Yeraltı Notları, 06 Mayıs 2008

Sevgül Uludağ

 

Notes from a mass grave: Gerasa...

We find the third roundabout of Limassol – here there is a sign showing `To Ayia Phila` and we turn towards that... Ayia Phila is nothing... The real thing is Palodia and then, Gerasa...

We go towards the mountains, up from Limassol, in search of one of the mass graves where the `missing` Turkish Cypriots of Dochni, Zygi and Mari are buried.

This road gives me a strange feeling... We pass from Palodia and then a bit later, from Gerasa... Then we start climbing into the mountains... This is a place where ghosts roam, where no one passes, where no one can see anything...

There is the mass grave being dug... We stop to take a photo... Up on the hill, there is a bulldozer and a truck... Here it is so steep that I cannot comprehend how people have been buried here... What my eyes see, my heart refuses to believe...

84 Turkish Cypriots from the villages Dochni (Tashkent), Zygi (Terazi) and Mari (Tatlisu) were put on two different buses and were brought separately to the Palodia military camp. This was 15th of August 1974. The people were made to get off at the camp and asked to give their watches, wallets, identity cards, rings – anything that would identify them later... They were massacred there and only one person, Suat Kafadar, remained alive. He was wounded, barely 19 and escaped from the place of massacre, hiding in the trees and mountains, gradually making his way to the village near Limassol, Muttayaga (Mutluyaka). From there he managed to get to Episkopi or Acrotiri British military bases to tell the story of the massacre. They had to bring him to the northern part of the island by helicopter since the killers were around the bases, looking for him because they must have found out that one of those whom they killed remained alive... Then the Turkish side informed the UN and the UN went searching for a mass grave at Palodia... But before that, the British intelligence is said to have found out about the massacre and sent some Ghurkha soldiers to stay near the mass grave. Somehow they left and when the UN came, the military camp officials told them `Look, we have military maneuvers here and it’s getting late... Why don’t you come in the morning?`

This must have been a few days after the massacre... And that night the mass grave at the Palodia military camp was opened...

The massacred Turkish Cypriots were brought out of the mass grave and put on trucks... Some of them were brought to Gerasa, where there was a mine and were buried in the mine... But not all of them... Some of them were brought to the Prastio-Kellaki area to be buried there...

But there was no rest for those Turkish Cypriots who were buried in the mine at Gerasa... After some time – nobody knows how much later this happened – the place of burial was opened... The pretext could have been expanding the mine or maybe the human bodies surfaced over time... So again, these bodies were carried to this steep hill and thrown down by bulldozers, then later covered by truckloads of soil... Trucks and bulldozers passed over the bodies, spread out in this area... It is believed that the Pratio-Kellaki mass grave remains intact because maybe the second busload of Turkish Cypriots were buried there and no one remained alive from that bus to tell the story like Suat did...

With nausea, I find out in this way that an intact mass grave that has not been touched is some sort of `luck` for those who remain alive.

I tell this two the two kids of those days, who remained alive from the massacre of Palekythro (Balikesir)... A group of 3-4 armed Turkish Cypriots from the villages of Beykeuy and Cihangir (Epicho) had gone to Palekythro (Balikesir) during almost the same dates, to steal the milking machine of the cows that the Souppouris family owned... The Souppouris family did not want to give this machine – quite new in the area in those days. So they began shooting and made a massacre of 21 Greek Cypriots, mainly babies, women and children. Only four remained alive: the 10 year old Petros Souppouris who was wounded, his brother of 8, Costas, who was hiding, George Liasi who was 15 and wounded from his head and his big sister, Yanulla whose two year old son was killed in her arms... She was also heavily wounded and had to undergo treatment in Germany for six months. The Liasi family does not live in Cyprus and only come for visits... But I call George and also Petros, the other kids who remained alive, just like Suat, to tell the story of the massacre at Palekythro (Balikesir) to tell them how `lucky` we must feel because the families of those massacred and buried at Gerasa, might not get the whole bodies of their loved ones...

