Tuncay Şur • A Topography of Death and Funeral: Kurdistan


My mother lay in the street for exactly seven days… None of us slept in case dogs or birds came over her. She remained there and we felt dead 150 meters away…The state grieved us as much pain as one can grieve another. Imagine that your mother stay in the middle of the street for seven days, exactly seven days… one easily cannot stay okay with it, one cannot…”1

This paper intends to analyse the terror which has been undergone since the Suruç massacre on June 20th, 2015 in Turkey and Kurdistan, both of which have turned into a topography of death and funeral, within a different perspective as regards the power the state has asserted over the dead. Doubtlessly, the period in question exceeds the limits of this paper. That is why the paper has the intention of focusing only on some stories that are known, or better, have gained public visibility due to the attacks on their dead bodies amongst other thousands killed in the military operations following the curfew declared in the Kurdish cities and towns on August 16th, 20152. I will address to a new aspect of the form of hegemony the Turkish State has taken on in Kurdistan, pursuant to the concept of “necro-politics,” coined by Achille Mbembe. It is necessary to note that the concept Mbembe put into use is not one which excludes colonialism and bio-politics in relation to it; on the contrary, they are interrelated. In this paper will the forms of Turkish State’s hegemony in Kurdistan be undertaken in this respect.

Suruç victims

The form of power the Turkish State has asserted over dead bodies in Kurdistan is not actually a new phenomenon. The practice of exerting hegemony over the dead bodies of the Kurds (more often those who are rebellious) through appropriation and/or extermination was applied to the leaders of the Kurdish rebellions subsequent to the proclamation of the republic. For instance, after the Sheikh Said Rebellion, which resulted in failure, Said and his 46 comrades were executed and buried in a place which is still not known. Similarly, such leaders of the Azadi Movement as Cibranlı Halit Bey, Yusuf Ziya Bey and Seyid Abdülkadir were buried in an unknown place after their execution. The predicament of Seyid Rıza, who was executed in 1938, and his friends is alike; and many PKK guerrillas who have been killed since 1984 have ended up in the same way.

The Power of Dead Body or The Power over Dead Body

The government’s or the powers’ hegemony over dead bodies lean upon further back than modern hegemony theories. In another words, a way to dominate living bodies is to create hegemony over dead bodies, to keep them under control. Since the age of Ancient Greece, the government’s seizing over dead bodies has continued. One of the most dramatic examples of this is the Solon laws. Solon brought significant prohibitions over dead bodies and post-mortem rituals. For example, in the section specifying mourning and funeral rituals of women, he forbade women (mourning women) from acting in vengeance (clamor, tearing hair out etc.) during funerals; sacrificing oxes in the graveyards was forbidden. It was also forbidden to bury the dead robed with more than three different clothes, and to visit the grave except for the family member’s (quoted by, Yalçınkaya, 2016: 65). It is possible to see a similar story in Sophocles’ Antigone in 497-406 B.C; several centuries before Antigone, Hector’s dead body “carcass” was meant to be fed to dogs by Achilles (Alpkaya, 2016: 165). The power’s inspection over dead bodies also sustains within the modern hegemony systems. According to Alpkaya, the power takes inspection over the dead through the related sections of the constitution and laws, monopolizes the seizure of the dead body, “interferes our dead” (2016:170). The government’s power over dead bodies, in other words, teasing dead bodies, has almost become an administration policy. Various similar examples of the early republican period almost became an application of common occurrence in Kurdistan of 1990s. Numerous PKK guerrillas’ dead bodies gone missing (got lost), unidentified murders (cited by the Kurdish people as ‘murders by notorious agents’) can be read as government’s disciplining of the living via death. In the 90s’ Turkey, the state’s attack on the dead shows great resemblance with the period discussed in this paper. In 1991, Vedat Aydın, the Diyarbakır branch chairman of People’s Labor Party (Turkish: Halkın Emek Partisi, HEP) was murdered by an unidentified agent; however, his funeral ceremony was blocked by law-enforcement forces. Attacking on the funeral ceremony, law-enforcement forces killed tens of civilians; so, entombing of the dead accordingly to the rituals was blocked by the state. In this example, the state’s power over the dead body manifests itself as blocking the funeral ceremony; in another example (of Mehmet Sincar, MP of Democracy Party, DEP, from Mardin), it comes to light in the way of the state’s direct appropriation of the mortal is still at work. On September 4th 1994, Mehmet Sincar was murdered by armed assault in Batman; his mortal remain was kept in the hospital morgue and wasn’t given to his family or the party. Not allowing for a funeral ceremony, the state made security forces bury him without his families’ and party’s attendance. The house where a condolence ritual was arranged for the dead abducted from his family and the party, was bombed; it is a clear indicator of the fact that the power over the dead body tries to dominate the mourning, as well. Throughout the 1990s, even though the state’s attacks on dead people and funeral ceremonies in Kurdistan were practiced as hegemony form, that situation created a contra-power, challenge practice with itself. The challenge growing over funeral and burial ceremonies can be read as a challenge of dead bodies. In the early 1990s, the emergence of serhildan (mass civil demonstrations) as a total challenge against the state’s terror over funerals can be read as a contra-hegemony practice challenging the hegemony over the dead bodies. At this point, the dead body itself becomes a political subject, and funeral ceremonies have been taken into a political context instead of being only a ritual of farewell from the material world. The attempts to take over the space, memory and, indirectly, the living under control through intervention to dead bodies and funerals create a contra-power as a reflex of protecting the dead body and funeral. In this way, the colonization of the body and the mind by the state is violated.

