There remained Dorşin’s comb and candies for children

In the middle of the night, a huge explosion rattles the walls of my room, and I fall out of bed. Hearing gunfire non stop day and night has been going on for months. The sound has become the constant rhythm of my life, so much so that my ears have become so accustomed to the noise that I’m barely aware of it. But this is a truly huge explosion.

In the morning, there’s not a trace left of the street. People shout and scream, one woman runs by crying there’s nothing left of her house. All her belongings have turned to ash. Those walls still standing are riddled with bullet holes. Just around the corner, where once there stood a large lorry there is nothing but ashes. It was attacked while loaded obviously, now it’s hard to tell it was once a lorry.

I push past people. My steps are heavy, I listen to the sorrow rising from them. I meet up with a group of people and we start walking together. Off in a corner near the mosque, we see a corpse, covered in blood. A female body lying flat on its face. We turn it over and realize it is Dorşin. Only yesterday, we were laughing together, talking about the future. Now we face her lifeless body, one of the hardest experiences in the world.

Dignified and sombre, Dorşin’s friends arrive a little bit later. They lift the body to their shoulders to prepare it for the funeral which is ready before long in the neighborhood square. Her friends hold a military ceremony for her. This is a first in Nusaybin. I haven’t come across other military ceremonies in civilian regions. In her memory, her friends pledge loyalty to the struggle.

I know it is hard to explain the inner dynamics of people in resistance, especially when every day brings another death. However, I would like you to know that there is something unexplainable and magical in life after every time that price is paid. And so, on the 23rd of January 2015, there was the announcement of another death in Nusaybin, the city in Mardin province which was hit hard by military operations. I found myself writing this article to the news agencies. I’ve lost count of the number of such article I have written.

It was that much harder for me to “cover” this story that we had spoken a few days earlier in an interview. She had postponed the formal interview for health reasons, but I had managed to talk with her. She had arrived in the neighborhood a few days earlier and this was her first public meeting. She was all ears, taking everything in with great attention. And through her loss, the entire town of Nusaybin – and not only her neighborhood – got to know her.

The blues hung over the neighborhood after she died. In the house, there remained only her comb, her watch, hair pins and the candies she always carried for the children. No one spoke. The children withdrew in their corners as if they had lost what they loved the most. Seeing people gathered on a street corner and talking, I approach them and hear they are talking about Dorşin.

They say they remember her smiling face. Her friend Dünya tells us that they both fought in Rojava together also, during an unending season. “For her, the struggle was universal. Yesterday she was in Rojava, today in Nusaybin. She had joined the fight because of her ethnic identity as a Kurd and because of her identity as a woman. Being a woman was the essential feature for her and her approach to this question was remarkable.

Women and children mattered to her. She always carried candies in her pocket for the children. We will always remember her with her candies and her smiling face,” says Dünya with tears in her eyes.

“The was the nomad woman of the revolution.”

She was our nomad (koçer), her way of being and her expression looked like those of the nomads in the region. We always teased her about this. And indeed, she was a revolutionary nomad. A revolutionary who went from Amed to the mountains, then to Rojava end, finally to Nusaybin.

Nusaybin children, on the barricades at the break of dawn

07.03.2016

NUSAYBIN | While the giant loudspeakers trumpet revolutionary marches, the children building barricades in the town of Nusaybin under siege also lead in the building of a new communal life.

Turkish forces imposing martial law in the district of Nusaybin of Mardin province have armored vehicles on each street corner. They have even transformed kindergartens into military operation centers. Recently, with every night bringing intensive assaults against the neighborhood, the children in work gloves take up their position on the barricades at the break of dawn.

To the sound of the giant loudspeakers, obtained from a local sound engineer, the children bring wheelbarrows loaded with cobblestones – stopping on occasion to accompany the booming music with their singing and a few steps of the traditional line dance.

“Without the barricades, we would get killed like the children in Cizre and Silopi,” the children say, referring to two towns under siege in the vicinity. They have set up sentinels charged with keeping an eye on the armored vehicles, and they do their best to protect their neighborhood with barricades wherever they can.

