If July 15 were not experienced, like the stories of others, we would not have heard of them and we would not have known their stories. Because they were just an ordinary family, like others: an ordinary family with two kids, going from home to work and work to home everyday, and without any criminal record, even traffic fines.
Gülfem Yeni, the mother of the house, was an administrative staff of a dormitory. Her husband Gökhan Yeni was an ideal trainer with high achievement certificates. He was on high demand from schools as a Mind and Brain Games instructor. After July 15, the husband and wife were expelled from their jobs, and then found themselves in the midst of a social lynching. They could not work even in the most unskilled jobs such as waitressing and basic labor. The fear empire built by the government wanted to destroy them. Gökhan Yeni was rejected from his applications for ordinary jobs such as waiters. A few restaurant owners said, “If I hire you, they will shut my restaurant down”.
Living in the middle of society, but isolated from it was called ‘gaybubet’ (hiding). Gaybubet was being scared to death every time the door was knocked, it was being unable to even taking the kids to a park with peace of mind, it was trying to live like a shadow being declared as a terrorist by your state after working hard and paying your taxes for long years.
Two babies, two years old Burhan and eight-month-old Nurbanu, and their parents whose hearts beat like birds. How terrific was this desperation, how terrific was not being together even in their baby’s birth.
And a day came, both the state and the society have left no choice for this family besides emigrating. Emigrating was an understatement or a positive word to describe the situation, because the system was imprisoning many innocent people on unjust charges or canceling their passports and letting them to perishing in desperation and starving.
Emigrating or literally fleeing was the only solution in such a situation. Escaping through risking your life, giving control of yourself and paying all your wealth to a smuggler, leaving behind all your beloved ones and whatever you have! It was the destiny of this trip, you were either going to die or you would survive. But there was no other way to find out without trying.
A young 29-year-old woman, a 31-year-old man and two little babies were sent abroad in tears. The date was July 28, 2018. They would go to Greece through Aegean Sea. The smugglers, who had taken all their wealth, had advised them not to worry. With that strong boat, they were going to be refugees in a few minutes. Thereafter freedom!
But nothing run as said. At midnight, a very small speedboat docked on a coast of the Aegean, not a boat as promised. 15 people were boarded to the boat, which was for three or five people. They were not even allowed to ask questions. They told: ‘Life vests are below!’ It was not long before, the boat started to take in water. Everyone was holding on to each other and screaming! The night was dark, the means had ended, and the cold waters of the Aegean swallowed first the boat and then the victims chasing freedom!
Our family had stayed together. She was crying in tears, she asked: What do we do now? What do we do now? He was compassionate. He said, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be perfect!’ However, it was not much later when his body exhausted from strokes signaled him that he could not go on anymore. With tired eyes, he looked to his wife, made a farewell and left his body in the dark waters of the Aegean.
Gülfem Yeni was left in the middle of an ice cold sea with two little babies around her neck. The shore was far away and she did not know how to swim! Then she witnessed drowning of her kids. Actually she had no reason left to live. But she flapped her feet as much as she could and shout-prayed to her Lord shouting more than she had ever done. She said ‘only you can save me’ in desperation.
When she was rescued by a fisherman early in the morning, her lungs were hurting from swallowing salty water. Of course, not just only from swallowing salty water, but also from what she had been through in the last couple of hours!
In the interview with journalist-screenwriter Emine Bilgiç, Gülfem Yeni said:
“Under normal circumstances, a woman who had lost her husband and children one by one in front of her eyes would be expected to lose her mind, or probably leave herself in the dark waters with them. I don’t know what I felt. I had lost my feelings; neither sadness nor reaction nor anything else…The only thing I could think of was “if I leave my children, they would never be found, if we are going to die, at least our bodies would be found together”.
She had survived drowning, but she got arrested, interrogated and accused by the police of causing the death of her husband and children. A female police officer told this woman who had lost her husband and two kids: “Don’t cry in vain! You’re a killer, you killed your children! If your husband was going, you should have let him go, you should have stayed with your children! What were you doing in that boat?” A transport vehicle was not assigned for the bodies of her family (normally fulfilled by municipalities everywhere in Turkey), which were in the morgue in a coastal city. People called even their tiny babies as ‘terrorists’ and also cursed ‘let them be worse’. A case was filed against this young woman; she was trialed and sentenced to prison for 6 years and 10 months!
These clothes (they are torn while they were cut off the bodies) are living witnesses of such a sorrow story. From a country, where tiny babies, innocent people are declared as terrorists and sent to death, such sorrow memories remain as museum pieces.
Gülfem Yeni still lives in Turkey. She has started studying for her second university degree. One day, if the ‘terrorist’ mark would be removed from her, she wants to work again and contribute to the society. She has no financial prospects for the future. All her hopes are about attaining peaceful days countrywide…