Photos : Sara A. de Ceano-Vivas Núñez | Qamishlo, 18 de Mayo del 2017

From Biopolitics to Necropolitics

The power in the modern power apparatuses based on the rational mind, computability and social engineering is not limited to politics and economics under control in a certain geography; it includes, in Foucauldian understanding, taking over bodies and minds and colonizing them, too. The colonialist activities in the 19th and 20th century were based on modern science. Through ethno-statistics and mappings essentially stemming from ethnographic studies, populations were divided into race-based categories and thus intended to be designed with the help of such sciences as sociology. Similar methods have been used in certain practices in Europe and Turkey. The aim of this section is to focus on the state of exception that has become ordinary via the forms of hegemonic power, the right of the hegemon to kill and keep alive, and in this context, on the whole the lebensraum under the control of power. According to Foucault, bio power is a form of power that operates on the differentiation of who should live and who should die. This kind of power form causes it to describe itself, through differentiating between the quick and the dead, in the space over which it keeps control biologically. And this also makes it a must to divide the population into categories (quoted, Mbembe, 2016: 231). The categorization of the population by bio power is visible in the race-based categorization the most. To understand the operations of this race-based categorization, it would be enlightening to look at the practices of the colonial administrations. In terms of practices in the world and Turkey3, that hegemony takes place in an explicitly unlawful area is witnessed. In this unlawful area of hegemony, bio power and blockade-bare violence (Fanon, 2013: 66) coexist (Mbembe, 2016: 241). The right of the hegemon over the colonized to kill is so arbitral that in Fanons words, “you are born at random, and die at random in a random place” (2013: 45). It is certain that this form of death is frequently not a natural death, but an act of killing by the hegemon. In a colony, the hegemon is not subject to any law, and there is no legal obligation killing has. However, as the colonizer knows that the colonized cannot be administered only by killing, the former insists on the invasion of the space and the reproduction of it. Accordingly, the colonizer is not content with keeping the colonized under control and/or killing; at the same time, intends to destroy the history of the colonized (Biko, 2014: 89). This act of the colonizer brings about the control of time and space.

As Mbembe puts it, in modern era the colonising invasion is “different from the early modern era invasions in that it combines discipline with bio-politics and necro-politics” (2016: 247). The late modern colonising invasion which Mbembe conceptionalises on the example of Israel’s invading Palestine is in a content composed of combination of different hegemonic forms. This new colonizing invasion consisted of “the disciplinarian powers, the bio political and necro-political ones” has taken on a new state of hegemony. In the new state, “the blockade itself” functions “as a military institution” (2016: 251).