Henceforth, the Zeynelabidin neighborhood, the most ancient residential area in historical Nusaybin, is home to a people’s resistance. Just South of them, on the other side of the national border dividing the town, the people of Qamislo in Rojava have erected two tents and their own giant loudspeakers. “The Nusaybin Vigil” by Qamislo residents is never empty even for a minute, with campfires burning every night along with songs celebrating the resistance. A reminder of the scene only a year ago in the town of Suruç, North of the border, when the people in Northern Kurdistan set up a vigil to watch over the resistance in the town of Kobanê, just South of the frontier.

Here in Zeynelabidin, the positioning of the barricades even determines the paths borrowed by the sheep to reach their grazing grounds. Openings in the walls between the houses allow circulation during the curfews. The neighborhood’s barricades are built according to the most recent model, allowing residents to pass through from one side of the road to the other. The sight of children playing and flocks of sheep crossing the scenery give a distinctive flavor to the resistance in Nusaybin.

Düniya Sterk, a fighter with the YPS-Jin civilian defenses explains that Nusaybin which was declared “a women’s town” a few years ago, carries on the fight against violence on women now that the residents have declared self-rule.

“Someone abusing women will have to deal with us,” Dünya says. “The women’s testimony is decisive. Any man who abuses his wife might as well forget about her from that moment on, because every act of violence will carry a sanction from which there is no return.”

During the peace talks that began in 2013 in Turkey, the State “thought they could simply waste our time”, Dünya says, although the Kurdish people stuck to their end of the peace process.

“Despite everything, the Kurdish people aren’t the losers here, the State is,” she says. “If, even after two months of brutal 24-hour curfews, the Turkish State has not managed to invade the protected neighborhoods in towns such as Nusaybin, this means the State has lost.” Dünya says the State is now carrying out a total war, targeting even small children.

“No one should expect us to display moderation”, she says. “Against those who kill our children and our mothers, the struggle must obviously be an armed one.” She says the youths of the YPS had no other choice than to take up arms, but that their struggle is political and cultural as well as being a military combat.

Dünya commented on the importance of autonomous women’s structures for the Kurds, a phenomenon that began in the region with the women’s structures in the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).

“In currently existing socialism, we found ‘first the people’s struggle, then the women’s struggle’, but that’s not how it goes,” says Dünya. “That approach taught us that this was a way to constantly leave until later the women’s problem and never solve it. Both struggles must go on together.” She notes that the revolution in the Rojava part of Kurdishtan became a women’s revolution following the declaration by the women’s armed defence, the YPJs.

“This is why we couldn’t settle only for the YPS here in Bakur (Northern Kurdistan),” Dünya says. “We had to declare the formation of autonomous women’s units, the YPS-Jin – as women leading a 5 000 year old struggle against the patriarchal system at the origin of these wars. Without them, the revolution would be incomplete. As our leader says (Abdullah Öcalan) if you don’t solve the problem at the root, you don’t solve it at all.”

In a world where thousands of women are killed each year by masculine violence, Dünya says armed women’s organizations such as PAJK, YPJ, YBS-Jin and YPS-Jin are the only solution.

“As Kurdish women, we declared 2016 as the year for the assault for women’s liberation. Women across the world must choose their side,” she says. “PYS-Jin calls on all women: we are not fighting only for one people. With our own struggle against every attack from the patriarchal system, we are affirming that “we are here.”

“This struggle has an international character; all the world’s women need to take their place in this struggle,” Dünya says.

Songs by Kurdish songwriter Hozan Dilges, a Nusaybin native, sound throughout the town while the women organize the common baking of bread in their tandoor ovens.

In streets, garbage collectors can no longer enter, the young residents sweep away the garbage and burn it. Here, along the border, old women make victory signs to their relatives in Qamislo.

We talk with the women offering us freshly baked bread. They say they had no other choice than to build barricades against the State’s attacks.

“They wounded my neighbour Müzeyen Kızıl in the foot,” Gule explains. “My neighbour is a terrorist? That woman, with her children? They attack so brutally they leave us no other choice. My children’s school isn’t a school anymore: it’s a military command center and we have nowhere to go. Where can we go that won’t be only for a day or two?”

