In Cizre, a new legend of Mem and Zin


CIZRE | On the sixteenth day of the siege in Cizre, Derya Tağ left the town with her two children. Her husband Hasan, stayed behind. He is now among the counded in a Cizre basement. Derya compares their story to the legend of Mem and Zin, the lovers buried in the town, and says that, by besieging Kurdistan, the State only encourages the spirit of rebellion.

The State of Turkey has been practicing a policy of genocide against the town of Cizre – most notably against the wounded trapped in two of the town’s basements by the governmental forces who are preventing ambulance access. While the pro-governmental media report that a police “operation” on one of the basements has led to dozens of deaths, gathered in the nearby town of Nusaybin, the families of the wounded do not give up hope.

Derya Tağ is one of the women maintaining a vigil from morning to night, with the hope of returning to the blockaded town of Cizre. She is the youngest among the women waiting here. Her husband Hasan is among the wounded trapped in the basement. Noting that “this isn’t my first experience with oppression”, Derya’s story stretches back year, a story of rebellion against her repressive family and of struggle at her husband’s side.

Derya’s life of resistance began in an Arab family in a village near the town of Midyat in Mardin province. No longer able to bear the violence of her father and her brothers, she ran away to Cizre.

“As a little girl, my every movement was met with heavy insults and beatings,” she says. “This lasted for years, and one day, I said to myself :”Well, why don’t I just run away?” I left with nothing but the clothes on my back and went to a friend’s house in Cizre.” This is where Derya started to work.

“I was a woman who totally hated men, and I worked in a café only to get the money for my daily bread,” Derya says. “Hasan was one of the customers. He was in love with me. He kept sending his friends over, saying he wanted to meet me, and I kept rejecting him, saying: “I can’t even stand the sight of a man’s face.”

“I’ll never forget; one day, he gave me a poem expressing his feelings. I tore the paper and handed it straight back to him. I did not believe in love and I was convinced no man could make me love him. But then, seeing him every day and getting to know him better, my feelings progressed.”

As soon as he managed to get her phone number, Hasan proposed. They rented a café to celebrate their planned engagement. This is when the police broke in and handcuffed Hasan. “With those handcuffs, I began my apprenticeship of the Kurdish struggle,” she says.

After Hasan was sent to jail, Derya visited his family’s house for the first time. The family was poor and there was little more than a mattress in the room. “I learned that his father had been killed by soldiers in the 1990s,” Derya says. “When I heard that, Hasan’s struggle became something sacred for me.” She told Hasan’s mother she had decided to marry Hasan, and moved in with the family to help support them.

“As a woman who had rebelled against so much cruelty, could I leave to Hasan the decision to marry? Of course not. It had to be my decision. We managed to smuggle an engagement ring into the prison. We lifted our rings together – Hasan behind the window, me on the outside – and slipped them on together. When a woman has the soul of an anarchist and lives outside the rules, this is how her marriage takes place.”

The couple had “no ordinary marriage” according to Derya, since usually, the families organize the event and this was not the case for them. Derya compares their story to that of Mem and Zin. In the Kurdish legend first recorded by the Kurdish poet Ehmedê Xani, Mem falls in love with Zin, the daughter of the governor of the Cizira Botan region. Her family hopes to force her into marriage with another man. Through his lies, the traitor Beko causes Mem’s death, and Zin dies soon thereafter. The grave of Mem and Zin stands in Cizre, in the heart of the historic region of Cizira Botan.

“In this, the land of Cizre, I became the Zin who rebels against oppression and he became Mem,” says Derya. “The State was our Beko. Hasan calls me ‘comrade’. We have two sons. We dream that our children will be worthy of the Kurdish struggle and that they will become Kurdish leaders.”

“When the curfew was declared, we decided to stay in our home with the children. On the 16th day, when the attacks intensified, Hasan got me and the children exfiltrated. I was two months pregnant at the time, and I miscarried. Hasan decided to stay in Cizre. For us, land is a question of honor. He said: “If I leave too, how will we ever have the gall to return?” and with that, he decided to protect our neighborhood.”

“I took my children and waited outside Cizre. We would talk on the phone every day. I heard explosions in the background, but he always had a smile in his voice. He would say ‘don’t be frightened; think of all we’ve gone through, we’ll get through this too.”

For twenty days now, Deyra has been unable to reach her husband. All she knows is that he is among the wounded in a basement in town.

She says they struggled for peace, for years on end. But the State confronted them with tanks and artillery fire. She says their hopes for peace died in the State’s mortar attacks on their homes.

“Once it dies, do you think peace can come back to life again?” she asks me. “A few days ago, a neighbor of ours left the neighborhood. When I asked if my husband was there, the answer I got was: “Everyone’s face is so covered in dust, no one recognizes anyone anymore.” These people whose faces are covered by the dust of mortar fire have nothing, not even a stove.”

“Doesn’t self-government mean peace?” Derya asks, referring to the declarations of self-rule in Cizre and other towns the State used as justification for the attacks. “Didn’t all this happen to us just because we wanted peace? I no longer want peace. I can’t live in peace with the Turks who help those oppressing us with their silence.”

“Now, as a woman, I say “Long live Kurdistan.”