, decided to inspect the vehicle. Inside the minibus, they discovered smeared bloodstains. When questioned, Altındöken claimed that the blood resulted from a passenger brawl. Unfortunately, they were released after a cursory investigation.
So as the search for Özgecan intensified, the minibus came under scrutiny once again. Her hat, which was confirmed to belong to her, was discovered inside the vehicle. This renewed attention led to the driver changing his initial account. He confessed to the horrific crime but claimed he had been under the influence of alcohol and did not intend to assault Özgecan sexually or kill her. He painted a distorted picture of the events, stating that Özgecan had initiated a fight with him, leading to her tragic death.
Then the harrowing discovery of Özgecan Aslan’s remains (on 13th February) sent shockwaves across Mersin and beyond. Her lifeless body, ravaged by the heinous crime, was found near the village of Çamalan. The unspeakable brutality of her murder left a scar on the collective consciousness of the entire nation.
In the initial stages of the investigation, Ahmet Suphi Altındöken confessed to his monstrous act. He did not do so with remorse or regret, but with a chilling calmness that sent shivers down the spines of those who heard his words. He recounted the gruesome details of Özgecan’s murder and the involvement of his father, Necmettin Altındöken, and his friend, Fatih Gökçe.
The father of the perpetrator, Necmettin Altındöken, provided key information during the investigation. He claimed that his son had informed him about the murder only after the fact. He further revealed the gruesome details of Özgecan’s death, describing how she had been brutally attacked and her hands severed to remove any evidence.
This information, combined with the physical evidence found, led to the three men being apprehended. The post-mortem examination provided further damning evidence, as it confirmed that Özgecan had not been raped, but the DNA of the prime suspect, Ahmet Suphi Altındöken, was discovered under her fingernails.
But justice proved elusive. According to Turkish law, a defendant must have legal representation for a criminal prosecution to proceed. In this case, a shocking turn of events unfolded. The 1,600 lawyers of the Mersin Bar Association, unified in their horror and refusal to represent such “brutal savages,” refused to provide legal counsel. Two lawyers initially present during questioning later declined their support, one being a relative of the suspects, and the other unaware of the full extent of the incident. These obstacles temporarily stalled the legal process, adding to the frustration of those seeking justice for Özgecan.
As the trial began, the minibus driver made a chilling alteration in his testimony. He claimed that he had been under the influence of alcohol during the murder, asserting that he did not intend to sexually assault Özgecan or take her life. Instead, he portrayed Özgecan as the aggressor, saying that she attacked him when he attempted to take a shortcut. He even suggested that Özgecan had given him money to deviate from the original route, a claim vehemently denied by her grieving parents.
Necmettin Altındöken, the father of the perpetrator, also provided a shocking account of his involvement. He claimed he had been unaware of the murder when his son returned home, instead believing that a fight had taken place. The horrifying truth emerged as he described how his son and his friend had taken Özgecan’s life, severed her hands, and disposed of her body, burning any potential evidence.
The trial, marred by changing testimonies and the horrors of Özgecan’s murder, finally reached its conclusion. On the 3rd of December, the three defendants received sentences that would ensure they would never walk free again. Ahmet Suphi Altındöken, the minibus driver, was convicted of “murder with monstrous instinct and torture, murder with the motive of hiding a crime or evading capture, murder due to the frustration caused by the inability to commit another crime, attempt at sexual assault, and deprivation of personal liberty with sexual motives.” His sentence was aggravated further, with an additional 27 years added due to other charges.
Fatih Gökçe, the friend involved, was sentenced to an additional 24 years for various charges related to the crime. Justice was served, but it could never bring back the bright young life that had been so brutally taken.