Translations of this item:

  • The pro-government newspaper Sabah claimed that dragging dead bodies in the streets was "routine practice" around the world, a security measure to check if the body was booby-trapped.

  • "If we wanted to, we could round up all of them, kill them and say they committed suicide." — Ismet Sezgin, former Minister of the Interior, 1993.

  • What Turkey is engaging in appears an attempt at historicide, just as al-Qaeda and ISIS have done in Bamiyan and Palmyra and throughout Iraq – and as the Palestinian Authority did last week with the help of a duplicitous UNESCO by labeling the Jewish holy sites of Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs as Muslim sites.

  • How are Kurds supposed to trust such a government and its army when even their dead are exposed to attacks, torture and attempts at obliteration?

In Turkey's election on June 7, the pro-Kurdish party came in third, evidently thwarting the plans of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attaining the supermajority of 367 seats to be President-for-Life -- or Sultan. In an apparent attempt to rectify this supposed miscarriage of the democratic process, Erdogan called for another, snap election on November 1, seemingly to try once again to get his permanent Sultanate.

Recently, presumably as a "message," Turkish officials released a jarring video -- part of which appeared to have been filmed from inside the police vehicle -- that showed the body of a Kurdish protester, shot dead, being dragged through darkened streets behind a police vehicle by a rope tied around his neck.

The men in the video, all believed to be police officers, can be heard swearing at the body. One of the men is congratulating his colleague on shooting dead "the terrorist" -- who just so happened to be a relative of Leyla Birlik, a deputy of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in Sirnak.

The victim being dragged was a 24-year-old actor, Haci Lokman Birlik. He was murdered by Turkish security forces during clashes with pro-Kurdish groups in circumstances that remain unclear.

Birlik had made and performed in a short movie entitled "Bark" ("Home"), about the lives of Kurds in Kurdistan, which had received awards in national and international film festivals.

An autopsy revealed that the police had used at least 28 bullets. "His chin was torn to pieces," according to an MP of the HDP party, Faysal Sariyildiz. "There were bullet marks all over Birlik's belly and face: His belly and feet were all in pieces. I could not stand the sight any more. I left the autopsy room".

Other photos appeared on social media, showing police officers posing in front of the police station with the dead body of Birlik, and taking photographs.

The pro-government newspaper Sabah claimed that dragging dead bodies through the streets was "routine practice" around the world -- a security measure to check if the body was booby-trapped.

Turkey's state institutions and many media outlets do not treat even dead Kurds with respect, so why should anyone assume would it to show any respect to live Kurds? Many Turkish officials and media outlets not only display the dead bodies of tortured and murdered Kurds, but even help to dishonor them. On August 15, for instance photographs appeared of the disrobed corpse of a female Kurdish PKK fighter, Kevser Elturk, aka Ekin Van, and have since gone viral. She had been shot dead by the Turkish forces in the Kurdish province of Mus, stripped and photographed naked.

A day later, the Turkish army was in full swing again. On August 16, three Kurdish PKK fighters lost their lives in a clash with Turkish soldiers in the Kurdish province of Kars. The Turkish soldiers then took off the soldiers' trousers and took photographs of the men, presumably to humiliate them, their families and the Kurdish people.

On July 25, when the dead bodies of 13 members of the Syrian Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) and its female wing, YPJ (Women's Protection Units) -- and a German national who died in Syrian Kurdistan fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) -- were brought to Turkey's border gate in the Kurdish province of Sirnak for burial, the Turkish authorities refused to give the dead bodies to their families. The dead bodies were waiting to enter Turkey in a refrigerated truck.

Relatives of Syrian Kurds who were killed in battle wait at the border for Turkey to allow the bodies to enter the country.

People organized protests and peaceful sit-ins. Kurdish MPs and officials, including Masoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, spoke with Turkish state authorities and demanded they give the dead bodies to the families. After ten days, the families were finally allowed to take them. Thousands of people attended their funerals.

Burying their sons and daughters, however, does not mean their remains will be allowed to rest in peace. In 2013, for example, a cemetery for 43 PKK guerillas in the Kurdish province of Mardin in Turkey's Kurdistan was destroyed, and the body of a PKK member was taken.

"The moment the people left the funeral, the soldiers attacked the cemetery," said Ayse Gokkan, then-mayor of the town. "The surrounding area of the cemetery, its wire fences, and briquettes were destroyed. The grave of a guerrilla was opened and his body was taken out without the knowledge of his family. Even when we went to the cemetery, helicopters were flying 15 meters over our heads. The incident is saddening as well as provocative. It is an act that does not know any human feelings."

In recent months, cemeteries with PKK members have reportedly been bombed and demolished in the Kurdish towns of Lice, Varto and Dersim, among others. During the bombardment, a cem house (an Alevi place of worship) in Dersim was also destroyed.

Attacking dead Kurds, however, has long been a tradition in Turkey.[1] The Turkish government has been hostile not only to dead Kurdish fighters, but also to dead Kurdish civilians. According to the "interactive map of mass graves in Turkey" drawn by the Human Rights Association (IHD), in 2013 there were 348 mass graves in Turkey's Kurdistan -- and 4201 people in those graves.

In its detailed report in 1993, Helsinki Watch said:

"During 1992 there was an extremely disturbing increase in the number of suspicious deaths in southeast Turkey. Hundreds of people were killed by unknown assailants; many of those people were leaders or in positions of responsibility in the Kurdish community -- doctors, lawyers, teachers, political leaders, journalists, human rights activists, businessmen. These were not victims of robberies or people shot in the crossfire between security forces and the PKK. These were civilians who were deliberately targeted for assassination.

