A proper burial: duty on April 24

We are eastern people. Our customs, and burying our dead according to our customs, are important to us.

Each religion and sect in Anatolia and its near neighbours has its own traditions for sending off the dead, but all these traditions resemble one another.

Think of a Muslim funeral.

What do we do?

The body is laid out, mourners line up opposite it, as many as space will allow, and the imam begins his prayers.

Later, blessings are asked for the departed. We mourners raise our voices to join in the supplication, in fact we shout. It’s a last way of helping the dead, as if by shouting we can make their journey a little easier. We may not have even cared much for them while they were alive, but it makes no difference.

Then the male mourners carry the coffin on their shoulders. Everyone wants to take part and those who have not had a turn will complain if someone else takes too long and even try to shove him out of the way. A small scuffle might even break out. Those unable to bear the coffin reach out from afar just to touch it with their fingers. When they reach the cemetery, the grave has already been dug.

In Islamic funerals they bury their dead in shrouds, we Armenians bury ours in coffins – the only difference between our traditions. The closest relatives of the deceased step down into the grave, and we pass the body to them. Then begins the tumult of burying the body, a duty that mourners cannot leave to the undertaker. Everybody wants to throw dirt on the coffin, and everyone does.

We look behind us as the grave, see how full it is, check how many are waiting in line to have their turn with the shovel. Those who do not get to use the shovel will throw in a handful of dirt. Then the preacher will mention the family members of the deceased who have already died in his prayers.

All those customs: the prayers on the seventh and 40th days, the recitation of the Fatiha, reading the Quran, offering halva to guests who come to pay their respects.

Now across Turkey, the lands you live on, we have scores of bodies that have still not been buried according to custom.

Where are all their graves? One-and-a-half million people. And no graves.

What remains now to be done?

There is nothing left but to hold funerals for those people.

Proper funerals, according to custom.

There are not enough of us Armenians left to bury all our dead, not enough men left to bear their coffins.

But we have given Muslims the responsibility to hold these funerals in our place. Perhaps the funeral of Hrant Dink the Turkish Armenian editor in 2007 can be seen as a rehearsal. We will hold our funerals according to the customs and traditions of the land, recite the Fatiha from the Quran, recite prayers, and proclaim “amen” from every corner of the world and in all its languages.

We have come to another April 24, another anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

There are more honourable uses for shovels than to go out seeking the buried “Armenian treasure” that belonged to the dead.

The responsibility is with you. Act according to custom.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.