For me, the proceedings are such that I am accused here in my identity as a Kurd and because of my stance. The Kurdish movement’s fight against genocide and for its existence and freedom is described in the indictment as terrorism. I can only firmly reject this outrageous accusation. We Kurds have experienced first-hand what terrorism really is, what completely unbounded cruelty that spreads fear and terror worldwide means. We were and are the victims of the terrorism of the Islamic State and the state terrorism of the Turkish state and the nation states that have occupied Kurdistan. In these days alone, the infrastructure in Rojava is being destroyed by the Turkish military, civilians are being murdered and countless people are being deprived of their livelihoods and displaced.
Because we defend all identities, all cultures, all faiths and the freedom of women, we have become the target of the reactionary states in this region and the Islamic State. I remain convinced that we should support the just struggle of the Kurds and not pursue it in the interests of Turkey. That is why I am telling my story, which is also the story of so many of our people. And that is why my story cannot be understood without knowing the history of the Kurds and without knowing the collective memories we have grown up with.
The Kurds are one of the oldest peoples in human history. It is difficult to briefly describe their long and painful history. From the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, urban and Iron Age revolutions, from mythology to philosophy, religion and science, many of the upheavals that have led humanity to the present day have taken place in the area known as the Fertile Crescent, which includes the Kurdish settlement areas in particular.
The Neolithic revolution, i.e. sedentarization and the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry, began in this fertile region. The wealth generated by settling down also attracted enemies and invited attacks. In early times, this region was also a battlefield. With the development of civilizational systems based on surplus production, the period of systematic power development of the ruling groups based on city, class and state structures began.
From the Sumerian civilization to Britain and the United States, the hegemonic power of today’s civilization, there has never been a lack of direct and indirect attacks on the communities in this region. In this way, areas that were called paradises have become cursed lands. The background to the misfortune and cursing of the Kurds is a history of brutal wars.
Since the emergence of state civilization, historical Kurdistan has also been a theater of war. The Kurds could only protect their existence by retreating to the peaks and depths of the mountains. They had to resist in order to survive. Only resistance remained for them. Resistance is another name for Kurdish survival.
The Kurds have suffered from the chaos and fighting between the respective hegemonic powers. Even the question of their existence has been the subject of discussion between the hegemonic powers. The homeland of the Kurds was divided into four parts by the Treaty of Lausanne. Before they could save themselves from the machinations of the hegemonic powers, they were confronted with the denying and destructive genocidal attacks of their neighbors. The homeland of the Kurds who participated in the establishment of the Turkish Republic was lost, the existence of the Kurds was denied, and what remained were a few savages making the sound “kart-kurt” in the mountains and in the snow, mute and stateless.
An environment was created in which saying “I am Kurdish” was synonymous with being alone, seeing all paths of development blocked one day and even being confronted with all kinds of dangers. Being Kurdish became an evil. The Kurd became a problematic being that was difficult to defend. The status of Kurds in this world was to have no status. They were denied, annihilated and massacred and their language and culture were banned. The self-defense systems that the Kurds had developed as tribes and clans in the mountainous regions since time immemorial were not sufficient to withstand the means of attack of the capitalist system. The Kurds had to organize themselves, they had to develop an identity and a consciousness of their own in order to defend themselves. Today, this resistance is referred to as terrorism.
It is a bitter consequence that Kurds who fight for their existence and resist are labeled as terrorists. But if they do not stand up for their rights and remain silent, even worse things will happen to them. This is exactly the situation in which one is trapped or has fallen into a trap. The Kurds are not allowed to engage in politics, struggle or peace. It is very difficult to live as a Kurd. In short, the Kurdish people are an innocent people under the hegemony of nation states who have been brought to the brink of extinction through numerous massacres, occupation, colonization, assimilation, genocide and forced integration in an environment of constant wars.
I am a son of this people
I am a son of this people and without its history, my history cannot be understood. I have written down my story as best I could under the difficult conditions of detention in the prison in Hamburg, from my birth to my settlement in Cyprus. Of course, these are only a few highlights, otherwise I would have to write for days about the torture and humiliation in police custody and prisons in Turkey, but also about the solidarity among political prisoners, the successful resistance in prisons, the friends who tell people their stories and the hope for a peaceful future.
I was born into a Kurdish family in 1975 in the village of Halaxe, called Narli in Turkish, in the Midyat district of Mardin province. The Kurdish name of our family was Segvan. I was probably born in July or August. At least my mother told me it was harvest time. An arbitrary date was entered in the civil status register as the date of birth, namely April 1, 1974. My older brother was registered on April 1, 1973. Shortly after I was born, we moved to the city, to Midyat.
Midyat is located in a mountainous region called Tur Abdin. A region with thousands of years of history in which Kurds of Islamic and Yezidi faith, Arab Mhallami and Christian Orthodox Assyrians and Armenians lived together. Kurdish, Assyrian and Arabic were spoken in Midyat. It is a city characterized by the richness of different identities, cultures, languages and faiths, where houses of worship of all religions stand, where everything sounds and rings in confusion, but it is also a city that has experienced genocide and massacres because of the affiliation of its inhabitants to different religions, identities and cultures.
My family’s history is closely linked to the religious diversity of Midyat. My family is one that consciously lived and lives together with these different cultures and religions, that is one with these identities and the diversity of this city. It still enjoys great respect today, especially in the eyes of the Assyrian and Yezidi communities.
It was in 1915, during the Armenian and Assyrian genocide, that my grandfather Temir Segvan took the lead in protecting the Assyrian families in our village of Halaxe. There were seven Assyrian families in the village of 300 households. My grandfather and other villagers hid these seven families in a safe cave and kept watch for days. They resisted the Turkish soldiers who kept invading the village to massacre the Assyrians, risking their own lives, and told them: “There are no Assyrians in our village, they have all been killed.” The genocidal troops initially believed these words, but later attacked the village again and again, threatening the villagers with death and telling them that they would not believe them and that the entire village population would have to pay if they protected Assyrians. Despite all this pressure, violence and threats, our village and my grandfather did not hand over the families to the murderers, but took them to the Assyrian village of Envert, a few kilometers away, which was a stronghold of the Assyrian resistance at the time.
