MARDIN | Thanks to the people’s protests, the assaults against the declaration of self-rule along with the nine days of curfew ended in December 2015 in Derik in the district of Mardin. Once the curfew is lifted, we go out on the street and, once again, we take stock of the heavy damage. Many of the houses are destroyed. The wounded are being transported to the hospital. The streets are strewn with animal corpses. One woman collapses and loses her head at the sight of her dead donkey. Throughout history, Derik has been a town filled with suffering; but with resistance also.
So, what explains this great resistance in Derik? This district is located in a small mountain town inhabited by a population born from a mountainous tribe with a century-old history of suffering. In fact, the literal meaning of Derik is the place of the church (Dêr means church). It was once considered a holy town. One could find five different churches there, belonging to the Armenian, Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean and Orthodox communities, whereas not a single Armenian couple lives there nowadays. So, what happened in Derik’s recent history, a town where young women were sold, and men and old people massacred during the Armenian genocide?
We researched what happened in the village of Xerarê in the district of Derik, since that village has a long and important history of resistance, such as that of Tuncel for instance (the people’s resistance in 1990). What happened there isn’t known well enough for the facts have been hidden. I walk toward the old residential areas, using the district’s historical stairs surrounded by ditches and tents. Along the side streets, the smell of tea cooking in copper pans over charcoal fires adds a Kurdish dimension to the depth of space. No matter which door I knock on, I receive the same answer: “Heci Zeyno is the person best suited to tell you about Xirarê.” One after the other, I knock on doors inlaid with blueish green drawings and the answer is always the same…
Leyla who has been my hostess for days finally leads to the house of 90 year old Zeyno Kaputa. Along with Zeyno whose eyes are filled with tears because of the loss of her donkey in the attacks, we lean against the sunny outside wall of the stone house. Zeyno begins to speak: “What destroyed Derik’s identity was its submission to the Union and Progress Party. What brought Derik back as Derik was drawing the lessons, and resisting. Of course, everything has a story, including my will to resist by staying in my house at my age. So lean against those stones that will tell you what happened. It was in 1993. The PKK has started appearing and spreading. Its greatest sympathizers came from this district along with the most important leaders. Of course, everything has a price. But, my child, the price we paid was a bit too steep…”
“We were completely naked on the village square”
“One night in the cold and the snow, Xirarê was suddenly surrounded by dozens of armored vehicles. They encircled the home of the Çeviren family and covered it with gunfire. The family resisted. After a long confrontation, five men from the same family and two guerilleros lost their lives. Things didn’t end there. All the villagers were pulled from their homes and grouped on the village square. They divided us in groups. Women and children on one side and the men on the other. It was winter and the weather was freezing. They undressed us and insulted us for hours.”
“They raped Abide before our eyes”
“How I wish there was nothing else to say. The true suffering began when they got hold of 14 year old Abide Çeviren. She was out milking the cows. They threw her to the ground on the village square. She was crying “I am not a guerillera”. Those who reacted were severely tortured. They undressed Abide and ordered her to tell everything she knew. But the young one knew nothing in the first place. They dragged over her father and her brothers, threatening to kill her if the father did not talk. Despite everything, the father held out. The soldiers raped the young girl to death before our eyes, all the others and her family. Abide was unable to resist and died. After that, humanity died in the soldiers while our faith in brotherhood died at the same time…”
“We took shelter in the mountains”
The soldiers left in the night. They threw the seven corpses of those they had killed behind the courtyard of the mosque and left some soldiers on guard. They burned down the houses. For hours, we watched the blood running from Abide’s dead body on the snow. The whole village was in a state of shock. No one could sleep till morning. We all embraced Abide’s honorable body they had treated like filth, and we cried. Finally, the soldiers left at daybreak. We, the villagers, buried the dead and after final tears over our burned homes, we headed for the mountains. We slept in caverns for days. After several farewells, the youngest ones chose another way, one after the other. Had I been only forty years old, I would have been one of the passengers in this honorable road.
The babies were born on the road”
“I will never forget it: my neighbour Henê who was pregnant gave birth in the woods. We had nothing. We bundled up the baby in thin pieces of fabric and continued on our journey. A few families and myself left the group when we reached Derik. We wondered if we should stop there as the others continued westward; they did not believe the soldiers would leave us alone there either. Some settled in Diyarbakır, others in Adana, and others went to Istanbul and to Izmir. Like wilted flowers losing their petals in every neighborhood, in every town. This is the story of Xirarë, you can hear the silent cries of a different story under each stone. Some are Armenian, some are Assyrian, some are Chaldeans, Kurds. Brave souls become so because of lessons learned in the victimization caused by silence…”