Entire populations are the target of the sovereign. The besieged villages and towns are sealed off and cut off from the world. Daily life is militarized. Freedom is given to local military commanders to use their discretion as to when and whom to shoot. Movement between the territorial cells requires formal permits. Local civil institutions are systematically destroyed. The besieged population is deprived of their means of income. Invisible killing is added to outright executions (Mbembe, 2016, 251).

When this new invasion form Mbembe defines is contextualized in accord with the curfews in Kurdistan, it is certainly not possible to encounter any difficulties. In this new form of hegemony, the power considers control mechanisms over the living bodies as of less importance while it establishes the hegemony through death. In a necro-political power, disciplining the body is replaced with the extermination of it, and in its core, the essential point is but to kill. In the late modern era, Mbembe defines life as follows;

To live under late modern occupation is to experience a permanent condition of “being in pain”: forti ed structures, military posts, and roadblocks everywhere; buildings that bring back painful memories of humiliation, interrogations, and beatings; curfews that imprison hundreds of thousands in their cramped homes every night from dusk to daybreak; soldiers patrolling the unlit streets, frightened by their own shadows; children blinded by rubber bullets; parents shamed and beaten in front of their families; soldiers urinating on fences, shooting at the rooftop water tanks just for fun, chanting loud offensive slogans, pounding on fragile tin doors to frighten the children, conscating papers, or dumping garbage in the middle of a residential neigh-borhood; border guards kicking over a vegetable stand or closing borders at whim; bones broken; shootings and fatalities a certain kind of madness (2016; 265).

If we did not know that the words above in the quotation were written for Israel blockading Gaza, we would probably think that Mbembe might have penned it down for the events that have taken place in the last two years.

Zehra Doğan’s drawing
Fighter woman killed, exposed naked in the street

The Subjecthood of Life to Death in Kurdistan

Though the strategies of the Turkish state for hegemony differ in different periods, they follow an articulate course based on the continuity between the Ottoman modernization and the Turkish nation-state. The projection of the Ottoman modernization in Kurdistan in the 19th century has the aspects of removing the decentralization and strengthening the central structure. This period, parallel to the modern colonization practices, witnessed the Ottoman practices of colonization as a way of establishing hegemony over Kurdistan. Nonetheless, this colonial practice is not an expansionist but a protective one”; in other words, it came into being for the protection of remaining lands (quoted from Deringil, Ünlü 2014: 404). Deringil’s analysis does not mean that the Ottoman colonial practices in Kurdistan do not correspond to those of modern colonization. Rather, it is possible to see almost all moments of modern colonization in the Ottoman politics in Kurdistan. If we take the European/Western (especially the French) modernization as the inspiration for that of the Ottoman, it is noticed that the colonial apparatuses based on the hegemony of the rational mind, predictability, controllability were employed in the Ottoman Kurdistan. As in the French or the British colonies, the population living in the Ottoman Kurdistan were defined rudimentary and the apparatus which was in fact colonial was justified as a “civilization” project4. In modern Turkish nation-state, too, the hegemonic relations in Kurdistan (divided into four now) have operated, to a great extent, as the continuation of the Ottoman politics. The period between 1924-1938 which can be defined as the first period of Kurdish uprisings against the Turkish nation-state is at the same time the period when the state shaped the hegemonic relations in Kurdistan. Both starting the last years of the Ottoman Empire and following the foundation of the Turkish nation-state, the understanding of hegemony in Kurdistan made its presence felt as the process of “both a perpetual invasion and the binary colony/colonization in terms of disciplining bodies-minds” (Ünlü, 2014: 408). In fact, according to Bezwan, as regards the fact that the state of emergency in Kurdistan as a form of the republic’s administration has become ordinary, a new “geo-ethnic” form of administration has been established in Kurdistan which is governed with special government apparatuses (2015: 44). The states of emergency in Kurdistan declared by the Turkish state are continuous though at intervals. The regime of the state of emergency starting with the Inspectorates-General (1927-1952) continued through such practices as the OHAL region (1987-2002) (Bezwan, 2015). In respect thereof, in Bezwan’s words, we see the strategy of two state and two hegemonies develop. Assuming that the modern colonial practices (here, Kurdistan is in the place of an internal colony) and biopolitical practices have hitherto coexisted together at the core of the state’s hegemonic strategies, I want to put the emphasis on the strategy for hegemony in the new period.

