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Sadık Çelik, an inde­pen­dent pho­to­jour­nal­ist, cor­re­spon­dent and mem­ber of the news team at the Kedis­tan webzine, was attacked in Argen­tin­ian Patagonia.

If I’m writ­ing this arti­cle, it is not only in sup­port of our com­rade and col­league Sadık Çelik. It is also to denounce the attack against a jour­nal­ist doing his job, and to try yet again to empha­size the very real dan­ger these women and these men encounter in order to doc­u­ment the strug­gles of indige­nous peo­ples fight­ing and dying against the multi­na­tion­als and their colo­nial­ist relays, encour­aged in the region by cor­rupt gov­ern­ments and mil­i­tarists. The strug­gle for the land, the cul­ture, for exis­tence in itself, led by the col­o­nized peo­ples of cen­tral­ized states, expro­pri­at­ed by colonists, is a strug­gle that con­cerns us all, because it is also about the destruc­tion of nat­ur­al life sur­round­ings, of bio­di­ver­si­ty, all for the ben­e­fit of indus­tri­al sys­tems of glob­al­ized agrobusi­ness, on ter­ri­to­ries where indige­nous pop­u­la­tions lived under a dif­fer­ent model.

Sadık is cur­rent­ly in immer­sion with the Mapuche peo­ple for a reportage on these indige­nous peo­ples of Argen­tin­ian and Chilean Patagonia.

On August 7 2022, around 2 PM, while in the com­pa­ny of the Mapuche activist Ingrid Soledad Cayu­nao and of her young son in the region of Arroyo Las Minas, in the province of Río Negro, mat­ters heat­ed up as they strolled for pur­pos­es of dis­cov­er­ing loca­tions for reporting.

The small group was on a trail in Mapuche lands when they were attacked and threat­ened by a secu­ri­ty guard of a ranch who stood in their way.

Ingrid Soledad Cayu­nao reports on the aggres­sion: “We were using a local road that opens up on the riv­er, and where there is a ranch sig­nalled by a pan­el read­ing “Establec­imien­to Sapu­cay” (Sapu­cay Estab­lish­ment). This is where we encoun­tered Miguel Alber­to Gon­za­les, the guard for a cou­ple of for­eign­ers, Tam­my Robaina and Dominique. This guard fol­lows orders of these strangers, now “occu­py­ing” this area.

First we heard some warn­ing cries from guard Gon­za­les then he approached us. At first there were a few brief exchanges of words with me, then, see­ing Sadık had a cam­era, Gon­za­les took a wil­low branch to strike his horse, fright­en him and cause Sadık to fall off. At first the horse didn’t react then he reared. Then, Gon­za­les attempt­ed to grab the cam­era but in vain. He caught hold of Sadık by his pon­cho and pulled vio­lent­ly to make him fall. The horse turned with Sadık sus­pend­ed on its flank, one foot caught in the stir­rup. Gon­za­lez went on attack­ing him, while Sadık was sus­pend­ed. We tried to dis­mount Sadık and while my son attempt­ed to catch the horse, the ani­mal almost crossed the riv­er, still trail­ing Sadık whose foot was caught, and thus in a very dan­ger­ous posi­tion for the journalist…”

Ingrid Soledad Cayu­nao details the exchanges between her­self and Gon­za­les which turned into seri­ous threats…


At first, we exchanged a few words, and I spoke polite­ly. Then he told me “you con­tin­ue like this, you’ll end up like in Cues­ta del Ternero” refer­ring to the assas­si­na­tion of Elías Garay, a young Mapuche activist, killed in Novem­ber 2021 in Cues­ta del Ternero.”

In order for you to under­stand the seri­ous­ness of the threats made by Gon­za­lez, I will pro­vide some details on the con­text. This requires a bit of a rewind in the reel of time…

The assassination of Elías Garay

On Novem­ber 21 2021, in the Argen­tin­ian province of Río Negro, 15 kilo­me­ters from El Bol­son, Elías Garay Yem, a young 29 year old Mapuche was assas­si­nat­ed and Gus­ta­vo Cabr­era, 26, suf­fered bul­let wounds. Both of them belong­ing to the com­mu­ni­ty of Lof Quemquemtreu, these youths were among the Mapuche re-occu­py­ing their lands since Sep­tem­ber, on the site of Cues­ta del Ternero. Elías died a few sec­onds lat­er due to the seri­ous­ness of his wounds, Gus­ta­vo, hit by two bul­lets in the abdomen recov­ered fol­low­ing surgery and sev­er­al days spent in the hos­pi­tal of Bariloche.

Aníbal Aguaisol Elias Garay

Elías Garay by pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ani­bal Aguaisol

You may also read:
Photographer Anibal Aguaisol’s lens and the revolt in Patagonia

This homi­cide occurred in the mid­dle of a con­flict ongo­ing for over a month in the region of Río Negro and which the provin­cial gov­ern­ment had decid­ed, as one can best describe as: “not to resolve”.

