The story of Nalan Özen, head of Turkish National Police Social Services Department in the city of Adana, sheds light on the plight of families of soldiers and police officers who fell victim to terrorism.
Scores of police officers have been killed since the PKK terrorist organization launched a renewed campaign of terror in southeastern Turkey in July. With deaths becoming an almost daily occurrence, death notifiers are having a busy time. Nalan Özen is one of them. Working as the head of the Social Services Department, it is her task to give the bad news to the families of the officers.
Özen works in Adana, the hometown of six police officers who were killed in separate terror attacks over the last week. Her work starts when she and medical staff arrive at the doorstep of parents, wives or children of slain officers to give the bad news. But it does not end there, with Özen accompanying the grieving relatives at every stage of the funeral and burial. She comforts families and give them a shoulder to cry on. "Everyone can cry at the funeral but I can't. It is my job to stay strong to comfort the loved ones of (slain officers)," she says.
It is a tough job for Özen who herself is the daughter of a police officer killed in action. Her father Hüseyin was a young police officer who served for only two years when he was killed in a clash with suspects in an operation in 1974 while she was a little girl. She barely remembers his face and knows her father through stories her mother told. She hardly overcame her grief but she is determined to help others in their grief. But she says it is still challenging to notify a family of the death of their loved ones. "I feel the grief of my father every time I visit the house of a fallen officer. It actually helps me as I can connect with them," Özen says. She has been working as a death notifier for 20 years and says her success in her job is linked to her handling of the grief. "I wish there wouldn't be the position of death notifier but we have to do it," she says.
"I don't have to sympathize with them because I am already one of them," she says, referring to the families of slain officers.
"There is no room for mistake in my job. You can't express your emotions," she says though she admits crying once. "I was at a funeral for a fallen soldier. At the end of ceremony, his son said he was proud of being the son of a martyr. That was the breaking point. I hugged him and cried," she says.