Çemi?gezek, horror of the war against Kurds – PART ONE


After 23 years families of Kurdish guerrillas found remains of their beloved in mass graves in Çemi?gezek

Çemi?gezek/Dersim. The meeting point is at 6 in the morning in Seit Riza Square, central Dersim. The air is breezy, the sun still low. Women and men, young and older starts to gather in the square. Faces are tense, eyes glistening. No tears. Emotions and feelings mixing in the stomach and head. For these people will perhaps finally meet with the remains of their beloved, who died in the most horrific way 23 years ago.

The minibuses leave heading towards its destination. Cemisgezen, some 130 chilometers west of Dersim. There in the mountains of Cemisgezen in 1988 heavy clashes between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) guerrillas resulted in 24 guerrillas losing their life. What added tragedy to tragedy and outrage was that the bodies of the guerrillas where not given back to their families. Even war has its rules. Here, the Turkish armed forces observed no rules. The bodies of the guerrillas – and still it is to be established if chemical weapons were used against them – were not handed back to their families. Mothers, sisters, children, friends were denied also the right to mourn their beloved. The ultimate torture, the ultimate act of contempt by the Turkish establishment. the bodies of the guerrillas were dumped in mass graves in fields just beside the jendarma (the gendarmerie is a body of the army, held responsible for many of the disappearances and unlawful killings) post.

Today, 23 years after the clashes and the horror these families might finally be reunited with their beloved. It won’t be easy as it soon will be discovered.

The journey is about three hours, a bumpy road winds through breathtaking landscapes. High mountains alternated with rolling hills by the tens of colours. The yellow shades are many, as the brown melting into the green. The vastness, endless landscape offers confort to the mind as it transmits a feeling of infinite, freedom. But there is no freedom here and the momentary sense of peace ends abruptly when the young woman sitting next starts to tell. “I was born in 1984. I was 4 years old when my nephew died. My nephew had joined the guerrillas the year before meeting his death. He was 20 when his life was taken from him. I am going with his father to try and bring him back to his homeplace”. Words stopped in the throat. The composure of this young woman who had lived her life with this massive absence which has become the most important presence in her life leaves one wondering.

It is like pain has been suspended. Interrupted, frozen in the hearts of these people for so many years. Because not having a body to bury has also meant not being able to fully live your grief. So pain has been hibernated all these years.

Another woman has come from Germany. “We were living in Istanbul when my son, who was 16, joined the guerrillas. He wanted to do something for his people, he wanted to do something for us, he wanted freedom. He was 19 when he became a martyr. We were told by the gendarmerie that he had died in combat, but when we asked to take his body we were told that no, in fact, he was still alive. My greatest fear – not knowing where he was – was that he might have been taken to prison. And there people, in those years, could easily disappeared. While he was on the mountains, fighting, I knew he could have been killed, but I knew where he was. Now, in 1988, when they told me he was alive, I did not know where he was. I only learned after many years that indeed he had died in combat and his body taken from me, from his family”.

So the search for the bodies begins. But it is one door closed on your face after the other. No help from the state authorities. Not that one expects any, but again there are even in war rules. Kurds have been denied the right to mourn, the right to grief and the right to bury their deads. As well, that is, as all of the basic rights up to the veri right to exist.


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