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 | 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Sur, Cizre, Silopi, Nusaybin, Idil, Derik, Dargecit, Yuksekova…The curfew has been going on for close to a year. Police and soldiers surround these towns. There is no water and no power. We draw water from the wells and power thanks to generators. Armored vehicles stand on every corner and shoot at random at anyone spotted on the street. Whether armed or without weapons, no difference: they shoot at everyone. They shot Taybet, 57, in the middle of the street where her body remained for seven days. Her children could not reach her body since they shot at anyone attempting to approach her. For seven days, they saw their mother’s body on the street, and had to refrain from throwing stones at cats and wandering dogs swarming around her body. The thought of having to stare at the bloodied corpse of your mother for 7 days…
In these areas, despite the reality of death, people have no choice but to survive. Clinging to life despite the corpse of your mother on the street outside your door, sobbing with a 35-day old lifeless baby’s body in your arms, or sobbing over your daughter’s body decomposing in a freezer for days.
Miray Ince who was assassinated last night (December 25 2015) was in her mother’s stomach when the curfew was imposed on September 4. Under the blockade, the three months of Miray’s life was one of the State massacres that served as a stain on the world’s history. Miray’s bloody photograph quickly circulated, reiterating the meaning of resistance like a study in self-consciousness.
When asked “what he most wished in the world,” Sabahatin Ali answered: “To be undersood.” No doubt the independent journalists who stayed there after the introduction of the curfew on June 5 agreed with him. While doing our best to communicate the active popular resistance along with the massacre of babies, old people, mothers and youngsters before our eyes, we remained defiant in order to convey the cries of resistance to those willing to hear.
With the bitter news of massacres throughout Kurdistan, we kept informed about Cizre. Random shots by policemen against a house in Sur ended the life of Miray Ince, 3 months old. Waving white flags, mother and grandfather attempted to reach an ambulance close by, but Turkish special forces took them as targets. After hours of desperate attempts, they finally reached an ambulance, and while the mother was under intensive care, Miray and her grandfather could not be saved.
Miray was born on September 27. Since the curfew in Cizre began on September 4, she was a 9 month old baby in her mother’s stomach when the horror began. Despite everything, perhaps Miray was luckier than others. For example, baby Tahir Yarandır, 35 days old, was killed during the first curfews. The bodies of baby Tahir and of Mehmet Yarandır (19) had to wait side by side in the local mosque in their Nur neighborhood. HDP deputies had to fight for days in order to organize the retrieval of the corpses and the neighbors finally removed the bodies from the neighborhood behind women carrying white flags. This was one of the many funerary marches under white flags in Kurdistan.
I will never forget the funerals of baby Tahir and of Cemile. Major fighting took place in Cizre’s Şırnak district following the September 2015 curfew. A total of 21 people were killed during this period, among them a young girl by the name of Cemile. She was assassinated by the police. Because of the curfew, her body could not be taken to the morgue at the hospital. Her mother wrapped her in plastic sheeting and put the body in the home’s freezer.
That same day, bombs had also taken the life of a 35-day old baby, Tahir Yarandir. Decomposition had set in. While preparing his funeral in the neighborhood mosque, we realized another body awaited burial – that of a young man by the name of Mehmet Emin Lokman. His mother embraced him until she had no more tears to shed. Several days later, ambulances started entering the neighborhood. Police declared it would allow transportation of the bodies to the end of the street. As we were carrying Mehmet Emin’s body toward the hearse, the police started firing from an armored vehicle. Several people fell to the ground, seriously wounded. Frightened, Tahir’s father ran after the hearse and threw the baby’s body through the open door, before taking shelter in an alley. Tahir was only a baby, so tiny, and yet his father had no other choice than to throw his corpse into the hearse, like he would have done with a ball. The police was entirely to blame for this whole tragedy.
Thinking it over, I find it just as hard to reconcile myself with the incidents of September 10. Zeynep Taşkın, 18, collapsed on the street with her newborn. Her mother Maşallah Edin ran out to help her and was shot down in the same way. For a long time, terrified neighbors could do nothing while the baby’s cries resounded throughout the neighborhood. Governmental forces learned nothing from these murders and resumed their gunfire soon after.
I would like to share with you my notes concerning the fate of a few women:
Hanife Durak (80): died of a heart attack in Diyarbakır’s Silvan district after policemen launched a grenade at civilians.
Fatma Öktem (55): assassinated on August 31 while she slept on her rooftop. She lived in the Silopi district in Diyarbakır and was killed by a sniper.
Wetban Bülbül (65): died of a heart attack following explosions in Cizre on September 4 when the resistance against the curfew began.
Ayten Gülhan (32): deliberately targeted and assassinated by the police during clashes between members of the PKK and security forces in Dersim on December 5.
Cemile Çağırga (10): targeted and assassinated by police snipers in front of her home in Cizre on December 6.
Meryem Süne (53): assassinated during general shooting against civilians by the police on September 8 in Cizre.
Zeynep Taşkın (18): killed by special forces in the middle of the street while crossing the road with her baby in her arms.
Ruken Demir (18): assassinated by the police in Diyarbakır during a demonstration against the curfews on September 12.
Alya Temel (48): killed by mortar fire by soldiers in the district of Beytussebap in Şırnak on September 25.
Elif Simsek (8): dies on September 27 in Diyarbakır’s Bismil district after rockets landed on her home.
Mülkiye Geçel (48): shot down during an attack by police and special forces on September 28 in the district of Bismil, Diyarbakır.
Latife Tutuk (23): Targeted and shot down by soldiers in the military distict as she was on her way to visit neighbors in Silopi, Şırnak.
Hayriye Hüdaverdi (70): killed by police and special forces after the declaration of the curfew on October 6 in Silva/Diyarbakır.
Helin Hasret Sen (12): killed by the police in Sur, Diyarbakır on October 10 as she set out to buy bread for her family.
Ismet Gezici (55): killed by police snipers on November 11 in Silvan/Diyarbakır.