My grandfather and his relatives supported the resistance in Envert, including his cousin Mela Ali, who was an imam. While other imams called for killing, Imam Ali preached the opposite: “Whoever kills a person will go to hell.” It was very important to my grandfather that the Assyrians preserve their identity. Some Assyrians tried to convert in order to protect themselves from the attacks of genocide. My grandfather, on the other hand, was of the opinion that they should not betray their faith even in the face of this great danger. My grandfather also rescued two girls, one Assyrian and one Armenian. The Assyrian girl said to my grandfather out of fear and to protect herself from death: “I want to marry you.” My grandfather took her by the shoulders, kissed her on the forehead and said: “You are my sister and I am your brother. I will marry you off as my sister to whoever you want to marry.” He later married this girl to an Assyrian who had also survived the genocide. The Assyrian girl remained in close contact with my family for the rest of her life. Her grandchildren still feel connected to us and address us as “uncle”. The history of the Assyrians in our village and the role of my grandfather is even mentioned in books about this brutal time. However, there were very few Assyrians who survived this way, because only a few resisted the persecution like my grandfather, and many of them even took part in the massacres and deportations of the state.
The survivors were not safe in the following decades after the founding of the republic either; they were marginalized, discriminated against and attacked, and repeatedly had to fear for their lives. In Kurdistan, too, the Turkish state tried to incite the population against the non-Muslims. The state saw the occupation of Cyprus in 1974 as an opportunity and organized meetings with Arabs in the mosque in Midyat and made plans to attack them. When my father, who enjoyed a great deal of respect, and my uncle heard about this, they warned the Assyrians to prevent the massacre. They gave them a large rifle for self-protection and kept watch in the Assyrian quarter with 200 people they had called together. They announced that the Assyrians could only be killed over their dead bodies. As my grandfather’s son, my father saw this behavior as natural and even his duty.
Even if these are outdated categories for me, it is important for the history of my family that it belongs to the Eşiret – which is shortened to tribe – Heverka. One branch of the Heverka was loyal to the state and one was rebellious. Before the Young Turks implemented their plans to wipe out the Christian population, they consulted some Kurdish tribal leaders to obtain their consent. However, the representatives of the Eşiret Heverka opposed the plans and refused to participate. As a result, all their representatives were arrested. My grandfather belonged to the rebellious part and opposed the genocidal Ottoman soldiers. And later, in 1925, he took part in the great Kurdish uprising, officially called the Sheikh Said Uprising. He fought against other tribes associated with the state and eventually had to flee to Syria.
My parents, Vesila and Yusuf, have eight children, six boys and two girls. I am the seventh child in the family and therefore the second youngest. After we moved from the village to the city, we were doing quite well economically. My father ran a store in Midyat and we also had the fields in the village. We children were brought up with stories about my grandfather and respect for other religions, especially the Assyrians. That was part of my family’s identity, just as being Kurdish was a natural part of it.
The first big shock of my life
Shortly after the fascist military coup on September 12, 1980, I started elementary school in Midyat. Days before, I had been preparing to go to school with great excitement, just waiting for school to start. I couldn’t sleep for excitement and went there hours before the school opened, I was excited and full of anticipation to finally be able to learn. But these feelings quickly gave way to a big shock. I didn’t understand the language the teacher spoke. It was not the language spoken in my family, by my immediate neighbors, by the Assyrian and Mihalm children we played with on the street. This language was a foreign language, this language was Turkish. This beginning of my school career with a language that was completely incomprehensible and unknown to me had a devastating effect on me. It was the first big shock of my life, perhaps even the first trauma.
I learned Turkish by being beaten. Our teacher had a stick. He was very strict and very scary. Not only did he beat us when we spoke Kurdish, but he also hit us if we didn’t answer questions correctly, either on the head or on the palms of our hands. Sometimes he also kicked and slapped us. He also had the student who gave the wrong answer to his question beaten by the student who gave the right answer. The teacher would tell the student who gave the right answer, “Give him a hard slap.” If the slap of the student who had given the correct answer was too light, the teacher gave him another hard slap. The pupil who had given the correct answer then also gave his classmate a hard slap in order to avoid a second slap from the teacher. So it didn’t matter whether the answer was right or wrong, both pupils were beaten and humiliated either way.
It was strictly forbidden to speak Kurdish at school, but we sometimes spoke Kurdish secretly during the breaks. If this was reported by a classmate, we were beaten up. There were pupils who were specifically obliged to report it. They were part of the class disciplinary committee, which meant denouncing all classmates who spoke Kurdish to the teacher. I’ll never forget one day when the teacher started telling us again that we weren’t allowed to speak Kurdish, and before he had finished his admonition, a pupil called Adnan came forward and said: “Teacher, my father beat my brother at home last night because he spoke Kurdish.” The teacher congratulated Adnan and asked us to applaud him. We should take an example from him.
We started the school day by standing in ranks and repeating the hymn called the oath out loud like soldiers. We lined up like soldiers for this. One pupil stood on a high platform, recited the oath sentence by sentence and we had to repeat it. The oath began with “I am a Turk, honest and hardworking” and ended with “My existence shall be a gift to Turkish existence. How happy the one who says, I am a Turk!” This is how they wanted to Turkify us.
For the state, all Kurds were under general suspicion. For my father, however, as for many other Kurdish people, this meant that with the strengthening of the PKK, they were taken away with every incident and for no reason, even though their only offense was not belonging to the Kurdish tribes loyal to the state. Around Midyat, there were repeated skirmishes between Kurdish fighters – later with the PKK guerrillas – and the soldiers and thus many occasions when my father was taken away just because he was Kurdish. He didn’t talk about what happened to my father in police custody. When I grew up, I could imagine it. However, this massive state oppression also provoked resistance and led to the development of a Kurdish consciousness.
One day, I was in elementary school, when we were standing in rows again and repeating “our oath”, I said in an unconscious reaction: “I am Kurdish, I am honest and hardworking”, and a teacher who was standing at the height of my row heard it. When the oath was over, he asked me to stand in front of the hundreds of students and beat me for minutes. When some teachers who thought the situation was exaggerated said, “Stop it, you’re killing the kid,” the teacher who hit me replied, “He broke our sacred oath, he said he was Kurdish.” After these words, the other teachers hit me even harder than the first one. I had a lot of bruises. I was eleven years old at the time. Later I realized that they wanted to break my will and my self-confidence in this way and intimidate other students. At the time, I didn’t understand what they were doing, or rather, I didn’t question it. I finished primary and secondary school under these conditions.