“We are on our lands. Let them leave,” says Gule. “The Kurds don’t threaten anyone: the State hasn’t understood that. What, do we want Istanbul? We simply want to live in our own town.”

In Cizre, a new legend of Mem and Zin

21.02.2016

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.”

“They smashed Dilşah’s hopes and her immaculate smile”

21.06.2016

NUSAYBIN | Gülşah Ak, 50, was killed in Nusaybin by governmental forces on February 20. Talking about Gülşah, her sister said: “My sister had confidence in life after the declaration of self-rule. She loved her land, like all Kurds do. Death is the price we pay for loving our land. Now my sister is with the immortals who paid that price. They smashed her hopes and her immaculate smile.”

Gülşah (Dilşah) Ak was killed yesterday in front of her sister’s house near the Seyitler mosque in the Abdulkadirpaşa neighborhood of the besieged town of Nusaybin. Sevgi Ak, 10, was holding her mother’s hand when governmental forces opened fire on them. Sevgi was wounded and taken to the State Hospital in Nusaybin from which she was later discharged. Dilşah’s sister, Halife Yıldırım was at her door and witnessed the massacre. Halife says that armored vehicles took up their positions near her house and opened fire on her sister and her niece. “They are trying to cover up the incident. I saw the massacre with my own eyes. The State killed my sister,” Halife says.

Halife says her sister left her home in the Yenituran neighborhood with her daughter, to come visit her. “My sister came visiting on several occasions. The special forces had seen her many times when she came over to see me. She was doing so again. She rang the doorbell. They shot her as I was opening the door. They killed my sister before my eyes.” The mother of six children, traces of Gülşah Ak’s blood are still on the ground in front of her sister’s home. “My sister loved her lands as does everyone in Nusaybin”, her sister says. Halife says that stepping out where her sister was killed is the greatest of tortures for her.

Like all the other families in Nusaybin, Gülşah’s family chose to resist against Hizbulkontra (Hezbollah) and State repression in the 90s. Fifteen members of her family lost their lives in this Kurdish struggle. Now, Gülşah’s invalid husband must raise six children on his own.

“My sister dedicated her life to her children. She was a quiet, cheerful woman. A quiet woman, peaceful and warmhearted. She didn’t gossip with this one and that one. She loved her husband and her children. I was the only one which whom she talked. She had told me she loved Kurdish culture. She was a Kurd and, for the State, that was reason enough to kill her. My sister never did anything wrong,” Halife says.

Halife says she has experienced governmental oppression personally. “I haven’t seen my son in 25 years. They made him disappear without a trace. To top this off, they killed my sister in front of me. I suffer terribly. They killed my sister on my doorstep. They are still waiting outside my home. I suffer when I hear their voices.”

In Nusaybin, life begins behind the barricades

26.01.2016

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.”

From coups to curfews, Rukiye and Semawi maintain their resistance

11.01.2016

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.”

Tree of resistance in Dargeçit, Delalê holds seven losses in her heart

01.01.2016

DARGEÇIT |The armed forces killed seven people during the nineteen days that lasted the curfew in Dargeçit, district of Mardin. Hundreds of animal corpses are strewn in the streets. One animal has been so badly dismembered that her unborn baby has been expelled. I move forward and the pain of the town hits me in the face. There are no sounds, everyone quietly attempts to recover what remains of their burnt-out homes. Those walls still standing are riddled with bullet holes. The cars: burned down to carcasses. Over these nineteen days, the town has become unrecognizable. I see a crowd. I notice they are burying their loved ones together. Seven funerals, seven people killed by governmental forces. They were all civilians who had never held a gun in their life. Still they couldn’t avoid being targets for the Turkish military and police forces.