Selamet Yesilmen (44): killed by shots from a police armored vehicle in Nusaybin, Mardin on November 11.
Fatma Yigit (17): killed after the launching of a grenade on a group of civilians in Silopi on November 12.
Güler Eroğlu (20): executed by the police in the district of Sur, Diyarbakır on December 2.
Fehime Akti (56): assassinated on December 12 in the district of Nusaybin in Mardin when a rocket launched by the police struck her full in the chest.
Hüsyin Güzel (70): died of a heart attack in the district of Silopi/Şırnak following the explosion of a grenade close by.
Taybet Inan (57): Massacred on December 20 in the district of Silopi in Şırnak, while carrying a white flag, symbol of peace.
Zeynep Yılmaz (45): killed in her neighborhood following heavy gunfire on December 20 in the district of Şırnak in Cizre.
Emire Gök (39): killed on December 20 in the district of Nusaybin in Mardin after the police opened fire in the direction of her garden.
Ayse Buruntekin (40): killed during a barrage of canon fire and other firearms from a police armored vehicle in the district of Şırnak in Cizre. Cahide Çikal (35): died of shrapnel wounds on December 22 in the district of Şırnak.
Amine Duman (70): died of heart failure in the district of Şırnak in Cizre on December 22 because transportation to the hospital was impossible.
Azime Asa (50): died on December 23 after a bomb struck her house.
Sebahat Kılıç (28): Assassinated in front of her home during an assault on her house by special forces in the district of Dargecit in Mardin.
Miray Ince, only 3 months. Killed in the arms of her mother on December 25 in the Şırnak district in Cizre.
These names are but examples among countless others. Thousands of people lost their lives during the confrontations. Many of their bodies were never recovered.
Şırnak | After Cizre, I find myself in Şırnak. In this town also the resistance and the attacks against self-government have been ongoing for months. In the freezing temperatures, my friends and I crawl to avoid the soldiers and special forces and enter the streets behind the barricades. The sound of bullets never stops. They whizz by our noses constantly like razors. There are armed youths behind the barricade. And there are children playing at barricades in front of their homes. They have no fear at all, they have gotten used to it and make a game out of war.
In the dark night, each of us heads off to a different house. We are the guests of families we have never met before. And each one greets us as if we were long-lost friends. I knock on the door of a broken-down house pockmarked with bullet holes. A tall woman in traditional garb opens the door, embraces me wordlessly and takes me inside. She doesn’t ask who I am or where I come from. She brings me tea and cheese. She says: “You must be hungry, eat a bit.” Of course she knows I’m hungry. As if she knew what a journalist must do in order to survive. “You are doing so much for us. Is it too much that I should share my bread with you?” My eyes fill with tears and the moisture traces wet paths on my dusty face. She wipes my face with her hand and we smile…
It is getting late, so she makes a bed out of woolens. “Come lie down,” she says. I listen to her. Wrapped in a woolen blanket, I start warming up. I listen to my bones gently warming, I am happy. She makes her bed next to mine. She is in her sixties, her name is Aliye Idin. Probably because I am so tired, I ask her: “Mother, will this war never end?”
She smiles and begins to talk: “Let me tell you about the 90s. In former times, my family migrated to Manisa for financial reasons. After a while, we became rather wealthy and settled there. One day, the son of my uncle from Şırnak came to see my father. “Uncle, let me marry your daughter.” My father gave him my hand and we left for Şırnak. After I married, my life changed completely. It started with a train ticket. I couldn’t believe the difference I saw between the first stop and the last. My husband took me to the mountains on horseback. The house I was going to live in was a goat-hair tent. I will never forget what my husband’s brother told me when I asked “Where’s the electricity?” He showed me the fire and said: “Here it is.” As a woman, I found myself caught between two worlds. I discovered Kurdish reality on a mountaintop.”
“They raped the women in front of their husbands”
As the Kurdish struggle grew, governmental oppression grew also. Every night, they would cut the ropes on our tents and chase us down to the lowlands. As nomads, we had nothing other than the highlands, we would spend the night hiding in the rushes, then we would head back to the highlands during the day. This went on for a long time. Every time we went down to the village, the violence grew. They said: “You help the guerilla” and they would torture us. They would hang the children by their feet and tell them: “Talk Turkish”. I was the only one who knew Turkish so they made me the spokesperson for the village. They would attack the houses, and pour salt on the ground in the toilets, peel the soles on the men’s feet and force them to walk on the salt. While they did this, they would turn on the radio, listen to music and enjoy themselves.”
“I am no longer afraid and I can say it now: they raped the horses, the donkeys, the cows and the goats. They also tried to raped the women in our village but we resisted. They couldn’t prevent it in the village of Ayvan. They raped two women in front of their husbands whose arms they had tied. In their rage, the men smashed their feet pounding the floor.”
“They dragged four men out on the village square”
I witnessed every raid. I knew about them because every time there was a new raid, the villagers lit a fire to warn me. I would run over to this village and throw myself at the soldiers to chase them away. One night, soldiers raiding the village of Çemikê Tehlo killed four men and dragged them out to the village square in front of their children. Thanks to the fire, I knew something was going on, I jumped onto my horse and went there immediately. They had assembled all the people on the square and undressed them. You no longer fear what you have experienced already. This is why I was fearless. Every time I reached a village, the soldiers would say: “Here comes our Aliye again.” Arriving in the village, the first thing I did was have all the villagers put their clothes back on. We got organized and took the corpses away from the soldiers. I threw myself at the commander and yelled: “You can’t do whatever you want to people simply because they don’t speak Turkish”. “Those are my orders,” he said. I seized the walkie-talkie and said: “You have neithter dignity nor morality. If you are going to kill, then come and kill me.” We resisted until morning so that the villagers would not cave in and we were tortured several times in the interval.”