In the early 1990s, countless village guards were deployed in our area. With the state behind them, they allowed themselves to commit all kinds of atrocities against the population. The most harmless thing was that they took our property in the village and used it as their own. And so it was natural for my family to vote for Kurdish candidates in the parliamentary elections in 1991, when they were able to vote for them for the first time.
My parents were very afraid for us because of the ever worsening situation. They thought that, like my father, we would soon be arrested on every occasion; they also didn’t want us to come into contact with politics too much. That’s why they sent my younger brother, me and an older brother to the tourist resort of Alanya in 1990. My older brother, who lived in Sweden, had bought a small hotel there with a partner and was running it. I went to high school in Alanya and helped out in the hotel.
The fascists attacked our houses and workplaces
Alanya was a district where the racists were very strong. Many poor Yörük nomads live there, among whom the fascist MHP was very well organized. The Kurds living in Alanya were mainly displaced people from the Kurdish areas whose livelihoods had been destroyed there. Some of them settled in Alanya as petty traders, had stores or snack bars and also tried to gain a foothold in the tourism industry. This was exploited by state propaganda to stir up a mood against the Kurds, stirring up envy and instilling fear in the population that the Kurds were harming tourism. Seemingly spontaneously, but as if on cue, there were attacks on Kurds and Kurdish businesses. And in everyday life we were marginalized and treated disparagingly. I often sat with Kurdish construction workers and heard their difficult stories, their worries and how inferior they were treated on the building sites. All the racism was also aimed at taking over the Kurds’ businesses and preventing them from earning money in the tourism sector.
Especially when soldiers were killed in fights with the PKK, it was very dangerous for us. The fascists attacked our houses and workplaces and burned them down. They lynched Kurds in the street. I remember that even three Kurds who attended the funeral of a soldier because they spoke Kurdish among themselves were almost lynched, even though they had come to the soldier’s funeral. It was dangerous for us to leave the house on those days.
We Kurds were also ostracized at school. At high school in Alanya, I was subjected to humiliating and degrading behavior as well as physical violence. I only had a few Turkish friends; those who knew I was Kurdish stayed away from me. That’s why we got together as Kurdish students and tried to protect each other. However, on days when the atmosphere was tense or when soldiers’ funerals were taking place, I didn’t go to school.
At school, we often had discussions with the teachers, especially with our history teacher. His name was Fehmi İzçan and he had a very racist attitude and taught history accordingly: “The ancestors of the Turks rode against the seven world powers, we came to the gates of Vienna and swept the sneaky Greeks into the sea, one Turk can take on the whole world.” One day, when he spoke like this again, I asked in class: “Teacher, why were we at the gates of Vienna, didn’t this land belong to others? Why did the Ottomans occupy it?” The teacher shouted at me and threatened to throw me out of the class.
My last confrontation with the same history teacher took place in civics class. One of the articles of the Turkish constitution that cannot be changed reads: “Anyone who is bound to the Turkish state by the bond of citizenship is a Turk.” I asked: “Is everyone who lives in Turkey a Turk?” He replied in the affirmative. “Does that mean that the Kurds and Assyrians who live in my home town are also Turkish?” The teacher shouted at the top of his voice: “There are no Kurds. They were only called Kurds because of the sound of their feet in the snow like ‘kart, kurt’ in the mountains. They are mountain Turks.”
I had already read too much for my age and couldn’t bear this humiliation and devaluation. So I asked him: “Is Turkishness just a nationality issue? The Republic of Turkey was founded on October 29, 1923. Were there no Turks before the state was founded?” Instead of answering me, the teacher snapped. He threw me out of the class. Then he called me in and said that I was turning the students’ heads, sabotaging the lessons, provoking them and spreading terrorist propaganda.
Three or four months after this argument, shortly before the start of the last school year of high school, I was arrested by the police on September 9, 1993, together with my 13-year-old brother. I was 18 years old at the time.
The reason for our arrest was the statement of a person called Mehmet Tuncay. This person, whom I had seen once or twice in my life, had falsely incriminated us. He had introduced himself shortly before as a relative of my school friend, with whom he had come to our hotel. We had only had a trivial conversation. We knew that we were Kurds and we didn’t hide it.
At some point in custody, I learned that this person had previously been arrested himself and had not been able to withstand the severe torture. In order to stop the torture, he said what the police wanted to hear, especially about who among the Kurds was supposed to belong to the PKK. This Mehmet Tuncay, who was a Kurd himself, even incriminated people he had only greeted once. It is said that dozens of people were arrested because of his statements; the police even went with him to places and had supposedly political Kurds shown to them. Everyone talked about him, everyone was confronted with him, one after the other.
We were tortured beyond description
Before they started torturing me, they opened my eyes and asked me if I recognized him. I said yes, I knew him, he came to our hotel with my friend, so I knew him. Tuncay, on the other hand, claimed that he had come to Alanya, to this small district, to establish a PKK organizing committee and that he had assigned me to the Alanya district committee, where I had been for two months. I said no, he’s lying, he’s making it up, I wasn’t on any committee. But they didn’t believe me and started to torture me and my brother.
We were tortured beyond description. They gave me electric shocks all over my body, especially on my hands and toes. They splashed me with cold water and I had to lie naked on the damp concrete. They used the bastinado torture: They forced me to the ground and beat me many times on the soles of my feet.
In those years, the official detention period was 15 days in the western provinces of Turkey and 30 days in Kurdistan. I was detained for 15 days and I was blindfolded for 15 days and they didn’t let me sleep.
After three days of this torture, I could no longer hear my brother’s cries. I was horrified. I wondered if he could no longer stand the torture and had died. I wondered if he had been taken to hospital. I couldn’t stand it any longer and asked the police officers who were torturing me, crying and screaming: “Where is my brother? Show me my brother!” I said that I wanted to see him. They grinned dirty and said, “We sent him to hell, and if you don’t accept what we say, we’ll send you there too.” I went crazy, I was shaking, I had a feeling that is hard to describe. Being alive in that torture chamber was a great torment for me. Death seemed more beautiful to me. Then there was the rape of the couple in my neighboring cell. They raped a couple, Muyettin and Yıldız. They raped the woman in front of the man. They raped the man in front of the woman. I have never forgotten their screams and their pleas. I can still hear those screams. Those 15 days I spent in custody were unspeakably horrible.
