ISTANBUL – Tucked in the back corner of a construction site for a new dog shelter in eastern Istanbul lies a freshly dug, unmarked grave — the first in the new "Traitors' Cemetery," created specifically to hold the bodies of coup plotters who died in the July 15 abortive putsch.
In the week following the attempted coup in Turkey, which killed about 290 people, the municipality announced it intended to set up a cemetery specifically for those involved — people that officials have branded as traitors undeserving of a proper burial. About 24 coup plotters are believed to have been killed that night.
Authorities would "reserve a spot and call it a traitors' cemetery. Passers-by will curse them," Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas said in remarks carried by the Dogan News Agency. "May every passer-by curse them and let them not rest in their tombs."
The creation of the cemetery comes amid a widespread crackdown in the aftermath of the coup. Nearly 16,000 people have been detained, including about 10,000 military personnel; displays of patriotism abound, with many Turks flying national flags from the windows of their apartments or cars; and nightly pro-government rallies are held in cities across the country.
Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs issued a directive denying funeral prayers and services for those who died while trying to overthrow the government. Such prayers, it said, were intended for the faithful as an act of exoneration, "but these people, with the action they undertook, have disregarded not just individuals but also the law of an entire nation and therefore do not deserve exoneration from the faithful."
Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher for the Amnesty International rights group, said such moves were "contributing to what is a pretty poisonous atmosphere and a dangerous atmosphere" in the aftermath of the failed coup.
"Denying people religious services and decent burial is a basic denial of people's rights. In any normal circumstances such statements would be unimaginable," Gardner said.
Construction was quick. In two days, workers had built a low stone wall around a patch of land in the back of the site that will hold a new shelter for some of Istanbul's many stray dogs. A black metal sign was put up Monday, with the words "Traitors' Cemetery" in white.
The first — and so far, only — body arrived in an ambulance Monday, the workers say. No prayers were said and no ceremony was held for the burial beneath a dying pine tree.
The workers aren't sure who lies beneath the rough mound of earth, stones and broken pine branches, but local media say the first to be interred there was Mehmet Karabekir, a 34-year-old captain and father of two. His mother, they reported, refused to claim his body, so he was taken to the new cemetery.
Next to his lie three more graves — deep, open trenches dug out of the rocky ground with heavy machinery, waiting for new arrivals. The workers haven't been told when more bodies might come.
All they know, workers said Wednesday, is that they were told to build a dry stone wall in a corner of the construction site, and dig some graves
"Those who disrespect this nation will not be allowed to rest even in their tombs," Topbas said in a speech Monday night.
Deep within the animal shelter construction site, the cemetery isn't accessible to the public. But some of those at the existing makeshift dog shelter next door were furious to hear the newly announced cemetery had already been constructed in their area.
"They should have buried them somewhere far from our animals. I wish we didn't know those traitors were here. We don't want them," said Serhan Baturay, a 57-year-old volunteer who also runs animal welfare groups.
"They shouldn't be placed near our dogs, they shouldn't be anywhere in Turkey," she said. "They should be cremated and their ashes tossed into the ocean. There shouldn't be a trace of them anywhere in the country. As a Turkish citizen I don't want such a thing."