What I mean by the new period is the indefinite curfews and blockade period practiced within the scope of these curfews. I am of the opinion that such concepts as “necro-politics” and the modern occupation suggested by Mbembe to explain the new period can be more explanatory. The period of blockade in Kurdistan goes far beyond the limits of this paper. One of the main reasons of this situation is that, its effects continue and, at the same time, the studies over blockade are insufficient; and more importantly, Turkey does not have the financial provisions to make studies on this subject (at least in the field). For this reason, in this section of the paper, I will try to discuss the blockades over the significant examples subject to public discussions and the data taken from reports the civil rights organizations and/or political parties prepared. According to the report of Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), within the period between 16 August 2015 and 20 April 2016, at least 65 curfews were announced in at least 22 canters in Kurdistan (2016). According to the mutual data of Human Rights Association (İHD) and TİHV, within this period, 1425 died, 2583 were injured and more than 2 million people could not maintain their daily activities. Moreover, hundreds of thousand people were forced to migrate. According to the findings of İHD and THİV, more than six thousand people were exposed to torture or cruel treatment5. In the government’s new form of hegemony gaining significance with the blockades in Kurdistan, states of exemption and siege has become perpetual and, from now on, its bio-politics upon the basis of getting the population under control-discipline has not got the primary importance. In this new situation, the underlying concept is “subjugating life to the power of death” with Mbembe’s quote. The perpetual siege and death have become the hegemony in and of itself. The hegemony over the extent of space has turned into the occupation of space through destruction; bio-politic inspection over people has turned into the extermination and appropriation of people. This new hegemony apparatus has turned into a mechanism where bio-politics and necro-politics process at the same time without stopping. Still, the power is not content with its hegemony it establishes through death, and keeps torturing the dead in the traditional line.

Taybet İnan (Mother Taybet) who was 57 and had 11 children was killed by the Turkish security forces on December 19th 2015 in Silopi, Şırnak. Her dead body remained in the street for seven days and was buried after 23 days. Halit İnan, her husband, tells;

She turned to me, and I to her. She said ‘Don’t come, or they will shoot you, too.’ I said to her ‘I’ll throw you a rope; if you can grasp it, I’ll pull and save you.’ I came back home, got a rope, made a knot and threw at her. I asked ‘Did you get it?’ In this while, they opened fire and I immediately found myself under fire. Suddenly my hand got numbed. It was shot. Taybet asked ‘Did you get shot?’ and I said ‘No.’ She said, looking at me, “I’m cold and I am very thirsty.’ I was desperate and didn’t know what to do. There was a wire, and I was thinking of throwing it at her when I heard Sabri screaming. I turned back when I heard the scream.”6

Although her family got in touch with the security forces and health units more than once for taking Taybet İnan’s dead body away, they got no result. The flexibility that can be found even in law of war for the enemy to pick up their dead and their injured ones was not shown for a woman of 57 whose body lay in the street in Silopi. According to what Mehmet İnan, her son, reports, they attempted to take the dead body of his mother with “white flags” more than once, yet, whenever they attempted to go out with white flags, the forces opened fire at them. Mehmet İnan explains the torture done to his mother with the example of Israel-Palestine: “The Israeli soldiers let one be buried after they kill him or her, but here the state does not even let us take the dead, let alone burying.”7 Mehmet İnan’s comparison is interesting in that as is reported in the lengthy quotation above, Israel’s acute invasion of Palestine and the blockades in Kurdistan dramatically resemble each other. That the state keeps Taybet İnan’s dead body in the street for seven day and tries to shoot those who attempt to take the dead body with white flags means to “discipline” the survivors. This form of power that kills and is not satisfied with keeping the dead in the street operates during the burial process as well. Taybet İnan’s dead body could be buried after exactly 23 days and her eleven children were prevented from attending the funeral. During this period, the Ministry of Justice made a change in medical regulations and decreed that when the dead, if identified, were not picked up in three days, they would be buried under the warrant of local authorities8. This way, the state, besides the power over the right to live, got the right to rule over the dead and asserted its power over funeral ceremonies and mourning, too.

