Cemeteries are strange places. Many avoid them as eerie, or spooky, or simply too sad for reminding us of our mortality. Others spend years of their lives bent over a tomb stone bearing the name of a loved one. Each grave contains a death and bears witness to a life. The remains of the dead: their physical remains and what remains of their identity. Those who knew them will remember them and even those who did not know them will come to know something about who they were: their names, affiliations, images…
Each person is identified as an individual and as a member of a group (familial, ethnic, religious, professional) through their name and title. When someone is born, they are registered as bearers of a name and surname, in some cultures they also receive their name through baptism. In the course of their lives, people may change their name, as a mark of a changing identity. A husband’s family name may replace a maiden name; a ‘Miss’ may become a ‘Mrs’; a ‘Mr’ may become a ‘Dr’; a ‘Susan’ may become a ‘Layla’; a ‘Behar’ may become a ‘Demetrius’; a ‘David’ may become an ‘Alice’… Our names are at the core of who we are and of who we are perceived to be by others. When we die, we leave behind something of ourselves through our name, through the recollection of all that name enclosed.
Nations have always commemorated their dead by making lists of those who gave their lives, or lost their lives, as members of that nation, and by building war memorials, to honour those who have died. To remember and honour the dead is important for nations, for states and for families all over the world. It is important for each individual too, for we all want to be remembered, we all want our death to be a loss to someone, just as much as we want our lives to have mattered.
The British military has ensured those British soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq are not forgotten. A list of the 179 soldiers who died there can be found easily…
Names, titles, the manner of their death, their images… some smiling, others serious, some holding a child that will have to grow up with their dad or mum…
Our ‘terror’ victims are also commemorated, those civilians who tragically died as they went about their lives, those innocents who met such an untimely and violent end.
Police named all 52 known victims of the London bombers. Some families released statements, paying tribute to loved ones lost in the attacks, as the site explains.
More names and photographs. More smiling faces. Some young and bright-eyed.
‘Phil Beer, 22, from Borehamwood, Herts, was on the Underground with friend Patrick Barnes when the explosion struck between King’s Cross and Russell Square on Thursday. His family said Mr Beer, a hairdresser, was a “fun-loving and colourful” character who had red and black hair, a lip stud and a tattoo of a Celtic dragon on his arm.
Mr Beer’s family has requested that mourners wear bright colours on the day of his funeral to reflect his personality.
In a statement, they said: “His loss has left us feeling very empty and we miss his infectious loud laugh.”
A wonderful tribute to a son. A loss indeed.
Another tragic loss:
‘Elizabeth Daplyn, a 26-year-old administrator from north London, died in the Piccadilly Line blast while travelling to work at University College Hospital.
In a statement her family said: “Liz leaves behind dozens of people who loved and admired her, including her boyfriend Rob, parents Pam and Mike and sister Eleanor.
Her family said she was a talented artist and musician who read Fine Art at Oxford University.’
It is hard not to feel the pain of the loss of those lives. It is hard to stay dry-eyed as you look at those names and those faces.
A memorial that fills one with both horror and a sense of loss is the 9/11 Memorial in New York.
‘The 2,983 names of the men, women, and children killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993, are inscribed into bronze parapets surrounding the twin Memorial pools, located in the footprints of the Twin Towers.’
Visitors can trace the carved names with their fingers…
Dominick J Berardi
Recording the deaths of civilians in Iraq has been a different story. It is a rare occasion when we have the names of all victims of an attack reported.
Al-Iraq News Feb 14, 2015
1_ Sheikh Karim Qassim al-Janabi Swidan, uncle of MP Zaid al-Janabi
2_ Dr. Mohammad Qasim al-Janabi Swidan, cousin of MP Zaid al-Janabi
3_ spokesman Hussein al-Janabi, a member of protection of MP
4_ Saif al-Janabi, a member of Nayef Protection
5_ Mohamed Nasr al-Obeidi, a member of protection
6_ Mohammad Khaled al-Janabi, a member of protection
7_ Ali Hussein al-Janabi, a member of protection
8_ Amer al-Janabi, a member of Hannoush Protection
9_ Uday Hamid al-Janabi, a member of Hamaih
Both the scale and the ongoing nature of the violence and the deaths it causes have made it very difficult to report and record civilian deaths in a country that remains a battlefield. Every day more are added to this long long list of violent deaths by guns, bombs and beheadings…
On the 12th anniversary of the invasion, over 154,000 civilian deaths have been recorded by Iraq Body Count. Of the 136,000 civilians reported killed between March 2000 and December 2013, roughly 11,000 have been named. Numbers alone cannot represent human lives. Knowing how many have died cannot be enough without also knowing who has died, because figures alone cannot adequately communicate the loss of individuals. In countries like Iraq, unlike the UK and the USA, casualty reporting and recording often consist of statistics, of numbers. A poor representation of what is lost.
In the Iraq Body Count database a few thousand are identified by name:
Mohamed Abdel Hamid
Occupation Archive manager
Recorded in IBC incident m3328
Location: central Tikrit
Occupation News editor
Recorded in IBC incident m3328
Location: central Tikrit
Occupation Election candidate, former
Marital status Unrecorded
Parental status Mother
Recorded in IBC incident m3144
Location: Shafa’, west Mosul
Recorded in IBC incident m2456
Others are identified by something like ‘policeman’ or ‘lorry driver’. Most are simply ‘male, adult’.
Whose children were they?
How many miss them?
What did they like to do?
What kind of people were they?
Did they like bright colours?
Were they fun-loving?
Did they have a talent?
Were they someone’s darling?
Will we ever know what was lost? Will we remember? Will those identities of the thousands found as ‘bodies in mass graves’ be known? Are the lives of Iraqis less valuable, a smaller loss than those of British people, of Americans, military and civilian?
The commemoration of a life lost must not have ethnicity, religion, colour, or monetary value. It cannot be reserved for the European, for the American, for the white, for the Christian, for the powerful, or for the well-to-do. It has to include the non-white, the poor, the Asian, the African, the illiterate, the beggar boy blown up, the elderly woman shot on her way to market and the Yazidi girl beheaded for not wearing her scarf. The commemoration of a life must know no boundaries or restrictions.
Nobody’s name, identity, life, is lesser than another’s. And nobody’s loss is any easier to bear by those who knew and cared for them, those who will forever mourn their passing.
In ‘Dublinesque’, the British poet Philip Larkin describes a funeral. The mourners walk behind the coffin.
As they wend away
A voice is heard singing
Of Kitty, or Katy,
As if the name meant once
All love, all beauty.
Lily Hamourtziadou is Iraq Body Count’s (IBC) principal news collector and also responsible for the Recent Events updates which provide early indications of the number of Iraqi civilians being killed in violence.