“They hung the men to the trees by their genitals”
In the morning, they took twenty-five men from the village and brought them to the mountain. They said: “We will shoot whoever follows us.” I was stubborn enough to do so on my own. When I reached the mountain, I saw they had hung the men to the trees by their genitals. I wandered through the mountain, howling for hours. I went to speak to the commander but he made fun of me and said: “Bring their women too, they can copulate in front of us. Then, we will release them.” I harassed him and said I wouldn’t leave without getting them back. I launched an uprising in each village. Everyone gathered round the mountain, waiting patiently. We said we would not leave without the men. Our determined attitude made the soldiers withdraw. After 5 hours, we were able to take the men down from the trees. Most of them remained invalids.”
“For years we lived in the middle of the town in a tent made of goat hair”
“They pulled back but the suffering continued. The oppression persisted. As days went by, we became accustomed to living this way. I will never forget the time we had gone to a neighboring village to bring a bride. We were walking toward the village, ululating with the bride dressed in red and riding a horse. When we came back, nothing was as it should have been. Our only possessions, our houses and our few belongings were in flames. For hours, we watched our village burn to the ground, then we went to Şırnak in the evening with the wedding procession. We raised our goat hair tents and that is where we lived for years.”
“During the 1992 Şırnak clashes, we took shelter in the toilet for 3 days”
“The oppression worsened when the confrontations began in 1992 in Şırnak. With my children, I took shelter in the toilets for three days. For a full three days, we stood there, packed in like sardines. Those were hard times. Once again, I led in organizing people and, one day, we gathered on the Square of the Republic to hold an anti-war demonstration. Even this they couldn’t tolerate. They started shooting into the crowd and killed twenty-five people. Everyone was attempting to run away but they went on shooting. I fell in the gutter while trying to escape and hundreds of people trampled over me. No one noticed I was there. All my bones were broken, and my yellow dress was covered in blood. I was in the hospital for days. By the end of the assault that day, one hundred people had been killed.”
“For the first time, we have built a life for ourselves behind the trenches”
“I I were to tell it all, it would be a novel. Those were unbelievable days. Several of my relatives were tortured to death and many others headed straight for the mountains. Now, there are trenches and, for the first time, we have built a life for ourselves behind them. For the first time, we can say: “Yes, these lands are truly ours.” And you won’t believe it but for the first time in years, my house is not raided by the police or the military.”
NUSAYBIN | I am covered in dust and dirt. We walk in silence. My journalist friend Cejno, with whom I’ve been working for close to one year, does not say a word. Neither of us wants to talk. Ridding ourselves of the sadness surrounding us isn’t easy. The evening was difficult, the whole town is silent, mute. We walk by old police stations; my rage grows. I can hear laughter inside. In this town, during these moments filled with silent sorrow, one only hears laughter in police stations.
A few hours ago, the police killed a child. Muğdat Ay was only 12 years old. He was playing marbles on the street. He was assassinated by shots from an akrep—type armored vehicle. We carried him to the hospital but he was already dead. I approached the bed where they had placed his corpse. That lifeless child’s body, lying there. Resting in its own blood, this body that would never stand again. My eyes were glued to his hands. He was still holding his marbles in his closed fists. This lifeless body held on to those marbles really hard. I touched his hands: I couldn’t loosen them. Even lifeless, this child’s body did not want to give up its marbles. This body you killed was that of a child. He seemed to be saying: “Don’t forget, even if it is dead, this body belonged to a child. Even dead, a child’s body loves its toys.”
I left the room. Even the deaf would hear the howls coming out of his mother and his sister.
It is the worst night of all, the most heavily cursed, the most disgusting of all nights. A child was killed before our eyes. We could no nothing. Now, we hurl ourselves through the barricaded streets.
Is there anything this town has not witnessed yet? Throughout its painful history, it has become renowned for its residents’ resistance. Sometimes, reasons for certain events must be found in history. Understanding reasons and consequences is important to understanding such moments. I want the people to tell us again what happened here. I approach people sitting behind the barricades. This time, I put my question directly. I want to get Muğdat out of my head, if only for a second.
Twenty-three years ago, a painful event occurred in Nusaybin. The massacre about which the “mainstream” media said at the time that “500 terrorists attack the police, 16 are exterminated” occurred on March 22 1992 on what is now called “Pira Sehida” – the martyrs’ bridge in Nusaybin. On March 1992 in Cizre, the official count of massacred people during the Newroz celebrations stood at 57; the non-official said 100. As a result, Nusaybin rose up. To people who survived the 1992 massacre, I put the question: “Why are people resisting now?”
Wearing a long skirt and headscarf, a woman in her sixties approaches me. “Let me tell you, daughter,” she says. Her name is Nure Tekin, she witnessed the events on that day: “After the massacre in Cizre, we could not keep quiet. In the evening, we knocked on every door calling on serhildan (resistance). In the morning, there were thousands of people on Yeni Turan Caddesi and we started the march. All of a sudden, we were surrounded by a number of army vehicles and teams from special forces. They called out from the army vehicles: “There is no authorized demonstration, disperse! Those who will not disperse will be considered members of the PKK and treated accordingly.” No one budged. “The march continued,” she says. “
“When we reached the bridge now called “Pira Şehida”, army vehicles also moved in toward us. People in the front lines began a sit-in but the vehicles kept on advancing. No one was moving. They thought the crowd would disperse as the vehicles approached but the people were determined and they did not budge. And so, the vehicles ran over the people. Dozens were crushed. This really and truly happened, people were crushed. I still carry the memory of the sound of crushed bones. The crowd was crushed under the vehicles, people’s brains spread out all over. We tried to flee. I was holding my husband’s hand and running when they started raining down bullets on us. We ran, we ran, lifting our legs very high. Bullets whizzed by under our feet. People were crushed one against the other. Many people simply jumped into the water. They were drowned. Their bodies were found in Syria a few days later.”
