The common point we arrive at in all conversations we hold on the history of humanity is, unfortunately, that the periods we have lived through so far can be explained through a history of cruelty. There are also good and beautiful moments experienced by humanity. As a matter of fact, the good and beautiful moments won out over cruelty and they ended again as a result of it. In my case, when I began writing something about my life, the very first thing that somehow comes to my mind is the brutality I have experienced so far. No doubt, the occupations and massacres following one another throughout the history of the land where I live, the reflection of the oppression in my consciousness has a share in it. In particular, relating all these moments in this period of history as a woman is much more difficult and problematic.
While the sovereign rulers in this area have applied cruelty to its full extent, they preferred that people forget, have them remain without memories through their policies. However, when a person is made to forget even one meaningful day in his/her life, her/his soul would be hurt. The powerful rulers prefer a policy to make people forget at the expense of hurting people’s souls, and consequently its history. These moments are not forgotten. It is thought that they are forgotten, but it is only in a deep dream state at the bottom of our soul, as long as it is not healed, it merely waits for the time to explode.
My father was from a village called Çobanyıldızı in the district Pülümür in Dersim. When he was only 12 years old, he had become an “immigrant” in Istanbul. He had to. In the land where he was born, there was nothing but poverty, while Istanbul had an “unbeknown hope”. When he came back to his motherland with his savings in order to get married, he fell in love with the daughter of a relative from a nearby village. He married my mother, by force in a way. They had four daughters. We migrated all together with the whole family to Istanbul.
Those years were the times when people sharpened their poverty with consciousness. It was also the time when we came across the newspaper Cumhuriyet. The walls of our home were adorned with posters of Yılmaz Güney and photos of Ecevit with the motto “Ecevit is our hope”. It was a hopeful society with a lot of self-esteem that believed that the future was going to be created by them. The kids heard the adventures of Deniz Gezmiş as bedtime stories.
From the time I knew myself, I had been raised as a leftist as part of the family tradition. It was a good thing to be leftist for us. Feminism, on the other hand, was a different awareness I had come to learn later, in front of the prisons. We were living in Istanbul but had not forgotten the land, Dersim, we came from. The only problem my family had was about our education. When we were just small children, my mother would strictly caution us while sending us off to school, “Do never say that we are Alevi or from Tunceli.” This had led us to begin reading and living with an awareness of our marginalization even in those primary school years. We were Alevi, leftist, and Kurdish. At that time, our Kurdish identity was not yet problematic. Kurdish was within the home… A relative was in Mamak Military Prison. He was from the 1968 generation. He was standing trial, facing the death penalty. The mourning we had at home when Deniz, Hüseyin and Yusuf were put to death is indescribable.
Therefore, our family treated us more protectively. Up until high school, they were, even though reluctantly, controlling us in terms of the books we read or the places we wanted to go.
I was dancing folk dances and teaching them at the high school. This was something secret at first and, later I had quite a difficult time in convincing my father. As a result of the testimonies signed under torture from those who were arrested, my name had reached the politics police as the “folk dancer Nimet”. I cannot ever forget when my family said in fear, “What we have feared has come over us.” When the September 12 coup d’état had taken place, I had just finished high school and was a student at a private preparatory course for the university. Amid the screams of my mother, I was taken into custody by the police who told her, “We will release her in two days.” I was questioned in the Political Branch in Gayrettepe of the Istanbul Police Headquarters. During this violent interrogation, one of my teeth was broken and I was in no state to use my left arm. My jaw was out of place and my hair had been pulled out by their roots. While I was under detention, I had been turned in a car tire, and various parts of my body, which had been stripped naked, had been subjected to electric shocks. I was taken to a Palestinian hanging and had seen others die during torture. I had been subjected to a torture commonly known as “public beating” for days on. I lost 8 kilos during these 40 days. I have tinnitus still since this day as a result of this torture. While I was going through all this, I had just turned 19.
Women had a more difficult time during September 12.