I am looking for women’s stories in the district. The first snow of the new year falls on the slaughtered animals on the district’s historical streets made of stone. The people I meet point out an old woman’s house: a blue door trimmed with traditional painting, a tiny house built out of Mardin’s yellow stone. A tiny 90-year old woman greets me, her smiling face bearing traditional tattoos. Inside, a fire crackles in the stove, topped by a copper vessel and a large pan of bubbling mutton stew. The pan is much too big for Delalê who lives alone. “When you cook,” she says, ” you must think of those who might come knocking at your door.” From the phone to the prayer beads and prayer rugs – everything in the house is covered in red, yellow and green. In English, Delalê means “precious”, but in Delalê’s case, this “precious” is filled with tears. While she was out during the curfew, the special forces searched her house, breaking open her dowry chest and messing up the contents she had managed to preserve all these years. Worst of all for Delalê, they broke the frame on her son Abdurrahman Bektaş’ photo. At age 13, the boy was murdered during the conflict in the 1990s.

Each of the framed photographs holds another tale of massacre.

While repairing the frame in the tiny green room, I ask my own “precious” questions: “Whose photos are those, framed in yellow-red-green braid?” She starts by saying: “Ax hawar, hawaramini erd u esmana… (Ey hawar, my grief fills the earth and the sky). Those images are the reason for the yellow, red and green braid on my head” (these are the colors of the banned Kurdish flag). “One is of my son Abdurrahman, he was my 13 year old sweetheart. He was a sheperd. The price he paid for sharing his bread with the guerrilla was to be plunged in a vat of acid in Kızıltepe in Mardin. The other is of my very dear brother Ali Doşkun who was kicked to death by the soldiers and the village guards. When we found him, his stomach was mutilated, his guts were spilling out of his body and they had smashed in his chin. The other photo is of another brother, Abdurrahman Doşkun who was massacred with seven others. Next to him is my son-in-law Abdulgafur Baykara who disappeared while in custody. My grand-children, Hayri, Savcı and Salih… Don’t ask me anything about them, I cannot bear to talk about it.”

“Should the old tree in the Safa neighborhood come to fall, the whole struggle will fail.”

Our precious Mother Delalê squints , focuses her shiny eyes, and continues talking. While she speaks, the sound of the tea bubbling in the copper vessel keeps company to her quavering voice, like a comforting melody. Every time she lifts her hand and points to a photograph, one senses the stores of resistance in her weathered palms: “When you breathe in deep, if the breath does not bring comfort to your pain, this means you are not in your land. When the curfew began my daughter called from Istanbul to invite me over there. I couldn’t accept her offer. I hung up right after telling her that should the old tree in the Safa neighborhood come to fall, then the whole struggle would fail. Had I gone from here, my son would have been left alone under the ground. How would the lullabies I sign for him every morning reach him from so far away? My breath wouldn’t be enough to warm the cold soil above him. To leave your land is to renounce your honour.”

“Every day, I cook large pots of food and put them out on a tray. When there is shooting, I put the tray in front of the door and push it out gently with my foot. Every day, the tray comes back empty. That is how I can breathe during these days. How could I leave my babies to hunger after the price I paid with the loss of seven beloved members of my family?

As our conversation comes to an end, her phone rings to the sound of a Kurdish marching song. She says goodbye with these words: “I will die for your brave young hearts”, and sees me off from her precious, warm-hearted home.

In Nusaybin, a new life begins behind the trenches

05.12.2016

NUSAYBIN | Popular resistance continues in Nusaybin. A new lifestyle has taken hold behind the trenches and barricades. Pioneers of this resistance, the woman say: “We demand education in our maternal language, our lands and our rights. And what does Erdoğan want? He wanted a palace. He has it now. He can sit on his throne in his palace. All we want is that he keep away from us. When the curfew was lifted, people went back to their homes. They found neither their money nor their valuables. There were members of ISIS in the forces sent against us. The public treasury gets stolen. They ought to know we will never leave our lands, even if they attack us with tanks.”

Dozens of children greet us with the victory sign. They have invented a new game with the empty cartridges. Welat, 12, says: “Look, this is what they shoot us with.”