“The river was covered in blood”
“There was blood everywhere, the river was red with it. My thirteen year old son, Süleyman was with us but when I regained my senses, I realized he was no longer by my side, he was lost. I found him days later in the Mardin hospital. His bones were broken and he was covered in bullet wounds. We really tried to bring him back to life. Once he was better, his mental health was not good. It never improved; my son became crazy. He says he constantly hears the sound of crushed bones. My son ended up under dead bodies. They threw him into the vehicle gathering dead bodies. They only realized he was still breathing in the hospital morgue. My son has remained unstable mentally.”
“A woman’s dead body colored the river red”
We are suddenly surrounded by dozens of witnesses. All have something to say about what happened to them. Kader Kurt is one of them: “I was with my son. All of a sudden, they ran over us. I survived by accident, I would have preferred to die. How can you be well again after such events? They made a mountain out of the dead bodies; they tortured the living by walking over their wounds. Some people died that way. The women shielding their children with their bodies were crushed and killed that way. One woman threw herself into the river, they took her for a target and she died from the bullet wounds. Her blood colored the river red. I will always remember those moments where her clothes floated silently in the river. Her white headscarf followed by her dead body, it lasted an eternity. Those few seconds felt like a century to me. They found her dead body in Rojava and she was buried over there. My son was among those who attempted to save his life by jumping into the river. Luckily, he was only wounded in a leg, he was found by a family and brought home. He came home days later. Our lives changed dramatically after those events.”
“My sister’s white scarf was on the pile of dead bodies”
A man joins the crowd suddenly. “Before you go, wait to hear my story,” he says. Cemal Uçar begins: “We knocked on all the doors in the evening, to call out everyone for serhildan. The following day, they killed us so as to serve us up to the “mainstream” papers as “exterminated terrorists”. My mother was at home. She couldn’t come with us but she sent my 12 year old sister with her white scarf to provide me with support. At that precise moment, what was to happen, happened, my sister fainted. They threw her on the pile of dead bodies. She was still holding her white scarf covered in blood. That image never leaves my eyes. All this was for the highly significant fire in Kurdish tradition, that of Newroz. This is the price we paid to feed the fire. This is why we keep marching on for peace without respite, with all the lessons learned through each pain…”
Late into the night, everyone goes on telling his or her story. During the day, we used wood found in the garbage behind the barricades to warm up the spot. Then our hearts were warmed by the stories we shared until morning.
As the sun started to rise, everyone began preparations. Today, we will bury Mugdat. Once again, we will bury a young body, to the sound of slogans from thousands of people…
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.
MARDIN | Thanks to the people’s protests, the assaults against the declaration of self-rule along with the nine days of curfew ended in December 2015 in Derik in the district of Mardin. Once the curfew is lifted, we go out on the street and, once again, we take stock of the heavy damage. Many of the houses are destroyed. The wounded are being transported to the hospital. The streets are strewn with animal corpses. One woman collapses and loses her head at the sight of her dead donkey. Throughout history, Derik has been a town filled with suffering; but with resistance also.
So, what explains this great resistance in Derik? This district is located in a small mountain town inhabited by a population born from a mountainous tribe with a century-old history of suffering. In fact, the literal meaning of Derik is the place of the church (Dêr means church). It was once considered a holy town. One could find five different churches there, belonging to the Armenian, Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean and Orthodox communities, whereas not a single Armenian couple lives there nowadays. So, what happened in Derik’s recent history, a town where young women were sold, and men and old people massacred during the Armenian genocide?
We researched what happened in the village of Xerarê in the district of Derik, since that village has a long and important history of resistance, such as that of Tuncel for instance (the people’s resistance in 1990). What happened there isn’t known well enough for the facts have been hidden. I walk toward the old residential areas, using the district’s historical stairs surrounded by ditches and tents. Along the side streets, the smell of tea cooking in copper pans over charcoal fires adds a Kurdish dimension to the depth of space. No matter which door I knock on, I receive the same answer: “Heci Zeyno is the person best suited to tell you about Xirarê.” One after the other, I knock on doors inlaid with blueish green drawings and the answer is always the same…
Leyla who has been my hostess for days finally leads to the house of 90 year old Zeyno Kaputa. Along with Zeyno whose eyes are filled with tears because of the loss of her donkey in the attacks, we lean against the sunny outside wall of the stone house. Zeyno begins to speak: “What destroyed Derik’s identity was its submission to the Union and Progress Party. What brought Derik back as Derik was drawing the lessons, and resisting. Of course, everything has a story, including my will to resist by staying in my house at my age. So lean against those stones that will tell you what happened. It was in 1993. The PKK has started appearing and spreading. Its greatest sympathizers came from this district along with the most important leaders. Of course, everything has a price. But, my child, the price we paid was a bit too steep…”
“We were completely naked on the village square”
“One night in the cold and the snow, Xirarê was suddenly surrounded by dozens of armored vehicles. They encircled the home of the Çeviren family and covered it with gunfire. The family resisted. After a long confrontation, five men from the same family and two guerilleros lost their lives. Things didn’t end there. All the villagers were pulled from their homes and grouped on the village square. They divided us in groups. Women and children on one side and the men on the other. It was winter and the weather was freezing. They undressed us and insulted us for hours.”
“They raped Abide before our eyes”
“How I wish there was nothing else to say. The true suffering began when they got hold of 14 year old Abide Çeviren. She was out milking the cows. They threw her to the ground on the village square. She was crying “I am not a guerillera”. Those who reacted were severely tortured. They undressed Abide and ordered her to tell everything she knew. But the young one knew nothing in the first place. They dragged over her father and her brothers, threatening to kill her if the father did not talk. Despite everything, the father held out. The soldiers raped the young girl to death before our eyes, all the others and her family. Abide was unable to resist and died. After that, humanity died in the soldiers while our faith in brotherhood died at the same time…”
“We took shelter in the mountains”
The soldiers left in the night. They threw the seven corpses of those they had killed behind the courtyard of the mosque and left some soldiers on guard. They burned down the houses. For hours, we watched the blood running from Abide’s dead body on the snow. The whole village was in a state of shock. No one could sleep till morning. We all embraced Abide’s honorable body they had treated like filth, and we cried. Finally, the soldiers left at daybreak. We, the villagers, buried the dead and after final tears over our burned homes, we headed for the mountains. We slept in caverns for days. After several farewells, the youngest ones chose another way, one after the other. Had I been only forty years old, I would have been one of the passengers in this honorable road.