Under these conditions and in immense fear for my brother, I finally signed all the papers that were presented to me with my eyes closed. I learned the contents of these papers when we were taken to the public prosecutor’s office. They said that Mehmet Tuncay had been ordered to set up a committee in the district and that I had carried out organizational activities as a member of this committee.
At the public prosecutor’s office, I wasn’t interested in the statements on these papers. The police waited demonstratively outside the door so that I wouldn’t recant my “statement”. But I didn’t think about that at all, the only question that concerned me was whether my brother was still alive. They took us to court in a big bus. I looked for my brother on the bus, but he wasn’t there. I asked everyone. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other, if we did we were attacked. No one I asked answered me because of that. Finally, in my distress, I asked Mehmet Tuncay if he had seen my brother. He said, “Don’t worry, they released your brother,” but I didn’t believe his words. We were taken back to prison by the public prosecutor’s office. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was completely desperate and helpless. I couldn’t think straight. This state continued until my mother and father came to visit. When I saw them, the first thing I asked them about was my brother. They said he was alive and being treated in hospital. It was as if the walls of the prison were crushing me. He was alive and at the same time I knew that he would never really get better. A thirteen-year-old couldn’t survive something like that. He suffered from many mental and physical illnesses accordingly and spent many years in hospitals.
After 15 days in custody, I was taken to Antalya Prison and after another five days I was transferred to Buca Prison in Izmir, where the region’s so-called State Security Court, or DGM for short, was located. This was the court that would later sentence me.
Buca Prison was notorious and very overcrowded. Hundreds of people were arrested every day and they also came to Buca. In Buca, for the first time, I was able to ask serious questions to the person who had incriminated my little brother and me to save himself. I asked him why he had done that and he said, “I am married and have three children, if I had not done that, they would have taken my wife and raped her in front of me. That’s the only reason I said what they wanted to hear.” He went on to say: “I will tell all this in court at the first hearing, that it’s not true, that I was forced. You will most likely be released after the first hearing.”
Later I heard that police officers had come and tried to question Tuncay further in prison. They always wanted new information from him. But this person told them that he didn’t want to harm his own people any more and that he wouldn’t tell them anything more. A week after this conversation, this person died in a suspicious way. I don’t know if he died or was murdered, but most probably he was murdered.
I heard other people’s stories in Buca prison, what happened to them. It was horrible. For example, they detained several Kurdish men who, although they had never left their village and could neither read nor write, were held responsible for the protests in many of Turkey’s major cities. They forced them to sign all kinds of statements under torture. Since they couldn’t write, they had them sign the papers by pressing their thumbs on the paper like a seal. I know many people I met in prison who were sentenced to life imprisonment for statements obtained in this way.
1993 was a decisive year
1993, the year of our arrest, was a decisive year politically. Our entire region and the lives of the Kurds were turned into hell. At the beginning of 1993, President Turgut Özal had seen the horrors of war and realized that Turkey was in a deep crisis. Özal sought a peaceful reorganization of Kurdish-Turkish relations. More than anyone else, he expressed why a dialog was necessary and why a solution was vital for both sides; he approached this solution like a wise man.
Mr. Özal called on the PKK to engage in dialogue and resolve the conflict. He conveyed this to Mr. Öcalan through Jalal Talabani, one of the leaders of Southern Kurdistan, who later became the President of Iraq. He said that not everything the PKK does is wrong.
Trusting Özal’s sincerity, Mr. Öcalan called a ceasefire in March. During this time, a very strong wing within the state was preparing for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. They began to work on constitutional and legal changes.
However, those who were against the peaceful and political solution to the Kurdish question initiated by Özal ushered in a new era in their own way. First, Adnan Kahveci, the state minister closest to Özal who had worked out a solution package for the Kurdish question, was assassinated. Then Turgut Özal was poisoned. His grave was opened several times and the samples taken revealed that he had been poisoned. In addition, numerous generals and bureaucrats who were close to Özal, as well as businessmen, journalists and intellectuals who were preparing a package to solve the Kurdish question, were killed.
After Özal was poisoned, President Demirel, Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, Chief of General Staff Doğan Güreş, Mehmet Ağar and other forces of the deep state took power in the state through political coups, assassinations and changes of government. Chief of General Staff Doğan Güreş made his first visit abroad to London. He expressed the fact that he had received international support there with the following words: “London has given us the green light.”
The special thing about this year was that the legal state was liquidated. This gave rise to a gang state, a new kind of state called the deep state. 1993 was a dramatic year. While the supporters of peace and a political solution within the state were liquidated, the biggest genocidal attack in history against the Kurdish people took place in 1993. It was the most comprehensive year of de-Kurdification in the history of Kurdistan. They began to use the terror of genocide to its fullest extent. They wanted to complete the physical genocide of the Kurds. In their own words: they wanted to bring it to an end. They did not limit themselves to the assassination of ministers, the president, army commanders, businessmen and journalists, but rather a great terror was carried out against the entire society, especially against the Kurds.
Almost 4,000 Kurdish villages were burned down and destroyed. Millions of villagers were forcibly resettled without any legal basis. The year 1993 was a year between life and death for millions of Kurds who were sent into exile without being able to take any of their belongings with them. Their possessions, property, houses and fields were looted and handed over to the village guards. In the remaining villages and towns, food was rationed, officially known as a food embargo, and the food was distributed under supervision.
Thousands of people were murdered by village guards, JİTEM and Hizbullah. Thousands of people were thrown into acid fountains. Thousands of people were brutally murdered in the streets, killed with pig shackles and buried in basements. Thousands of people were murdered openly in custody. Tens of thousands of people were imprisoned without charge. They were imprisoned for long years. The state security courts turned into a punishment machine. In the eyes of these courts, all Kurds were terrorists and had to be exterminated. They were automatically sentenced to long prison terms.
