From coups to curfews, Rukiye and Semawi maintain their resistance


NUSAYBIN | In the town of Nusaybin where Kurdish residents maintain their resistance and continue building a new life despite attacks by the State, Rukiye and Semawi Baran say this is simply the latest in the waves of oppression they have witnessed, and they will continue resisting.

In the last few months, the Turkish State imposed six brutal 24-hour curfews in Nusaybin. The resistance that began in the neighborhoods of Fırat, Dicle, Yenişehir and Abdulkadirpasa has now spread to the neighborhoods of Kışla and Zeynelabidin.

In Zeynelabidin, one of the most ancient sites in the historic town of Nusaybin, a new barricade goes up every day. While a tank stands guard in the Hacılar cemetery, blocking citizens inside their neighborhood, trucks criss-cross the neighborhood, loaded down with cobblestones. In this area, a single street can have dozens of barricades.

Rukiye and Semawi Baran are among the residents who have decided to stay in their homes, to resist the assaults and to build a new life behind the barricades. As the winter sun warms the tiny gardens in the neighborhood, the couple greets us on their “living room set”: chairs set up in the garden. We begin our conversation to the sound of truckloads of cobblestones poured out by children building barricades. The couple says they have decided to stay in this house because of the tradition of resistance.

Rukiye Baran, 50, lost the use of an eye during the martial law period in the region that followed the military coup in 1980.

“Things were the same back then. Every day an explosion, every day a massacre. We never knew where the attacks would come from. One day, there was a big explosion in the market,” she says. “Since that day, I can’t see out of my right eye. They may have put the spark out of my eye, but the true light is in my heart.”

Rukiye grew up in the district known as “binxet” or “below the line” – meaning the town of Qamislo in Rojava, marked off one day from Nusaybin by rolls of barbed wire and landmines, when those in power ordered the setting up of a border between the nation-states of Turkey and Syria, thus cutting the town in half.

“I’m the child of smugglers who never considered these lands as divided and who don’t acknowledge passports,” Rukiye says. “The State considered us as strangers who could not enter their own lands except with a passport, but we never gave up that place. Our shopping, our funerals, our marriages, our organizations, we’ve always done everything together.”

“Then I married my husband, he was one of my relatives. The oppression continued, of course. My child was only one year old when my husband was jailed for selling tapes. For years, we didn’t even know where he was. Every day, there was a raid and torture…I’m the only one who knows what we lived through. Soldiers and policemen entered our house in combat boots.”

Semawi, 65, and with a handicapped left arm, tells his part of the events from that period.

“We sold clandestine tapes of Kurdish songs. You received a death sentence for listening to Cegerxwîn (a Kurdish poet). Truck drivers hid the tapes under the hoods; every night, residents here unearthed the tapes, listened to them, and buried them again. It was illegal, but that didn’t stop everyone from knowing Seydayê Cegerxwîn’s poems by heart.”

“Then, they caught me. They tortured me all the way to the cell in Diyarbakır prison. First, they shaved my head. For years, I shared my bread with an army of mice. They gnawed on my nose: you see, I still have the marks”, Semawi says, pointing to his nose. “I suffered through a lot of torture: forced to eat faeces, bastinado, the wheel, and worse still. After several days on the wheel, gangrene set into my left arm. My bones broke. Now, I can’t use that arm any more.”

Semawi describes being in the same baracks as the Kurdish politician Mehdi Zana whose wife, Leyla Zana, politicized by her husband’s imprisonment, rose to the rank of elected member of Parliament.

Because Semawi and Mehdi’s families only spoke Kurdish and the guards applied the all-in-Turkish rule during the visits, they remained silent for long minutes at a time.

“One of the mothers couldn’t stand to see her child like that and started singing a Kurdish lament. The soldiers started kicking her in front o f us. Leyla Zana was among the visitors. She removed one of her slippers and landed it on one of the soldiers’ heads, yelling: “You scum, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” What she did was my biggest motivation to carry on the struggle,” Semawi says.

Las year, Semawi submitted his case to Turkey’s constitutional Court, but the file was dismissed, despsite the evidence of his arm and his nose.

“The oppression continues, you understand,” Semawi says. “And if the oppression continues, so does the resistance against it.”