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‘Once I saw the dead bodies I thought there is no God’

On the fourth anniversary of the October 10 massacre at a peace rally in Ankara, those who miraculously stayed alive and the relatives of the dead speak to the Morning Star

IT HAS been four years since the explosion that took the lives of 102 people who were attending a peace rally in Ankara. 

The terror attack, named as the worst in Turkey’s history, left behind hundreds of wounded too. 

Victims of the massacre still await justice. Gokhan Yarali, who lost his leg in the massacre, is one of those alive by chance. 

Yarali, who attended the rally for Peace, Labour and Democracy, states that the country is going through very difficult times and that people are waking to the news of new deaths on a daily basis.  

Yarali also says that he took part in the demo not only for peace in Turkey but for peace in the rest of the world. He continues: “Before October 10, there were explosions in both Amed [Diyarbakir] and Suruc. 

“We all were aware that it could happen to us too. But, should we die for peace? We thought, yes we should! 

“The world that we live in is not fit for living. On the day of the rally, I was full of excitement. 

“I get excited before every rally. Making our voice heard excites me. 

“Those who died there on that day and us, we did not want anything for ourselves. I am a Turkish Sunni. There were Alevi, Sunni, Kurd, Turk, Armenian, Laz, in short, all the colours were there. All of us chanting the same words all together was extremely gratifying.” 

Yarali says that he was happily chatting away to his friends at the rally without knowing they would not be alive much longer. 

“On one side of me was Idil, who died, and on the other Ali Kitapci, who also died. We were chatting. 

“Suddenly we heard an explosion. Idil and I looked at each other. Later when I came to I was lying on the floor. 

“I managed to say: ‘They got us.’ I don’t remember the second explosion. I tried getting up but couldn’t. 

“At first, I thought it was because I was in a state of shock but, when I touched my leg I realised it had shattered. 

“Blood was pouring out. I looked at my friends. Ali was next to me, they said: ‘He is alive.’ I then smelt pepper spray.

Yarali says people were running about in panic and screaming. He remembers people shouting: “Do not run.”

He says those running about then attended to the wounded. He continues: “I remember a woman took her headscarf off and tried tying it to my leg. There was a stretcher so they put me on a banner. People were screaming for ambulances and at that moment the world went blurry. 

“A lawyer whose name I would learn later had taken me to the hospital in his car. My last words before leaving the rally site were that my daughter is only a child, take care of her. 

“My first words when I came to at the hospital were: ‘How are my friends?’

Yarali says the doctors at first did not detect that his veins had ruptured and that, 30 hours later, he had to have a vein transplant. 

“Vein transplantation should normally be done within between two and four hours of the injury taking place maximum but mine took place 30 hours later. I spent 60 days in intensive care fighting for my life. 

“They did not expect me to survive but I survived against all odds. The artery in my right leg is blocked and does not function.”

Yarali continues: “The judicial process was the most hurtful. The defendants talked about how they crossed the border without a passport, received training in Isis camps and how they re-entered Turkey. 

“Despite all this, there is still no judicial inquiry into those government officials that were there. The health ministry misled the court but still no-one has been put on trial for that. 

“Even worse, the prime minister of the time said: ‘If I were to disclose things that took place between June 2015 and November 2015, no-one will be able to show their face in public.’ 

“Despite this, everyone is silent. I wonder what took place within that period? The person making these claims is not just anyone, he is the prime minister! The strongest person within the executive is saying this.”

Yarali says that tens of people died in the explosions in Turkey, that they will not come back and that he will be disabled for the rest of his life. 

“Our children’s pain will never subside. Had the unknown murders of Turkey’s past been solved, we would not be having these experiences. 

“Turkey’s basic problem lies in the lack of due process over so many incidents. There is no inquiry made into those that are being accused within the public sector, no-one is sued, no-one is punished. Is human life so cheap?”

Yarali reminds us of Donald Trump’s words regarding not wanting to feed 10,000 Isis fighters and says this is not only a problem for Turkey but it is a world problem. 

“It means explosions in other countries again. You cannot get away from the problem by saying: ‘I do not get involved with these types of organisations.’

“This attitude will only pave the way for more attacks and more massacres. Peoples of the world will always need peace. That day, we took to the streets with this love in our hearts. 

“This is a world problem, it will not be solved with merely stating: ‘I want democracy and peace.’ 

“People have got to put themselves forward. We can overcome everything in life but we can never bring back the dead. They can have opposing views but every being is precious. Every opinion has worth.”