On Sep­tem­ber 18, the mem­bers of Lof Quemquemtrew pro­posed an action in the frame­work of “return­ing to lands unin­hab­it­ed for decades” and that were “left to the mer­cy of build­ing, for­est and hydraulic inter­ests pol­lut­ing the region.” The Roc­co fam­i­ly enter­prise, in pos­ses­sion of a con­test­ed con­ces­sion there for the plant­i­ng of pine trees, had begun work.

Fol­low­ing the announce­ment of the action, the Cues­ta del Ternero ter­ri­to­ries were occu­pied by the Mapuche. The “own­er” Rolan­do Roc­co, a busi­ness­man hold­ing the con­ces­sion and exploit­ing these lands, demand­ed their expul­sion. Six days lat­er, despite an agree­ment not to use force, pros­e­cu­tor Betiana Cendón ordered an oper­a­tion dur­ing which four peo­ple were arrest­ed, along with par­tial expul­sions. The mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty denounced the fact they were tar­get­ed both with rub­ber bul­lets and live ammu­ni­tion, the steal­ing of their pos­ses­sion and the attack of a minor. Then a tac­ti­cal group of the provin­cial police orga­nized a siege with iso­lat­ing con­trols, with no pos­si­bil­i­ty for those thus bar­ri­cad­ed to receive food.

In this con­text of height­ened ten­sion, on Sun­day Novem­ber 21, two peo­ple armed with 22 cal­iber rifles, Martín Feil­berg and Diego Rava­sio, entered this space guard­ed by secu­ri­ty forces. Inter­cept­ed by mem­bers of the Mapuche com­mu­ni­ty on loca­tion, the two men replied they “were on their way to their place of work.” They were thus col­lab­o­ra­tors of Roc­co. A dis­pute erupt­ed and the two men fired, assas­si­nat­ing Elías Garay Yem and wound­ing Gus­tave Cabr­era. The two accused were tak­en into cus­tody and put on an ongo­ing tri­al for “homi­cide with inten­tion to kill”.

Fol­low­ing these inci­dents, ten­sions inten­si­fied and the indige­nous peo­ple, pro­found­ly affect­ed, called for jus­tice over what had hap­pened. The response from the gov­ern­ment of Río Negro was to state that the provin­cial police had not been involved in the incident.

On Novem­ber 23 in a video shown on social net­works, Moira Mil­lan, Mapuche leader from the “Indige­nous women’s move­ment for good liv­ing” denounced the fact that on Novem­ber 22, mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty who attempt­ed to enter the Lof to bid a final good­bye to Elías were also pushed back: “police respond­ed to the right of bur­ial with bullet’s”, she under­lined. The Mapuche com­mu­ni­ty then held an online press con­fer­ence, in which it spec­i­fied its con­crete demands. After this, the activists occu­py­ing the lands allowed experts and the pros­e­cu­tor in to see the body and allow for its transfer.

Two weeks after the begin­ning of the con­flict, the provin­cial pros­e­cu­tor final­ly con­vened a table for a dia­logue with Roc­co, the pros­e­cu­tors and the com­mu­ni­ty, acknowl­edg­ing the Mapuche rep­re­sen­ta­tives as actors in the con­flict. The Province decid­ed not to par­tic­i­pate in these meet­ings, but up until the day of the crime, talks had pro­gressed more or less…

Occu­pa­tion mapuche, Cues­ta del Ternero

Part of the con­flicts with the Mapuche com­mu­ni­ties in Patag­o­nia is linked to the province of Río Negro not respect­ing the Emer­gency law on indige­nous ter­ri­to­ry (26,160). This law, which is now 15 years old, requires that an inves­ti­ga­tion be con­duct­ed on all ter­ri­to­ries claimed by the orig­i­nal peo­ples. But, in Río Negro, only 55 out of the 106 com­mu­ni­ties were ques­tioned, which led to a sit­u­a­tion of judi­cial pow­er­less­ness for all those not fig­ur­ing on the list. To this frag­ile sit­u­a­tion must be added the fact that this law of excep­tion, which expired this week, had to be pro­ro­gat­ed in its cur­rent con­di­tion by the exec­u­tive branch, since it had not been treat­ed by the deputies pri­or to the end of its term.

On the oth­er hand, Río Negro also has a provin­cial law rec­og­niz­ing indige­nous prop­er­ty (2,287) which it does not respect either. The appli­ca­tion of the norm would facil­i­tate reg­u­la­tion on these lands and could atten­u­ate a num­ber of conflicts..

