Prohibited tears: the hidden suffering of the Basque conflict

Photos by Iker Etxebarria


A man walking in front of a mural depicting the Picasso’s Guernica in the Basque town of the same name. An artwork about the horror of war and the suffering it creates. A suffering that has not stopped growing in the Basque Country since the bombing of Gernika.

Every conflict has at least two sides. Each one with it’s arguments, successes, failures… and sufferings. This is a project about a portion of that suffering at a critical time for the resolution of the conflict. The hidden sufferings, often censored, rarely known. Banishment, exile, exception prison policies and deaths caused by the police, right-wing groups or death squads in the Basque Country.

Located in the western Pyrenees that spans the border between France and Spain on the Atlantic coast, it’s one of the oldest nations in Europe. With its own culture and language, Basque. A language classified as isolate. The last remaining descendant of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe.

Currently divided under French and Spanish administration, the Basque territories have witnessed countless conflicts and wars.
In 1958, under Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, first emerged Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, ETA, whose name stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom. Classified as a terrorist organization by the European Union, ETA describes itself as “a political organization that practices the armed struggle”. Over 50 years of armed conflict with territoriality and the right of self- determination as primary keys to understanding politically a conflict that has caused much suffering. Many sufferings.

The “Prohibited tears” project began in 2011 coinciding with the declaration of ETA announcing the definitive cessation of its armed activity. ETA, also, makes a call to the governments of Spain and France to open a process of direct dialogue which has as its aim the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and thus the conclusion of the armed conflict. An useless call, at least for now.


Four silhouettes in Pasaia remember the dead by Spanish police shootings of four members of the Autonomous Anticapitalist Commands in March 1984. The police arrested one of his companions and tended an ambush when zodiac flocked to the meeting they had. The two survivors of that night defined it as an ambush and squad.

Iker Etxebarria was born in 1982 in Bizkaia, Spain. He is a freelance photographer currently involved in documentary
photography. In 2011 and 2012 attends courses about documentary photography organized by the Basque Summer University and directed by photographer Jesus Mari Arruabarrena. In 2013 took part in a photography workshop with the photographer and World Press Photo of the Year 2011 winner, Samuel Aranda. After having made several personal works and a documentary work about a geriatric and mental health center, at the moment he is mainly working on “Prohibited Tears” project. A long term work
started in 2011.

The events in memory of the deaths caused by state violence are often prohibited, so that, many of them are held in secret to avoid police presence.

A dancer in the tribute held in secret to Lutxi Urigoitia in Otxandio. Lutxi was a member of ETA and died by gunfire of the Civil Guard. An autopsy revealed she died by a gunshot in the head that had been carried out at a very close range.

A “clandestine” act held in Bilbao in memory of a dead exiled. These are usually acts that people know by word of mouth.

Joxean Lasa and Joxi Zabala, alleged militants of ETA, were kidnapped by members of GAL (death squads established illegally by Officials of the Spanish government), retained in the Civil Guard headquarters of Intxaurrondo and tortured to finally be killed and buried in quicklime. Their rest were identified 12 years later and at the funeral the Basque autonomic police attacked the family of the deceased in the graveyard.

A relative of an exile with the silhouette that is used to represent the 500 exiles of the Basque Political Exiles Collective.

The June 15, 2013 about 100 exiles reappeared publicly on a political act in Biarritz (Basque city in French state). At the event, the Basque Political Exiles Collective presented a roadmap to resolve their situation. They link their return home to the resolution of the conflict that pushed them into exile.

Photos of some prisoners in a bar. Spanish Justice prohibits to show Basque Political Prisoners Collective members photos. Hundreds of people have been charged of glorifying terrorism by this fact.

Relatives of Basque prisoners during a demonstration in Bilbao to demand the end of the measures of exception as the “dispersion prison policy”. This is the maintenance of these prisoners in prisons far away from their home and It’s one of the exception policies that causes more suffering to relatives and friends. They are dispersed to an average of 1,300 kilometers from their homes. 17 relatives or friends have died in traffic accident when going to or returning from a visit.

Act in memory of Vicente Anton Ferrero. Killed in a demonstration in Basauri shot by the spanish Civil Guard.

A relative of ETA member Arkaitz Otazua, receives a bouquet of flowers in a “clandestine” act held in Bilbao. Arkaitz Otazua, aged 24, died by Basque autonomic police shooting in September 2003.

A photo of Juan Paredes “Txiki”, militant of ETA, after being executed by firing squad during Franco’s dictatorship. The six caps (five plus the coup de grace) on the pictures were taken in by his lawyer after the shooting. In the same process were shot the ETA member Angel Otaegi and five members of FRAP.

The mother of Juan Paredes “Txiki”, executed by firing squad during Franco’s dictatorship, kisses her son’s grave in the tribute held in the cemetery of Zarautz. In 2009 this act was banned.

Arrival of the coffin of Javier Lopez Peña to Bilbao airport in April 2013. Member of ETA, was imprisoned in the French state since May 2008. Several people were charged in praise of terrorism by the reception of the cadaver.

A relative of a victim of state violence holds a carnation in his hands during the ceremony in memory of Joxe Arregui, ETA member who died of police torture during his detention.

Sculpture in honor of Santi Brouard. Pediatrician and politician of HB (Basque nationalist/separatist left political party) shot dead by GAL mercenaries.

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