Can Ates, who was wounded in the explosion, attended from the city of Adana. Ates, who is a member of the Unified Haulage Union (BTS), attended the meeting with 10 friends and lost five of them in the explosion. 

He says his reasons for attending the rally were “the country, following the peace process was falling into war and chaos. The unions were there with the aim of stopping the war and defending peace.” 

Ates states that there was no security present at the site of the rally. 

He continues: “On the day of the massacre two separate explosions took place close to each other. 

“The second explosion took place where we were. I heard the first explosion but not the second. 

“Bodies fell to the floor like leaves. I had fallen on top of Ali Kitapci, who lost his life in the explosion. At first I thought I had died. 

“I thought about my children, I thought about how they will be orphaned. Immediately after the explosions a gas bomb was activated. 

“Next to me were the bodies of Veysel, who was the youngest of our group to die, and his father. 

“I saw everyone’s dead bodies. It was an indefinable pain. A 17-year-old girl helped me. 

Ates remained in intensive care for five days and remained under hospital care for the next two years. 

Following the lengthy treatment, Ates requested a transfer to Ankara, but he says he is being forced into early retirement due to the injuries he sustained as he is classed as 64 per cent disabled. 

Ates opposed this decision and won the employment tribunal. He says: “I also don’t believe that the judicial process is fair. 

“All families and witnesses refused the process. The use of pepper spray by the police was not in the court files. 

“Ali Kitapci was an asthma sufferer and had they not used the pepper spray he might still be alive today. 

“Maybe so many people would not have died because the pepper spray prevented people from helping each other.  

“None of this was in the court files. The public servants who took no precautions must be tried in a court of law.”

Gunay Karakus lost two of her friends and a leg in the explosion. 

Gunay Karakus lost two friends and a leg in the explosion
Gunay Karakus lost two friends and a leg in the explosion

Karakus attended the rally from Adana where she was a university student. Karakus started painting as soon as she came out of intensive care and says this is her way of holding on to life. 

Karakus drew a picture of a woman who had flowers blossomed on her leg which attracted the interest of others. 

“People saw that drawing was doing me a world of good while I was receiving my treatment. Visitors were bringing me paper, paint and pencils to use. 

“I completed my education via distant learning from Ankara. The prosthesis cause me problems when I put weight on, it causes lesions on my leg. 

“Because of this, I had to often travel to Ankara and while doing so visited the My Sister Community Centre (Kiz Kardesim dernegi). 

“They encouraged me to paint and the idea to hold an exhibition developed there. With encouragement from others, I began creating these works.”

Karakus says that she held on to life with the support of others. 

“One thing that really upset me during this period is being asked whether I sustained this injury by attending the rally of if I was a passerby. 

“Had I only been a passerby people would have been more upset for me. I attended the rally with the slogan of peace. 

“A very difficult period began following the explosion. I believe those who did not sustain any injuries were affected more by the explosion. 

“Everyone that experienced the massacre that day experienced the same trauma. Those who lost a limb like I did have lasting trauma. 

“It will not pass because I continue to carry this trauma with me. I also lost two of my friends that day. I didn’t actually feel sad about losing my leg, I never had the opportunity to. 

“I was very sad when I learned that I had lost my friends. Those people who I spent time with in uni will not be there any longer. Because of this, I did not have the opportunity to be sad about my leg.

Chair of October 10 Centre Meltem Cosgun, 35, lost her husband Uygar Sakinci in the explosion. 

Cosgun, who is also a lawyer, has taken an active part within the process. Cosgun’s husband went to the rally very early in the morning and she learnt of the explosion within an hour or so. 

Cosgun explains her experiences: “I was very close to the rally area. When I got there I saw there was smoke everywhere.  

“There was the smell of burning flesh and gunpowder in the air. I can’t forget that smell. 

“Once I saw the dead bodies I thought there is no God, especially when one of the dead is an eight-year-old child. 

“It was a day when everything changed to the point of no return. Life ends for those who died but for us, the pain continues and we are forced to learn to live with it. 

“However, I chose to fight this unjust process so that I am able to string words together and speak again. We founded the October 10 Society and I took up an active role within that. I try and continue with my struggle. 

“I met many people within this time and this process has given me a lot. My thoughts on the peace rally are; we were at a time where dead bodies were being dragged behind moving vehicles. People were made enemies. 

“Bodies of dead children washing up on our shores badly affected us and the peace rally was justified and necessary.”

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