Loyola University Chicago

Department of Political Science

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Graduate Student Investigates Disappearances in Turkey

Graduate Student Investigates Disappearances in Turkey

Graduate Student Jessica Mecellem in front of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey

Jessica Mecellem’s research has taken her all the way from Loyola to Turkey. The political science graduate student is conducting her Ph.D. dissertation research abroad to investigate mass human rights violations in the country and the mechanisms to prosecute government officials who commit them.

Her research focuses on a string of “enforced disappearances” that took place in Turkey during the 1990s, which saw countless individuals abducted and sometimes killed by current and former military officials. The government is currently trying military officials accused of these crimes. Mecellem is interviewing relatives of the disappeared, human rights workers in the area, and the legal professionals working with them to evaluate the methods that are being used to prosecute officials.

“I hope that my research can help to speak to whether the emphasis on legal methods of justice within the literature is in line with the needs of relatives of the disappeared,” she said.

Mecellem said she has been interested in the Middle East since high school and knew she wanted to carry out her field research in the region. According to her, her interest in social justice and human rights research began with her senior thesis on the court case Boumediene vs. Bush, a trial in which foreigners had been abducted by the C.I.A for possible links to terrorism.

“The idea of these men just being picked up and not heard from again really struck me and that was the first time I learned about what is considered enforced disappearance,” Mecellem said. “Since then I've learned about how it is actually a practice in many countries. I was drawn to learn more about it and ultimately hope that my research can help by introducing more people to the reality of this terrible crime.”

Mecellem has been in Turkey for three months and will return to the U.S. in February. She says she would like to return to the country in the future, as her current research has introduced her to new issues in Turkey and surrounding countries that she could pursue.

Mecellem worked with her dissertation chair, Dr. Gunes Murat Tezcur, to file grant applications and obtain funding for her research.

“The other members of my committee, Dr. Peter Schraeder, Dr. Alexandru Grigorescu and Dr. Kathleen Adams, have also each provided invaluable advice and guidance throughout the process and have really supported my research idea from the beginning,” she said.