The babies were born on the road”
“I will never forget it: my neighbour Henê who was pregnant gave birth in the woods. We had nothing. We bundled up the baby in thin pieces of fabric and continued on our journey. A few families and myself left the group when we reached Derik. We wondered if we should stop there as the others continued westward; they did not believe the soldiers would leave us alone there either. Some settled in Diyarbakır, others in Adana, and others went to Istanbul and to Izmir. Like wilted flowers losing their petals in every neighborhood, in every town. This is the story of Xirarë, you can hear the silent cries of a different story under each stone. Some are Armenian, some are Assyrian, some are Chaldeans, Kurds. Brave souls become so because of lessons learned in the victimization caused by silence…”
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
The summer heat is different in Botan (one of the regions occupied by Kurds in Turkish Kurdistan.) We have been out of water for days; in order to drink, we draw muddy water from the well. We won’t survive if we don’t drink. Our bodies sweat constantly. Everything is covered in dust. The babies have no food left and they cry. The older children consider all this is a game and they go on playing inside the burned-out houses.
The sound of weapons hasn’t stopped in days. The corpses in the neighborhood mosque are starting to smell. The stink will make us sick. The Co-Presidents of the people’s assembly, Mehmet Tunç and Asya Yüksel own the only generator in the neighborhood. They stop at each street corner so that the residents can recharge their electric torches. They are very strong. From what source do they draw their strength and their energy? I admire them. Not once have they abandoned the people in the midst of the confrontrations.
For days now, our reports have consisted of lists of deaths. I look at the young people resisting death. They smile. They are not desperate in any way. They say: “We will see better days eventually, that’s for sure.”
We enter a house. A mother is near the corpse of her daughter killed by the police. The ambulance does not come. The corpse has been on the ground for several days. The family still has a bit of ice in the freezer. The mother thinks this ice will stop the stench of her daughter’s dead body. The girl, Cemile Çağırga was only 12 years old. She was targeted and shot in front of her home. Emine, her mother, says: “Cemile came to see me and said: mummy, there are cameras down below and they are filming. I said all right, daughter. She had already seen herself on other recordings. Later, we went down too. After all, we have relatives living nearby and we were worried about them. We have rights too, as human beings, and they keep restricting our rights. At that moment, we heard the shots. First, light gunfire, then with heavier weapons. At that sound, her two uncles and I came up to the house immediately. I saw Cemile on the ground. I took her on my lap and she said “oh, mama.” That was the last time she spoke the word mama. She died. We brought her inside. The hospitals were taken, we couldn’t bring her there.”
“I had a daughter, now she is dead, we had named her Cemile. I was so happy to have another child. Her brother wasn’t at home then. He had gone to work in the fields of hazel trees. He called to know the baby’s gender. He missed his native town so, being so far away. He asked us to name his sister Cemile, Cizira Botan, in honour of the town of Cizre, in the Botan region.”
“This is not the first time…”
“In 1992 also, the State set our house on fire. I was inside with my daughter, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and her daughter. Those seven people became martyrs. After that day, I joined the struggle. I am one of the Saturday Mothers” (mothers in search of relatives who have disappeared since the 90s.) I was searching for my missing daughter. Now, my other daughter has also disappeared.”
“What are we then?”
With a heavy heart, we leave this women who holds out against pain with such persistence. We go back out on the street. There is a funeral in almost every home. We enter a house from which we hear the sound of laments. There are two bodies on the ground, those of Maşallah Edin and her daughter-in-law Zeynep. The laments are for them.
Eyaz tells us he saw his mother and his wife Zeynep agonizing for hours. For hours, they attempted to crawl over to the bodies but, each time, a sniper opened fire on them. Still in a state of shock, Eyaz says: “First, they shot my wife. She had our child in her arms. When they shot her down, my mother tried to pull back my wife and my child into the house but they shot at her also. Then my uncle and my sister-in-law attempted to recover them, and were both wounded. After more than three hours, my mother and my wife bled to death.”
There is another funeral one street over, the laments from one mix in with the laments from the other.
Everything in the house shows the impact of bullets – the walls, the windows, the furniture. The house belongs to Osman Çağın, shot down by governmental forces. His torn and bloodied slippers are still in front of the door. His niece Asiye tells us: “My uncle was in his grocery shop. The assaults began suddenty, my uncle was shot down attempting to re-enter the house. We called an ambulance but it did not come. My uncled bled to death.”
“My son went out and never came back”
The situation is the same in the Yafes neighborhood in a district where the violation of rights grows heavier every day. Zeliha Taşkın, mother of 18 year old Ösgür Taşkın killed in Yafes says: “I hold the State responsible for taking my only son from me. I am a mother, they call me a terrorist instead of hearing my laments. My son wanted to get married, he had dreams. My son is one of the thousands of others in this country who were assassinated without living his dreams.”
“The State inflicted on us the experiences of Kobanê and of Gaza”
Hacera Süne sits in silence. The corpse of her daughter Meryem Süne waited for days, covered in ice in a neighbor’s cold room to prevent the stench. She is sad and proud. She looks up and says: “Write down what I’m about to say” and shouts: “My mother, they called a terrorist, had 7 children. What did they want from a 53 year old woman? The State claims that the scenes recorded here are lies, that they come from Gaza and Kobanê. It’s true that the State is inflicting on us what they live in Palestine and Kobanê. At least, Israel and ISIS take responsibility for their actions. This State doesn’t even do that much.”
21 people were massacred in only 9 days
Sitting in a corner, I look at my notes. I see how many deaths I covered in this brief period.
As entered in my notebook:
The attacks and massacre began on the night the governor of Şırnak imposed the “curfew”
the neighborhoods were attacked with heavy weapons until morning. 3 citizens wounded, one seriously, in Boas avenue in Nur neighborhood during attacks by the police with grenade launchers from armored vehicles.