“You can’t have democracy with tanks and rifles”

We interview people close to where the children are playing. Latifa Ağırman, 50, says: “The State imposed the curfews so as to disorganize people’s psychology. They can impose a new curfew at any moment. Tayyip Erdoğan is responsible for all this. There’s no human feeling in the world, the owner of the palace is waging war on us. During the European meeting, in his declaration for the world’s benefit, Davutoğlu said: ‘Our country is a democracy.’ You can’t have democracy with tanks and rifles. The schools are closed, the stores have pulled down the blinds, the mosques are targeted by gunfire. Erdoğan is going mad. He’s arguing with Putin. He’s defying other countries. He’s stealing the rights of these lands’ legitimate owners. We’re not afraid of him. We will not leave our homes and our lands.”

The major problem stems from a mentality closed to people’s demands

Walking down the streets, we come across a group of women drinking tea in front of their houses. They offer us some tea and we start a conversation. Nure Taklak (55) says: “They declared a curfew for a total of 119 days over the past 7 months. I keep water bottles in my house. I drum on them when the attacks increase (all the women use water bottles in this way to make a racket as their protest against the attacks.) My only gun is my water bottle. They say there are no citizens here. Are we and our children not citizens? The main problem isn’t whether there are citizens or not, the main problem stems from a mentality closed to people’s demands.”

Schools are closed in the Fırat neighborhood. The children are aware of the war conditions and don’t want to go back to school. Berfin (9) says: “I haven’t been to school this year. I won’t go back if it re-opens because we’re already far behind.”

Self-rule spreads as a reaction to the attacks

Since the attacks began, Perihan Altuğ, a Mother for Peace, has taken on leadership duties in the neighborhood. She says: “Those special forces and those soldiers lost their lives for Erdoğan’s palace. These attacks serve no purpose whatsoever. We see self-rule spreading since the attacks that followed the last curfew in Derik.” Perihan calls upon the Kurdish guards in the villages and the AKP members in Parliament. She tells them: “We can forgive you, you still have that possibility. Don’t be the puppets of this war.” Perihan also calls upon journalists of pro-governmental media who sit there and take orders in their reporting. “All you do is defame us. I will never forgive, nor will history ever forgive you either.”

In Nusaybin, two women killed in one week

The attacks began, and are ongoing, following the fifth curfew imposed in Nusaybin in the district of Mardin. Fehime Akti (55), lost her life. According to the report we received, Fehime was shot down by snipers in the Yenişehir neighborhood. Emire Gök (39) was also shot down. According to witnesses, she had stepped out to feed her animals, and State troopers shot her.

In one week, 9 citizens felled in Silopi

Ayse Buruntekin (40) and mother of nine children, went out on the roof of her house in the Cudi neighborhood of Silopi. Special forces shot her down. Her body couldn’t be removed because of artillery fire from armoured vehicles. Two women were killed on the same day in Cizre and Nusaybin.

Taybet Inan (57) was severely wounded by special forces, and her brother-in-law Yusuf Inan (40), the father of six children, was killed in the same attack. Because of ongoing artillery fire, Taybet could not be taken to the hospital and she died of blood loss.

Two women and an unborn child were killed in Cizre.

Zeynep Yılmaz (45) was shot in the head in the Cudi neighorhood in Cizre. She could not be taken to hospital, and died. Several people were wounded on that same day.

On the third day of the curfew in Cizre’s district of Şırnak, Hediye Şen (30) was killed in front of her three children. The prosecutor’s office has put the inquest under seal. For this reason, Hediye’s lawyers were not authorized at the autopsy.

Güler lost her baby.

Güler Yamalak (eight-months pregnant) was shot in the stomach by special forces in the Nur neighborhood of Cizre. She was operated on in the Şırnak State Hospital. But she lost her baby.

A plane tree in Nusaybin: Adule, wounded in the right breast, feels the pain under her left breast

01.12.2015

NUSAYBIN | Dating back to the ancient Mesopotamian civilization, the town of Nusaybin was the scene of popular resistance during the most serious attacks recently. Targeted by several States and empires in the course of its history, the town is now cut in half: Qamislo on one side of the border and Nusaybin on the other. Because of the resistance it displayed in the 90s, the town has written a page in the history of Serhildan (resistance).

She stands alone as a symbol of resistance

Adule Kılıç, a Kurdish woman who has lost seven children and several grand children to the resistance, stands as a symbol of rebellion for other Kurdish women. She lives alone in her one room house, challenging the attacks against the neighborhood.

