Aceldama is an ancient ossuary in the southern extremity of Jerusalem, near the ravine of Hinnom. The name is Aramaic, meaning "field of blood." And Hinnom is the root of Gehennom in Semitic languages, meaning "hellfire." The negative connotations associated with these locations could not be more obvious.
Aceldama was the traditional burial place of the gentiles, the unwanted, the unnamed, the "better to be forgotten than to have a gravestone." Aceldama was the field bought by Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus Christ; it was also in this field that Judas fell and his intestines burst, causing his death.
The death wells of southeastern Turkey are the Aceldama of Ergenekon. The wells dug by the state-owned Turkish Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS) near Silopi and other cities became the "sealed" ossuaries of the unwanted, the unnamed, the "un-graved" souls of missing Kurds. The Ergenekon investigation has refreshed hopes for the families of some 1,200 missing Kurds who disappeared in the 1990s during the heyday of terrorism. The new hope, though, is not for their safe return — their families are hoping that they will finally know the well they should visit as the eternal resting place of their loved ones.
After the Ergenekon investigation started, a key witness, Tuncay Güney, gave information about the network and pointed to the wells dug by BOTAS. Abdülkadir Aygan, a former Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) member who later worked for JITEM, made similar statements, giving detailed information about mysterious murders committed during that time. As the Ergenekon investigation was expanded further, it was suggested that some of the wells in the region should be opened, and the heads of bar associations of the southeastern Anatolian provinces demanded that "truth commissions" be established to uncover the mystery of the wells.
The local people and the relatives of the missing people strongly believe that the Ergenekon network is responsible for the inexplicable murders and disappearances of that era. As a matter of fact, many defendants at the Ergenekon trial had worked in the eastern and southeastern provinces. Nusirevan Elçi, the head of Sirnak Bar Association, expects at least 200 dead bodies to be found in the wells in and around Sirnak.
Hayat and Abdülaziz Altinkaynak, whose son Davut went missing in 1995, console themselves with only his photo because his mother burned all of his things two years after he disappeared.
"We know that the corpses of those who were killed in neighboring cities were buried in the wells around Sirnak because Sirnak was a maneuvering area for Ergenekon. Everything they did was tolerated there. Some families are still nurturing the hope that their children will come home some day. At least if they can see the corpses of their relatives, their terrible ordeal will be over. In this respect, they suffer trauma. We expect Zekeriya Öz [prosecutor of the Ergenekon case] to take an interest in this issue," he said.
Sezgin Tanrikulu, former head of Diyarbakir Bar Association, argued that any investigation dealing with the missing people should also deal with the 5,000 mysterious murders committed in that period. He claims that the perpetrators of those crimes were protected until today. "Indeed, without litigating those who were responsible for the disappearances, we cannot ensure social peace, and without seeing the corpses, the laments won’t end," he noted.
The lives that were destroyed in the wells of Ergenekon are not only the lives of those murdered, but also those of their relatives, whose agony is never ending. Their common wish is "justice" and a "grave to say prayers for." The families of the missing people that Today’s Zaman interviewed told both the stories of their missing relatives and the changes that took place in their lives after the disappearances. Many things have been said or written about the Kurdish issue, but few have been recorded about the psychology of the people. Today’s Zaman hopes that this series will close that gap, even if only partially.
"My son was suspended on a hanger [a torturing device]. He saw me. ‘Mom, give me water,’ he said," says Hayat Altinkaynak.
As she remembers the last time she saw her 13-year-old son, Davut, tears are rolling down her cheeks from her already crimson red eyes, her feeble voice turns into a cry and she lets go of the tears she has been suppressing:
"Ah… I couldn’t give water to my precious Davut."
Davut Altinkaynak, born in 1982, has been "missing" since his mother last saw him in Dargeçit Battalion Command in early November 1995. Also missing since 1995 are five other people who were detained along with him: Nedim Akyol and Seyhan Dogan, who were the same age as Davut; high schoolers Abdurrahman Olcay and Abdurrahman Coskun; and 20-year-old Mehmet Aslan. Süleyman Seyhan, 58, was detained at the same time as them, but he is not missing because his semi-burnt, dead body was found at the bottom of a well five months after his detention.
Davut’s story is told not by his mother, who says nothing but an occasional, "I could not give water to him," but by his father, Abdülaziz Altinkaynak:
"How we wish we could see him and he would be alive. But we know only his bones are left. How we wish the state would say, ‘Here are your son’s bones, take them to a grave.’ We would pay occasional visits to that grave for prayers and say, ‘This grave is ours.’"
Hayat and Abdülaziz Altinkaynak were very young when they married. They were married under berdel (the practice of exchanging brides between families to avoid wedding expenses). First, they lived in Çukurdere village, where Davut started attending school. But this lasted for only two years because the school was closed down and the village was evacuated. They had to move to another village, where their relatives lived. But this village, too, was evacuated and the Altinkaynak family migrated to Dargeçit with their four children, the eldest being Davut.
