Lawin: A Kurdish Woman in Istanbul
Burcin Belge - 18/04/2008
Her name is Lawin. She is 23, a Kurd from Diyarbakir. She was only one year old when her village was vacated. First the family moved to a sub-province and then to the center of the city. The last stop is Istanbul. She works as a secretary if she is lucky. She is jobless right now.
“The military evacuated our village. We moved to the sub-province. All the men in the family were taken under custody during the clashes. My father was the first to be released. We moved to the southeastern city Diyarbakir and then to Istanbul. My father could never overcome his fear.”
Lawin, together with her grandmother, father, mother and three sisters, has been living in Istanbul since she was nine years old. Her elder brother is a refugee in Germany. “Loneliness” is her image of Istanbul. “My first days in this city were very difficult. I didn’t know Turkish then. I couldn’t go out in the street. Kurdish was banned at school so I couldn’t even have Kurdish friends. That period was a deep silence. I still have silent dreams at nights.”
Parents jobless, children work for income
Lawin’s father finally found a job in Istanbul but Lawin says: “We couldn’t have survived without the money my brother kept sending from abroad.” Her mother couldn’t have found any job even if she wanted. Like other Kurdish women, neither her mother nor her grandmother were literate and none spoke Turkish.
“My mother came from a village, what could she do in a city? Plus the men were scared to lose control over their wives and daughters. They closed the women inside the house. In time the women started making embroidery or sewing/tailoring from their homes. But when the parents had no jobs the responsibility to earn money was left to the children. They started working on the streets or at workplaces with no security. They couldn’t go to school.”
Unofficial figures show that 3500 villages and smaller living compounds (hamlets) were evacuated between the years 1984-1999. Interior Ministry figure vis a vis compulsory migration during this period is 358.335 people, while according to the NGOs this figure is between one to four millions. These people did not receive any financial aid for housing, food, education, health, employment and neither any amount of cash. As a result they joined the ranks of the urban poor.
War in Diyarbakir, prejudices in Istanbul
Lawîn, draws attention to another important problem encountered in Istanbul.
“There the ongoing war, and here the prejudices. If one is a Kurd, he is considered a primitive, an ignorant, a potential traitor, and one with numerous children. The Kurd eats the Turk’s bread. If you are a Kurdish woman then you are free enough to go to the mountains but your primary duty is to sit at home and take care of the children.”
“Who is really the Kurdish woman?”
“In the 1980’s she was the grieving mother, in the 1990 she took part in the guerilla in the mountain, she was a leader, at the forefront at demonstrations on the streets. At home she is the honor of the man, practitioner of traditions, victim of the male violence. Following the end of the 1990’s she becomes active in the NGOs and political parties, and is the political subject who is able to oppose the man when necessary. Today 8 out of the 20 Kurdish parliamentarians in the Turkish National Assembly are women.”
Lawin believes that with the slowing down of the armed clashes in 1998, the role and expectations of the woman have changed. The women who had gone out on the streets as part of the Kurdish movement were forced to go back to their homes. Then the women started voicing their demands.
Lawin defines the current Kurdish movement as “male dominated”. “Tribal relations, family ties and leadership are important concepts. The men always have the last word. Women are unable to free themselves from the boundaries of their home and cannot overcome domestic violence.”
Women work for themselves
The Kurdish women founded the Women Center (Ka-Mer) in Diyarbakir 11 years ago to fight violence against women. Today Ka-Mer is fighting against honor killings, polygamy, forced marriages, young age marriages and violence against women in 23 mainly Kurdish populated cities in the east and southeast of Turkey.
A total of 2527 women applied to Diyarbakir Ka-Mer’s urgent help line: all of them are victims of psychological violence. Verbal, economic, physical, sexual violence follow. While more than half of the married women’s marriages take place through match-making efforts of their families some are forced to marry their brother when their husband is killed, or betrothed while an infant. The number of these weddings is decreasing though. However polygamy continues. Marriages mainly take place between 14-20 years of age and 85 percent of the women who have applied to Ka-Mer’s emergency help line are not working in an income providing job.
Ka-Mer is the most famous of women organizations in the region, but there is a large number of women platforms and organizations which deal with the situation of the Kurdish women, in the region or other cities where substantial Kurdish populations live.
Is peace far away?
Lawin sums up the situation by saying, “I am confused. Earlier I was very angry. Now I can understand that the pain of the guerilla’s mother is not more justifiable when compared to the mother of the soldier. I do not want to take sides.”
Lawin says, “We want peace. Because we know well what war is. Vengeance only brings death. It is important that we stand against violence of any kind.”
What has happened in Turkey?
The Kurdish guerilla organization PKK had started armed struggle against the Turkish army by ambushing a patrol station in 1984. They demanded to be allowed to speak their Kurdish mother tongue, that Turkish identity be recognized and to be given the right to self-rule. It is estimated that between 12 to 20 million Kurds live in Turkey’s east and southeastern provinces. The exact number is not clear since the census questionnaire does not probe ethnic identity.
Armed clashes continuing since years in the emergency rule region has effected the whole of the country and continues to do so. In the past 24 years a total of 30 to 40 thousand people mainly from the PKK, security personnel, Kurdish village guards and civilians have lost their lives. Journalists, businessmen, writers, human rights activists and officials of Kurdish political parties have been killed by unidentified suspects or announced as missing while under custody.
There has been a cease-fire between 1999 -when PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan was caught and brought to Turkey- and 2004. In 2005 the PKK resumed its armed struggle. The 25th beyond border operation of the Turkish Armed Forces in the past 24 years was materialized last month.
Lawin’s story as well as the official and unofficial figures, in fact say one thing: the women and the children are by far the severest hurt population during times of war. They are always the fist losers, the sacrificed ones, the victims. And that is why Lawin’s call for “peace” becomes meaningful.
One out of three women in Turkey is being battered by her husband/partner. A big majority of the women consider violence illegitimate, and believe that the state should be responsible to eliminate violence against women; they also demand state protection for women who have been victims of violence.
The Constitution of the Turkish Republic states that all individuals have been guaranteed the right to live and that no one can be treated in a way that is against human dignity/honour. Violence based on gender also means violation of this constitutional right.
In the last 20 years the women organizations in Turkey have been working intensively vis a vis women’s perception of violence, the concept of violence in the public opinion as well as definitions of various forms of violence. With a feminist outlook, these organizations on one hand have contributed to the transformation of violence within the family while on the other hand also contributed to a transformation of the culture of violence in the society.
The women organizations, in cooperation with state institutions, also have their share in the materialization of important legal reforms. Today the most urging issue is the protection of the women who have been victims of violence. This is the responsibility of the state. The number of shelters should be increased and the state should cooperate with women organizations and benefit from their experiences on the subject.
The findings of a research carried out by two academics, Ayse Gul Altınay and Yeşim Arat on “Violence Against Women in Turkey” are as follows;
* One out of six university graduate male population in Turkey exerts physical violence to his wife
* As the education level of the women get higher, the number of women admitting violence against themselves go down
* Only one out of 10 women is free to go out without the permission of the husband. Three of them go to visit her family or go shopping; four of them can meet with her friends
* Nearly half of the women are unaware of their rights or legal procedures concerning themselves
* Although the research does not verify the view, “women are more suppressed in the East”, the educational and financial inequalities among women in the east and mid-west regions of Turkey effect the women.
Features realised thanks to the support of the Anna Lindh Foundation.