At the mention of her children, she says:

“Don’t talk about them, or they’ll rise from my memory again.” Sobbing, she starts to tell us their story. Adule’s struggle began when her eldest son, Eyüp Kılıç joined the PKK in 1986; she then sacrificed her children to the cause: Bedrettin, Mülkiye, Ali, Aşikar and Vasfi. Here is the story in her own words:

They killed my son before my eyes

“My life feels like a pain under my left breast. In 1986, when Hezbollah started to spread around here, my son Eyüp joined the PKK and our family was blacklisted immediately. My other son Bedrettin joined the struggle. One day, as I was walking with Bedrettin, Hezbollah confronted us and started shooting at us. I tried to stop them from shooting my son by grabbing at their weapons and they shot a bullet in my right breast and killed my son before my eyes. He remained on the ground, wounded, for a long time. I called out for help. They knocked me out.When I came to my senses, I was in the hospital in Diyarbakır and 25 days had gone by. No one was able to reclaim my son’s body, Hezbollah took it and we never found it. My husband could not put up with the pain. He died while I was in the hospital.”

You can see the scar on my right breast, but not the one on my left.

“We had to leave. My daughter-in-law and I stole out of Nusaybin with nothing but our blankets and rode to Diyarbakır in an oxcart. Once in Diyarbakır, I took the bus to Istanbul, with a scar in my right breast, but a pain under my left one.”

“I was alone, lost among millions of people”

“Once in Istanbul, I realized everyone there spoke another language. I couldn’t understand a word. We tried to hide in the city. I found a hovel with the help of one of my relatives. We led a miserable life. We went without food or drink for 4 days. Then I bought food on credit from the store and, although they were still small, my children had to go to work.”

Falling leaves

“My daughter Mülkiye joined the PKK. Several years later, I learned she had lost her life in Iran. Then my son Ali followed the same road as his sister. I learned he had also lost his life last year. Then Aşikar left, followed by Vasfi who was the last to join the PKK. One of my sons is a political fugitive in Russia now. “

“They tortured my son”

“My son Eyüp was arrested in 2001. They tortured him. When I visited in jail, I didn’t recognize him. I cried out at the sight of him. He said: “If you cry, don’t bother coming back here.” He’s become crazy because of the torture.”

“They told us peace would come to these lands. We believed them and came back, but it was a lie. One of my sons is in the Fırat neighbourhood. The police killed his animals. If you ask me which period was the worst, I will tell you things are worse now than they were in 1990.”

Scenes of resistance from Cizre under siege

08.09.2015

CIZRE | The list is long of residents of the town of Cizre who have died over the past nine days: Mehmet Emin Levent; two elderly victims of heart attacks; Sait Çağdavul, 19; Tahir Yaranmış, a baby; Osman Çağı, 18; Cemile Çağırga, 12; Ibrahim Çiçek, 80; Meryem Süne, 53; Özgür Taşkın, 18, Masallah Edin, 44; Zeynep Taşkın, 18; Esref Erden, 65, Sürme Karane, 60; Muhammet Dikmen, 70; Bünyamin Iviç, 15, Selman Ağar, 10; Sait Maici, 18; and Mehmet Erdoğan, 75.

Not a single day of the curfew has gone by without someone being killed or seriously wounded. Armored vehicles are posted all over and security forces rain explosives on the town, particularly on the Nur neighborhood. Nonetheless, residents fear they will face an even bloodier massacre should they flee from their homes.

Zeynep Taşkın, aged 18, was attempting to cross the street with her baby in her arms when snipers shot her down. No sooner had she fallen that the grandmother was killed beside her while attempting to save the baby. Words fail to describe the moments of terror lived by that tiny baby, crying with no one answering him.

Cizre is not how you imagine. On the day that turned out to be the last day of the siege, we headed toward the Nur neighborhood in order to testify about the residents’ attempts at forging peace through resistance.

