“The mothers Berfo and Emine have become contemporary versions of La Pietà, for the mothers whose wounds bleed anew every day,” writes Sara Aktaş for Yeni Özgür Politika.
The statue La Pietà (the Pity) was completed by Michelangelo in 1499 when he was just 24 years old, and is now located in St Petyer’s Basilica in the Vatican. One of the characters in La Pietà is that of Mary, mother of Jesus, holding the body of her son in her lap after he was taken down from the cross.
La Pietà has endured, and throughout history has been accepted as a symbol of the suffering of women and their children through pain, injustice or murder. This portrayal of Mary’s suffering due to torture applied to the body of Jesus has passed into history as a quintessential representation of the effects of punishment applied to the body.
Throughout the Middle Ages there was a belief in the sinfulness of the body and the need for punishment of that sin. After the 17th century the discipline of dominance over the human body became more sophisticated with new technologies, and by the beginning of the 19th century these took over as the basic tools of biopower. It is for this reason that Foucault deals with this period as the era of biopolitical control and power. The application of savagery to the human body became systematic: from schools to military institutions; from prisons to mental hospitals; it penetrated all areas of life.
This was also true for Turkey: martial law, blacklisting, detentions, imprisonment and torture in the prisons were all applied to opponents of the regime in the military coups which occurred roughly once a decade. These practices by Turkey became a model of the biopower Foucault discussed.
It would not be wrong to state that there have been thousands of Pietàs created, by innumerable methods, such as torture applied to the bodies of revolutionaries and opponents of the regime, disappearances in custody etc. in many countries including Nazi Germany, some Latin American countries such as Argentina and Guatemala, recently Sri Lanka and Kurdistan….
The image of mother Berfo and her son Cemil Kırbayır is an unforgettable one from the 1980 military coup. A day after the military coup on September 12, 1980, Cemil Kırbayır was taken into custody from his house in Okçu village in Ardahan province. His fate and whereabouts have been unknown since then. His mother still persists in her search for justice 40 years later.
A well-known more recent case is that of mother Emine, whose screams we hear every day. Emine witnessed the savage murder of her two sons and her husband in Suruç on 14 June 2018, and later the autopsy report of the savagery showed that all three of them had been lynched in the neighbourhood of the hospital. But no-one has been called to account or tried for this lynching, which occurred within sight of dozens of people.
Emine has become a part of history for her pertinacity and persistence in her pursuance of justice. While Mother Mary accepts her fate with silent dignity, the mothers Berfo and Emine are the opposite of Mother Mary with their tenacious stances, photographs of their sons grasped tightly in their hands, they are stubborn, bellicose, models of courage for all mothers seeking their rights, and they throw down the gauntlet to the oppressors.
There is no doubt that their historical strength to fight and their stubbornness as mothers standing up for their children spreads out from them them and reaches all mothers who take on the cases of their children.
As Jesus was on the point of dying on the rock of Golgotha, Mary watched her son with infinite pain. Mary suffered the greatest pain a mother can experience, she has been memorialised because of the pain she suffered in the face of oppression. The mother Berfo suffered the same pain, but she is in a different situation; she does not know the fate of her son and wants his bones. The mother Emine demands justice for her sons who were savagely murdered before her very eyes, the pain she suffers in the face of injustice spreads out in all directions.
The mothers Berfo and Emine have become contemporary versions of La Pietà, for the mothers whose wounds bleed anew every day. … And without a doubt Emine herself has become one of the most important benchmarks for preserving our humanity in standing up for the struggles of all mothers, strengthening the search for justice and adding our voices to theirs.