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The peo­ple you see on the pho­to are Hur­muz (71 years old) and Şimu­ni Diril (65), an Assyr­i­an-Chaldean cou­ple who went miss­ing on Jan­u­ary 11 2020.

On March 21 2020, Şimuni’s life­less body was found by fam­i­ly mem­bers in a riv­er near their vil­lage, on the 70th day fol­low­ing the disappearance.

As for Hur­muz, despite search­es, cries and tears by his fam­i­ly, he has not been found in over 2 years now…

For this Syr­i­ac cou­ple, mem­bers of the least numer­ous among the dis­crim­i­nat­ed and oppressed minori­ties in Turkey, life was any­thing but a peace­ful­ly flow­ing river…

For­mer­ly their vil­lage was known as Meer, in Chaldean. Renamed, it is now called “Kovankaya”, in Turk­ish. It was thus “turk­i­fied” as were the names of many oth­er places hav­ing served or still serv­ing as homes to minor­i­ty peo­ple, con­stant­ly held in Turcity’s line of sight. Assim­i­la­tion, destruc­tion of cul­tures and lan­guages oth­er than Turk­ish, nega­tion of the exis­tence of peo­ples also car­ries over to vil­lage sign posts and street names…

Meer village Cumhuriyet

Beytüşşe­bap vil­lagers forced into exile are look­ing for a way to return to their coun­try. (Cumhuriyet news­pa­per archives) Click to enlarge.

Meer is locat­ed in the Beytüşşe­bap dis­trict of the south­east­ern province of Şır­nak. The vil­lage was one of the 14 such vil­lages set ablaze whose inhab­i­tants were forced to move. Why? The excuse then was sim­ply the vil­lagers’ refusal to become ‘guards” (koru­cu) serv­ing the State as both mili­ti­a­men and informers…

The vil­lagers were “evac­u­at­ed in 1989 for the first time. Then four fam­i­lies returned in 1992. But in 1994, Meer was sub­ject­ed to anoth­er evacuation.

You will recall that the nineties were the years that saw the relaunch­ing of the notion of Turkey join­ing the Euro­pean Union and its “val­ues”. To this pur­pose, a cer­tain François Mit­ter­rand, French Pres­i­dent, then met the Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Turgut Özal in 1992. Yet one month ear­li­er, the Kur­dish Newroz of March 1992 had been severe­ly repressed and had involved the death of dozens of peo­ple. The pris­ons were already full. Those were also the years when Turkey wel­comed refugees from Bosnia Herz­gov­ina, thus buy­ing itself a fresh vir­gin­i­ty on the mat­ter of eth­nic cleans­ing car­ried out by Ser­bian and Croa­t­ian nation­al­ists. Hyp­o­crit­i­cal images for the out­side world, and iden­ti­cal prac­tices domes­ti­cal­ly, invok­ing the same nation­al­ist argu­ments.

Let’s get back to Meer. It is also one of those vil­lages emp­tied of its souls where cas­es of “dis­ap­pear­ances under cus­tody” have marked people’s mem­o­ries.  The grand­chil­dren of Şimu­ni Diril’s uncle have been declared miss­ing since 1994. Ilyas and Zeki Diril, respec­tive­ly 12 and 16 years of age at the time, had left for Istan­bul with their fam­i­ly, fol­low­ing the evac­u­a­tion of their vil­lage in 1989, had worked  there, saved up mon­ey and want­ed to go back to the vil­lage to join their par­ents who had pre­ced­ed them. Upon arrival in Şır­nak, they were arrest­ed on May 2 1994 at a con­trol post and tak­en into cus­tody. Since then, no news nor any fur­ther traces have emerged…

Inves­ti­ga­tions opened for each of the chil­dren result­ed in charges being dis­missed. Zeki’s fam­i­ly appealed to the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled that the Turk­ish State was respon­si­ble for the dis­ap­pear­ance of Zeki Diril and unan­i­mous­ly con­demned Turkey. And… noth­ing happened.

The names of the two boys frozen in the spring­time of their lives, are among the long list of the dis­ap­peared… On their 628th week the “Sat­ur­day Moth­ers” demand­ed accounts on their fate and of those of all the chil­dren “forcibly disappeared”.

Hur­muz and Şimu­ni who searched for their rel­a­tives for years, did not know that it would be their turn to dis­ap­pear some day…

Hurmuz et Şimuni Diril

When forced into exile, does one not always dream of return­ing to the fold? Start­ing in 2011, Hur­muz and Şimu­ni began return­ing slow­ly to the vil­lage with their chil­dren, to spend about five months there, in the spring and sum­mer. The cou­ple reset­tled there per­ma­nent­ly in 2014.

In the video, you can see them busy­ing enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly to bring life back to their vil­lage where more than 700 peo­ple were liv­ing episod­i­cal­ly at the time. You have no trou­ble expe­ri­enc­ing their hap­pi­ness at recon­nect­ing with their native land, even if only a few hous­es re-open their doors in sum­mer­time. In win­ter­time, theirs was one of the two still smok­ing in the village…

If you wish more infor­ma­tion, you can watch this doc­u­men­tary titled “Meer nar­rat­ed by our elders”, with French sub-titles, an excerpt of which you see above. It offers mov­ing tes­ti­mo­ni­als on this “Assy­ro-Chaldean Chris­t­ian vil­lage in the north of Mesopotamia (north­east­ern part of cur­rent Turkey) that is said to have been found­ed by 6 fam­i­lies some 500 years ago, accord­ing to the elders.” Direct­ed by Bedri Hur­muz Diril in 2015, it is also “a stir­ring homage to the dead and to the ances­tors, telling  of their life and the village’s mem­o­rable his­to­ry through­out the ages.” 

Si vous voulez en savoir plus, vous pou­vez vision­ner ce doc­u­men­taire inti­t­ulé “Meer racon­té par nos aïeuls” sous-titré en français, dont vous venez de voir l’ex­trait ci-dessus. Il offre d’é­mou­vants témoignages sur ce “vil­lage chré­tien assy­ro-chaldéen dans le nord de la Mésopotamie (sud-est de la Turquie actuelle) qui aurait été fondé par 6 familles il y a env­i­ron 500 ans, d’après les anciens”. Réal­isé par Bedri Hur­muz Diril en 2015, c’est aus­si “un vibrant hom­mage aux défunts et aux aïeuls qui  racon­tent leur vécu et la mémorable his­toire de leur vil­lage à tra­vers le temps.”

There is also a web­site ded­i­cat­ed to the vil­lage of Meer:

Thus did the death of these two vil­lagers join the long list of the “dis­ap­peared” in Turkey, even if one of the bod­ies was recov­ered. Every hypoth­e­sis has been con­sid­ered, but the fact they were a cou­ple con­sid­ered as “in need of assim­i­la­tion” when their ances­tors were among the first to live in this loca­tion, obvi­ous­ly points toward a “racist” crime, giv­en they are con­sid­ered as “oth­ers”, in the eyes of the reign­ing nation­al­ist Turcity.

This was only two years ago.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.