Kurds were not the only target of the state; there were also massacres of Alevis. In Sivas, 33 intellectuals and artists who took part in a memorial service for Pir Sultan Abdal were burned to death in the Madımak Hotel. A large crowd controlled by the state set fire to the hotel. The perpetrators were never seriously brought to justice and many of them still live freely in Germany today. In Istanbul, the predominantly Alevi neighborhood of Gazi was turned into a war zone for days, dozens of people were murdered by the police and hundreds were injured.
Women were systematically raped during this time. Children were deprived of their identity, humiliated and often raped in regional boarding schools and assimilation centers. In the remaining villages and towns, food was rationed and only distributed under control. All this can be found in judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
This gang, which has taken over the international drug and arms business, money laundering, human trafficking and all other illegal businesses, did not want the Kurdish issue to be solved. This is one of the most important reasons why the Kurdish issue has not been solved. With the rhetoric of terrorism and under the name of anti-terrorism struggle, the region was kept in chaos and these dirty crimes were managed with the cadre, means and institutions of the state. Therefore, they had to construct terrorists again and again. State terrorism secured these areas by portraying the Kurds, the Kurdish movement, the intellectuals and the institutions as terrorists. Even those who only thought about solving the problem, let alone wanted to solve it, were declared terrorists and punished with harsh methods of violence. During the period when Tansu Çiller was Prime Minister, they divided a loot of 20 billion dollars among themselves. This has been proven with documents. You can read these facts in the minutes of the parliamentary commission of inquiry.
It was sad and infinitely painful
Let’s come back to my story. I spent two years in Buca prison in this atmosphere. It was terrible. There were physical attacks every day. They wanted to scare people, to break them. Soldiers entered the wards under the pretext of having to search them and scattered our belongings. They mixed our salt and sugar, they mixed rice and lentils, they tore our clothes. Torture had become an everyday thing. They tortured us especially on the way to and from court. That’s why no one wanted to go to the court hearings anymore, because everyone was afraid of the transportation. The people were very poor, they and their families were in a very bad way.
Not only were we imprisoned under these conditions, we were also unable to defend ourselves against the charges. It was even difficult to find a lawyer. Nobody wanted to take on such cases because the lawyers themselves had great difficulty defending us, and there were simply too many political prisoners who needed a lawyer. Those who were prepared to take on these cases demanded a lot of money. At least I had a lawyer, but he couldn’t do anything for me.
As a result, my case was closed after two years. Although I was not accused of any act of violence, but only of being in a local committee of the PKK for two months, I was sentenced to 15 years in prison for membership in an illegal organization. The only alleged evidence against me was the statement made under torture by Tuncay, who has since been killed, and the signature I signed. Of course, I revoked the signature in court, but that was irrelevant to the court. Of these 15 years, I had to serve a total of eleven years and three months in accordance with the enforcement law.
After my conviction, I was transferred to Aydın prison, which is also near Izmir, and spent three years there. The most important feature of this prison was that the prisoners brought here were mainly those who had already been imprisoned for 15 years and some of whom were survivors of Diyarbakır military prison.
Diyarbakır prison was the epitome of hell for everyone at the time. After the fascist military coup of September 12, 1980, the events in Diyarbakır prison were etched in the collective memory of the Kurds. This prison was a project of the military regime to subjugate and crush the Kurdish resistance, where thousands of Kurds and leftists were imprisoned and systematically tortured, humiliated and dehumanized on a daily basis. The commander of this prison, Esat Oktay Yıldıran, whom I will talk about later, was personally ordered by the regime to turn this prison into a hell for the Kurds every day.
Thus, a new trauma was added to the traumas I had experienced in Aydın prison. I heard from these old prisoners what had happened to them in the military prison and I saw the traces of inhuman brutality. I had heard about the events in Diyarbakır, read about them in books. But seeing and hearing the people themselves was something else. It was shocking for me, it was sad and infinitely painful.
But there was also incredible solidarity among the prisoners
The conditions in Aydın prison were not the same as those in Diyarbakır prison, but we – the Kurdish political prisoners – were systematically abused and tortured and they tried to re-educate us as Turks. We had to fight for little things in order to survive there. Whenever another prisoner was taken away to be tortured or even killed under torture, we would go on hunger strike. During the time in Aydın, we learned that at the end of 1995, in Buca prison, where I had been imprisoned for two years, gendarmes and soldiers had attacked political prisoners who were defending their basic human rights; three prisoners were killed and dozens were seriously injured. In 1996, we learned about a prison massacre in Diyarbakır, where ten prisoners were killed by special forces with metal rods and dozens were seriously injured. In 1999, ten prisoners were tortured to death with direct shots to the heart and head in Ulucanlar Prison in Ankara. Every day I was in prison, there were news reports of death and torture. But there was also incredible solidarity among the prisoners.
However, we not only heard reports of horrific treatment in various prisons from the old prisoners in Aydın, they also had a great deal of political experience. They were people from all over Kurdistan. They told stories they had heard from their grandfathers and grandmothers. They told of the resistance that emerged between 1925 and 1927 in the area around Amed, Bingöl, Elazığ and Bitlis after the Treaty of Lausanne, which divided Kurdistan into four parts and started the genocide of the Kurds, and which is known in official history as the “Sheikh Said Uprising”. They told of the massacres carried out by the state to suppress this resistance. I also learned about the massacres of Ararat and Zilan in the 1930s, and about the genocide of the Alevi Kurds in Koçgiri and Dersim, where large numbers of Alevi Kurds lived. I had read about the events in Dersim in books. But it was something completely different to hear what the grandparents had told their children and grandchildren, who were now imprisoned with me as Kurds.
These stories made me, as a young Kurd, want to read as much as I could about Kurdish history in prison and educate myself. Despite all the brutality and torture in prison, the political prisoners were still housed in large communal cells and we were able to build up our own small book collections there as an achievement of the prisoners’ resistance. I learned how the Kurds had been colonized in the 19th and 20th centuries when the world was redivided and rebuilt. I tried to understand why the existence of a working people, whose settlement area is called the cradle of civilization, could become a contentious issue, where the debate of whether the Kurds existed as a people or not originated.
I am still looking for answers
Why was the existence of the Kurds denied? Many peoples in history have been victims of genocide and genocidal endeavors. But was the existence of these peoples up for debate? The struggle of the Kurds in the last century was more a struggle for protection and recognition of their existence than a struggle for freedom. It was a struggle to end the debate about whether Kurds exist at all. How could a people be put in such a situation in the first place? I was looking for an answer to that and other questions about why the mere existence of a people, their demand for recognition and for freedom, could be presented as the greatest crime. I am still searching for these answers.
