Where children and words suffocate - KEMAL ÖZTÜRK

Where children and words suffocate

I cannot look at the images. Ever since the news that children in Idlib were suffocated with gas came out, all the painful memories and things I witnessed flashed before my eyes. The more I try to get away from these images the more I remember what I experienced in the past. I cannot sleep, I become imbalanced and do not know what to do.

Syria is where children, where innocent people are suffocated to death and cannot breathe. Now, words are suffocating. I almost have nothing to say.

The story of those killed through starvation

What I witnessed in the past has surrounded me from all corners. I experienced it first in 2014. A former Syrian soldier codenamed “Caesar” had secretly taken photographs of more than 10,000 people who were killed in Bashar Assad's prisons through starvation, torture and strangulation with a timing belt used in vehicles and leaked the photographs outside the country. Back then, these photographs were secretly given to CNN, The Guardian, Anadolu Agency (AA) and TRT. They were the biggest evidence of crimes against humanity.

We were all in shock for a while when we first saw them. People who were starved until their bones were protruding were later strangled using items such as timing belts and construction wires. They had seals stamped on their heads, they were given a number and wrapped in plastic bags. This is how they were buried in collective graves. There were close to 10,000 people photographed in this state.

The images were published and broadcast simultaneously by the media. It was a huge incident worldwide. Everybody, primarily the U.S. and U.K., had made commonplace statements. It was said that Assad's felonies are documented this time, this time he is going to be judged at The Hague for crimes against humanity.

We took the photographs to the U.N. Syria Commission in New York and showed them to the committee members. We asked them if they were going to do anything. Nothing was done.

The AA team that prepared these photographs for broadcast became seriously depressed. But the world did not do anything. Young men, women and the elderly who were strangled with a timing belt simply became history.

What happened to the children suffocated by gas in Ghouta?

My second trauma was in 2013 upon Assad's forces killing civilians in Ghouta with chemical weapons. We prepared the videos and photographs of children who could not breathe, who struggled and died from suffocation in front of the cameras and announced it to the world.

The satelite images, the technical evidence proving that Assad did indeed use chemical weapons were obtained by AA. These were also broadcast to the world. Again, it became a huge incident. Then U.S. President Barack Obama said thate has crossed the red line and that the U.S. would intervene now. AA even received intervention plans and we sent war journalists to those points.

Then nothing was done again. The world kept silent, looking at the images of those suffocated children. We placed the videos and photographs of those suffocated children in the archives along with those of the people who were strangled using timing belts. The thought that those children could have been our own would not let us sleep for nights.

The children I saw in Idlib

Words suffocate and fail at such times. What do you say? What do you write? Witnessing a time that humans have become so savage, so ruthless is such a big test.

I had entered Syria when Aleppo fell last year. I visited the camps and settlements near Idlib. That piece of land was almost the only place left where the families of the opposition, those fleeing Assad's violence took refuge.

I had spent hours with the children living in plastic tents in the cold mud and rain. I had watched in admiration as they smiled despite everything.

I could not ask the question that got stuck in my throat that day: What if they attack here as well? What if this place is also bombed? It was filled with children and civilians. They had nowhere to run and no buildings to hide in. What I feared happened.

Now, children lay lifeless in the region, like ragdolls. A cloud came from a chemical weapon and they took the lives of children with a breath of death again.

What do you write? What do you say?

They are saying commonplace things again. This time, U.S. President Donald Trump is storming around saying that red lines have been crossed. It's all futile talk.

Understanding the father who lost his twins

Who in the world can understand the state of the father who took his twins, sleeping like angels and his arms, to bury them? That father will never again have the chance to feel them, their warmth and liveliness.

I, too, am the father of a child of about the same age. I feel his pain with all my heart and soul, but I am able to hug my child and escape the terrible nightmare. What about that father? What about that mother?

Now try and get back to daily life if you can. Witness the disgusting business of the ugly world and write about it. Words are suffocating me like the gas and those children. Suddenly everything loses value, meaning and significance. What is the significance of living in a world in which children die and struggle? What does it matter whether you come to power, whether you become a superpower?

We need to live. We still need to live and be strong. We need to be so strong and collapse the world around those child killers. Prayer is our sole refuge. I pray to God, I ask that he give us the opportunity to one day avenge the deaths of those children who died in Ghouta, Damascus, Idlib and the Mediterranean. This is all I can do. This is all I can write with my suffocating words.


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