When people talk about the violence towards women nowadays, they should also look back at September 12. As a woman, I never wanted to tell much more than this. Surveillance in Selimiye, then later Metris Prison… There was a lot of evidence given against me from many people whom I had known or not known. All of them had been obtained as a result of torture. I had never accepted any testimony apart from what I had told them. I was threatened by having a gun put in my mouth, but I did not sign. What I had signed at the police station was no longer than a few sentences. I was released at the first hearing. I was outside, but I was worried about the people I had left back in the prison. I was deeply influenced by the process I had gone through. When I came out, I asked myself what and who we were, and what we did, I questioned the process by myself, perhaps I confronted myself…
I had to do something. Those were very dark days. At first, I had no idea what to do. There were times when I could not get out of bed for days. I could not accept the things we had to endure. Moreover, these inhuman acts were continuing increasingly. Even though I did not know their names or who they were, I felt suffocated when I remembered what they were going through. I began going in front of the prisons. I did not know anywhere except the way between home and the school. It was a difficult search for me. I had read Duygu Asena’s book of that period as a woman and when I told my mother, “I am going to become a feminist”, she said “they will take you in again”. I kept searching for the friends from prison. I met them around there in front of the prisons. I was extremely happy. These places were the address where I met and got to know Didar Şensoy. We were striving to improve the conditions at the prisons together with the relatives of the prisoners. During this period the Human Rights Organization (IHD) was founded. It was important to get to know Emil Galip Sandalcı and his contribution to the fight for human rights in the difficult times in 1986. IHD was the place where I intensively grew up and learnt to become a woman. As a result of the September 12 coup d’état, during the era in which all rights and freedoms were eliminated, I began looking for ways of doing something else here for myself, for society and for those who had put forth their lives in order to make humanity’s aspiration real for an equal, just, free and classless society. Now, some began writing about me that I was “an ex-convict of human rights, conscience gendarme of the September 12 regime”. It’s probably the result of fighting within the IHD over 20 years.
The 1990’s were the years during which we lived the most difficult days of the Kurdish problem in this land. I had experienced the first oppression during the September 12 interrogations, torture due to my origin, Dersim. In those years, when the human rights violations were the gravest, there was a need to go to the region, to be a witness to these violations. Like today, it was a very different thing to be taken into custody there.
During this process, the lands from which the Kurdish nation had to immigrate as a result of the atrocities they experienced, like my family, and from whose culture I nourished myself were always in my mind and in my heart like a deep wound. When I was a student, my father helped me join the Tunceli Education and Health Foundation (Dersim was forbidden then). Our regional institutions were being closed down as a result of the oppression and hardships of the war instead of our demand for peace. Despite everything, we were trying to find solutions to the loneliness created by the war by founding new ones. The district governorship rejected the bylaws of the institution because of the word “Dersim”. “In the official language the name Dersim is not used. Therefore, this expression should be changed to ‘Tunceli Culture and Education Foundation’”. We decided to resist this “secretly forbidden” word in relation to Dersim. Although the region, which was named “Tunceli” for the last 67 years, was known as “Dersim” for 670 years, they claimed that there was no such word in use and our fight against this continued for 3.5 years. It was 2004 when our foundation was accepted with the word “Dersim” in its bylaws.
As a woman who has just learnt feminism, I was trying to get involved in every demonstration carried out for human beings. Demonstrations for the end to capital punishment, struggle against the authorities in the prisons, disappearances under detention, peace chains, peace walks, peace trains, all the violations the Kurdish nation has gone through in this land, the prison protest of the women in black, don’t touch my friend, children’s rights, hunger strikes in the prisons, death fasts, campaigns for ‘don’t touch my Munzur’, and the longest one of all is the Saturday Mothers.
The first four years of the Saturday Mothers was our longest demonstration, lasting 200 weeks. There were thousands of names listed consecutively. The disappearance of a person is the last stop in the history of torture under the siege of a society without memory. We had to become the witnesses against the creation of a society with no memory, knowing that the place where we live today is not composed of only our limited world; we had to follow the clues of our disappeared ones so that they do not remain lost forever and we had to confront all these processes in order to remain humans.
The Saturday Mothers were, in a way, being witnesses. The difficult and the painful part of being a witness is feeling a thousand times in your brain, your heart, while remembering what has been alive. We considered the torture we lived through during the September 12 military coup d’état as a “dreadful human rights violation”. However, when we came out of prison, the pain of learning that our friends had been murdered and added to the list of disappearances was indescribable. When I came out, seeing the body of Nurettin Yedigöl, tortured under detention, lying under the stairs, when I found him among the list of the disappeared, I lived the historical attestation that there can never be a worse crime against humanity than this, I felt a huge sense of desperation, the feeling of rebellion!
Even though talking about the historical attestation of the tragedy of disappearances is very difficult, the experiences of the atrocities had to be told over and over again as a manifesto against the existing forgetfulness to prevent the reign of oblivion. The shame of forgetting would destroy us! I was in Galatasaray for 195 weeks out of 200. We were not too many… Saturday Mothers were sometimes beaten up, sometimes taken into custody and sometimes arrested at the sit-ins that began in May of 1995, every Saturday at 12:00 for those who disappeared under detention. I do not even remember how many times I have been taken into custody. Neither do I remember the number of trials… And also, the permanent injuries on my body from the pounding I received during the struggles I tried to continue outside after the torture under detention.
