Life was good in Gülyazi, I heard. Poor and not easy, but good. Happy, even. I wish I had been here a year and a day ago, so I could have experienced it myself. But a year and a day ago, I, like many other people, had never heard of a place called Gülyazi, a town in the Uludere district.
Everything changed last year. With a bombing in which 34 villagers were killed, twenty of them children. They were smuggling, like the people of this region have done for decades to earn a living, and were ‘mistaken for PKK fighters’. Thirty four bodies ripped to pieces and burned beyond recognition – they were smuggling petrol.
Who gave the order to bomb?
It is as I predicted after the bombing: the state has done nothing but cover up the Uludere massacre. A commission was set up in parliament – a subsidiary commission of the parliamentary human rights commission – and several times they announced a date for release of the report with their findings, but the report never came and has now been postponed to January. But in no way can I pat myself on the back for predicting this. Anybody could have known this in advance, because till now the state has never answered any questions about murders they have committed, now or in the past.
That’s why my next prediction is easy too: even if the report is ever published, it will give the villagers none of the answers they need. Where did the intelligence come from, who interpreted it and how, and based on which information was the decision taken to bomb the smugglers? How come the one(s) ordering the bombing didn’t know that the smugglers were on their way again, like it was always notified to the gendarmes? Or did they know? Who gave the order to bomb? Why did it take so long before help came to the place where the bombing happened, to try to save the lives of the few people who didn’t instantly die?
A sincere show of regret
I visited Gülyazi right after the bombing – read the publications of those days here – and I came back for two weeks in spring, and I returned again for the Feast of Sacrifice, in October. And now I am here again, to commemorate the loss of 34 lives and to report about what’s happening.
I have seen no healing in this year. The people don’t get the chance to heal. The state is scratching the wound open over and over again. Not only because they don’t give any answers to all the questions, but also because cruel things have been said by several members of the government (read an example here), no sincere apology has come. The damages the state says it has paid were not accepted by the people. Culturally, it is not necessarily a bad idea to apologize for and compensate a loss with money, but it only works when it is accompanied by a sincere show of regret, and with opening up.
What has struck me this year and what really makes me so sad is how the bombing has affected everybody in the village in so many ways. For example, in October I talked to a 17 year old boy who I had talked to earlier that year as well. I just wanted to chat a bit, so I asked how school was going. He had to quit school, he said. He couldn’t concentrate anymore after what happened, he failed all his classes and he had to pay a lot of money before the principle of the school would allow him to do the same school year again. His family didn’t have that kind of money.
This week, something similar happened with another boy I talked to. He also quit school, like many of his friends, he said. None of these young students can concentrate on their school work anymore, and at the state school they attend the bombing and the loss of their close friends is never discussed. All these kids (still) go smuggling every now and then to contribute to the family income. That’s what hits me when I see them walking in the village: it was kids just like this who died. It must be burning inside them too: it could have been me. How can you deal with that as a young man of 16, 17, 18 years old?
A huge field surrounded by mountains
‘The boys are dead’. That’s what a young woman who just turned 18 told me earlier this year. Again, I was just trying to chat a bit, and after she told me she had just turned 18 I asked her if there was any wedding in the picture. ‘I will never marry’, she said. ‘All the boys are dead’. One of the boys who died in the massacre was her brother. He was only 13 years old.
Since the massacre, no weddings have been celebrated. People get married, but only in front of the imam, not officially, and there is no party. I have seen a video of a traditional wedding here, taken before the massacre. Picture a huge field surrounded by mountains, and then picture a huge, huge circle of people doing the traditional Kurdish wedding dance. The men in traditional costume, the women too, in brightly coloured glittering dresses. All in the past now. I tried to figure out when weddings will be celebrated again. Nobody had an answer. ‘Never?’ I asked. They just don’t know, but for now, they cannot picture ever celebrating a wedding again.
Just like the women may forever wear black. The brightly coloured skirts and shirts that they got as presents from the wife of opposition leader Kilicdaroglu, who visited Gülyazi this year with some members of the women’s branch of the opposition party, are in cupboards now and won’t ever be worn. Some women were actually a bit pissed off after the women of the party left: do they actually think we wear skirts with orange and yellow flowers?
I don’t know if Gülyazi will ever really heal. The state is forgetting about it slowly, as it has forgotten about all the other unsolved murders it has committed in the past in this region. But the people will never ever forget. It changed their lives forever. They do find some comfort though. I asked Pakize (29), who lost her husband Osman (32) in the bombing and was left to look after Özkan (12), Esra (11), Sinem (10), Hülya (8) and Mahmut (6), how she deals with the pain, and if she still has any hope of ever getting answers. She said: ‘I pray for it. That gives me some peace. Allah knows everything’.