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Mother Makbule’s story is that of a constant search for closure. It is also a story of hope, of stubbornness, of the search for justice. And it is a summary of sufferings and punishments that have lasted without interruption for 23 years. It is the story of the openly trampled life of Makbule Özbek, a member of the Saturday Mothers who was thrown in prison, yet again, last June 29th…

Recently, in the beginning of the month of June, the newspaper Özgür Politika, active in Europe, published a headline saying “The State has loaded Eve’s back with everything that has happened after Adam.” Even if the names seem familiar, the Eve (Havva) in question is not the one we know. Havva Kiran, 65, lives in Diyarbakır. She is active in the Saturday Mothers’ initiative and according to the State, her endeavours are very dangerous! This is why there are 106 investigations opened against her and she has been held in custody five times. To speak even more clearly, on the State’s map, Mother Havva, with her back lashed by the whip, is shown as so many red stick pins.

My purpose in bringing up Mother Havva is to speak of Mother Makbule. Makbule Özbek, 70 years old. These two old women are like a condensed summary of the Kurdish problem. Tangible examples of the war policies, of specific types of wars, of searches, losses, torture, attempts at intimidation, attempts at obliteration, of the techniques used by underlings, and of policies meant to manufacture consent based on subjection! Those who wish to understand this problem can delve into what these two women experience and that to which they testify.

Ever since I have existed, Mothers Havva and Makbule have been mired in strategies of custodies, inquests, and a thousand and one intimidations. The State has set everything aside and gone after the mothers. The new attitude adopted by the State in its policy on “tombs” and on “mourning” has intensified ill-will against the mothers. The State develops this transformation, not in secrecy, but in broad daylight and even takes pride in it!

Without widening the topic to different dimensions I wish to focus on Makbule Özbek’s story.

Because she was arrested in the evening of June 29. Why?

One morning, Josef K. …

Kafka begins his novel The Trial with a naive statement, “Someone must have slandered Joseph K. : One morning, he was arrested, without having done anything wrong.” Mother Makbule has been subjected to a lot of slander, “it doesn’t matter”, she says. She has been pointed out as if she had done evil things, “it doesn’t matter”, she said. She was taken into custody, “it doesn’t matter”, she said yet again.

I would like to draw attention to a point in Kafka’s sentence, the “K.” I don’t know why, when I read this novel for the first time, I told myself the “K. could only stand for “Kurdish”. Because everything matched. The State is constantly at our door, we are constantly being detained. Most of the time, these arrests and imprisonments are senseless. We do not even know why the thousands of women prisoners are there. Because the “crime” is established later. No need to hurry…Having experienced this personally, I can say this with utter certainty

So they went to Mother Makbule’s door also. They took her in, they arrested her. They did this although “she was not denounced but she did something evil”. Mother Makbule’s story is that of a search, of an impossible end to mourning. It is also a story of stubbornness, of the search for justice.

Mère makbule özbek Mother Makbule

From left to right: Havva Kiran, Leyla Güven, HDP deputy, Özlem Gümüştaş, ESP Co-President, Makbule Özbek. During an intitiative by the newspaper Atilim, on November 9 2019.

The story of Mother Makbule’s trampled life

Mother Makbule was born in 1950 in Bismil, Diyarbakır district. In the 80s, she moved downtown. She gave birth to six children. In the beginning of the 90s, two of her children turned toward the mountains: Nihat Özbek (Haki Amed) and Nilüfer Özbek (Beritan). She received the news in 1997 that Nihat had lost his life. But the family could get confirmation. The news fell on the mother’s chest. “What if he is still alive? What if the news is false?

If he is no longer of this world, something must remain of him! An object, a bone, some little thing! Mother Makbule goes searching for traces. Because one always wishes to get rid of the great void of absence in mourning, that which forever keeps hope alive. This experience is even more painful for the mothers. They want to find their children’s bones, give them a burial, fulfill this final duty. They wish to do this because they know that “History begins in the graves”.

Mother Makbule is denounced as she begins her search, thus leading to her first painful custody. A few State collaborators, also put in custody and interrogated, testify against Mother Makbule. The denunciation is crowned with the words ‘aid, complicity and belonging to a political organization’, she is arrested. During this first arrest, she is introduced to torture. After a few months in the Diyarbakir prison, this imprisonment in 1998 continues with a forced transfer to Batman. She is there for two years, in the women’s prison.

Daughter and mother in the same block

Of course, life goes on while she is detained in Batman prison. Everything that goes on during this time ends up at the doors of the prison in Batman. When the locks on the sinister bars are opened, a young woman enters the block: Münevver!

Münevver is Nilüfer’s youngest. She finds herself in the same block as the mother she has not seen in a long time. She has also been arrested for “aid, complicity”. “Caught” with a few books that were considered sufficient proof of her “crime” for an arrest. When I asked her later, she said: “in prison, my mother thought a lot about me and worried about me. When we found ourselves side by side, we relaxed. Thus, while in prison, I continued receiving maternal warmth.” Münevver is now in exile, thousands of kilometers away from her mother.