Nur neighborhood under heavy attacks in the morning and swept by fire from sharpshooters. Two young men were killed at dawn in the neighborhood, Mehmet Emin Levent (21) and Said Çağdavul (19).
A youngster wounded in the foot in Nur neighborhood. H.B. (15) was treated by citizens as he could not be taken to the hospital for security reasons. B.I. (16), Umran Asrak (18), Zinet Dirican (30) and Meryem Işcen (40) were seriously wounded by random shooting by the police.
Muhammed Tahir Yaramış, a 35-day old infant lost his life around 3 AM in the Nur neighborhood because he was ill and could not be taken to the hospital since the police forbade the entry of the ambulance in the neighborhood. Baby Muhammed’s corpse was placed on the ground at the mosque, next to that of Sait Çağdavul (19) killed by the police. Also laid out at the mosque are the bodies of Hacı Ata Borçin (70) and Wetban Bülbül (65) who died of heart attacks under the explosions and of Mehmet
Emin Levent (21) who could not be buried either.
The police sprayed bullets along Idil, avenue, Aşk, Botaş, Yafes and Dörtyol avenues, and the residents have covered the streets and avenues with canvas curtains to block the policemen’s view.
Cemile Çağırga, 13, lost her life following shots fired from a police armored vehicle in the hills of Cudi neighborhood.
Shots from an armored vehicle sprayed three children who had gone out to get bread. Murat Babyiğit (9) was taken to Cizre’s governmental hospital while Botan Imrag and the other child were taken back to their homes.
At approximately 6 PM, Ö.M. 13, was seriously wounded by shots to the stomach and taken to the hospital in Şırnak.
The family of Ibrahim Çiçek (80) wanted to take him to the hospital because he was ill. But the old man had to wait for hours because, once again, the police forbade the entry of ambulances in the neighborhood, and he died in the middle of the road.
Zeynep Kaçar (aged between 55 and 60 years) suffered a stroke. The ambulance sent to pick her up was forbidden entry in the neighborhood. A woman by the name of Ayriye Kalkan, victim of post-partum hemorraging, could not be taken to the hospital either.
Thousands of people from the Cudi neighborhood began a march in support of their neighbors in the Nur neighborhood, and in support of the resistance. Soldiers, police special forces and sharpshooters all shot at the crowd. There was much confusion and many wounded.
Nur neighborhood was subjected to attacks by grenade launchers during which a woman by the name of Güneş Sank was wounded. People were deprived of access to the hospital for 5 days since entry was forbidden to ambulances, and did their best to treat the sick and the wounded with available resources.
Shots swept over the neighborhood of Yafes. The police have imposed a blockade on the neighborhood and fired at it from armored vehicles. Shots from these vehicles located on the road circling the neighborhood killed Meryem Süme (53) when she was hit in the stomach while sitting in front of her house. So far in Cizre under blockade by police and soldiers, 10 citizens ahve been massacred. As for the body of young Cemile, kept in the freezer by her mother, attempts were made to protect Meryem Süme’s corpse with bottles of frozen water.
In the neighborhood of Yafes, Özgür Taşkın (20) was seriously wounded by police gunfire at approximately 5 AM. Despite repeated appeals by HDP deputies, access of the ambulance was forbidden. Wounded, Özgür Taşkın bled to death at approximately 8:30 AM. In the same neighborhood, two other young people were wounded by police fire. We are still waiting for the evacuation of the dead and the wounded. Since the assault launched on September 4 on Cizre, ten other people beside Özgür have been massacred.
The names of those massacred in 24 hours in Cizre: Masallah Edin, Zeynep Taşkın, Esref Aydin, Sait Naici, Sürme Karane, Sait Esref Erden. Among the seriously wounded: Ayse Edin, Ekrem Dayan and Berxwedan Taşkın, I year old.
Truck drivers blocked for over a seek in Zaxo in Southern Kurdistan started a protest march toward the frontier. Turkish soldiers opened fire on them as they attempted to cross the border near the village of Kotite. One of the truck drivers was killed and six others were injured.
A child by the name of Selman Ağar (10) was killed during an attack by the police.
Mehmet Erdoğan (75) and father of 5 children was shot in the head by the police as he stepped out to get some bread. His body remained in the street where he was killed in Nur neighborhood. Sahin Açik (70) died of a heart attack during an assault that lasted all night.
NOTE: Months later, in December 2015, a second curfew was imposed on Cizre. This curfew lasted for months and hundreds of people were killed. Among them, a three-month old baby, Miray and many elderly citizens. After the massacre, houses were demolished. The thousands who lost their homes were forced to live in tents on the outskirts of the town.
QANDIL – In the village of Zergelê, following airstrikes by Turkish air forces that killed eight civilians a week ago, the children recall “a terrible war”.
On August 1st between 4:15 and 6 AM, Turkish jets bombed the village of Zergelê located in the Qandil region of the Kurdistan Federal Region. Six of the 37 horses in the village were destroyed during the attack and eight civilians (including a pregnant woman) were killed. Fifteen others were grievously wounded.
Turkey justified the intervention, qualifying it of an attack on “a PKK camp” giving all the appareances of a village, including a mosque. And the Turkish government to ask: “But what were civilians doing in such a place?” meaning in the village. In the village where all the windows have been blown out and where the courtyard in the mosque is the last safe place in which the children can still play.
The children follow our every step as we make out way through the destroyed village. We come across Bavêl Muhammed, 6, who is searching for his toys in the rubble. Bavêl pulls up a yellow and brown cushion with a Kurdish design, shows it to us and says, “look, this was my pillow”. He points to the place where his grandmother Ayse was killed. “I saw, the planes hit her. Erdoğan pilots the planes; my mother told me,” Bavêl says. He runs in front of us to recover his grandmother’s torn prayer rug. “She got up to pray. Mama Ayse died on it,” he says with a child’s voice and casual manner. Then Bavêl starts silently digging the ground in the hope of finding the brand new graphic tablet his father had just bought for him.
