“My son was killed on 5th of May 2017 in a clash with the Turkish army. I learned of his death from the news. On a social media site called “kanlıkule”, the photos of my son’s disintegrated body were shared. In the photos, a special operation’s soldier stood with his foot on top of my son’s body. My wife and I went to Hakkari to meet with the army commander to request my son’s body 20 days later. The commander said that they threw his body into the river. I said ‘commander, I want my son’s body. If you can’t go to the area, I can go and retrieve his body and the bodies of others.’ He said “Dogs and cats are eating the bodies of those killed last week’. I said ‘commander, there have been wars throughout history. After battles, even the worst enemies allow the others to collect their dead. What you are doing now goes against all laws and humanity. I beg you commander don’t torture us, give us our son’s body. Give us a grave, a stone that we can visit and cry at.”
These are the words of a father whose son, a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), was killed in the Çukurca district of Hakkari province, close to the borders of Iran and Iraq. I met him three months ago at the Human Rights Association in Diyarbakır. He is not alone.
More than 50 families have applied to the Human Rights Association. They all have loved ones whose bodies remain unburied. Raci Bilici, head of the Human Rights Association in Diyarbakır said, “the numbers are much higher, but unfortunately many families are afraid to apply to us and it is impossible for us to go to those rural areas and search for the bodies.”
After our meeting, I wrote a letter to the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. I included all of the details of the family, pictures of the disintegrated body, the names of the social media accounts that shared these kinds of pictures (these accounts were taken down after I sent my letter). I demanded help for this family and others. I also gave the name of the commander in my letter and gave information about the other families whose loved ones’ bodies were unburied and eaten by animals. I asked them to stop these inhumane and barbaric actions. I also sent my letter and other documents to their advisors. No one responded. No one!
This is not the only case. Last August, Aycan İrmez, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), asked parliament about the body of a woman PKK member that was left near the village of Güneyçam in Şırnak province. Soldiers and village guards militia would not allow villagers to bury the body. It was left on the ground and eaten by animals. The villagers wanted to bury the body so their children would not see it while walking to school every day.
The dead bodies of PKK members brought to hospitals are another problem. There are just a few imams in the region who can wash and perform the religious ceremonies for these bodies. I have interviewed these imams and written about the situation a number of times. One imam told me that at the beginning he was sick when he saw these bodies. No head, the eyes were removed, ears and genitals cut off and there was evidence of torture. “But then” he said, “I understood what humans are capable of doing to each other.”
Not only the dead bodies, but the bodies of those put to rest in PKK cemeteries have been affected by this brutality. In the last two years, PKK cemeteries have been bombed or destroyed. Sometimes Turkish authorities open the graves of the PKK members and remove the corpses. Just three months ago, 267 corpses were exhumed and removed from the Garzan Cemetery in Bitlis. The families applied to the Human Rights Association and the Human Rights Association prepared a detailed report about the Garzan cemetery.
Lezgin Bingöl, a father of one of the PKK member whose corpse was exhumed, told Kurdish news agency ANF:
“I went to the cemetery on December 20. There I saw that my daughter’s grave was not there. The grave had been demolished and my daughter’s bones had been exhumed and taken away. There is nothing left of the graves in the cemetery. When I looked around, I saw that all the other graves were in the same situation. I appealed to the Bitlis Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on December 21, 2017. I wanted to learn about the aftermath of my daughter’s corpse and filed a criminal complaint against those responsible. We had already buried my daughter after receiving a burial and transfer permit from the Forensic Medicine Institute. An investigation was launched against me and my wife in connection with the burial afterwards.”
These practices are against both Turkish and international laws. According to Turkish law, cemeteries cannot be destroyed or defiled. According to Article 5237 (Chapter 8) of the Turkish Criminal Code, to exhume corpses is punishable by between three months and two years in prison; to damage the graveyards is punishable by between one and four years prison.
These practices are also against the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Human Rights Convention (Article 3), and the Geneva Conventions, which have all been signed by Turkey. One of the main pillars of humanitarian law is the Geneva Conventions, Article 3 (the common article in four conventions) defines the boundaries of conflicting parties in armed conflicts and strictly prohibits mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and murder of all kinds.
In the 21st century, we are still talking about the right to a dignified burial. A right that is shared in all beliefs and religions. A right that is protected by all constitutions and laws. A right that is about being humane, being part of humanity. Today in Turkey, we are struggling for this right. While writing, my heart breaks deeply thinking of the dead bodies in our rural areas that are being eaten by animals.
Turkey is not only fighting against its “living” Kurds, but also with those who have died!
While fighting deceased Kurds, how can Turkey make peace with its living Kurds?