Women who were set free by pain


MARDIN | The night is almost over. Soon, the sun will rise. I walk in a misty darkness. Bombs explode constantly. Children run back and forth behind the barricades. We have had no water or power for months. I touch my hair. It feels like stone. Who knows what I look like, but I don’t care about such things these days. Quite the contrary, I tend to forget myself… The bombings continue… My brain goes numb as do my movements just now. In the darkness, I am sometimes targeted by bullets without knowing where they are coming from. The other day, the house in which I was staying was bombed. We hid behind a stone to protect ourselves from the sharpshooter. Behind us, the wall was pockmarked with bullet holes…Days go by like this and, after a while, you consider this normal, it becomes your usual lifestyle. This is how we live here.

Soon after, I see a group of people attempting to warm themseves by a fire. I approach and notice a skinny brunette. I know her. Before the clashes began over the proclamation of self-rule, she was in charge of Kurdish archives in the Ekin Cere library at the Mitanny Cultural Center. Now, she participates in the civilian street watches every night so that children will not get killed. She is wearing a black headscarf and her eyes are filled with tears. In these lands, whoever you approach has a story to tell. She is one of them. Her name is Kader. Her fate – this is also the meaning of her name – is filled with painful moments. Her husband was killed in 1992 by Hezbollah, the radical fundamentalist Islamist organization backed by the State.

“Those dark days that never end…”

Kader’s husband was killed in 1992, a year filled with painful memories in Nusaybin. “In that period, being a Kurd was reason enough to get killed,” Kader says. She also says this was the only reason why her husband was killed. “Once again, 1992 brought the well-known misery. One of those dark days that never end was reserved to my husband. We had been married 7 months and I was pregnant. My husband was a housepainter by trade. He was a patriotic Kurd; the opposite would have been strange, yes? But the Hezbollah couldn’t stand our having our own identity on our own lands. They had been serving as an instrument for the State and spreading terror in the region for years. They would detain my husband at the end of each work day and torture him. He would come home with his face bloodied.”

“I was a child forcibly married”

Kader says she was a 17 year old child when she was forcibly married off by her family. “Imagine: I was still a child and found myself married. I became pregnant immediately. My husband also was nothing but a child. I was like a small girl with no protection and pregnant on top of it. As if this were not enough, Hezbollah was launching those horrible attacks targeting us. Since I was a child, I was deeply afraid. Not like I am today. We had nowhere to go and confide about our problems, we didn’t know enough to realize there were others like us on this land. Kurds were afraid to stand in total resistance. Blacklisted families such as ours stood very much alone. When I think of those days, I remember how frightened I was, just like a little child.”

I became a willful woman after my husband’s death”

“Once again, this same familiar scene. My husband was killed right out on the street,” Kader says. After the loss of her husband, she says she had to give up her childhood and turn into a willful woman: “At first, it was extremely difficult, we could not even see his corpse or recover his possessions. I was hospitalized for months, I lost my mind. I don’t even remember the birth of my child. The only thing I remembered was the ring on my finger. Every time I looked at my finger, it reminded me I’d had a husband and that he’d been killed. I got a hold on myself after several months. I recuperated my child and we built ourselves a rickety house. I slogged away at different jobs, housecleaning, among other things. We managed to eat and I sent my son to school. I never resigned myself to anything whatsoever. My husband was killed solely because he was a Kurd, but I am not like him. I became a woman who knows what she is doing and who involved herself in the class and identity struggles.”

This would not have happened if we had not let our rights be abused in the past”

“Now, I am a woman fighting for her own rights, I am stronger than my husband was. Working in the library makes me happy. All these things happened because of our illiteracy. They would not have happened if we had not let our rights be abused in the past. I really want young people to get an education. Even during these days where we are under attack, I open the doors to the library at 8 o’clock every morning. Yes, we could be attacked. Yes, a youngster could get killed an hour from now, but first and foremost, they must learn to read, and learn everything there is to know.”

“No one can believe I am 40 years old. For them, I’m probably a toothless, wrinkled hag. Oh how I wish this ring on which not a single stone is left, this last memory of my husband, had a mouth with which to tell everything I have been through. This ring is the witness to everything that has happened to me…”

Kader and I embraced for a long time. What she has lived through is very similar to my own experiences. In fact, her story is the same as that of everyone on these lands. And that is probably why we share the same emotions and cannot abandon one another.