Ali Bozan’s short film…
Please desactivate French subtitles to see English subtiles.

Another example of the torture and terror of the state towards the dead is the scene where a dead body was tied to the back of an armour-plated vehicle and dragged in the streets. One other example is that of ten-year old Cemile Çağırga who was killed by the Turkish security forces while playing in the yard. Her mother tells how she had to keep her daughter’s body in the deepfreeze so that the body would not smell, and she adds: “we are in despair and waiting for our turn to die. Let alone those who go out, they shoot whoever stares out of the window”9 The resemblance between this acute blockade and the colonial invasion is quite coincidental and life has come to the synonym for waiting for the turn to die. In another example, there is a female guerrilla fighter of PKK (Kevser Ertürk/Ekin Van) who was killed in a conflict in Varto, Muş and whose naked dead body was photographed and uploaded in social network sites. The dead body of Hacı Lokman Birlik who killed by the Turkish soldiers was tied behind an armored vehicle and dragged on the streets. His videos and photographs uploaded in the social network sites.

In these examples, it is clear that the state is not satisfied with killing only, anymore, and the message conveyed for the survivors through the dead bodies is that they too can experience the same. In other words, it is implied that there are no limits of the “power” and the “cruelty” of the state. The invading state with its acute blockade, as is stated, does not find it enough to subjugate the world of the quick, and establishes hegemony over the world of the dead. In other words, in this acute blockade and invasion, the distance between the quick and the dead has become vague and a ground for hegemony through the intertwining of life and death. The quick have been dehumanized while the dead have come to be defined as “ the carcass,” not the corpse. In Cizre, Şırnak, that tens of people were massacred in a basement of a block indicates that the state has come to a point in which it establishes hegemony only through death, employing the practices of mass killing. According to the Cizre Report by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), from three basements and ruins in the Cudi and Sur districts of Cizre, 177 dead bodies, 24 of whom were children, were revealed (HDP, 2016: 91). It has been reported that most of those who were killed in the basements had dissected bodies, and moreover, it has been confirmed by human rights organizations and witnesses that many corpses consisted of bones only. Şerife Duymak who lost her husband in one of the basements tells about the process of taking her husband’s dead body as follows:

There were neither bones nor flesh left from the dead body. They gave us one or two bones of coal-black colour in a trash bag. When we put the dead in a coffin and brought it back, at 2-3 police search points – the families were behind the funeral coach- they shook the bones under our very eyes in case there was something else in the bag. ‘Hey hewar e ji Xwedê!’ (Almighty Allah! Come to our aid!) they shook the coffin at each point. At each control point, they made us wait for about half an hour. Even though we came in company with a panzer and the coffin had already been controlled, they shook the bones again at the last search point and put their hands inside the coffin. They played the mehter march and “Ölürüm Türkiyem” [I’d die for Turkey]. They were howling. The Police forces in the Cizre entrance only let one person for each funeral. As our cousin’s house was close to the town center, we chose him to go with the funeral. They took my husband’s body accompanied by mehter marches. They released us after the funeral was taken. Then, we went to my daughter’s house (HDP, 2016:147).

There are tens of other similar examples that have been reported. It is also known that there are dead bodies of those killed that still cannot be found. In Şırnak, the dissected body parts revealed10 from the ruins near the river Tigris show the magnitude of the power’s death system.


