29 May 2007

A place to die for


The view of the mountain tops with patches of snow and the 2 green plateaus below were breathtaking. I was standing on a steep slope at an altitude of about 2400 m when I took this picture. The strenuous walk up there from way below where we had parked our car had also taken my breath away; I was starting to suffer from the diminishing oxygen levels in the air. The car was now just a white speck, barely discernible.

This took place earlier this month on the mountains towering above the small town of Gömbe in southwestern Turkey. And as you may have guessed, we were looking for snails on the limestone slopes, snails that are better adapted than us to living at such places. While my eyes were on the ground most of the time, I also couldn't help myself from stopping frequently, both to catch my breath and to observe and photograph the scenery.

Later, as I was descending, the details on the plateau started to come back into view. At about 2200 m, I could clearly make out the car and the roughly rectangular field of stones next to which it was parked. That was a cemetery.


What was a cemetery doing there, literally in the middle of nowhere and a long distance away from the closest village? Could this have been the resting place of the less fortunate snail collectors who had perished on the mountains? Unlikely.

The pastures of the plateau, watered by an enduring stream of melting snow, had probably been used for centuries by shepherds and the villagers seeking relief from the summer heat that sizzles the plains below the mountains. The cemetery, surrounded by a flimsy fence, was undoubtedly for those local folk who had died there.


Most of the graves were nothing more than elongated plots surrounded by field stones. If they once had headstones, those were gone now.


Only 2 of the graves had tombstones and only one of those still had legible inscriptions on it. It belonged to a woman named Hasibe Arıkan who had been born in 1940 and died in 1970. She was the daughter of a man named Abdurrahman. The line below her name reads "R. FATİHA" short for ruhuna fatiha, meaning "a fatiha (a prayer from the Koran) for her soul".


It looked like the burials stopped after 1970. My companions offered a possible explanation: the mountain roads and transportation over them had started to improve probably around that time and it had consequently become more feasible to bring down the dead or the sick people to hospitals.

I suspect during the period when this cemetery was used the bodies were placed without coffins directly into shallow pits. Why would anyone want to be in a coffin anyway, when one is lying on a green pasture surrounded by snow-covered mighty peaks?


umit said...

Really breathtaking!

Normally coffin is not used. Only a simple clothing 'kefen' is applied. Maybe if we are so lucky to go up at elder ages, our graves can be along with them.

clare said...

Quite a place - poignan and quite beautiful. Thanks Aydin.