Letter from prison: nameless graves

Letter from prison: nameless graves
The journalist Nedim Turfent has been imprisoned for three and a half years.

1,549, 1,556, 1,627, 1,697 – these are numbers on the tombstones of unknown people in the eastern Turkish city of Van, where I am in prison. These countless people who set out on the path hoping for a different life are now just a number on a nameless tombstone. 

They are not considered to be refugees, asylum seekers or migrants, but they all have a history and they also have a name. War, hunger or poverty forced them to flee from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh. They lost their lives trying to get to Turkey via Iran. There are many obstacles to this long journey to Europe. Hatred, abuse, rape, extortion, robbery, abuse and death.   


The news of accidents involving overcrowded minibusses on Turkey‘s eastern border or the sinking of boats that have failed to cross Lake Van does not reach us. And then some freeze to death in the snow without anyone even noticing. 

When the snow melted in spring 2019, 26 bodies were found in the village of Başkale and 15 in Caldıran. And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. At the beginning of January, a group of 49 Afghans tried to get to Turkey via Iran and was almost frozen to death. To escape this fate, they betrayed themselves and called the security forces. Doctors were forced to amputate the fingers of some of the rescued children because they were frozen. 

There is still no sign of life from another group of refugees who disappeared in the snow on February 9th. But our conscience is calm! We don’t even notice! After all, there is no photo of all these people. Not like Aylan Kurdi’s little lifeless body washed up on the beach. But it doesn’t change their existence that we can’t see them. And maybe this spring will bring many more corpses to the surface. After a harsh winter and increasing irregular border crossings, and even worse picture is very likely. 

In an interview with the Mezopotamya news agency, Multecilerle Dayanışma Derneği (Association of Solidarity with Refugees) coordinator, Isil Erdogan, said that there are hundreds of these nameless graves in Turkey: “The numbers are increasing. The families want their relatives who have lost them to be at least buried. So at least they know that their children have not been devoured by wild animals, or that they have decayed somewhere forgotten. ” 

Whatever you think about it now; these people have not set out to seek adventure. They are declared illegal in the countries they struggle to reach and are exposed to hatred, xenophobia, and racism, all of which resound in a nationalist cacophony. The opening of the European border, which the EU is supposed to blackmail, has also led to an increase in the number of people coming from the East. That is why it is so important to see not only the people who are trying to cross the EU border in front of the cameras but also those at the borders in the east. 

Nedim Turfent wrote this letter on March 2nd. 

From the Turkish by Julia Lauenstein