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Zehra Doğan talks to us here about these women, her co-detainee friends, on hunger strike in Tarsus Prison. An article published in Turkish on JINNEWS on April 13 2019.

“On these lands at every second, you are witnesses to History. Every second is a struggle for existence. And, at some specific moments, you tell yourself “I am part of it.”  This action is a part of it. Let’s be the echo of these beautiful people who love life so much.”

The prisoners awake in the light of early morning. A familiar little breeze still grazes the bars on the windows. All of a sudden the section fills with the sound of black boots. Yet no one gets up, no one lines up for roll call or turns around for a look. They come with their sound of boots, they count, they leave. Most of all, they want to make their oppression felt.

The Tarsus penitentiary, the construction of which began on July 11 2013, is one of the biggest prisons in Turkey. In this jail, the name of which has become famous through ill treatments and torture since its activation in 2017, the resistance by the political prisoners against military countdowns in ranks, against strip searches and mistreatments has been ongoing for months. The women prisoners have widened their resistance against the aggressions, the rubber rooms [sensory isolation] and the heavy physical tortures, and they have managed to make these practices end, despite the sanctions of isolation cells and the new trials to which they were subjected.

These prisoners, these women whose names we heard often during this resistance, then joined the hunger strike initiated by Leyla Güven, HDP deputy for Hakkari and DTK.1co-President.

Since January 5 2019, Menal Temel, Nurşen Tekin, Hatice Kaymak, Dilan Yıldırım, Leyla Teymur and Dılbırin Turgut are on hunger strike and last March 3rd scores of other women joined up with them. I would like to tell you about a few of these women hunger strikers, who are part of the prison strikes where this resistance has widened, and now involves thousands of prisoners.

Menal Temel

Menal Temel

Menal Temel

With her curly brown hair, she is a slim and young revolutionary. She joined the struggle when she was 15. Menal is from Kızıltepe, Mardin district. She is from the same country as Uğur Kaymaz, murdered at the age of 12 by 13 bullets shot by the police. Children grow up early on these lands where they are shot down as “terrorists”. Menal too is one of them. She has been part of the struggle since the days of primary school. She ran away to join protests. She often stopped before the sculpture of Uğur Kaymaz, deep in thought, and questioned life.

The time Menal was arrested by the police in Diyarbakır was not an ordinary period. When she was taken into custody, bombs were exploding in her region. In Sur, in Nusaybin, in Cizre, Dargeçit, İdil, Yüksekova and in Derik. Shortly after her arrest, Menal was sentenced to 7 and half years in prison for “belonging to an illegal organization”. When she heard her sentence, Menal’s protests  resonated through the halls of the Palace of Justice. “Oppression will not intimidate us!” Menal was tortured by the military. She was incarcerated in the prison of Amed (Diyarbakır) then subjected to a forced transfer to Tarsus Prison.

Menal has such a voice… She makes the winds rise in the heart of every prisoner that listens to her. She catches every one, carries them to their burnt and destroyed lands, in order to sow together, through her melodies, the seeds of freedom. It is no surprise if each time Menal sings, a disciplinary inquiry is launched.

Today, Menal is on hunger strike. She is wasting away day by day. In her heart, still beating in her weakened body, revolutionary songs flow. Can you hear them?

Dilan Yıldırım

Dilan Yıldırım

Dilan Yıldırım

Menal and Dilan are hunger strikers from the same section. In each section, two friends are often the leaders. Dilan is a young woman from Mus. When Menal starts to sing, she sings along on occasion. She usually takes part in the political discussions. All her friends in the section tease her about the şutik scarf wrapped around her slim waist. Dilan has the look of a true revolutionary. She participates with a smile in the songs the mothers have written for the strikers. And during the strike, she has learned how to make bracelets. Every day, she makes these bracelets out of colored threads and offers them to friends as “a gift from a striker”. Her section comrades keep these bracelets in their pouches; they carry the care from her fingers and the spark in her eyes as a souvenir, until the strike reaches its goal.

Ordinary daily conversations are about weight. Morning and evening, they come back from the infirmary after their weighing, their faces dour. “Why am I losing so little? They will think we are eating…” Those upset in this way, Dilan, Menal, Hatice, Nurşen, Dılbırin and Leyla are the slimmest women in Tarsus prison. If you were to gather them all together today, they would not even weigh 100 kilos. Prior to the hunger strike, Menal weighed 45 kilos, Hatice 39, Dılbırin 43, Dilan 45 and Nurşen 40 kilos…

Hatice Kaymak & Nurşen Tekin

Hatice Kaymak & Nurşen Tekin

Hatice Kaymak

She gets up very early every morning and walks back and forth in the courtyard, Hatice, our Xecê. One of the women who brings color to the section, with her buzzing presence, her need to be constantly on the move and her passionate political discussions. As soon as you come across her in the courtyard or on a bunk bed, she draws you in like a magnet with her wide eyes. She immediately starts talking about the past and the future, of the thousand-year old patriarchal domination against women.