After three years in Aydın prison, I was transferred to Bursa prison. I will never forget June 11, 1998. When we arrived in front of Bursa prison after a long journey, they made us wait for hours in the airtight and barred van under the hot sun. We couldn’t breathe, we were suffocating. We vomited a lot. We stayed in this state for at least two or three hours. When the doors opened, we were abused and humiliated.
In Bursa prison, I witnessed the great atrocity committed by the state on December 19, 2000 under the name “Operation Return to Life”: in almost all prisons in Turkey, massacres were carried out simultaneously in the morning on left-wing political prisoners on hunger strike and death fast, which did not include the Kurdish prisoners. They burned people alive and shot them. In Bursa prison, they massacred several prisoners who were housed in a section near us and seriously wounded many of them. Soldiers stormed our section with long guns, threatened to massacre us too and then left. This situation lasted for days. They deported many prisoners to F-type prisons, where they were subjected to harsh solitary confinement. In the course of this operation, massacres took place in all prisons in Turkey. Dozens of prisoners were killed, thousands were injured, tortured, men in particular were raped during transfers, their heads were shaved indiscriminately and they were humiliated.
I had been in Bursa prison for about six years at the time and there were only a few months to go before I was released. In those years, the prisoner was transferred to a smaller prison closer to the family upon request if there was less than a year left before the end of the sentence. I had five or six months left. Nevertheless, I was not sent to the prison in the Derik district of Mardin, near my family, but was released from Bursa prison in November 2004.
I looked forward to the light at the end of the tunnel with great enthusiasm
After my release, I had to take care of my treatment for a long time. The torture, the abuse and the long imprisonment had left considerable marks on me, which only slowly improved with treatment and proper nutrition.
When I was released from prison, there was a relatively conflict-free atmosphere, unlike in the 1990s. The Kurdish side had withdrawn its armed forces behind the border. Since 1993, the Kurdish movement had demonstrated its sincerity with unilateral ceasefires. It organized peace groups to prepare the ground for a solution and repeatedly tried to steer the process through ceasefires and military inactivity.
Although various steps were taken for a deep and lasting democratic solution to the Kurdish question and a dignified peace based on dialog, no solution could be reached. The prevailing chauvinist mentality and genocidal policies of Turkey, the interest policies of the international powers, the internal backwardness of the regional powers and many other reasons have prevented a solution to the problem. In short, while on the one hand the state was raising hope by discussing a solution, on the other hand it was producing the failure of a solution with destructive and genocidal methods. Both developments ran parallel.
However, it was important to me that solution-oriented talks were on the agenda and that people had hope for peace. This also helped me not to withdraw in bitterness or flee abroad. This atmosphere gave me the strength to believe in a political solution and peace and to try to make a small contribution to the democratization of Turkey and the resolution of the Kurdish question. Like the Kurdish people, I looked forward to the light at the end of the tunnel with great enthusiasm. Time and again, the Kurds had had to receive the bodies of their children. At last they wanted to embrace their children alive. No mother should have to receive her dead children any more. The Kurds wanted to have the rights they were born with, like all other people in the world. The Kurdish people wanted the freedom of their identity, their culture and their language. They have paid a high price in the struggle for the rights that every human being should be entitled to from birth. And they continue to pay a high price.
It is important for me to emphasize this: The Kurds are not asking for much, they just wanted their identity to be recognized, they wanted to be able to speak their language freely and live their culture freely and self-determined. The Kurds did not want a new religion, nor did they want to occupy foreign land. They wanted to live as human beings. They wanted to live in dignity as Kurds together with the Turks and all other peoples in Turkey.
Abdullah Öcalan campaigned for a democratic solution
In 2005, Erdoğan said in a speech in Amed: “The Kurdish problem is also my problem. Big states also make mistakes. The duty of big states is to apologize for their mistakes.” This speech raised high hopes among Kurds. Shortly afterwards, however, the same Erdoğan said: “The state will do what is necessary, regardless of whether it is a woman or a child.” This speech meant that the state would start massacring Kurdish children and their mothers again.
Nevertheless, the Kurds were willing to pay any price to establish a democratic solution and a peace mentality. The strategic work of the Kurds and their institutions focused on a democratic solution and a dignified peace.
Mr. Öcalan is the one who worked the most for a peaceful, political and democratic solution to the Kurdish question and made the greatest efforts and progress in this regard. Without Mr. Öcalan’s efforts, this level of development would not have been possible. If the freedom movement and the Kurds had not become a democratic political movement for a solution, no one would have been able to speak of a peaceful, democratic and political solution to the Kurdish question. Moreover, I can easily say that Mr. Öcalan is one of the people who really want a solution for the brotherhood and unity of the peoples, who want to solve the Kurdish question in a brotherly way with the society of Turkey in particular, as well as with the Arab and Persian peoples, with the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek peoples, and who sincerely believe in this and do it with conviction.
How can we heal the future?
When I was in prison in Turkey, I read the slogan “Never again fascism, never again war” of the prisoners who had survived the German concentration camps. As someone who has been dreaming of a free world without war, domination, occupation, massacre, genocide and fascism and based on diversity for many years, in order to realize these dreams, I acted with the thought: “We cannot change the past, but we can heal the future.” How can we heal the future, how can we close the bleeding wounds that could not heal? These were the questions that were on my mind when I was released from prison and the hope of a peaceful solution began to emerge.
My answer to the question was that the state and society first had to come to terms with the past and give an account. To do this, it was necessary to know what had happened in history, what massacres and genocides had been committed, why humanity had suffered so much and why there had been so much war and destruction. Kurds who lived through the horrors of the 1990s usually remain silent for a while after each painful memory and then say: “Let these days pass, let them never come again.” It is not as easy as it seems to fulfill this wish, a wish that no one objects to when they hear it for the first time and that almost everyone would agree with. It is a difficult but necessary process. If we want these days to disappear and never return, if we really want that, then there is a way. This way is through understanding the past and coming to terms with the past.
In the tradition of the Turkish state, there is no confrontation with the massacres and genocides it committed, in short with its past. Many states have dealt with the massacres and genocides of their past, but Turkey has not been asked to do so by any state. Nevertheless, the Turkish state is the one in the world that has to deal with its past the most today.