In an event of perpetual invasion and blockade resulting from colonialist and bio-political practices, a state aims to create hegemony over space, time, memory and body at the same time. This perpetual state of blockade has become a topography of torture. Solidified over death, the hegemony carries death to a further political point than itself. In this paper, the application of this hegemony form within the aspect of powers is discussed; however, another contra-power form can show up in a similar way, the body turning into a political freedom object, destroying (sacrificing) itself, moving itself to political agent’s position. As it is the case in Palestine, it seems possible to mention a contra practice turning death into agency, into key of freedom. In this situation, death can find its place on a desired ground instead of being scaring and evading. In this short paper, I tried to give a look to the government’s perpetual blockade and invasion practices in Kurdistan over certain stories gaining a place (somehow becoming visible) in the media due to the horrible tortures they were exposed to. However, in Kurdistan, where death has become anonymous, the dead, whose name is unknown, who has no grave, for whom a mourning cannot be done and in this way, “not counted as existent”, who does not gain a place in “the mourning hierarchy”, the ones who have their death in indefinite statistical data and the ones whose life-death status unknown are still waiting for their story to be unfolded.

Tuncay Şur
Doctoral candidate in political science, EHESS, Paris, France


• Alpkaya, Gökçen (2016), Anayasa ve Yasalar Karşısında Ölü-Beden ve Ötekiler, Evrim C. İflazoğlu&A.Aslı Demir (der), Öteki Olarak Ölmek, Ankara: Dipnot Yayınları, 163 172.
• Bezwan, Naif (2015), Kuzey Kürdistan’da Devletin Değişen Savaş Stratejileri, A. Işık ve diğerleri (der), Doksanlarda Kürtler ve Kürdistan, içinde, İstanbul: Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları, 43-48.
• Biko, Steve (2014), Siyah Bilinci, çev, Barış Ünlü, Ankara: Dipnot Yayınları.
• Fanon, Frantz (2013), Yeryüzünün Lanetlileri, çev, Şen Süer, İstanbul: Versus Yayınları.
• Mbenme, Achille (2016), Nekro Siyaset, çev, Abdurrahman Aydın, Evrim C. İflazoğlu&A.Aslı Demir (der), Öteki Olarak Ölmek, Ankara: Dipnot Yayınları, 223-270.
• Ünlü, Barış (2014), Kürdistan/Türkiye ve Cezayir/Fransa: Sömürge Yönetimleri, Şiddet ve Entelektüeller, G.Çeğin&İ. Şirin (der), Türkiye’de Siyasal Şiddetin Boyutları içinde, İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 403-434.
• HDP, (2016). The Cize Report, April, 17, Ankara.
1 ‘Black’ bairam in the house of Mother Taybet of whose body remained on the ground for 7 days (T24) (Access: 10.08.2017).
2 Throughout the curfews, according to the data of Human Rights Association (İHD) and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), 1425 ceased, 2583 injured, (Evrensel)(Access: 10.08.2017).
3 For a comparison between Algeria/France and Kurdistan/Turkey, see also; Ünlü, 2014.
4 The colonization of Kurdistan by the Ottoman Empire corresponds the same period with the colonization of Algeria by France. For the evaluation of the similarities between these two examples, see also; (Ünlü 2014: 408-421).
5 The result of curfews: 1425 ceased, 2583 injured, (Evrensel(Access: 10.08.2017).
6 ‘Black’ bairam in the house of Mother Taybet of whose body remained on the ground for 7 days (T24) (Access: 10.08.2017).
7 Taybet İnan’s dead body were in street for 4 days, those who tried to take her body were shot (Evrensel), (Access: 14.08.2017).
8 The Ministry has found the solution: the governers will bury the dead (Diken(Access: 14.08.2017).
9 A message from the mother of Cemile whose body stayed in a freezer; Give your blessings (Diken) (Access: 15.08.2017).
10 Human body parts thrown to the Dicle River were found (Evrensel) (Access: 16.08.2017).

Featured image: Sara A. de Ceano-Vivas Núñez | Qamishlo, 18 de Mayo del 2017

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