Women resist and build a communal life

On every street in Cizre, communal arrangements handle daily tasks. Children tie ropes around empty water jugs in order to hold noise demonstrations as a protest. We pass through a crowd of hundreds of children playing in this one-instrument orchestra, on route to the Cizre women tirelessly baking bread in their back yards. With first-aid kits strapped on their backs, girls of 12 and 13 run through the streets like frontline medics while their mothers bake the bread over backyard fires. The sound of unending explosions is enough to leave anyone in shock, yet the people of Cizre manage to survive through community sharing.

Leyla, 19, sings by the fire. She has a beautiful voice. The week-old baby on her knees was born prematurely on the day the assaults were launched against the town. Leyla says her baby doesn’t have a name yet; she hasn’t felt like giving her one.

“When all this will be over, when we can experience that joy, I will give my daughter the first name that will come to mind,” she says. “It must be a name that will remind me of the resistance and serhildan (intifida) as if it were yesterday, every time I will hear it.”

Too worried over the fate of her people, Leyla hasn’t found much time to look after the baby. “But this is my first baby. I was so excited throughout my pregnancy! Now, all I want is for the massacre to end before it spreads even more,” she says.

Children with nothing but muddy water to drink

Cheered on by the children, we take to the sewer to reach Özkan street, where the explosions are at their most intense. We reach the street thanks to the fearless women of the neighborhood.

Here, residents share a single generator they feed with the gas siphoned out of their cars. They use the generator to pump water up from the well. Although there is very little of it, the residents try to provide what clear water they can find to feverish children who, failing all else, must drink muddy water.

The elderly women in the neighborhood run from one street to another to reach mothers giving birth all over Cizre. We learn there have been dozens of births since the beginning of the curfew.

The slogan repeated every night: “If we make it through this night…”

In the Nur neighborhood, we witness the spirit of resistance despite the nightly shooting and launching of grenades. The residents explain they survived similar war tactics against civilians in the 90s when the Turkish State waged a dirty war in the region. Now, they are more hardened than ever.

“The minute we lose our morale, we will lose our struggle,” they say. The lack of food is a major problem, but Cizre inhabitants seem unshakeable, claiming the vegetable they planted in their gardens will ripen any day now.

The streets fill up in early evening. Wherever the zone is secure, the neighborhood mothers build fires in front of their house, and sing local traditional songs. Youngsters prepare tea on the fires and pass it around, while the older mothers sit inside, boosting the morale of their dozens of visitors with stories of their experiences in the 90s. When the grenade explosions grow in intensity, the residents respond with slogans and banging on pots and pans, while the volunteer medics go in search of the wounded.

The neighborhood women lead the noise demonstrations and occasionally organize brief marches throughout the streets, while the children gather debris left by the explosions. Every night the explosions grow stronger, but the usual comment by the residents is simply: “If we make it through this night, it will all be over.”

“If you have the stomach for it, spend one night in this place”

02.09.2015

SILOPI | In the Kurdish town of Silopi where police snipers roam the rooftops, JINHA talked with children and their families about the controversial notion of “self-rule”, what it means to them and why they are fighting against the police.

Just in the last month, policy brutality struck hard twice on the town of Silopi in the Northern part of Kurdistan (in Turkey). On August 7, police attempted to invade the neighborhoods. As young people were resisting, police started shooting at random, killing three people.

On August 29, police raided a home and executed three young men there. On the following night, a sniper shot down a mother and her daughter who were sleeping on their rooftop because of the summer heat. The mother, 55 year old Fatma Ay was killed while her 14-year old daughter Berfin Ökten was grievously wounded.

The people of Silopi have proclaimed self-rule, declaring they no longer recognized State institutions. As a consequence, a wave of such declarations spread across towns and neighborhoods in Kurdistan. Tension is high in the town where the majority of the dead are children and young people. JINHA went to the neighbrohoods under the heaviest confrontations with the police, in order to take a reading of the situation.

The land where teenagers lead

In the streets of Silopi, armored vehicles are parked on every corner and snipers have taken up positions on the roofs of governmental buildings. Every time the police kill another of the town’s children during the confrontations, some may wonder “What business did the children have there?”. A view of the streets provides the answer.