In many cas­es, occu­pa­tions of lands con­sid­ered by the Mapuche com­mu­ni­ties as a “reclaim­ing” are used and instru­men­tal­ized by var­i­ous actors inter­est­ed in pro­mot­ing the idea of “Mapuche vio­lence”, by crim­i­nal­iz­ing their legit­i­mate strug­gle for their ances­tral lands. But, at the same time, they con­sti­tute actions that attempt to ren­der vis­i­ble con­flicts that oth­er­wise, would be reduced to silence giv­en the pri­vate over­tak­ing occur­ring on the ground. Th State’s lack of will to guar­an­tee rights already rec­og­nized and to extend poli­cies of resti­tu­tion also lead to con­flicts and protests.

The threats

Soledad pur­sues her tes­ti­mo­ny: “Elías who lost his life in Cues­ta del Ternero, by the hand of vio­lent peo­ple, had us fear­ing that the same might hap­pen again. The words spo­ken by Gon­za­les were so wor­ri­some, because we know from his own com­ments that he is usu­al­ly armed, although I saw no firearm on that day.

A part of our exchanges were record­ed by the cam­era that was still on.  A few of the exchanges don’t show up because the horse had gone fur­ther and I had told my son to help Sadık. At that point Gon­za­lez said to me :‘You’re lucky to be with your son, or else there would be a [body] float­ing on the river’.”

We can’t avoid find­ing in these words a ref­er­ence to the forced dis­ap­pear­ance of the young Argen­tin­ian activist San­ti­a­go Mal­don­a­do, on August 1st 2017, whose body was dis­cov­ered on Octo­ber 18 in the Chubut river.

Soledad added: “Gon­za­les also said to me that he knew the peo­ple I was meet­ing in El Bol­son, knew I was in con­tact with lead­ing per­son­al­i­ties in the Mapuche strug­gle, and he said these peo­ple would be going through unpleas­ant moments.

What I want­ed him to under­stand is that for us, as mem­bers of the Mapuche peo­ple, what hap­pened with Elías at Cues­ta del Ternero is very seri­ous, and even more seri­ous the fact he uses this grave inci­dent to threat­en us. It is still an open wound, very recent, and his words gen­er­at­ed real fear in us. We tru­ly think that these peo­ple are capa­ble of putting their threats to execution.

I also wish to say that dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, I said to Gon­za­lez that I was aware of the abus­es they were com­mit­ting on Mapuche ter­ri­to­ry, that they were using these lands for tourism, with­out ask­ing the autho­riza­tion from any of the neigh­bors. They enter our ter­ri­to­ry that does not belong to them and they exploit it for tourism. Above all, our pres­ence angers them. In fact, they refuse to admit these are Mapuche ter­ri­to­ries and that we are the locals here..”

Final­ly, Soledad’s son man­aged to catch the horse and calm him down, avoid­ing a death by drown­ing in the riv­er. Sadık came out of it with inter­nal wound­ing to the hip. After treat­ment at the hos­pi­tal and a med­ical report, a com­plaint was filed at the provin­cial prosecutor’s office.

Noth­ing fur­ther can be done, except to wait with the hope that Argen­tin­ian jus­tice is not like the one in Turkey…

Of course, we have the doc­u­ments such as the med­ical report, the com­plaint, the testimonials.

Sadık Çelik and Ingrid Soledad Cayu­nao upon leav­ing the Río Negro Jus­tice House on August 9 2022

Final­ly, is there need to recall the death of the British jour­nal­ist Dom Phillips and of the Brazil­ian expert Bruno Pereira, who for their part, dis­ap­peared in Ama­zo­nia, offi­cial­ly “assas­si­nat­ed by fish­er­men”? In their case, Bol­sonaro declared that get­ting involved in dan­ger­ous mat­ters car­ried risks one had to bear.

We could take the nar­row view in doc­u­ment­ing these ques­tions and reduc­ing them to land dis­putes between orig­i­nal peo­ples and so-called “mod­ernism”. Turn them into “local” cas­es, in oth­er words. But the “mod­ernism”, pre­cise­ly, has a face, and some­times the names of cor­po­ra­tions — min­ing, agro-busi­ness, forestry, hydraulics… And sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly, that face is the one of cap­i­tal­ist pre­da­tion and of the rav­ages caused to the plan­et, to the humans inhab­it­ing it and to ecosystems.

And even if this vio­lent inci­dent, accom­pa­nied by threats, could appear as an iso­lat­ed instance, it is pre­cise­ly in order to demon­strate the oppo­site that our friend and Kedis­tan colum­nist has immersed him­self for the third time among a Peo­ple fight­ing for its Rights.

» To read arti­cles by Sadık Çelik, click here

Cov­er pho­to: excerpt from the video. Miguel Alber­to Gon­za­lez in “action”…

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges

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REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.