“I used to love planes a lot, but now, I’m scared of them,” he says.
The local grocer, Zagros Rojhilat was killed by the bombs also tells us Melisa Ibrahim, 5. Zagros had fled the Iranian regime and taken shelter in this village where he had opened a grocery store.
“The bombs exploded and one of our neighbors died. Now we don’t have a grocery store any more,” Melisa says simply.
Mahruf Mecid, 16, lost his father Mecid Abdullah under the bombs. Mahruf expressed his ange rat the complete silence observed by the Kurdistan Federal Region over the bombing and the twisted reports published of the incident in Turkish newspapers.
“He was my father, not a guerillero,” Mahruf says, showing us photos he had taken of his father during a Muslim holiday. “No one hears us. They behave as if we all deserved to die.” On the day of the massacre, his father had rushed to the spot of the explosions to transport the wounded.
“My mother, my brothers and sisters and I, we were watching my father. I saw the planes coming over the hill, I cried out but no one could hear me because of the noise,” Mahruf says. “I yelled ‘papa’ but he didn’t hear me. The bombs started coming down and I ran toward him: he was dead. I embraced my father’s destroyed body for hours; I cried. This is the condition in which I will always remember my father.”
In August, when ISIS launched its attack against the twon of Shengal in Northern Irak, images of the desperate sufferings of its inhabitants led international news reports. Seven months later, the story of the experiences, suffering and resistance of captured Ezidi women is not as well known. This series explores the experiences and struggles of Ezidi women living in the Iraki town of Duhok; in the town of Derik in Rojava; and in the town of Shengal itself.
Up until now, five hundred women have managed to escape from ISIS, one by one and by their own means. Moreover, women living in Shengal are working at building a system of representation and defense at the local level. They say they do not want to see another attack like this one ever again, the last in a long line of historical massacres against the Ezidi.
According to official statistics, ISIS members kidnapped over 7 000 women and children during the attacks that began on August 3 against Shengal (also known under the name of Sinjar). The sale of these women on slave markets continued in a number of Syrian towns, as well as in towns under ISIS control in Iraq, and in others as far away as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The main markets are in the Syrian town of Rakka, at the heart of the territory under ISIS control.
The regional government of Kurdistan was criticized for having left Shengal exposed to the massacred. During the summer of 2014, ISIS was on a rampage with the stated intention of killing and driving into slavery those religious groups that would cross their path, such as the Ezidi. Despite resources obtained from decades of financial and military aid from the United States, the KDP party in power took almost no military precautions in this region.
A more extensive massacre was only avoided thanks to an operation led by fighters affiliated with the PKK – an organization appearing on the lists of Western countries as a terrorist one. It has now become difficult to speak to Ezidi women for all resquest for access are denied by leaders in Zaxo (Zakho), Hewler (Erbil) and Sulaymaniyah.
Having managed to obtain an address in Duhok, we took the road on a cold winter day. Rain fell constantly and the heater in the car had trouble warming us. We found ourselves in front of a building under construction in which migrants from Shengal live, ten families per floor.
On the second floor, we pass behind a suspended blanket that serves as a door. Between bare walls devoid of plaster on one side and plastic sheeting blocking the wind on the other, we sit near a gas stove that barely warms the air around it, not to mention the icy room.
Z.X. 24, H.X., 20 and W.X., 17, live here with their mothers and a 12 year old brother. Their fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins have all been killed. Although the women managed to escape three months ago, several of their sisters are still held captive by ISIS.
After saying they have received no aid or support, the women fall silent. In the end, Z.X. begins to talk.
“I know why you’ve come’, she says and begins to describe the day in August when she was captured.
“That day, we learned ISIS was going to attack,” she says. “My father loaded us into the car at daybreak and we headed for the Shengal mountains. We stopped on the way in my uncle’s village. We were going to eat, then take my uncle’s family with us and flee.”
“But it didn’t happen the way we wanted. Shortly thereafter, ISIS surrounded us and started shooting at the house. The father of Z.X. attempted to defend the house but the assailants were more powerful. They locked the 27 men inside, took the women and children outside and divided them into two groups.
Members of the gang herded together the 23 young women who had been married for less than 3 years and loaded them onto their vehicles. They splashed gasoline over the 13 young children and the older women, including Z.X”s mother and aunt.
“They were about to burn the group in which was my mother when their phone rang,” says Z.X. “Someone told them “bring the young ones to the village in Siba Shekh Khidir then come back and burn what’s left. While ISIS was heading for the village and returning, my mother and the other women managed to escape. But they could not free the men locked in the house, who were decapitated. One of my cousins survived by hiding under the body of his own father.”
The young women were taken to the village of Baaj where they were imprisoned in a cellar with 500 other women and girls. They had no idea of the time. They waited some two hours while ISIS members divided them into virgin and non-virgin groups and selected some of them for sale in Mosul. They took away Z.W’s sisisters and cousin, leaving her behind to look after a pregnant cousin.
“We were 300 in Baaj. They beat us every day – whether we followed their directions or not.” One day, ISIS commanders, called “amirs”, came to the village. One of the amirs chose Z.X’s friend, 24 year old Cilan for himself. Cilan barricaded herself in the toilet and killed herself.
After eight days in Baaj, 27 of the women were taken to the village of Til Kasir, an exchange center for hundreds of women and children – some were between six and nine years old. Z.X. was raped several times, first as a cook for ISIS amir Til Kasir, his wives and children. Then she was sold to someone from the village of Verdiye near Tel Azir who beat her every day for three days. The amir requested she be given back to him because he needed her to cook for the girls he had bought, including a deaf girl of seven he raped frequently.
“I stayed with the girls for five days. Then, an amir took me. He tied my hands, covered my mouth and my eyes and raped me on the way. Then he called his wife and said he had picked out a woman he wanted to bring home. When his wife refused, he had to take me back.