Since the Turkish state has never dealt with its past and has not come to terms with it, no wound has healed. The Kurdish wound is still bleeding. Because the state itself has not allowed the wounds to heal. The year 1993 and the 1990s in general were times of upheaval. They are a turning point in Turkey’s history because the state has not faced up to its past. It was an upheaval that said beforehand: “I am coming.” Especially for the Kurds, the Alevi community and other peoples.
Throughout its history, the Turkish state has not come to terms with its past. That is why the events of the 1990s were inevitable. Because it did not face up to the massacres and genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Greeks and Pontians, it massacred the Kurdish Alevis in Koçgiri in the 1920s. He did not want to face up to this either and committed the genocides of Sheik Said, Zilan, Aǧrı and Dersim in 1925 and the following years.
In Central Anatolia and on the Black Sea, 300,000 Pontus Greeks were subjected to genocide. Thousands were driven into exile, the rest were Islamized and Turkified. If the Turkish state had dealt with this massacre and genocide, there would not have been a pogrom against the Jews in Thrace in 1934. If this massacre had been dealt with, the property tax of 1942 and the pogrom against the Greek population and other peoples in Istanbul on September 6 and 7, 1955 would not have been carried out, houses and workplaces would not have been looted, massacres and rapes would not have been committed and peoples would not have been expelled.
Nor would Greek and other peoples have been deported under the pretext of the tensions in Cyprus in 1964. The seminary on the island of Heybeli would not have been closed. If there had been a reappraisal, Cyprus would not have been invaded in 1974 before the eyes of the whole world with the slogan “Cyprus is Turkish and will remain Turkish” and people would not have been massacred, women would not have been raped, people would not have been abducted to Turkey and killed under torture.
The massacres of Alevis in Maraş, Çorum and Dersim would not have happened if there had been a confrontation. No one was held accountable for the genocides against the Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and Pontians or for the pogroms against Jews; they were never dealt with legally or politically.
Even mentioning these crimes, especially the genocide of the Armenians, is considered a criminal offense today. Since there has been no reappraisal of the past, genocides, occupations and massacres continue. The mentality of massacres, genocide and occupation continues in various forms before the eyes of the world.
All these wounds remain open because there is no real historiography and no legal reappraisal. There is virtually no engagement with any period of history.
Contributing to the enlightenment of society through education
To come back to my questions: How can we heal the future, how can we close the bleeding wounds that could not heal? My aim was to answer these and many similar questions and to draw lessons from history. As I mentioned earlier, I educated myself as much as I could during my time in prison. I read and listened to other prisoners talk about many other topics, not only Kurdish history, but also history in general, philosophy, religion and science.
As a practical answer to my question, together with academics, teachers and educated people from various professions, I founded an association in Amed that aimed to educate the population. It was a kind of academy where we conducted academic research, gave workshops and seminars, organized panel discussions and similar activities.
We tried to contribute to the enlightenment of society and social peace through education. We explained the devastation of fundamentalism, nationalism and sexism and how they poison people, how they fragment and disintegrate society, the destruction caused by wars in history and in the present. We have tried to create a mentality in which differences do not lead to exclusion and marginalization, but are perceived as wealth. Our aim was to ensure that no one is discriminated against because of their identity, culture, faith or gender and to try to develop a common democratic culture of coexistence.
Because of my family’s history and my origins in Midyat, I was able to give a particularly convincing and practical account of how it is possible to live together, but also what the consequences are when mutual hatred is stirred up and how quickly neighbors can become mortal enemies if they do not have strong values and convictions.
In addition to this awareness-raising, we also worked with young people under the guidance of experienced educators to combat drug addiction and other addictions that the state had encouraged, especially among Kurdish children and young people. Thanks to this work, many children and young people were able to free themselves from these addictions. We were able to pursue this educational work undisturbed for a long time.
And I was arrested for the second time
Local elections were due in 2009. Murat Öztürk, a close friend of mine whom I knew from prison, was running for mayor of the city of Ağrı, which is in the Kurdish region. He had been nominated by the DTP, the legal Kurdish party active at the time. I traveled to Ağrı for about a month to support him in the election campaign. And my friend actually won the elections. However, there was open vote rigging in favor of the AKP candidate and it was eventually declared that he had won the election. This procedure shows how fragile the situation was at the time: on the one hand, there was a liberal mood and the start of peace negotiations was imminent, while at the same time the state or parts of the state were very afraid of democratically elected Kurdish politicians and a self-confident and strong Kurdish civil society that was demanding its democratic and civil rights.
Using the protests as a pretext, security forces brutally attacked the protesters. They began to indiscriminately arrest everyone who had actually or supposedly taken part in the protests. When I left the house in the morning while the protests were still going on, I was arrested together with two of my friends. The arrest was absurd, as I had done nothing other than participate in the election campaign and had not even taken part in the protests. It was March 31, 2009.
When we were taken to the police station, we saw that many more people had been arrested because of the protests. The atmosphere was tense. The police mistreated the detainees indiscriminately. Hundreds of people were brought before the magistrate. And so I was arrested for the second time.
I can’t describe my feelings when I was detained again some four years after my release from prison. I felt as if the walls were falling in on me. First I was taken to Ağrı prison and a week later I was transferred to Erzurum prison, which was known for its mistreatment. At the entrance of the prison, we were subjected to the so-called “welcome beating”. We were then thrown into cells and treated in a degrading manner. As horrible as the time in Erzurum was, it was nothing like what I had suffered in the 1990s.
I spent six months and 13 days in this prison and was acquitted of the charge of being a member of the PKK in the first trial on October 6, 2009, just as I should have been acquitted in my first criminal trial, in which I was sentenced to 15 years. My acquittal shows that a different mood prevailed in those years. 2009 was a year in which the deployment of peace groups was discussed and in which the judiciary acquitted people when the accusations were clearly unjustified, as in the case against me. But even this attitude of the judiciary did not last.