Münevver was liberated before her mother. Her mother’s liberation came shortly after. When she is brought before the court, it decides to drop the charges of “aid and complicity”. Mother Makbule is freed.

But the prosecutor appeals the court’s decision. He absolutely demands a condemnation. The case is moved up to the Higher Court. Months later, the sentence for “belonging” is rendered. Mother Makbule is sentenced to twelves years of prison and the sentence, confirmed. Through various legal recourses, her sentence was reduced to six years. This is confirmed at the end of 2002 . A chase then follows between the State and Mother Makbule who does not wish to go back to prison. Her house is raided almost every day. And the only question during these operations is “where is Makbule Özbek?”

She spends almost 12 years as a clandestine. For a mother this is a difficult situation in all regards. The need to constantly change dwellings, to be constantly in transit, endless movements back and forth, the anguish when someone knocks at the door, and so many other worries…

I heard from her mouth that once, the police arrived when she was in the house. The policemen enter, take a look around in all the rooms. Family members who are present, out of politeness say “please sit down, have a coffee.” The policemen in civilian clothes take place. Mother Makbule, hiding behind the couch where they sit, waits, holding her breath. With her health problems, a cough or the slightest movement can betray her. The half hour drags on, with the policemen on the couch and Mother Makbule behind it… Then, they leave.

Mother Makbule

Press release by the Bismil group of Saturday Mothers

Nihat, Nilüfer and prison, again

News arrives in 2013. The date and the place where Mother Makbule’s son Nihat Özbek lost his life are declared officially. Mourning begins…Having at least obtained precise information concerning the end of Nihat, the mother then awaits news about her daughter Nilüfer. She was told that her daughter had also lost her life in 1994, but no one can say where or when she died. For Mother Makbule, it’s back to square one! She tracks down every sign, listens to every bit of news. She travels in the hope of finding Nilüfer’s trace. She has yet to find anything.

The existence of a grave is important. Because remaining without one means remaining without a memory. Memory is born from this burial site. [Translator’s Note: This is the reason for the State and the Turkish nationalists’ persistence in destroying and defiling Kurdish cemeteries.]

On April 23 2014, the long-sought after Mother Makbule is arrested. Having provided her fingerprints at the hospital where she went for a consultation on an eye problem, the policemen’s welcoming committee awaited her at her front door. She is immediately taken to the police station. The administrative intake procedures are rushed and she is transferred to the prosecutor’s office. This elderly woman, afflicted with heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure is rushed through the routine medical. And the prosecutor sends her to prison immediately. With two years of prison confirmed by the Court of Appeal.

At that time, Mother Makbule is about to turn 65 and there she is behind bars again, for “belonging”. She is sent to Diyarbakır prison. Shortly before the end of her sentence, Mother Makbule is liberated on caution, for health and age-related reasons.

Sorrow and misery without end

Following her liberation Mother Makbule puts all her hope in peace and renews her activism. As a member of the Saturday Mothers’ initiative, she continues sharing its ideas and participating in its actions.

The year 2018 is one of major disruptions for her. In June, she loses Rıfat Özbek, her greatest support, her alter-ego, her travelling companion. Five months later, in the last days of 2018 she is taken into custody again for her support to hunger strikes. She is liberated three days later.

On June 26 2020, one of the 45 people taken into custody in the inquests led by the Diyarbakır prosecutor’s office against the DTK (Congress for a Democratic Society) was… Mother Makbule…And the accusation? None. There is question of “belonging” again, because of the DTK. These “DTK operations” have now replaced the “KCK operations” 1. From being officially invited in the National Assembly yesterday, the DTK has now been declared as a “so-called” formation [implying “a terrorist organization”].

22 of the persons appearing before the court on June 29 were imprisoned. At age 70, Mother Makbule is imprisoned yet again. Everything is back to square one! A 70-year old woman is arrested yet again, accused of “belonging, leading an illegal organization”.

And in the middle of all this, there is the reality of a pandemic. Mother Makbule with her chronic ailments is in no condition to make it through this period. For 14 days, she will temporarily be detained alone in quarantine. On their first visit, she told her lawyers that she was not in good health, and that the prison conditions were difficult for her.

Mère makbule özbek

Makbule Özbek, as a representative of the Saturday Mothers’ initiative in a DTK conference, December 9 2018.

The truth in language

Mother Makbule has only one wish. “That this war end, that the road to peace be opened and the dialogue take place.” No one has ever seen nor heard anything else from her. And the State knows this better than anyone. It knows that peace is more difficult than war.

Paul Valéry describes language as “the god in the flesh” (La Pythie). If a god is silent, he is guilty. He must not be silent, he must speak. He must howl out his truth. This is the reality of language. The exit requires communication. Only those who are convinced of this can split the silence open. If there are others with healthy solutions, they must set aside pride, nationalist feelings, pre-fabricated literature about the country and nonsensical serenades, step forward, and speak.

War is a choice but peace is an obligation. Mother Makbule expresses this necessity and this responsibility. In closing, let us ask yet again: why, starting with Makbule Özbek, are thousands of people in prison?

Özgür Amed

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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