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Mothers of Diyarbakir
A journey in the war-torn heartland of Turkish Kurdistan.
TEXT AND PHOTO By Shirvan Nuray Sarikaya
Translated by Elisabeth Olin

W e are now in Diyarbakir, in

southeastern Turkey – Ann-
Margarethe Livh, Swedish
politician; Naile Aras, also a Swedish
politican; and I, Shirvan Nuray Sarikaya,
of course, great social misery followed.
These days, just to survive, poor Kurdish
families are even selling their daughters.
A phenomenon, unheard of, even in the
recent past. In one out of three Kurdish
taboo for eighty years and the use of the
Kurdish language had been prohibited in
government offices and media. Recently,
the use of the Kurdish language has
been allowed, still Kurdish writers and
a Kurdish-Swedish journalist and families, at least one member has died or politicians face persecution, on a regular
photographer. been wounded in the war. basis.
Ann-Margarethe and Naile have been The Kurdish population in Turkey Kurds in Turkey faced one of the most
here many times before, working with today is twelve million according to brutal of oppressions, after the military
Kurdish women in the region, on political the official records, and twenty million coup of 1980. Hundreds of Kurdish
assignments. But, this time the trip has according to the unofficial estimates. people, among them a large number of
a more private agenda. They are here Two-third of this is young people, and intellectuals, were tortured in Diyarbakir
to research for a book they are writing 98% is Muslim. The areas where the – recognised as the capital of the Kurds
on political awareness among Kurdish Kurds mainly live are mostly poor and – prison.
women. I am here to take photos to go in underdeveloped. Apart from eastern and Afterwards, many of them organised
that book. south-eastern Turkey – their historical in the PKK, the proscribed Kurdistan
homeland – Kurds live in big cities. For Worker’s Party. In 1985, the PKK started
*** example, it is estimated that there are an armed struggle against the Turkish
three million Kurds living in Istanbul, the republic. According to official estimate,
We wake up seven in the morning, with biggest city in Turkey. 30,000 people died. Many, if not most, of
the frightening roar of fighter jets flying Kurds have been denied their rights them were civilians. The Kurdish people
over us. Our hostess tells us that this is ever since the foundation of the Turkish started their political struggle in the
simply a demonstration of who is in republic in 1923. The word Kurdish was beginning of the 1990s and established
power in Diyarbakir. At least that is the political parties. But, these parties were
version popular among the people here. closed down, one by one, for being
The official version is that the planes are separatists.
used to monitor the borders.
Military jets have had an important ***
role during the war between the Turkish
state and the Kurdish guerillas. A war, We have our breakfast and then set
like so many others, in which there is no out to visit the mothers of peace. This
winner – only losers. The Turkish state movement was started by mothers of
still refuses to call the conflict a war. For Kurdish guerillas who had lost their sons
the state, it is a fight against separatism. or daughters in the war. A middle-aged
Everyone else thinks a war is very much woman opens the door to us when we
going on. arrive to interview the five women, who
War, insurgency or fight against have agreed to tell us their stories.
separatism. Some figures illustrate the We sit down on the couch, and the
conflict. During the past thirty years, eldest of the women starts to tell her
about three thousand Kurdish villages story. She has lost three sons during the
have been deserted by their population, war, “One day my eldest son disappeared.
who have been forced to escape to the When we asked for him, we were told that
cities to survive, thus, causing a swelling he had joined the guerilla. I was terrified,
population in Diyarbakir where poverty and even more so, when his two younger
is rapidly on the rise. In 1982, Diyarbakir siblings followed his lead. None of them
had a population of 200,000 and now it has returned home.”
more than one million. An estimated total The other women have similar stories.
of three million men, women and children Mothers of peace at the demonstration against They tell us that they have started this
have been forced out of their homes, and police abuses. movement, with an aim to stop the armed

32 January/February 2010 Independent World report

Mothers of peace - mothers of Diyarbakir.

Independent World report January/February 2010 33

Mothers of peace at the demonstration against police abuses.

34 January/February 2010 Independent World report

Plain-clothes policemen at the demonstration.

conflict, “We must find a democratic way photos of the demonstrators, and notice computer of the library.
to solve this conflict – a way that allows a number of policemen dressed in plain Muharrem Erbey is accused of
us to be Kurds with pride, honour, with clothes. When they discover that I am forbidden contacts with the PKK. He
our democratic rights. We tried to reach taking their photos, they try to stop me, might be imprisoned for six years.
out a hand to Turkish mothers as they coming towards me looking hostile. But During this trip, we meet many
are also losing their sons. But, they were some of the women surround me, and members of the DTP. Some of them
submitted to heavy pressure from Turkish push the policemen back. belong to the younger generation of
nationalists, not to join hands with us. So When the demonstration is over and Kurdish politicians – Firat Anli, Yuksel
that initiative had to be abandoned, and we go home, we discover that we are Baran, Leyla Guven and others. We ask
now we have to go on, alone.” being followed, watched. They continue them for their opinion on the situation of
When we leave them, they give each following us during the rest of our stay. Kurdish women today. It is obvious that
of us, a white scarf – a symbol of peace. The third day, we meet Yurdusev they want to see the end of armed conflict
Next day, several women’s groups Özsökmenler, former mayor of the Baglar between the Kurdish guerillas and the
organise a demonstration in central municipality. Now she works with Gabb, Turkish army. It is also obvious that they
Diyarbakir, against sexual harassment. the association for municipalities in want to increase democratic movement
Kurdish women, who go to visit their eastern Turkey. She has been a human in this part of Turkey, with the help of the
husband and sons in prisons and police rights activist from a very young age, European community. And they want to
lockups, are often sexually abused by spending some years in prison. She does see Turkey as a member of the European
soldiers and police officers. not have much time to talk to us, but, we Union.
The most recent incident that are very much happy to meet her. All of them are now held in Diyarbarik
triggered this protest is the case of a She is among those, who were arrested prison. I have spoken to their lawyers
member of Demokratik Toplum Partisi and taken into prison on December 24, for the updates – they are five inmates
(Democratic Society Party, DTP) – a young 2009. in a cell for three, in the harsh Anatolian
Kurdish woman who was sexually abused After the visit, we meet the people at winter, without any heating.
in her own home by two policemen. She the IHD office. IHD chairman, Muharrem What does the Turkish government want –
did not even dare to tell her family what Ebey, shows us their new library. The the killing to go on, and both Turkish and
happened, but became so distraught that, library holds the archive of twenty-one Kurdish young men and women be killed?
at one stage she had to visit a doctor. years of IHD documentation on human Democratic means of political struggle
When the doctor understood what had rights abuses. Thus, this library houses has lost validity as democratically elected
happened, he reported the case to IHD – a an unique story of the Kurdish destiny, politicians are being arrested and put
human rights advocacy organisation. IHD, consisting among other things, many into prisons. The largest Kurdish party –
in turn, reported this to the police. At the photos and testimonies of abuses never DTP – has just been declared illegal by the
same time, her party comrades from DTP shared with anyone else. Turkish constitutional court. �
urged women’s groups to organise the Muharrem Erbey is also among
demonstration. those imprisoned on December 24,
Thousands of women, with their 2009. The police has also taken away all Shirvan Nuray Sarikaya is a Stockholm-
husbands and sons, join the rally. I take the documentation and seized the only based journalist and photographer.

Independent World report January/February 2010 35