In the icy early morning light, we shiver even more. An old woman approaches, bearing a tray with tea and a few breakfast things to eat. The amulet on her scarf holds my attention. She leaves the tray and walks away. I follow her to her house. She hasn’t invited me but I can’t keep myself from walking behind her. Her eyes turn back as if to say: come. I sense a story in her appearance. Her daughter, a woman in her fities, greets us at the door. It is a tiny little house with a wood stove. My bones warm up immediately, I experience the happiness brought on by a heat that makes me drowsy. I wipe the dust from my face with the back of my hand. I look at the photos on the wall. It is obvious that most of them represent people who are no longer alive. They all stand with a PKK flag behind them. All of them were revolutionaries. Why would so many people from the same family head to the mountains? This is a stupid question in any event, sometimes I laugh at my journalistic reactions that make me forget I’m a Kurd.

I’m intrigued by that amulet on the scarf of an old woman with deqli (tattoos) on her face. Important secrets lurk behind such amulets on the heads of women attached to cultural symbols. I sit by the stove with this beautiful 90 year old woman (Cemile Oral) and I ask her about the secret of this amulet. In the warm little house where Cemile lives with her daughter Fexriya Ayaz, I listen to the tale of years and of those atrocities that made her son and grandchildren head for the mountain.

The secret behind the amulet on Cemile’s head

“1988 was one of the years where too much blood was shed in Nusaybin. Corpses of those killed in the operations in the mountains were brought down to the town. We were at the funeral with the entire population. On that day, governmental forces subjected people to serious torture. But on no other day did we cry out as loud as on that day that we were Kurds, that we were ourselves. That funeral was a turning point for us. We couldn’t take anymore, we exploded and cried out; “We are Kurds!”

Cemile continues: “Our children became revolutionaries later. This was in 1990 during those dark days when blood and fear were everywhere. Being a Kurd was reason enough to have you killed. I had a grandson by the name of Servet. One day he told us he was opposed to all of them, that he was heading for the mountain, and that’s what he did.” She says their previous life ended that day. “My son Hüseyin and my grand daugther Tekoşin Ayaz followed in his footsteps and headed for the mountains. After they left, our house became a target for the State. Every night, they would attack our house and ransack our things. What I could protect from them, I handled with kid gloves. They threatened us every day. The State hated us. For them, there would never be enough blood. One day, just as she was coming out of school my seven year old grandaughter, Emine, was killed by the State-supported Hezbollah. Can you imagine that they killed a child?”

Cemile stops for a moment. The burning wood in the stove breaks the silence in the room. She takes a deep breath and continues:

“A few years later, I learned that my son was dead. I will never forget, someone came in the middle of the night and handed me a note. I’m illiterate so I asked someone to read it to me. The note said my son was dead. The only memento I have of my son is this note telling me he is dead. I wrapped that note in a piece of cloth and made it into an amulet. Then I attached it to my headscarf. I’ve had this amulet for years now. I look at it constantly. I think of my son all the time, unfortunately, the only thing I have left of him is this amulet on my head.”

We wore our dresses inside out”

“Have you ever asked yourself by Kurds love colors so much?” Cemile asks. She says smuggling makes up the main source of revenue in Nusaybin (in Turkey) separated by barbed wires from Qamislo (In Syria-Rojava): “In those days, colorful dresses were forbidden. You could only get such clothing in Rojava. Soldiers who entered the villages would torture women dressed in colorful clothes, they would force them to take them off, they would set them on fire and arrest the men in their homes. This is why we used to dip these dresses in mud to dirty them and remove the shine of newness from them. Some of us wore them inside out, then they would turn them over again, once the soldiers were gone. We also used to hide tobacco in the secret walls of the stables.”

“I hear my daughter is a great commander now”

After bringing us some tea, Fexriya Ayaz joins our conversation. She starts talking about her daughter. From what she has heard, her daughter has become a great commander in the mountain. She smiles proudly. “The atrocities never stopped. We had to emigrate to the West. But even over there, they never left us alone. They are always after us, but we’ve grown accustomed to it now. We couldn’t live over there either. My child was longing for home, our land was calling us. It was asking us to come back, so we did. My daughter Tekoşin played an important role as a woman in Nusaybin. She was very active in Party work. The main reason why my daughter turned her face toward the mountain was the massacre of Nusay Pira Şehida in 1992 (where military armored vehicles crushed 18 people to death). That massacre was a decisive factor for her. She left for the mountain with her uncle. Now, I hear she is a great commander. My daughter Tekoşin, My lovely-faced commander Tekoşin who left her mother nothing but a bit of clothing and photos.”

On their birthdays, Fexriya and her mother Cemile cut the cakes in front of their children’s photos. They speak with their smiling faces. We looks at each other and smile. It is so good to be able to smile after all that…I drink my tea and throw myself back out on the street.