The story of Akçabay Family, is a heart-breaking example of the oppression and sufferings experienced by the members of the Hizmet Movement in Turkey. Even their very basic human rights were taken away and they were condemned to desperation. They started the journey to freedom as a family of five. The boat they boarded on one side of Maritsa, turned over and only the father Murat Akçabay survived. Today, the words of Murat Akçabay are touching all the conscientious hearts on earth: “At that moment there was no one to help, I looked left and right, there was nobody. All of them slipped away from my hands!”
Both Hatice and Murat Akçabay (36) were teachers. They were fired with a State of Emergency Statutory Decree and were unemployed thereafter. As there is no rule of law in Turkey, they had feared of imprisonment and had to hide. They learned from their arrested or prosecuted friends that their names were also on the investigation files. They lived in fear of getting arrested at any moment. They frequently changed their residence.
When Bekir Aras (1) was born, they left the hospital as if they were kidnapping him. The doctor asked the mother to stay one more day, but they took all the responsibility and left the hospital. Because they were hiding, they hesitated to take Bekir Aras to hospitals. Hatice had no breast milk, Bekir Aras was not physically developing, and he needed treatment. Even these treatments could not be done due to fear of being caught.
With their hiding parents, Ahmet Esat (6) and Mesut (5) were moving from one house to the other. They could not go to school, go to cinema or just go out. One day, Mesut asked his father to get a dog. He loved animals so much that when his mother said “but if a dog or cat comes, I can’t stay at this home, I would leave”. He replied; “You can leave!”
Before leaving, Akçabay couple thought a lot about whether they should take the children with them or leave them behind. They thought of leaving behind Ahmet Esat and Mesut, and bringing along them when possible. But in the end, this idea prevailed: whatever we live, we live together, let’s not separate. On the night of July 18, 2018, they met with human smugglers in Edirne. Father Akçabay, looking at the weather and seeing the rain, shared his unease with the smugglers, but they persuaded him by saying, “someone has passed yesterday and water is so low that the boat could touch the bottom of river”.
They took five life vests with them before they got on the boat. However, the smugglers told them that to avoid excessive load they should leave them, and they would provide life vests if needed. Akçabay couple looked at each other in the eye, and left one of the plastic bags they had. Turns out that they had taken the plastic bag with only two life vests.
Trying to reach the river walking through terrain and hilly roads, smugglers frequently shouted and warned them to be quick. “When the journey starts, smugglers hold the strings”, says Murat Akçabay to explain the circumstances. The small baby Bekir Aras had drunk four to five spoon of sleeping medication before they started the journey, but he woke up on the road and began to cry. They took a short break and the mother Hatice Akçabay tried to make him asleep. In the meantime, father Akçabay put on one of the life vests in the bag to Ahmet Esat, and wanted to put the second one on his wife, rather than himself. He thought I would get a chance by the river and put on her. As they reached the edge of the river in the darkness of the night, they noticed a light coming from afar. The smugglers were panicked and got everyone on the boat in a couple of seconds, saying “soldiers are coming, we will get caught”. In this couple of seconds long turmoil, once again Murat Akçabay could not get the life vest to his wife Hatice.
In the pitch-dark night little lit up by moonlight, first they reached a shore on Maritsa that was two or three meters high above the water. Thinking that they could not get off there, they turned the boat back into the middle of the river. As they approached the shore, they crashed into a piece of wood floating in the river. The boat careened and quickly began to take water. The smugglers immediately jumped into the water and disappeared. Murat Akçabay held Ahmet Esat and Mesut, and suddenly found himself in water. Bekir Aras was with his mother.
Murat Akçabay narrates the part after falling into water: “I held Mesut and Ahmet Esat, we were able to swim about 150-200 meters. We held branch of a tree somewhere. We are at the end of the tree, but it is not a solid branch. Ahmet Esat held the branch. I am not releasing Mesut, the branch is in my other hand. I had no more power in my arms. I did not know what to do with two kids in my arms. Mesut fell from my hand. When he fell, I thought if I go after him what will happen to Ahmet Esat. I left Ahmet Esat, I went after Mesut. I caught him on the way down. But his eyes had slipped. At that moment, I thought maybe he wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t OK as well. It’s pitch dark, there’s moonlight. Wondering if he is dead, I turned Mesut toward myself. His eyes were split. I am not sure if he is dead or not, but he’s dying. We went another 40-50 meters. My mind is on Hatice and Bekir. I don’t know where they are. I thought that Mesut should not sink, I lifted him; then I sank. I’m trying to get above. I hear Ahmet Esat’s voice, he’s saying ‘dad, dad’. No sound from Mesut. ‘If I die, they all die, give me strength’ I beg Allah. Suddenly I’m awake, the river is carrying me. I shouted ‘Ahmet Esat, Mesut’, no sound. There is only light, moonlight. I held a branch; I grabbed it. The kids are gone, Hatice is gone. That’s when I heard a voice. I shouted ‘is that you Hatice?’ She replied ‘it’s me’. She had clung to a tree branch with Bekir Aras. I said ‘don’t let it, I’m coming. Where are you, let me hear you?’ But I got no answer. I do not know where to go, where to swim. She’s gone. I don’t know what it’s like to live the apocalypse, but that is probably apocalypse. All of them have gone from my hands…”
Two days after that night, first bodies of Hatice Akçabay and Bekir Aras were found in a hugging position on Turkish side of the river, and a few days later Mesut was found. However, even after 15 months Ahmet Esat’s body could not been found. Hatice Akçabay and her two sons were buried in Karaman. Murat Akçabay could not attend the funeral of his wife and children. Every day he visited fishermen’s cafes and asked the fishermen if they had seen anything. Brother of Murat Akçabay had participated in the search of bodies in Turkey. Later he was taken into custody and arrested as well.
Members of the Akçabay family spent their last breathes in the waters of the Maritsa while fleeing from persecution in Turkey. Still tens of thousands of people in Turkey take all the risks and flee from the country or consider fleeing. Unfortunately, the majority of the society in Turkey continue to support the dictatorial regime. The fact that happiness of countless families, like Akçabay’s, has become history and remain only in photographs, does not affect their conscience. Mass media also hides these touching stories from the public.