The Turkish authorities have been refusing to hand over the body of a slain People’s Defence Units (HPG) fighter for five years despite her family’s numerous requests, Mezopotamya Agency reports.
The body of Mercan Erkol, who died in clashes between the Turkish armed forces and the HPG in the Kulp (Pasur) district of the southeastern Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakır (Amed) on 16 November 2017, is being denied the family despite the place of her burial being known.
The family’s long struggle to retrieve the body began when Erkol’s father Hesin Erkol applied to Diyarbakır Gendarmerie Command on 17 March 2019 after her identity had been determined. He gave blood samples for DNA tests, and four months later received a phone call from the gendarmerie to go and retrieve his daughter’s body.
Erkol headed to Yeniköy Cemetery in Diyarbakır, where his daughter was buried. The Office of the Prosecution, however, decided that the grave should not be exhumed, citing as grounds that the identity of the three bodies buried there as being unknown.
Also in 2019, the family found out that an expert report determining the gender of the body had mysteriously disappeared.
Mercan Erkol’s family then applied to the Diyarbakır Chief State Prosecution for the case to be properly investigated and for the body be handed over to them. What followed was the discovery of two different graves, in the “nameless persons” section of Yeniköy Cemetery, in each of which three HPG fighters were buried. It was discovered that Erkol’s body was buried in one of these.
Although the only thing left to do at this point was to exhume the grave and hand the fighter’s body over to her family, the prosecutor dealing with the matter halted the process on 19 December 2020, citing documentation issues. No progress has been made since.
Speaking to Mezopotamya Agency, Hesin Erkol said that they were abused each of the eight times they went back to ask about his daughter’s body and that the authorities kept looking for excuses not to give the body to the family.
“They behave as if they don’t know who these bones belong to. They do know, but their intention is to abuse and oppress us. They want to upset the families,” Erkol said.
“What they do can’t hurt us. She is a martyr of the Kurdish people,” he said, as he vowed never to give up the struggle to retrieve her bones.
The trend to make families’ lives harder has intensified in recent years, with Turkish authorities arbitrarily refusing to hand over bodies to their loved ones. In one instance, the bones of a slain HPG fighter were sent to his family in a cargo box, prompting outrage among human rights defenders. As a further oppressive measure, the funerals of political figures never pass without heavy police presence and detentions in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast.