A woman’s life story, in the years when patriarchy ruled even as it still does in Diyarbakır in the last few decades; a way of measuring the road that still needs to be travelled and how resignation cannot be the answer.
Zeynep: “I would have liked this not to be my story”
By Arjin Dilek Öncel, published on April 19 2020 on Jin News, in the section “From women’s pens”
In the small town of Dicle, in the Diyarbakır district, Zeynep’s story is known by everyone. In telling it, we were about to dredge up what she would have liked to forget herself. To listen to what a woman endured, a woman who wishes to remain a stranger to her own past.
We wait for Zeynep in front of the door of this small store belonging to one of her friends in Dicle, Diyarbakır district. She arrives, slightly late. I single her out immediately among the women at the end of the street, despite the fact I have never met her. Fierce, she walks with her head down. And as she keeps her eyes lowered, she does not see us right away.
She opens the door to the boutique and invites us inside. A smiling woman. The weight she carries on her shoulders is impossible to ignore. We were expecting her to tell us what she lived through and we see a woman who stands upright. Zeynep considers the fact she is still alive to be a feature of the resilience she has practiced for years.
Before speaking about her life, while clarifying that she will have a hard time talking about everything she has attempted to forget for years, she talks of everyday things, as if to put off the topic. Then she begins by saying that the geography of the town where she lives is a piece of paradise.
When she mentions paradise, I remind her that, according to some legends, Eve would have lived in Dicle. When Eve was tempted by “the forbidden”, God punished her. Thus were Adam and Eve chased out of paradise and sent to different places. For Eve, this would have been Dicle…
Zeynep is 42 years old. She does not remember further back than her twelfth years. And she would like to forget the rest also. “My memory plays tricks on me, in attempting to forget what I lived through, I’ve forgotten all of my life”, she says in an attempt to explain her state of mind.
Zeynep was born in the village of Akrag (Biçer in Turkish) and lost her father when she was only 1 year old. With her two older brothers, she was the only girl child in the house. When she was twelve she was forced to marry her uncle’s son who was 22 years old. No official marriage being celebrated since Zeynep was not yet an adult.
Once married, Zeynep became pregnant. Moreover, despite her 12 years, she was subjected to the violence of her companion. Unable to take the violence any longer, she returned to her family’s home with the little seed growing inside her.
While living with her family, Cuma, the son of her aunt, often came to visit Zeynep’s mother. Zeynep’s husband heard about this. He cut off Cuma on the road, killed him and found himself imprisoned for murder.
After this murder the second act of torture began for Zeynep. A second murder. During the sixth week of her pregnancy, the village women united against her saying “in a village, no woman without a husband and a child in her belly”, they gave Zeynep the heaviest tasks. They weighed on her belly, they made her carry the water… And the seed did not bear up. Zeynep lost her baby.
She explains how, for years, she attempted to modify her own memory and adds, concerning her baby stolen under torture “He was going to gron, I was going to bring someone into the world, a piece of myself. I decided to forget everything that belonged to those years. That is what happened. I was a child. Many things have been erased.”
Dicle is surrounded by places of worship. “Koyla Aşık” is among them. It is found at the heart of Zeynep’s village. Any village woman who has a wish to maker runs to this place. According to local beliefs, when you visit and pray there, your wishes come true.
Zeynep was forced to leave the village for the town. Her mother and her brothers had decided to move. Zeynep was only 15 years old at this time. Before leaving the village, she went back to “Koyla Aşık” and prayed. “That this suffering may disappear in the flash of an eye. That I may never set foot again in this village.” This is what happened. She did not set foot in this village again for 25 years.
This time, in her new life in the new town, a hermit’s life began for Zeynep. For 7 years, she was not allowed to leave the family home. From there, Zeynep’s world consisted of a glimpse on a narrow street out of the window in her room. At the end of this street, there stood a tree. The tree lost its leaves, turned green again… This is how 7 years went by. During those 7 years, one room, one window, one tree. The leaves of the tree…
Having received no schooling, Zeynep attempted to learn how to read and write on her own and she prepared the wedding trousseau for all the young women in this town. “My contribution is in each of their marriage chests. For 7 years, I embroidered and made lace.”
The memories returning, her voice turns husky. Zeynep cries. “I would have preferred to have committed faults in this life, so I could make sense of it by telling myself these things happened to me by my fault. We are women who are made to pay the heaviest price without a single ounce of a fault”, she says and adds she is angry at herself for not having fought against what was done to her.
Life imprisoned in the house is now over.
Now 42 years old, Zeynep is in charge of this small boutique. “Everyone trusts me. They love me also. Fearing the gossip, I avoided going alone anywhere for years, even to the grocery store. I was embarrassed to enter a store as a customer. At home, I managed to handle all the technical issues myself, I never called in a handyman. These countries are tiny places. Being a woman here is very difficult. It’s even worse is you are single…”
Zeynep is still subjected to psychological violence by her ex husband, now liberated after 15 years in prison. Fighting as she does against so many forms of social pressure, she has never thought of remarrying.
Zeynep no longer dreams, she struggles to survive and says “My lodging is a rental and I’m the one who takes care of my mother. My only objective is never to ask for help from anyone. My childhood was burned, so was my youth. But life goes on. I’ve managed to survive. I’ll manage what comes next also.”
Arjin Dilek Öncel