"We could hardly provide sustenance for ourselves. When the village was evacuated, we had to sell our farm animals at rock-bottom prices. For instance, we sold one goat for one-third of its market price. I was working at a construction site in Istanbul. Davut was shepherding," he says.
The events that led to disappearance of Davut began when two teachers and a businessman were abducted and killed in Dargeçit.
"We do not know whether this was done by the state, Ergenekon or the PKK. Later, their corpses were found. Entry and exit to the district were banned. Actually, there was hardly any access to Dargeçit in those days. I had come to Istanbul one day before [that incident], and then I visited my elder sister for condolence. Davut’s mother was at home. Fifteen days before, she had given birth. Investigators came and asked, ‘Where is your son?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ But they took her anyway," he says.
According to the narration by Davut’s father, his uncle’s son and Hayat’s brother were on the mountain (being on the mountain refers to involvement in PKK activities). Hayat was tortured, stripped naked and beaten. Hayat told investigators that Davut was afraid of her fury, so he may have gone to his uncle’s house. Davut was there. They took him and Hayat and went back to the battalion. They allowed Hayat to see her son on the torture hanger, and then let her go.
Davut Altinkaynak, born in 1982, has been ‘missing’ since his mother last saw him in Dargeçit Battalion Command in early November 1995. Davut’s father says his heart aches whenever he sees young boys from the village and continues, "At least they can give us his bones and we’ll be satisfied with his bones"
Abdülaziz points at one of his sons, all of whom are listening to us, and says: "This one was recently born. When his mother was detained, our neighbors cared for him. They gave cow’s milk to him. When his mother came back, he refused to be breastfed."
‘What have they gained by putting us through this sorrow?’
The house of the Altinkaynak family is noticeably clean, just like the houses of the families of other missing people. Their tongues may utter that their missing relatives are long dead, but their hearts never ignore the possibility that they might come back one day. So they want to make sure that if their disappeared relatives return, they will find a clean house and hot soup waiting for them.
"They should listen to their conscience. What have they gained by putting us through this sorrow?"
Davut’s father continues: "He was a silent and well-behaved child. If you would tell him to watch, say, a stone, he would sit on it and never leave it. He would smile all the time and all the villagers were happy with him. Anyone who encountered him would say good things about him."
Davut’s father pointed out that they submitted petitions to numerous authorities to find his son.
"They requested Davut’s photo. But in the village, there was no camera so there was no photo of him. There was only a photo showing him next to his uncles. I made copies of his picture from that photo," he explains.
They first told Abdülaziz they would send his son to Mardin and then, they said they had released him. "All this proved false," he says.
The father voices the questions he has been thinking about for years: "Suppose he went to the mountain. But there were seven people [detained]. If one of them had gone to the mountain, where are the others? The dead body of one of them was found burned in a well. His relatives told me secretly that there were other corpses in that well."
He frequently invokes God: "May God never allow anyone to suffer the loss of their children like us!"
Abdülaziz also complains about the lack of protection they have. "We would seek refuge with the state, but the state is shooting bullets at us. What can we say of this state? Those who did this say, ‘We are the state.’ If there was justice and our children were really guilty, then sentence them to 30 years in prison. But is this what they call Ergenekon, the killing of a 13-year-old child?" He stares directly at the door as if the words he fails to find would come through it.
Five or six months after Davut disappeared, the Altinkaynak family moved to Nusaybin. "Dargeçit was all dark to my eyes, and we thought we could no longer live there. The family of one of the missing people is still there, but all of the others moved to some other place. After our children were caught, no one in Dargeçit would talk to us. They did not want to greet us."
Almost all of the families of the missing people talked about this isolation, but almost none of them say that they were offended by their fellow neighbors, who would not talk to them.
"They were fearful. They were treating us as if we were foreigners. No one would say hello to us. We were not offended by them. The village guard and special forces squads were watching them, so they were afraid. This was in Dargeçit, where we lived," Abdülaziz emphasizes.
Davut’s father says his heart aches whenever he sees young boys from the village. "His peers are now 26-years-old. Today our family talks to each other about what might have been, realizing that if our son had not been taken away by the state forces, we might have seen him married. This pains us constantly. We will never forget this, even if we reach the age of 200. Let no one’s mother cry, and let no one make us cry. We said to them, ‘Give us his bones and we’ll be satisfied with his bones.’ They did not even give us his bones. I am not sure whether it was Ergenekon, Tansu Çiller, Mehmet Agar, or all of them," he says.
The only dominant object in the room, where slim cushions are lined up parallel to two opposing walls, is a photo of Davut decorated with yellow plastic flowers. Nothing remains from Davut as "his mother burned all of his things two years after he disappeared." (Zaman, AYSE KARABAT, March 9, 2009) http://www.info-turk.be/367.htm#Death