`Look! I hate to tell you this but we must consider ourselves lucky when we find a mass grave that has not been touched!...`

In Palekythro (Balikesir) I saw whole bodies of those massacred at the Souppouris farm... Digging finished, uncovering around 16 bodies... But how many bodies will come out of Gerasa is unknown – the bones are spread out and last week they discovered some more bones in another field in the same area, the skulls fractured, maybe because they passed bulldozers and trucks over them, in order to hide them again at that time...

Finally we reach the mass grave... At one place there is a bulldozer and a truck... The bulldozer takes some earth and puts it on the truck. On the truck, the archeologists are scanning the earth to see if there are any human remains. On the other side of the big mass grave, other archeologists are digging the earth with their hands and with small tools.

It is more than 35 degrees and the heat is stifling... Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot archeologists and anthropologists are working together under the supervision of a Canadian expert. All of them are wearing long sleeved shirts and have caps on their heads to protect themselves from the sun.

A young archeologist says `Those who have an allergy about the sun or the earth cannot work in the digging...` Under the shade of two olive trees, there are some buckets and a coffee machine... This is place where the ghosts roam and sometimes perhaps the archeologists try to recover by having a cup of coffee under the little shade of the olive tree.

Another archeologist says `Actually we are lucky because we are post-war children. We were all born after 1974... Do you imagine how one might have felt if he or she was digging these graves and who had had the experience of the wars? We did not live those days so we can be more professional` she explains.

When they graduated from archeology, I’m sure it did not cross their minds that they would be looking for the bones of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot victims of massacres but now they are happy because they know that this is a very bold step towards building our common future together... The Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot archeologists and anthropologists work together in two joint teams under the guidance of foreign experts. Some are working in the northern and some in the southern part of our island, in search of our `missing`...

The Canadian forensic archeologist and anthropologist Megan had worked in Bosnia before. She says that they will continue working in Gerasa for at least one more month or six weeks. She coordinates the teams together with Andreas from Colombia.

`If we tried to dig this area by our hands, it would take us about four years` she explains. That’s why, sometimes they also use the bulldozer.

Another young archeologist – all of them are around 26 years old – explains that she had felt very bad when she uncovered for the first time, human remains...

`It was as though I had killed this person and I started crying... But one of my friends, helped me. She gave me tips to survive... Now, when I find a `missing` person, I feel that I give him or her new life. Because the `missing` persons are neither dead, nor alive – they are in a twilight zone... But they did not deserve to be buried in such a place...`

Another young archeologist says that she had a completely different idea about `missing` before she started working in the digging. `I saw that the images in my mind were quite different than the actual reality of this work. Before, I used to think that most of the `missing` were alive... But I saw beyond the stories here. When you take a skull in your hand and you see a bullet whole in the skull, you realize that the images of the `missing` in your mind don’t match the reality here...`

Another archeologist says `The human remains that I found do not affect me... What affects me more is finding their personal belongings – a comb, a watch, a mirror, a cross... You look at inside the ring you found and a date is inscribed – maybe that person was married 3-4 months before 1974... These affect me more` he says...

Talking with these young archeologists `normalizes` the situation and changes the `absurd` atmosphere in the `abnormal` place we are at... The tears would come later tonight... I would sit crying over the pain of those human beings buried in this mass grave, imagining what sort of horror they must have gone through...

My husband would say `What’s wrong with you?`

And I would answer him, `I am coming from a mass grave...`

He would understand then and would be silent. He would not try to console me. He would do nothing. Because he would know that I would have to deal with this pain alone... Next morning I would recover to run, to speak, to find out other stories, treating my own traumas, recovering because there are too many stories to be told and they all wait for me to uncover them... But tonight, I will sit alone and cry until my tears run out for the moment...

21.6.2007

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