Despite Quiet Threats, Mothers of Diyarbakir Continue to Resist

January 4, 2020

The terror group and their supporters certainly use an iron hand in a velvet glove. Some of the families are privately threatened and some have been deterred by such fears and now shed tears at home.
Turkey's First Lady Emine Erdogan pays a visit to the mothers of Diyarbakir who have been protesting in front of the HDP provincial office for over four month to bring back their children kidnapped by the PKK. December 31, 2019. Anadolu Images

In Turkish, we have a saying that perfectly describes what motherhood is: “if a person cries, only their mother truly feels their pain.” Fevziye Çetinkaya’s son Süleyman is 17 years old. One day, in August 2019, he left home, saying “I am going to work out,” but he never came back. “I want nothing but my son from them (referring to the HDP)” Fevziye Çetinkaya says. She shut her house located in a village, headed to Diyarbakır province with her family and is currently on vigil in front of the HDP’s provincial office.

“My son used to hang the HDP flag everywhere and take part in all the activities of the party. But now, when I ask the people in the party about my son, they say they don’t know anything” she says.  She is incensed. On the first day of her protest, she threw a stone at the HDP provincial office, leading to an altercation between the party members and the family. While Çetinkaya was shouting in fury: “I will shatter all the windows of the building if they don’t bring my son back,” the police intervened in the fight. Meanwhile, Süleyman’s cousin Aysel Bozkurt slammed the party members yelling: “Enough with your Kurdistan cause! All the young people in Diyarbakır are either in jail or death buried under the ground.” Fevziye was the second woman staging a sit-in protest for her son in front of the HDP office in Diyarbakır.

Hacire Akar, whose son joined the terror group PKK’s ranks when he was 14, learned seven years later that her son and nephew died in the mountains. When her other 21 year old son, went missing this summer, she began a  sit-in protest in front of the HDP’s Diyarbakır office saying, “Give me my son, or I will burn this place down!”. Her son was returned two days after she began protesting, and her protests were soon followed by Fevziye Çetinkaya and other families whose children were abducted by the PKK.

HDP officials deny all the accusations made by the mothers. However, this was not the first time the HDP was accused of abducting or brainwashing children to join the PKK. On April 23 2014, a picnic was ostensibly organized to celebrate National Sovereignty and Children’s Day by Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, which was governed by the HDP (named BDP at the time). The picnic was organized in cooperation with the Mesopotamia Youth Research Center (MEGAM-DER) and the PKK terror group’s high school branch. Many children went missing during the picnic, after which around 40 families who claimed their children were abducted by the PKK kicked off a protest in front of the Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality building, shouting “PKK, give our children back”.

As the number of protesting families went beyond 100 in a short period, the PKK was forced to issue a statement claiming the children were not abducted but joined the terror group of their own volition as if it was reasonable to talk about the will of children at that age. In its statement, the PKK also added that the families were being provoked by the state. Despite the pressure of the PKK and the HDP, the families continued their protests for days. In the end, some of the children escaped and returned to their families while others were sent back home by the terrorist group, however not all of the children returned.

The mothers have now been waiting for their children for months. Ayşegül Biçer, who is currently undergoing cancer treatment, is waiting for her 18-year-old son Mustafa, who has been missing for 11 months. Mustafa escaped from his home on 17 November 2018, two days later she received a phone call and learned that her son had joined the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Forces (YPG).. “There is a constantly burning fire in my soul. I’m ready to sacrifice my life; I’m dying every day. They formed a party to tear our hearts out” she said.

Remziye Akkoyun’s has one son in the mountains, two other sons in jail and her fourth son was dismissed from his job two years ago. Since September 3, 2019, she has waited for the return of her son Azad, who went up to the mountains with his friends four years ago, when he was only 10 years old. “I am very sick and exhausted. They cannot be Muslims, how can a true Muslim abduct little kids?” she asks.

Vahide Çiftçi sits next to Remziye Akkoyun on the stairs in front of the HDP office. She came from Güvenlik village located in Şemdinli district of Hakkari province. Çiftçi says: “They took away my Özlem two years ago, when she was 12,” and adds “they handed a gun to a girl child who was supposed to go to school.” Her relative Necibe Çiftçi is also with her. Necibe says that her first son was killed by the PKK in 2017 when he was 30, on the grounds that he objected to the terror group’s demands, and her second son Rojhat is currently in the PKK ranks. Rojhat and Özlem are cousins. Necibe Çiftçi addresses her son on the  TV screen: “Come here my son, they have killed your brother. Their path is wrong!” Another woman also sitting in front of the building is Hediye Begdaş, who says: “Our son disappeared on the first day of Ramadan month (May 5). Yusuf was only 16, they abducted my 16-year-old son!”