This young woman who has been on hunger strike for days does not know about fatigue. Every day, from her waking at 7 AM till midnight, she leads political discussions. Sometimes, her friends in the section tease her and make jokes about Amed. Xecê who is 23 was born in the Dicle district of Diyarbakır. She entered the struggle during her studies at the university. Since that day, she hasn’t stopped. In order to “stop” her, they put her in jail. But as she says, she is more active in prison that she was on the outside. They sentenced Xecê to 9 years in prison for “belonging” (to a terrorist organization). The prison administration regularly opens disciplinary inquiries against her. Why? We thinks it’s because of Xecê’s wide eyes. Her look… As we say in Amed, “ne baxisen ma bi mesele vardir”, “If you look like that, there must be a problem.”

Nurşen Tekin

Nurşen gives off the scent of an innocent flower from Mount Sümbül. She is from Hakkari. In prison for the past 11 years, she was arrested at 18 and sentenced as quick as lightning “for belonging and high responsibilities”. There is no counting the number of inquiries launched against her. As she grew up on the sides of Mount Sümbül, she remembers it better than anyone. She has kept the accent from Hakkari better than anyone else. She can sense the perfume of flowers better than anyone. “I feel heval“,2she says “I feel it !” Nurşen feels. She feels life, she is aware of life flowing by, every moment, even in its tiniest particles. She probably knows how beautiful it is to live, better than millions of people on the outside do. This woman who has stretched out her body with hunger, loves Mount Sümbül and its multi-colored flowers, more than all of us. On certain nights, if you lend an ear, you will certainly hear Nurşen whispering Gulfiros, the Rose Merchant, the poem by Cegerxwîn  in front of the barred window. (see video below)

Dilbirîn Turgut Leyla Teymur Zehra Doğan

Dilbirîn Turgut and Leyla Teymur with Zehra Doğan

Leyla Teymur

Leyla was one of the first hunger strikers in Section C-4. She is always in front of you with her round and smiling face. If someone makes a jokes, Leyla laughs. She is the friend who most likes to laugh. Go figure, laughing suits Leyla so well.

Like all the hunger striking friends, Leyla is very young. She is only 22. She was taken into custody in Urfa and jailed. Her verdict was also handed down at record speed: “belonging to the organisation“. Then she was deported to Tarsus prison.

Layla brings her joy everywhere she goes, and in life, she leaves no room for the impossible. With all her heart she is convinced that everything can be won through the struggle and that hope and  conviction about the struggle are already half the road to victory. This woman revolutionary who embraces life with all her might, manages to experience happiness with the slightest breath of life. Her joie de vivre crosses cement walls and mixes with the spring sunshine beginning to warm these lands.

Dılbırîn Turgut

Our journalist friend is on hunger strike. A beautiful woman who is noticed, appreciated and loved for her words and her actions. Our travelling companion, so fine, delicate and pure. Dılbırîn, our stubborn comrade who insisted for days, even weeks, in order to be part of the hunger strike. “I’m part of it too.”

She has such a beautiful heart. As soon as you would meet her, you would take her into your heart with affection, you would warm her fragile hands in yours.

Dılbırîn who was born in Kerboran (Dargeçit), Mardin district, has a long life of struggle behind her, despite her young age. She learned what it was to struggle from her earliest age onward, from those who were resisting against the terror policies announced by the sounds of boots resonating in the streets. As she grew into a woman, she took her place in the resistance. Following the death of her father who was muhtar (responsible for a village), she offered her candidacy and was elected. She became a target the minute she took up her service. Following confrontations near her village, she and her mother were taken into custody for “aid and support to the organization“.  The two women were sentenced a few years later. Dılbırîn remained a clandestine for 5 years after which she was captured and arrested. Now, she is also in Tarsus prison, on hunger strike.

Recent news mentioned Dılbırîn was vomiting blood. Our journalist friends is no longer but skin and bones.

Let’s not forget that Dılbırîn and the thousands of other political prisoners declared that they share Leyla Güven’s demands. Let’s be the echo of the voices of these beautiful people, of these women who love life so much.

Zehra Doğan

You can bring your support to these women and to their friends through your cards and letters. You know their names, you know their faces, here is their address:

Tarsus Kadın Kapalı CİK 
Alifakı Mahallesi Alifakı sokak 
Tarsus – MERSİN 

As a gift, Cegerxwîn’s poem “Gulfiros” (the English makes no attempt to reproduce the song, only its surface meaning):

The Rose merchant
Waking from my sleep, I saw a rose merchant
I was very happy, he was exchanging the rose against the heart.
He was exchanging the rose against the heart.
In us, there was a heart filled with pain and wounds
So I did not think he would exchange the rose against the heart
That he would exchange the rose against the heart.
I’m not here to haggle he said,
He who adores the rose gives his life and his heart.
Gives his life and his heart.
I said: who exchanges his life and his heart against the rose
He said: this is haggling, your heart is nothing but pain
Your heart is nothing but pain
I gave my heart and my life, my heart cried
It said, O Cigerxwin, you exchanged your heart against the rose
You exchanged your heart against the rose.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges

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Zehra Doğan
Auteure, membre d'honneur de Kedistan
Journaliste, artiste. Journalist, artist. Gazeteci, sanatçı.