At the end of January, speakers in a panel* informed the audience about the years-long delicate work carried out by individuals and groups to locate and identify the places where the remains of Kurds, killed in clashes or extrajudicial executions state forces, were buried. They also told about how state authorities try to prevent families from receiving the remains of their loved ones, thus denying them a proper burial, mourning and closure.
Derya Aydın, an anthropologist, explained that the corpses of the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who were killed in clashes with Turkish forces, had been buried in the remotest places and usually without many witnesses around, and the remains could be located and identified only through long, arduous processes.
“Kurdistan became a geography of violence after the mid 1980s, and particularly during the 1990s. There’s too much loss and death in that period,” Aydın said.
“None of the deaths in incidents are of natural causes, I’m talking about an armed conflict here. There were forcible disappearances, deaths under torture, and extrajudicial executions (…) Such incidents occurred till the 2000s, and actually continue to occur in many forms even in the present. There is also the issue of the desecration of the corpses of guerillas. For the families, the most dramatic outcome of this is being denied delivery of the corpses, and being denied a proper mourning. In some incidents, the families have not been able to take the corpses although they knew where they were.”
“We explain why these places and graveyards are places of memory. These graves, some in remote mountainous areas, one perhaps by the side of a brook, another next to a tree in a small village, all belong to people who died and were buried during the 1990s and 2000s in all kinds of places (…) Many had been taken into record in an archiving work carried out between 2013 and 2015. They were located and identified sometimes through an interview with a former village guard or a confessor, sometimes through a memoir belonging to a PKK fighter who was killed in the same incident, and sometimes through communications with jailed PKK members.”
Aydın stated that the work served to restore communal memory:
“So, after a thorough archiving work, the remains from the located graves were carried and buried in these cemeteries (…) Remains which had not been in any record for a long time were located, identified and received in this process. I can say that this worked served to restore memory.”
* The panel held on the 22th of January was the sixth and the last one in a series, organized by the Respect for the Dead and since January 2021. Murat Çelikkan, Gülsüm Elvan, Derya Aydın and Aslı Zengin attended the panel, moderated by Nesrin Uçarlar.