The first attack was organized against the Saturday Mothers on July 8, 1995. It was a silent resistance that everybody took part in. Even though those who were sitting there were called “Saturday Humans”, they were actually women who had become politicized by their identity as mothers in order to search for their disappeared ones. The more they sat at Galatasaray and met with each other, the more they sprang to protestations from mourning. A part of those women have become totally different today. They say, “When women hold hands, a lot of things change”. In the struggle in the search for the disappeared ones, there has been quite important progress made, both nationally and internationally.
On December 10, 1996, the International League for Human Rights broke its rules and awarded the Carl Von Ossietzky Award to a demonstration instead of a person who has come forward in his/her struggle for human rights. It was very special for me to receive this award in the name of the Saturday Mothers.
On May 30, 1998, the Argentinean Plaza del Mayo Mothers met the Saturday Mothers in Galatasaray. The Plaza Del Mayo Mothers, who are exemplary in the struggle for the disappearance under detention worldwide, shared their experiences with us and the message not to give up.
They tried to sit there for 200 weeks. The preventions began on the 170th week, in August 1998, and continued for 30 weeks. A total of 431 people, who were observed over seven months, were taken into custody, lasting from a few hours to five days, they were beaten up, battered, pulled on the ground and insulted. They were put on trial for resisting the police, breaking the Meeting and Demonstration Law. Some of the illiterate women stood trial for writing on the walls of their cells.
On Saturday, March 13, 1999, in the 200th week, the Saturday Mothers, because of the increasing attacks, met in the “Forests of Disappearances” of Amnesty International in order to have a break in the sit-ins. There was again prevention, detention. Hasan Ocak’s mother, Emine Ocak was taken into custody while she was caressing the tree, planted in his name, and calling it “my son”. A long hiatus started.
When they had a hiatus, perhaps they could not reach their disappeared ones, but the Galatasaray sit-ins turned into places where it was said that detention meant the possibility of disappearing while under the state’s protection and that anyone could be sent to detention.
The Ergenekon trial began to shed light on some of the incidents we had been speaking out about for years. This trial was important in respect to some truths and the officials’ confession about the state’s structuring. They were saying that Ergenekon’s officials had been on duty in the Kurdish cities for years and if required, they could bring light to the massacres. They said, “The other side of the Euphrates should be crossed over”. They said, “Public peace cannot be maintained in a country where there are death wells.” Despite everything, the official personages still keep on playing the three monkeys. Recently, the “acid wells”, “death fields” and “radiator cauldrons” have returned to the agenda! These have been recorded as human crimes in Turkey. Among the human rights violations related to the disappearances under detention, it is now possible to talk about the “Turkey type death”.
Human rights activists decided to have sit-ins again in Galatasaray, Diyarbakır and in other places as a result of the outcome from the Ergenekon trial and what the informants said about the murders by the unknown assailants and disappeared people. They are continuing to meet together with the Saturday Mothers for the 372nd week. Right now, there is a test of sincerity for all those with a conscience who claim that they are against the coup d’état: to create large crowds of people to remind us every day about the bitter truth about what the “acid wells”, “death fields”, “radiator cauldrons” and “mass graveyards” represent.
Our generation lived through much torture and deaths as a result of the 1980 military coup d’état. We have been witness to many things. We witnessed the gravest of all the cruelty policies and the disappearances under detention. They pulled them out of our lives, we grew up and aged without them. The ones who disappeared always stayed young and human in our lives.
A part of me has always said “It is important to be involved in the women’s struggle” and that’s why I care so much about it. According to me, as a woman who is in front of this struggle much more by founding IHD, the women’s collective fight was important. I am trying to be involved and spare time for the work of the “Socialist Feminist” movement, which includes some of the women I have been together with in the human rights struggle, who know about the oppressive and destructive effect on women’s bodies and labor, as well as the role of militarism on gender. It is extremely important to have a women’s independence movement that is rid of all the structural hierarchy and all kinds of discrimination against women!
Women, whom we have been walking together with in the women’s independence movement and who are from all walks of life in this country, who are influenced by the same violence, who are from different political and social circles, from a variety of identities, different beliefs, and different sexual orientations, we all have been fighting against the war and male dominated violence. Since the 1980’s we have insisted on peace by coming together in women’s peace groups. Today, we still struggle to form our actions, our words of peace against the ongoing war, lasting for 30 years in this country, within the “Women’s Initiation for Peace”, formed in April, 2009. Women’s solidarity flourishes by knowing that women’s voices need to be active for clearing the way for peace by witnessing the arrest of the Kurdish women with whom we keep on moving in the women’s independence movement and what they lived through during the war and giving a voice to the “Peace Points” of the Western part of the country.