KCK operations: Destruction of the legal democratic Kurdish structures
Looking back, you can see that there were different interest groups in the Turkish state at that time and no unified line. While I was still in custody in Erzurum and before my acquittal, the large-scale destruction of legal democratic Kurdish structures began on April 14, 2009 under the name “KCK operations”. As we know today, this took place parallel to the secret peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish state in Oslo. Another major operation as part of the KCK investigation took place on December 24, 2009, after I had already been released. During this operation, members of parliament, mayors, politicians, trade unionists, lawyers, media professionals, leaders and members of women’s organizations and other non-governmental organizations were detained and arrested.
Our association in Amed was also searched as part of this second operation and many members were arrested. As it happened, I was not present and was very lucky to escape arrest, but I was wanted from then on.
The KCK operations were an attempt to attack and destroy the structures of the burgeoning Kurdish civil society, as can be seen from the professions from which the detainees came. They were not accused of any acts of violence, but only of having practiced their professions as academics, mayors, trade unionists or lawyers, but of having done so in the interests of the KCK. They were accused of belonging to the KCK.
It was therefore obvious that some parts of the state wanted to prevent the Kurds from entering into negotiations with the Turkish state with a strong civil society behind them. They did not want the Kurds to build democratic institutions. They did not want the Kurds to become stronger in the local administrations and participate directly in democratic activities. But we knew nothing about the negotiations at the time. We only saw how thousands of people who supported the Kurdish cause in any way were arrested and put on trial. The trials were also aimed at intimidating all those who had not yet been arrested. Democratically elected members of parliament, mayors of Kurdish parties were degradingly handcuffed, lined up in long rows and put on public display. These were political mass trials.
The indictment filed in 2010 in the so-called KCK main trial, in which I am also accused, has over 7,000 pages and is directed against 151 people, over 100 of whom were arrested. That alone shows the political nature of these proceedings. The trials against the many people arrested were show trials, held in huge halls and without any examination of individual actions.
So it had become impossible for me to stay in Turkey. It would have been cruel to be tortured again and thrown into a Turkish prison. I could not hope to be acquitted again, even though I had nothing to do with the KCK and had only done my educational work. Instead, I had to expect to disappear again innocently into Turkish dungeons for countless years, to be mistreated and tortured. As difficult as it was for me, the only thing left for me to do was to leave the country.
Cyprus as a place of refuge
So I fled to Cyprus. I chose Cyprus as a place of refuge in January 2010 because I hoped to be accepted there quickly. I knew that the Cypriot people had gone through similar things to the Kurds under Turkish occupation. After all, the cruelest prison guards had been those who had been involved in the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. And I had heard the stories about the aforementioned director of the prison, Esat Oktay Yıldıran, from my former fellow prisoners who had previously been imprisoned in Diyarbakır Military Prison. He had developed and implemented a concept of physical and psychological extermination of political prisoners on behalf of and with the approval of the state. He had boasted to the prisoners that he had killed Greek children in front of their mothers as a participant in the Cyprus invasion. This sadist put the prisoners in Diyarbakır through hell for years.
After a long and dangerous escape, I arrived in Cyprus and applied for political asylum. As I had hoped, two years later I was recognized as a political refugee and received a refugee passport. The most important reason for my recognition was that I was accused and wanted in the political KCK proceedings. Based on current information, I expected that I, like other defendants who had not been arrested, would be put on the wanted list at Interpol by Turkey because of these proceedings.
From the perspective of exile and as someone who lived with the people of the Republic of Cyprus, I experienced the highs and lows of the following years: the start of the official peace negotiations in 2013, celebrated with a huge festival on Newroz in Amed, the incredible disappointment when Erdoğan finally overturned the negotiating table. The Kurdish struggle against the Islamic State and the establishment of democratic structures based on the model of democratic confederalism in Rojava on the one hand. On the other hand, Turkish support for the Islamic State, the destruction of eleven cities in northern Kurdistan, the occupation of northern Syria and the capture of Efrîn, which led to the massacre of thousands of people and the displacement of millions. In 2018 in Efrîn and in 2019 in Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî, the Turkish military and its jihadist gangs killed and displaced the Kurds living there. I also felt the fear of Turkey’s aggressive nationalist policy in Cyprus. The many decades of Turkish occupation had taught the population how dangerous and unpredictable Turkey was. And Erdoğan was constantly provoking and threatening.
As in prison, I also heard stories of persecution and massacres in Cyprus that I had only ever read about. Cyprus was last occupied by the Turkish state in 1974 in a very bloody manner and the occupation was shamelessly described as a peace operation. Massacres took place before the eyes of the world public. Women were raped in front of their children. Many people were deported to Turkey and disappeared there. The Cypriot people are still mourning the unknown buried remains of their children. At the same time, the Cypriot people have also put up a lot of resistance and yet have had to live with the tragedy of occupation for 50 years. I have friends in Cyprus who, as a matter of principle, have never set foot in occupied Cyprus, even though the border on the small island runs right through the city of Nicosia. The Turkish state’s war against the Kurds is being waged under the guise of fighting terrorism. And what is the justification for the occupation and expulsion on Cyprus? Why do the European states, especially Germany, accept the occupation of Cyprus by the Turkish state, which has been going on for 50 years?
The right solution is a democratic nation
In conclusion, it is important for me to say that what I have just described is like a drop in the ocean or a grain of sand in the desert compared to what the Kurdish people have suffered. And despite everything that these people have suffered and what I have experienced, I can say that I continue to believe that a peaceful solution is possible and I stand up for it. There will be no peace if people say: “We will wipe out the Kurds, the war will continue until the last terrorist is destroyed.” The Kurds have just as much right to live in peace and prosperity in this region as Turks, Persians and Arabs. In order to find a solution, the Turkish-Persian-Arab nation states must overcome the nation-state understanding that says: “Death to the Kurds”. Such a nation-state understanding is fascist. It offers no democratic solution. You cannot exist by destroying each other. Turkey cannot ensure peace and prosperity by occupying Kurdistan, Cyprus and the region. The right solution is a democratic nation in which all peoples, religions and cultures can live together. The “I can do more bloodthirsty things” approach will never lead to peace and democracy. Otherwise, the Turkish-Persian-Arab states would have already succeeded with what they have been doing to the Kurds for centuries.
Peace cannot be achieved if all Kurdish voices are wiped out, if they are culturally and physically destroyed. Peace is only possible if the Kurds are also granted basic civil rights and if they can live their identity, language and culture freely and self-determinedly.