A letter from the basement of death in Cizre


We bring a letter sent to Danish-Kurdish politician Serdal Benli from Kurdish journalist Asya Tekin who for the past two months has been in the Kurdish city of Cizre besieged by Turkish armed forces that has caused the deaths of more than a hundred civilians. Like the other residents, she is trapped in the city.  

The letter comes just as reports are shared that the Turkish armed forces have bombed and burned 60 civilians to death in two separate basements in Cizre.

Bostanci Road number 23, Cudi neighbourhood, Cizre … This is our new address which our conscience will not let us forget. I wonder how many people have passed through this street. I wonder how many people have brushed against this road as dark as a black well when walking down the road. Maybe I have passed through here. Maybe I have brushed its bricks, cold as ice.

The screams from the children, the women, the youth and the fathers who are here at Bostanci Road number 23 are ringing in our ears. The street that used to be the scene of happy people dancing and singing is now the center of a pain that will never ease, never go away. 28 people are crying when a voice coming from the phone screams: “They have come.” Shouting, more screaming, women’s voices can be heard through the phone. One woman’s voice can be heard above the others. “Dishonorables!” she exclaims and the screams suddenly come to a halt. Now, everyone who heard those voices through the phone, have fixed their attention upon Bostanci Road number 23.

The road is like a dark well … Time has stopped. The singers in the street have gone silent. Bostanci Road is black. No cry is heard, no scream. No voice of a woman shouting “dishonorable.” What did she see that made her say that? What were those sounds, sounds like those coming from weapons. Bostanci Road is dark now. Dark like a black well where the screams and cries of the oppressed cannot be heard.

Instead of the sun rising, smoke is rising from a fire so intense that humanity cannot breathe. We cannot breathe, they cannot breathe. Bostanci Road cannot breathe. Unknown men in bulletproof vests and helmets and with guns in their hands are invading Bostanci Road. They do not belong in this street and they have never met the children of Bostanci Road. They have never seem them play, never witnessed their happiness.

It is easy to see that they are strangers to this road as they hesitantly move forward. These walls will witness it all. These strangers on the road are also afraid of the walls, they tear them down one by one with their weapons that we do not know the names of.

For days these walls have been hiding the children of Bostanci Road to protect them but in vain because here are the strangers, the unknown men on Bostanci Road.

The residents are nervous and they are whispering to each other. The owner of Bostanci Road number 23 says there is a well in the basement that has been covered up. I hope that the people have noticed it; that they have drunk water from the well. I hope that the sun will rise in the basement.

Every day, I see Bostanci Road in my dreams and I have nightmares whenever I close my eyes: I am on a journey and my destination is Bostanci Road. I have my camera and my microphone with me; I have my friend Asmin who is a camera-woman. Every time I close my eyes, I am on this journey. I reach the basement on Bostanci Road. 28 people are lying unconscious under the wrecked walls. Only a few of them can open their eyes. I put my cameras away. “Stop filming, Asmin! Give water! Give water!” Asmin gives me water but instead of giving it to the wounded in the basement, I drink it myself. I wake up in a pool of my own sweat. “No, the water is for the wounded,” I exclaim. I curse myself for drinking the water instead of giving it to the wounded.

Kevin Carter comes to my mind, the South African photographer who took a picture of a little black girl who was dying from hunger and a vulture sitting nearby. The vulture eventually flew away after the picture was taken and Kevin Carter also left without helping the little girl. Although the photograph triggered humanitarian organizations to collect donations, Kevin Carter suffered a severe depression over the fact that he left the girl. He committed suicide. Either we become Kevin Carter or …

Right now I am fighting my guilty conscience while I am in a daze, shifting between my journalistic work and my nightmare. The basement is invaded by vultures and there are 28 people who are thirsty. Not even in my dreams can I give them water. I commit suicide every single day in those 55 days that I have lived on Bostanci Road number 23 in Cudi neighbourhood in Cizre. I put all my identities behind me except the one of me as a human being.

To give a glass of water to someone in need is harder than dying again and again. So many times I die in my nightmares. Either we end up like Kevin Carter or we do everything in our power to give a glass of water. If it becomes necessary we must die – not in our nightmare – but in real life. If our conscience dies in the basement, we will die every day. We need to light up the basement and we need to enlighten people about the realities. People in Cizre dare not drink water because they are ashamed that they can drink while their fellow residents are trapped in the basement, dying from thirst.

Have you ever met a people ashamed to drink water? I have and I do not have the ability to describe it to you. A man who witnessed the attacks in the 1990’s [a decade marred by the Turkish state’s abuse of the Kurdish people] sat next to me: “We have lost all our comrades and heroes. How are we supposed to live,” he said, breaking down, sobbing. Do not say men do not cry because in Cizre, they cry.

I guess one day the vultures will fly away from Bostanci Road number 23 and the sun will rise where there is now a thick, black smoke.

We journalists will not commit suicide due to a guilty conscience like Kevin Carter did. We will light up this basement and tell the truth.

We send our greetings to our colleagues who have come here from Istanbul to support journalists who are putting their lives at risk to report on the realities in North Kurdistan [Southeastern Turkey].

Let us protect the lives in the basement against the vultures!

Journalist Asya Tekin
February 8, 2016