"During a February 14 [1993] press conference for national and foreign journalists at the Diyarbakir Airport, Turkish Minister of the Interior Ismet Sezgin, discussing the problems in southeast Turkey, said: 'If we wanted to, we could round up all of them, kill them and say they committed suicide.'"

As a result of these deadly state policies, much of Turkey's Kurdistan is covered with mass graves. You can see people still looking for the bones of their members. Even the relatives of the murdered, such as the "Saturday Mothers," have been exposed to violence and intimidation.[2] The burial places of many Kurdish leaders are also hidden by the state.[3]

The question is: Why does Turkey attack or torture even the dead Kurds and their relatives? Why did it throw the dead bodies of so many Kurds in mass graves? And why do Turks attempt to destroy even the Kurdish cemeteries?

These attacks and murders seem aimed not only at intimidating and subjugating the Kurds, but at denying Kurdish existence: not leaving even a trace of it --- as the state has been doing since it was established in 1923.

These attacks seem aimed at destroying the Kurdish identity of Kurdistan, the ancestral land of Kurds.

Cemeteries connect a community to its past. They are reminders of the local history of a place, and the culture of the people who have lived there.

The cemeteries, some of which hold the remains of Kurdish activists, are also reminders of the enormity of the sacrifice of many Kurds and their national struggle.

What Turkey is engaging in appears an attempt at historicide, just as al-Qaeda and ISIS have done in Bamiyan and Palmyra and throughout Iraq -- and as the Palestinian Authority did last week with the help of a duplicitous UNESCO by labeling the Jewish holy sites of Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs as Muslim sites. They have been trying permanently to delete the memories of entire nations.

How are Kurds supposed to trust such a government and its army when even their dead are exposed to attacks, torture and attempts at obliteration?

These actions reveal the intolerance of many Turks towards Kurds -- and towards even the dead bodies and cemeteries of Kurds. Kurds who want to preserve their identity and culture seem to arouse the fury of many Turks to such an extent that even their cemeteries are subject to attacks.

The resolution of the Kurdistan issue will start by respecting the Kurds -- when the state stops being devoted to "defeating and destroying" and instead adopts a policy of "live and let live." If the Turkish government and army cannot stand even the dead Kurds and their cemeteries, how will they achieve peace with the living Kurds?

It is to be hoped that the Kurds will turn out -- unintimidated -- for the election next week.

Uzay Bulut, is a Turkish journalist, born and raised a Muslim, and based in Ankara.

[1] "During the 1990s, in numerous cases, the state did not allow families of guerrillas to bury the dead bodies of their sons and daughters who were killed during the clashes," wrote anthropologist Dr. Ramazan Kaya in his book "The Formation of Kurdishness in Turkey: Political Violence, Fear and Pain."

"The state itself was burying them in mass graves or in mysterious places...." he wrote. "Nevertheless, sometimes the dead bodies of guerillas were taken to the main streets and squares and people were asked to come to identify the bodies. In many cases, parents were afraid to claim that the bodies were those of their children. The display of the dead and sometimes mutilated bodies of guerillas as a new policy of the state, differing from the previous one of hiding the bodies, can be interpreted as a strategy of intimidating people.

"At those times when people were allowed to have funerals in the 1990s, it was a common policy of the state to forbid the families of guerrillas and murdered political activists and supporters to have organized crowded funerals. However, in some cases, mothers and widows talked in the interviews about how the fear of the state and of being marked as pro-PKK would discourage even some of their relatives, friends, and others from attending the funerals of their sons and husbands. Today, they still have resentment toward those relatives and friends.

"In some cases, the bodies were buried under state control and just the family of the murdered would be allowed to be present during the funeral and the burial at the cemetery. This was what happened to Meryem, whose husband died under torture after being arrested eighteen years ago. She narrated how the state did not give them the body of her husband for three days, but kept it at the gendarme station."

[2] The Saturday Mothers, mainly composed of mothers of victims, has become the symbol of struggle for demanding justice for the Kurds and Turks murdered by the Turkish state.

Since May 1995, holding photographs of their "lost" loved ones, they have gathered at noon every Saturday for half an hour at the district of Galatasaray of Istanbul. The scholar Berfin Ivegen wrote:

"In the 171st week, 25 people were taken by the police and the following week this number increased to a hundred.

"Ill-treatment by the police continued for 30 weeks. In the 200th week of this action, on 13 March 1999 the mothers decided to take a break from the demonstrations because of bad treatment, beatings and abuse."

"In the old days, the Saturday Mothers were beaten by police and arrested," wrote the journalist Caleb Lauer. "Today, they are ignored."

[3] For example, that of Seyid Riza, the leader of the Kurdish movement in Turkey during the 1937-1938 Dersim massacres in which thousands of Kurdish civilians were killed by the Turkish army. According to
Prof. David L. Phillips:

"As many as 70,000 people may have been killed. Widespread atrocities were reported, including the alleged bombing of Kurdish villages with poison gas. Torture was widespread. Women and children perished in caves when the army bricked up entrances and lit fires to suffocate families in hiding. When they attempted to flee, Turkish troops were waiting with bayonets. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proudly acknowledged issuing the order for Turkish troops to wipe out the Kurdish population of Dersim.

"The military governor of Erzincan province invited Seyid Riza, the Alevi Kurdish leader of Dersim, for talks on September 10, 1937. When Seyid Riza and his delegation arrived, they were shackled and sent to a detention center in Elazig. Seyid Riza, his sixteen-year-old son and compatriots were hung on November 15." (Source: "The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East", by David L. Phillips, Transaction Publishers, 2015.)

Riza was buried in a secret place; its whereabouts are still unknown.

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Related Topics:  Kurdistan, Turkey
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