Another aspect of the process of human rights and the Saturday Mothers was the struggle I kept within the Generation ’78 Initiative. The collapse of the world with two poles, the end of the Cold War created new tendencies all around the world and added more dimensions to human rights and freedoms. Now our need to confront/reckon with the human rights violations that had extended themselves to crimes against humanity of the previous world has arisen.
The Generation ’78 Initiative came about as the idea and movement of finding a democratic way for solidarity, historical update, confrontation, coming to terms with September 12, and as a movement for rights and freedom based on relations beginning from generation ’78 and extending to the poor segments of society. It was extremely significant for us to keep the struggle against the ongoing results of September 12 in all areas of our lives. Our struggle carried out within the Generation ’78 Initiative is yielding fruit. The rejected, allegedly non-existent and lost Generation ’78 has come out onto the history scene and showed that the truth was otherwise, that it existed through its struggle. An anti-September 12 culture emerged. Generation ’78 is the main reason for this.
Before 1980, there was a forgetfulness, which was out of sync with history. As Generation ’78, we have taken significant steps in creating a public memory that includes the 1970’s and even extends to the 1960’s and over to the breaking points of the pre-September 12 society. I was involved in a two-year campaign, “We Claim Our Citizenship Rights” and finally, as a result of a law decreed in TBMM (Grand National Assembly of Turkey), we have removed the bans on the citizenship rights imposed on our generation. Democracy could not be mentioned in a country that is governed by the constitution of a coup d’état. By carrying out important work on the constitution, we have conducted negotiations with the government.
Following this, there was the struggle to remove the ban on the temporary article 15 in the Constitution that provided parliamentary immunity for the pro-coups and for the foundation of a Truth and Justice Commission for 12 September. The Generation ’78 Initiative has played a significant role in initiating the trial of September 12, which began on April 4, 2012 in Ankara and in the process of removing the ban on the temporary article 15. We continue our struggle to extend and make it a real September 12 trial.
In societies where grave and serious human rights violations happen, it is a very complex process to deal with the past in the best possible way. It is known that “truth commissions” realized in many countries have an important share in such processes. Also, in Turkey, we passed through a very dark process, which only intensified with the military junta regime of September 12, 1980. The Generation ’78 Initiative made a call to create a truth commission. Thus the Truth and Justice Commission for Diyarbakır Prison was founded.
We began with this prison in order to bring the brutal conditions of the era of September 12 within the Diyarbakır Prison to the agenda, and as the dreadful crimes against humanity committed against the construction of the Kurdish identity still constitute a serious hindrance in front of the future. We are in the search for truth and justice in revealing the brutality of this prison, one of the reasons for the ruptures created between the Kurdish and Turkish nations.
Through the Truth and Justice Commission for the Diyarbakır Prison, we have reached a pivotal point. With over 500 recordings, about two thousand criminal complaints, the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutors’ Office has come to the point of initiating an investigation on Diyarbakır Prison. While carrying out this intensive work collectively, we, as the Generation ’78 Initiative and the commission, completely relied on ourselves, the volunteers, self-resources and sincere support of the democratic structures. Without sentencing September 12, the trial of the violent conditions of the Diyarbakır prison, it is also not possible for the flourishing of peace and democracy in its real sense.
If we are not struggling against the injustices we have lived through, if we cannot stand together in changing them, we will not get any rights or other gains. Today the September 12 regime continues through the constitution of the coup d’état. If the militarist ideology under the name “unchangeable items”, unilateral definition of citizenship and state, institutions of the coup d’état, such as National Security Council or YÖK (The Council of Higher Education) to design and control our social and political lives, the Political Parties Act with its 10 percent election threshold system, specially authorized prosecutors and courts, oppression of beliefs and assimilation, the central authoritarian system which attributes the power of the state to the neoliberal state, prohibitions on the mother tongue by calling it an “unknown language”, laws sanctifying violence and strengthening the family which are far removed from positive discrimination despite the women’s presence, and finally politics dominated by the language of war, if all this continues, we can only succeed by uniting our protests and demands for a free and humanistic life.
It is very important to uncover the truth in the search for justice. I used to defend “national self-determination” persistently during my university years. Today, I defend self-determination of the people. This is necessary for peace…