Can you smell this? It is the smell of war. It gets you on the throat, is everywhere”. The young man smells the air and invite us to do the same. War has a smell. Sour, intense. Is the smell left by the F16 flying over continuously. Is the smell of the car speeding away, of the dust of the street of this tormented city. Diyarbakir. The young man speaks in a soft tone of voice. He is calm. And one wonders how he can be considering that any day now from Ankara could come the news that he has lost his appeal and he could soon find himself in prison sentenced to 12 years for making propaganda for an illegal organization, namely the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). “No, I didn’t go to the march the other day – he says – because I am banned from going to demonstration for five years”.
War has sounds as well as a smell. It is not just the sound of the warplanes heading towards South Kurdistan (i.e. the Regional Federal Kurdistan in Iraq). And it is not even just the sound of the army and police helicopter flying low over the houses. Nor the noise of the tanks, and you can see many these days in Diyarbakir. War has sounds which are the broken words of those who tell the horrors of it.
Özgür Da?han (Sipan Amed) was 27 years old. He was a PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) guerrilla. He lost his life in one of the recent clashes. His photo is on a high cupboard in the warm living room. Gülistan and Mehmet Da?han sit on the sofa. With them two other daughters. “Özgür is our first son”, says Gülistan and glance at the photo. Her eyes fill with tears. She is a mother. It is bad enough for a mother to survive her child. But Gülistan Da?han was denied also to see her son for a last time. “They did not let me see the body – she says – they said I could not have cope with the sight of him. I could not have cope with what they had done to him”. She sights and adds, “But I saw the pictures, I saw them in the papers”. She stops eating the day she saw those pictures. “My life – she says – just deserted me that day. Now I am eating a little, but just because I have other children and I have to live for them”.
The pictures tells a terrible story, that of the last violation, the last insult. The body of Özgür Da?han was in fact horribly mutilated after the young man was dead. “I don’t know – says Gülistan Da?han – how a man can possibly do that to another man”. She looks and her husband, Mehmet, and tells him to speak. He does so, in a calm tone of voice. And yet what he is telling is appalling. It is a story of brutality, of inhuman violence. But it begins as a story of yet another child grown up in Kurdistan who could not sit and watch the violence and brutality going on and imposed on his own people.
“Özgür was not indifferent to what he was seeing around him. – says Mehmet Da?han – When he was a child, at the primary school, one of our relative, who was a guerrilla commandant lost his life. For Özgür the presence of a martyr in the family increased in interest in Kurdish history and in the history of the Kurdish liberation movement. He study electrical engineering but his real interest was history. He read all the available books on Kurdish history, from the old age to Seik Said revolt. And in the last period at home he made a wide research on the subject. He then became coming home with other friends. They were going in his room, closing the door and I know they were talking about the PKK, the struggle”.
Özgür joined the PKK when he was 20. He was a sensitive young man who could not stand and watch his people, friends, relatives getting abused by the Turkish authorities.
“We could see him again after he had joined the PKK. – says Mehmet Da?han – We went to the mountain to see him. We stayed 11 days. He came on the last day of our staying. But he said he would not stay with us long because he said he had things to do.”
Mehmet and his wife Gülistan constantly look at each other. The pain is unbearable. And it is pervading the room. “It was the last time we saw him”, says Gülistan. “Then for a period – continues Mehmet – we didn’t have any news. But indirect news were coming saying that he was fine. We knew he was not in Turkey. He probably was in Iran, in Iraq. We knew that any day the bad news could come. Every time we heard of clashes our hearts sunk. Is like living constantly with a heavy burden in your heart.”
And then that day came. Mehmet glances nervously at his wife. This is the hardest part of the story to tell. But he tells it in a quiet voice, clearly every second of those days is lived again every time he repeats it. And with it the pain. The eyes of this father may be dry now, but his heart is clearing still bleeding.
“When my son lost his life I went to Trabzon to identify him. You know Trabzon, on the Black Sea, is a fascist place. They don’t like the Kurds. They showed me about 10 pictures. The first photo was a young tiny boy. I said no, he was not him. Then they showed me another one. I could not make out his face. Then I saw him. There was blood on his face in the picture, his hair had been neatly combed and he was vaguely smiling. I said it was my son. Then I went to the Council of Forensic Medicine’s (ATK) morgue to identify the corpse. They brought my son’s body. His skull had been smashed and burnt. His body was completely black. I said I was not able to identify him. I talked to the prosecutor who was following up on the autopsy. He was about the same age as my son, and he was very nice to me. He was very respectful. He showed me pictures. There was not a blemish on his body in those pictures. He was dead, but his body was intact. It is natural for him to die in a clash. But later, I don’t know if they charred his body with gasoline, chemicals or some kind of acid. You wouldn’t even do this to an animal.” But when I asked the young prosecutor who had done that, he did not answer. He just shrugged, as to say, I cannot speak.”
But Mehmet can not accept the silence. He and his wife want words. They want to know why their son was tortured and mutilated in that horrendous way. They ask how is it possible for Europe to watch and remain silent in front of all this brutality. “Journalists – says Mehmet – should speak out. They should do their job and denounce what is going on this country. Because every day on these mountains the Turkish army is using chemicals against our sons and daughters. And this is not acceptable. It is not possible that the international community has nothing to say about that.”
Silence. Gülistan fights back her tears. Mehmet rises his head. “My son did not go out on the mountain because he was brain washed or a fool. This people of ours is a proud people. The Kurdish people suffered for centuries but kept its head up. And fought for its dignity and freedom. My father, and his father and his father before him fought for the freedom of our people. And today this struggle goes on.”
Silence again. Gülistan looks at Mehmet and at her daughters once again. “My life ended when my son died. But I go on. I have to go on.” One look again at Özgür, his fine face and looks.
It is for all the Özgür of this war that Mehmet and Gülistan speak out.