“If you have the stomach for it, spend one night in this place”


SILOPI | In the Kurdish town of Silopi where police snipers roam the rooftops, JINHA talked with children and their families about the controversial notion of “self-rule”, what it means to them and why they are fighting against the police.

Just in the last month, policy brutality struck hard twice on the town of Silopi in the Northern part of Kurdistan (in Turkey). On August 7, police attempted to invade the neighborhoods. As young people were resisting, police started shooting at random, killing three people.

On August 29, police raided a home and executed three young men there. On the following night, a sniper shot down a mother and her daughter who were sleeping on their rooftop because of the summer heat. The mother, 55 year old Fatma Ay was killed while her 14-year old daughter Berfin Ökten was grievously wounded.

The people of Silopi have proclaimed self-rule, declaring they no longer recognized State institutions. As a consequence, a wave of such declarations spread across towns and neighborhoods in Kurdistan. Tension is high in the town where the majority of the dead are children and young people. JINHA went to the neighbrohoods under the heaviest confrontations with the police, in order to take a reading of the situation.

The land where teenagers lead

In the streets of Silopi, armored vehicles are parked on every corner and snipers have taken up positions on the roofs of governmental buildings. Every time the police kill another of the town’s children during the confrontations, some may wonder “What business did the children have there?”. A view of the streets provides the answer.

Children make up almost half of the town’s population. When they see us coming, they stream out of the houses, making the victory sign for the camera. We are not far from the town of Cizre where a teenager by the name of Berivan became the leader of the “Cizre Uprising” in 1992. “Here, we’re old enough at 13 or 14,” she said at the time.

We walk through streets covered in graffiti glorifying the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey and several other countries consider the PKK a terrorist organization. As soon as they see us arriving in the neighborhood of Cudi, hundreds of children fill the streets. They break out into the “Rojava March”, the hymn of the revolutionary autonomous region of Rojava in Kurdistan. We jump over the trenches surrounding the neighborhood and find the children standing at attention with small sticks in their hands.

Children born under fire: “We fight so as not to die”

“What makes you so furious?” we ask a boy of 11. He starts to answer: “My name is war. I was born in the middle of one, but I hate war. Every day, someone is killed. We’re protecting one another so as not to die.” The sound of a sniper’s gun breaks off his reply. A women of 23 approaches with her six month old baby. “So, is this six-month old baby in my arms a terrorist too? Besides, what is a terrorist? If it means a ‘Kurd’, then we are all terrorists,” says the woman who introduces herself: Saniye Dönmüş. She is the mother of four children. “The State must take its hands off our children. Who has the right to keep them from sleeping at night because they are afraid?”

S.D., 5, huddles behind his mother’s skirts. “I’m afraid. Our games are interrupted all the time,” he says. “You see that building over there? There’s a man who shoots at us from it. We run inside when we hear the shots and we come out again when they stop.”

Silopi teenagers: “If the State doesn’t like us, why don’t they just go away?”

A sixteen year old youth describes the declarations of self-rule as “civil disobedience against a State that doesn’t like us.” He gives his name as being B.S.

“Since nobody likes us, all they have to do is leave us alone and let us live by ourselves,” he says. “It’s easy enough for them to talk over there, but they should see what we have to put up with here. If you have the stomach for it, spend some time here – not for long, just one night – and decide who is wrong. What did we ever do to the State? Nothing was going on, they attacked us just to get things going. The only thing we can do is defend ourselves.”

One of the most important descriptions of what is going on in Silopi was provided by an eight-year old child by the name of S.Y. who told us he did not want to start his third grade in school this year.

“I really liked school, but because of all this, I made up my mind”, he said. “Even if I had just bought my new school bag, I won’t go back. In any event, as soon as I’ll step outside this neighborhood, they’ll shoot at me. I’m going to stay here and protect my family.” We asked S.Y. how he intended to protect his family, exactly. “By piling up stones in front of the door,” he answered.

For 15 year old D.S., the notion of self-rule is a response to life under fire. He says people on the outside have misunderstood the meaning of “self-rule”.

“What, we were in this great country with no problems and we were the ones who didn’t want anything to do with it? A few nights ago, a girl my age was shot and her mother was killed. Have you thought about the psychology of children in a place like this one? It’s torture being taught in a language we don’t know. It’s torture hearing shooting every night. It’s torture having armored vehicles crashing through your door and raiding your house. It’s torture picking up pieces of our friends’ brains…”

“We’re doing nothing else but defending ourselves and building a new life, and that’s only because there is no government to protect us,” says D.S. “I don’t think that’s such a crime.”

“They are life-loving children”

Ayşe Tokay, 60, complains about the fact the neighborhood youths have to fight against the police every night. Every day, she hangs a sheet at a specific spot in the streets so that residents can cross without being seen by the snipers.

“Our eyes have dried out from so much crying over youngsters every day. They are life-loving children. It is a pity; it is a sin. Their mothers and fathers suffered under this same repression; they, at least, shouldn’t have to live through the same thing.” She says those criticizing the PKK don’t understand that the PKK is nothing other than the people attempting to defend themselves.

A woman by the name of Sarya describes the night when three young men were assassinated during a police raid in the house next to hers. The children couldn’t sleep before morning.

“In the middle of war, we had to play with the children”, Sarya says. “We told them everything they were hearing was part of a game. We pretended to make guns out of our fingers and we played with them until morning. We told them the sounds were from fire crackers and that no one would die.”

“It was a terrible night. I still hear their screams,” Sarya says.