Children make up almost half of the town’s population. When they see us coming, they stream out of the houses, making the victory sign for the camera. We are not far from the town of Cizre where a teenager by the name of Berivan became the leader of the “Cizre Uprising” in 1992. “Here, we’re old enough at 13 or 14,” she said at the time.

We walk through streets covered in graffiti glorifying the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey and several other countries consider the PKK a terrorist organization. As soon as they see us arriving in the neighborhood of Cudi, hundreds of children fill the streets. They break out into the “Rojava March”, the hymn of the revolutionary autonomous region of Rojava in Kurdistan. We jump over the trenches surrounding the neighborhood and find the children standing at attention with small sticks in their hands.

Children born under fire: “We fight so as not to die”

“What makes you so furious?” we ask a boy of 11. He starts to answer: “My name is war. I was born in the middle of one, but I hate war. Every day, someone is killed. We’re protecting one another so as not to die.” The sound of a sniper’s gun breaks off his reply. A women of 23 approaches with her six month old baby. “So, is this six-month old baby in my arms a terrorist too? Besides, what is a terrorist? If it means a ‘Kurd’, then we are all terrorists,” says the woman who introduces herself: Saniye Dönmüş. She is the mother of four children. “The State must take its hands off our children. Who has the right to keep them from sleeping at night because they are afraid?”

S.D., 5, huddles behind his mother’s skirts. “I’m afraid. Our games are interrupted all the time,” he says. “You see that building over there? There’s a man who shoots at us from it. We run inside when we hear the shots and we come out again when they stop.”

Silopi teenagers: “If the State doesn’t like us, why don’t they just go away?”

A sixteen year old youth describes the declarations of self-rule as “civil disobedience against a State that doesn’t like us.” He gives his name as being B.S.

“Since nobody likes us, all they have to do is leave us alone and let us live by ourselves,” he says. “It’s easy enough for them to talk over there, but they should see what we have to put up with here. If you have the stomach for it, spend some time here – not for long, just one night – and decide who is wrong. What did we ever do to the State? Nothing was going on, they attacked us just to get things going. The only thing we can do is defend ourselves.”

One of the most important descriptions of what is going on in Silopi was provided by an eight-year old child by the name of S.Y. who told us he did not want to start his third grade in school this year.

“I really liked school, but because of all this, I made up my mind”, he said. “Even if I had just bought my new school bag, I won’t go back. In any event, as soon as I’ll step outside this neighborhood, they’ll shoot at me. I’m going to stay here and protect my family.” We asked S.Y. how he intended to protect his family, exactly. “By piling up stones in front of the door,” he answered.

For 15 year old D.S., the notion of self-rule is a response to life under fire. He says people on the outside have misunderstood the meaning of “self-rule”.

“What, we were in this great country with no problems and we were the ones who didn’t want anything to do with it? A few nights ago, a girl my age was shot and her mother was killed. Have you thought about the psychology of children in a place like this one? It’s torture being taught in a language we don’t know. It’s torture hearing shooting every night. It’s torture having armored vehicles crashing through your door and raiding your house. It’s torture picking up pieces of our friends’ brains…”

“We’re doing nothing else but defending ourselves and building a new life, and that’s only because there is no government to protect us,” says D.S. “I don’t think that’s such a crime.”

“They are life-loving children”

Ayşe Tokay, 60, complains about the fact the neighborhood youths have to fight against the police every night. Every day, she hangs a sheet at a specific spot in the streets so that residents can cross without being seen by the snipers.

“Our eyes have dried out from so much crying over youngsters every day. They are life-loving children. It is a pity; it is a sin. Their mothers and fathers suffered under this same repression; they, at least, shouldn’t have to live through the same thing.” She says those criticizing the PKK don’t understand that the PKK is nothing other than the people attempting to defend themselves.

A woman by the name of Sarya describes the night when three young men were assassinated during a police raid in the house next to hers. The children couldn’t sleep before morning.

“In the middle of war, we had to play with the children”, Sarya says. “We told them everything they were hearing was part of a game. We pretended to make guns out of our fingers and we played with them until morning. We told them the sounds were from fire crackers and that no one would die.”

“It was a terrible night. I still hear their screams,” Sarya says.