For a time, Z.X. stayed with the six and nine-year old sisters of her friend CILAN who had killed herself. Then a man took her and three young girls. He claimed he was bringing them back to Shengal but did nothing of the sort. One night, a man came and carried away Gali, 12 and Saha, 14.
“They said ‘they will sleep in our beds tonight’. I couldn’t accept it. So they tied me hand and foot. Two men from ISIS, Abu Kerem and Abu Abbas beat me for hours. I still can’t walk correctly,” she says. She was also wounded to the head.
During the night, she had to hear the young girls’ cries. They were taken to Mosul on the following morning.
“I still have no news of them,” says Z.X.
“The rape rendered my 15 year old friend Nazdar mentally unstable. There was a nine-year old girl by the name of Silan they raped repetitiously, saying they were giving her lessons in the Koran. My friend did not want to abandon her.” For three days, the men locked Silan in a room, hands tied, and raped her.
“They sold her to a Syrian in Mosul. I haven’t any news of her either.”
“I was sold once again and started cooking for children again.” The children under her “care” were raped frequently. “In the house where I was, they raped two little deaf girls, aged seven and eight. When the little girls’ cousin resisted, they beat her and fractured her skull in two places,” says Z.X.
“Later, they took me with a 13 year old girl to another place with children. They kept telling us “we’re going to sell you in Saudi Arabia or in Syria. ” I couldn’t stand it and started looking for ways to escape. I don’t know how I managed, but it worked. I took the 13 year old with me. I couldn’t take the others. They stayed behind.”
“We walked until we reached a house. The people took us in but they put us out on the street in the morning, saying “they will kill us all.” They walked through the streets for two days, without food or water, until they reached Zasim Seso’s group, the commander of the Shengal defence units.
“I still can’t believe those days are behind me. Think of it, every day, they mixed stuff into our water and forced us to drink it. They tortured us with cold water.”
“Lately, one of my friends called me and told me they were in Tal Afar. I know for a fact that women are being sold in Tal Afar, Baaj, Aseyba, Rabia, Shengal, Kocho, Tel Azer, in Saudi Arabia, in Qatar and especially in Rakka in Syria,” says Z.X; listing places mainly within the province of Ninive.
She recalls that the virgins were sold $2 500. “Many women claimed they were pregnant in order to avoid being sold. Then, they stopped believing them and administered urine tests. But there were some hundred pregnant women. Some of them provided their own urine for the others’ tests, so they could avoid being sold.”
“I was sold almost 30 times, once for $700 and sometimes for as little as $10. Being in their hands was very painful. My sisters are still in Syria and there is nothing we can do for them. No matter the number of times my sister has escaped, they’ve always managed to catch her. They beat her and rape her every day.”
“I saw women immolate themselves. There were children aged three and six they raped. I thought of killing myself many times but when I saw the children, I couldn’t abandon them. I am still in a state of shock. I can’t get over it.”
Silence falls for a long time on the room. Then Z.X. asks: “Would you like some tea?”
H.X., 20, beings to speak, eyes on the ground as she rubs her hands one against the other. We are filled with shame at being the latest in a long list of groups that have come here, asking her to relive this trauma, without giving her anything in exchange. But we listen in silence.
“You understood, yes? They decapitated my father,” H.X. says. “I stayed in Baaj for tend ays with my eldest sister and three of my younger sisters. Then, they separated us, they took me with one of my sisters and sent us to Mosul.
“We were terribly frightened. We were about 500. They forced us into taking the oath in the Islamic faith. They beat those who refused.” The ISIS gangs would tie their hands and gather them in groups of thirty for mass sales. The buyer would then re-sell each one individually on the market.
“I can’t recall the number of times I was sold. Several times. They sold me in Syria, in Baaj, Shengal, Tal Afar and Mosul. They sold us really cheaply,” she says. The first time, she was sold to an Islamic religious leader who kept her for three months.
“My sister and my cousin were sold to him also and he raped us. Then he gave us to his friends. They would draw heads or tails to know who got first choice.
Those were very bad days. How could it have been otherwise since we were filled with sorrow, beatings and rapes? We spent our days being beaten by people to whom we belonged against our will. They called us “infidels”.
We were completely desperate between their hands, as if we were dead. They sold me to an old man. He died before he could rape me. Then, they sold me to someone else…
One day, there was an airstrike. The one who had bought me died in the attack. Thanks to this, I was able to escape. I put on a long black dress and ran, bare foot, as fast as I could. This is how I managed to escape.”
W.X., 17, is the only one who hasn’t spoken. “She hasn’t spoken ever since her rescue. She doesn’t talk,” the others says. But suddenly, W. gets up and comes to sit next to us.
“I also want to speak,” she says.
“They took me with my sisters. I was terribly frightened; I’m still frightened. I was in Mosul and I saw the sales on the marketplace every day. They sold a little 10 year old girl with whom I was to a 50 year old man. The child started to yell and cry. Everything was terrible.” W. falls silent again and starts to bite her nails.
We tell her: “No need to speak if you don’t want to talk about it.” But she doesn’t listen.
“They chose me by drawing lots. They took my eldest sister the same way. I didn’t want to go, but they dragged me forcibly, beating me. A man took me to Mosul and there was no one in the house. On the second day, they brought my eldest sister and one of my friends.”
On several occasions, a man of 45 tied her hands and raped her, she says. She stayed in the house for two months in which mostly girls were kept. She could hear the little 10 year old being raped every night.
“I tried to escape a number of times, without succeeding,” she says. “My life in Shengal was really fine. I went to school. I had dreams. I had my father. Now, I don’t have him anymore. I have no more dreams. I have no more school.”
“I don’t feel well at all, psychologically speaking. I hate all men that look like them. Every night I have nightmares where they rape me and where they come back to kidnap me again. Just talking about them, I’ afraid. I am so afraid.”
W.X. falls silent again and bites her nails for several minutes. Then she lifts her head, begins to smile, and then to laugh.