In Nusaybin, life begins behind the barricades


NUSAYBIN | As barricades quickly spring up in Nusaybin, neighborhood families who survived the bloody 90s says “real life begins behind the barricades”.

Dicle (Lika in Kurdish) is one of the five neighborhoods resisting, and the majority of its residents are Kurdish. Under graffiti announcing “Welcome to Kurdistan”, the YPS and women’s YPS-Jin civilian units laughingly exchange their walkie-talkie numbers: “Just dial I-800-BAR-RICADE”. Awnings made out of tent material block the view to snipers and open up on trenches and barricades in Elika where you find the residents who have refused to abandon their homes despite martial law. They are the same people who were forcibly removed during governmental terror in the 90s.

The neighborhood’s history begins with the building of a few houses in 1988. As the victims of the forced evictions of the 90s built their houses in Elika, the neighborhood became a ghetto of resistance.

One of the residents, Vesile Kaya, became a legend in those years by letting the world know about the massacre in 1992, when armored vehicles from the Turkish forces shot at protesters on a bridge, crushing several of them and forcing unknown numbers to jump into the river and drown. The bridge is now called Pira Şehida, or the martyrs’ bridge. As soon as Vesile sees us, she invites us to her table.

Vesile’s household has just greeted the arrival of the youngest member of the resistance. Her grandson Cudi was born a month ago. He opened his eyes on a world of barricades and was named Cudi Teber, after a young man killed in the resistance. We begin our conversation with Vesile to the creaking of Cudi’s cradle, rocked by his three-year old sister, Sozdar Avesta.

In 1991, governmental forces raided Vesile’s home pretexting “aid and assistance to the PKK” (the Kurdistan Workers Party). They strangled her father-in-law Teyfik Kayran in front of the family. During our conversation, I discover that Teyfik’s wife is the same Emine Kayran who was wounded during the latest curfew imposed on the town. Emine is still in the hospital, between life and death.

After this aside, Vesile picks up her story on the night the police arrested her husband Ahmet Kaya and sent her off to the torture center in Nusaybin.

“I was the first woman they tortured in Nusaybin”, she says. “They kept me on the rack for sixteen days; they had taped the electric current on my heels. They tried to turn me into an informer, but I didn’t talk. There was a boy of about twelve they were torturing at the same time. While we were alone, he said: “Don’t talk, mother; they’ll only hurt more mothers.” So I didn’t talk. I don’t know what became of that boy. They probably killed him.”

Vesile resisted torture but, as she says, “my body couldn’t resist anymore.” When her torturers thought she was dead, they threw out her body to the garbage heap. When she tried to escape, they caught her and brought her back.

“And it lasted like that for sixteen days,” Vesile says.

On every street corner in Elika, we meet groups of YPS and YPS-Jin fighters. We join into their conversation. Avasin dropped out of her medical studies last month to join the YPS-Jin and we ask her what brought her here.

“You can’t possibly escape this spirit and not join up with them”, Avasin answers.

She says the public perception of the barricades and trenches as a “war zone” is incorrect.

“The real war is going on in the places with no barricades. No one notices the dirty war against human dignity. I became aware of it,” she explains. “We have built another life here. The assemblies and asayiş (peace-keeping administrative units) are the first examples of this. We’ll move forward with justice courts for the people, pedagogical spaces, and other such initiatives.”

“The task of resistance has fallen upon the Kurdish people and I am one of those whose fate it is,” says Avasin. “Leftists in particular – socialists, anarchists – must come here and discover these spaces. This is no longer the time for occupations in Istanbul and Ankara,” she says, referring to leftist mobilizations in the Western part of Turkey.

“There’s no reason to continue those occupations. Here, the people’s homes are open to everyone. The door is wide open. Real life lies behind the barricades.”