The cemetery of the unknown in the Malatya province of Turkey is expanding each day as the war politics and refugee crisis continue within the country and the region. The last number marked on the tombstones is 375, but the real number of people buried there is higher. The bodies of those who lost their lives during the clashes in eastern and southeastern Turkey in 2015 and 2016 were not returned to the families.
The state sharpens the pain for bereaved families by making the burial process hard and complicated. Even after the bodies are identified, the families with matching DNA results are not given any funeral transport vehicles by the provincial and district municipalities. For this reason, families have to rent their own cars to take the bodies to their hometown.
The situation has worsened during the pandemic and sometimes families wait for more than one week in Malatya to receive the bodies of their loved ones.
Only one family member is allowed to accompany the vehicle carrying the body. Other vehicles are banned from following the vehicle on the grounds of “curfew” and the obstacles experienced during the funeral transfer process continue during the burial as well. Cemeteries are blockaded by the police or gendarmerie and no one is allowed to attend except immediate relatives.
The Association of Help and Solidarity with Families who have lost their Relatives (MEBYA-DER) representative Emrah Ağçelik spoke to the Mesopotamia News Agency about the difficulties that families face while finding and burying their relatives.
“When families come to take the bodies the difficulties they face start at the courthouse,” said Ağçelik. “Even if they arrive early, the procedures are not held properly. At the prosecutor’s office, their statements are taken and they are asked questions like ‘Why did he/she go there and what happened?’ They are faced with the pressure of the police there.”
Although the families are sent by the prosecutor’s office, they are still subjected to a General Information Screening (GBT). “These are done to intimidate families,” said Ağçelik, adding that although the exact number is still not known, about 150 people who died during the clashes were buried in the cemetery at Malatya.
He also urged families not to give up searching for their relatives. “The state makes it harder for the families but we at MEBYA-DER are ready to provide any support that they need,” he said.