The Western media, who valorize the YPG as “freedom fighters” and ignore dozens of reports pointing to the organization’s recruitment of children in its guerilla forces, have not made a single news item on the protesting mothers in Diyarbakır. On the other hand, several individuals and institutions in Europe paid attention to the situation. The Council of Europe co-rapporteurs on local and regional democracy in Turkey; Jacob Wienen, Yoomi Renström and Stephanie Poirel, visited the mothers at the end of the first month of the protests. On the 66th day of the sit-in protests, the Vice-Chair Tomas Zdechovsky of the European Parliament Social Affairs Committee met with the mothers in Diyarbakır. Some of the mothers talked to Zdechovsky about their resentment towards the European politicians, saying: “They abduct and kill our children as you condone these terrorists.” Salih Gökçe, one of the men holding vigil for their children, held out a photo of his sons to Zdechovsky and said: “Why did you come here? One of my sons was abducted to the mountains, and my other son is in the military. Who will be brought to account if these two happen to encounter and kill each other in the mountains? Why do you turn your back on us after your visit? Why do you keep supporting the PKK and the YPG? You should side with us to save our children.”

Salih Gökçe’s son was abducted and taken to Syria by a group of PKK militants in 2015. Gökçe immediately started looking for his son. According to his story, the militants told him that they would take him to his son if he gave 10 thousand dollars. He collected the money, went to Syria, and the militants showed him around the camps in Kobani, but they did not allow him to see his son. Today, he does not even know if his son, missing for a year and a half, is dead or alive. He also says that his son called their home from a private number and listened to the voice of his siblings without speaking.

Hüsniye Kaya, a local from Diyarbakır, is also waiting for her 19-year-old daughter Mekiye. Mekiye has been missing for five years, and Hüsniye Kaya recently learned that she is currently in Syria. Fatma Akkuş, another local from Diyarbakır, is expecting to hear from her daughter, who disappeared on 28 August 2015 when she was only 16. She saw her daughter Songül in a PKK uniform in an online video and heard that she joined the YPG forces. Şevket and Fatma Bingöl, who live in Istanbul, wait for their 19-year-old son Tuncay, who left home in 2014 saying “I’ve found a job, I’m going to my new workplace,” and never returned. Cabir Taş from Batman province joined the sit-in for her daughter Ece, who disappeared four years ago while working at a textile mill at the age of 14. Hatice Levent, who came from Kütahya province, waits for her daughter Fadime, who went missing in 2015, when she was an 18-year-old university student. İmmihan Nilifırka from Istanbul’s Sultangazi district waits for her son Mehmet, who disappeared on 21 March 2015 when he was a senior student at Ege University’s journalism department. Süheyla Demir from Ağrı’s Hamur district waits for her daughter Hayal, who went missing in 2014 while she was in the third year of high school. In addition, 83-year-old Hurinaz Omay has come to Diyarbakır from Mutki district of Bitlis province for her son who went up to the mountains 24 years ago. Her son Rıfat might be dead now, but supposing that he is alive, he would be 43 years old today. Omay says: “I will still wait. They have to give my son back, they have to bring his body back to me even if he is dead. I have searched for him for years. I went to Qandil [PKK’s headquarters] two times and to Mahmur once to no avail. But I will keep waiting.”

They have been performing their sit-in protests for more than a hundred days now. Each day they arrive at the HDP office at sunrise and return to their homes when sun sets. They are not deterred by the harsh conditions of winter or the threats by the terror group, something that Ayşegül Biçer’s husband Rauf Biçer shares: “It was the fifth day of the protests. They waited in ambush in front of our house at around 11.00 pm; the terror group’s youth branch put guns to my and my wife’s heads and threatened to kill us and our son in the mountain if we were to go back to the HDP office again; they told us ‘if your son sees what you’re doing, he will shoot himself in the head.’ They threatened us like this but we are not afraid, we are only afraid of God.”

The terror group and their supporters certainly use an iron hand in a velvet glove, and the Biçer family is not the only family to be privately threatened. The mothers performing the sit-in protests are also not the only ones waiting to hear from their children. According to talk amongst locals in Diyarbakır, the terror group killed a child of one of the protesting families as a warning to the other families. It is not certain whether this story is true or fabricated to put pressure on the families, but some of the families have been deterred by such fears and now shed tears at home. However, other mothers remain undaunted and continue to wait and protest. Following Hacire Akar, another woman Hatice Ceylan, was also reunited with her son after sitting on the stairs of the HDP building for three months. Ceylan says: “Our son has seen us on TV and he called us a few times. We tried to persuade him, finally police forces intervened and we thankfully found him”.  It is said that Ceylan’s reunion with her son Cafer, who went up to the mountains four years ago when he was receiving a hafız (memorizing the Quran) training at the age of 15, bolstered the morale of the other mothers.

Kılıçkaya worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet and Milliyet newspapers. In 1992 she moved to Paris and completed her studies in International Relations. After returning to Turkey in 2009, Kılıçkaya started working for Habertürk. In 2016, she formed a three-part documentary on DAESH.