Turkey cracks down on Kurdish women’s rights activists despite COVID-19

The crackdown against Kurdish organisations, activists, and municipalities continues in Turkey, despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Kurdish women have become the latest target.

On the eve of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, 18 people were arrested after their offices and homes were raided on May 22, including several prominent Kurdish women’s rights activists.

Twelve people remain in detention, while six people were released on bail - including 71-year-old Havva Kıran who has been put under house arrest.

Co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) Saliha Aydeniz in an interview with VOA-Kurdish said that 12 people of the women were members of the Rosa Women's Association in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır.

This includes Rosa Women's Association President Adalet Kaya and founding member Narin Gezgör.

Other arrested activists included those from the Kurdish women’s umbrella organisation Free Women’s Movement (TJA), as well as from other institutions.

Kurdish women's rights activists arrested
Arrested Kurdish women's rights activists - including Rosa Women's Association President Adalet Kaya, founding member Narin Gezgör, and association executives Fatma Gültekin, Gülcihan Şimşek and  Özlem Gündüz, Remziye Sızıcı, Gönül Aslan, and Sevim Coşkun. Diyarbakır Peace Mothers member Havva Kıran was also placed under house arrest (photo courtesy of Rosa Women's Association).


It was not clear what the women had been detained for. However, lawyers representing the activists stated that prosecutors had interrogated their clients by asking questions about their peaceful activism.

This included questions about activities around International Women’s Day on March 8, statements to the press over the replacement of pro-Kurdish mayors by government-appointed trustees, and support for the Peace Mothers – a non-violent women’s civil rights movement – in their efforts to lobby the state into accepting demands of prisoners on hunger strike.

The women were also asked questions in regards to campaigning for a missing university student Gülistan Doku. Doku’s family and friends has been searching for her for more than 100 days since she went missing in the city of Dersim (Tunceli in Turkish).

The TJA in a statement said the arrested activists were being criminalised for women’s rights activism.

“Women’s right and freedom to independent organisation is being taken up as an incriminating matter. All uses of the right to freedom of expression in favour of women’s freedom are being treated as incriminating evidence,” the TJA said.

“Using the rights to freedom of organisation and expression which are under the guarantee of international law and states has now become a crime leading to the arrest of women.”

In a recent interview with Ahval, TJA spokeswoman Ayşe Gökkan said the Rosa Women’s Association has been active during the coronavirus pandemic and reached out to women facing violence at homes during the lockdown. Since the start of the pandemic there has been a surge of violence against women worldwide and in Turkey.

HDP parliamentarian Meral Danış Beştaş wrote on Twitter that the three-year-old son of Gönül Aslan, a member of Bağlar Municipality in Diyarbakır, had also been taken to prison with his mother when she was arrested.

Aslan’s son Dilgeş has kidney disease that requires close monitoring and her husband had to leave Turkey for political reasons. A social media campaign is calling for Dilgeş and all women activists to be released immediately.

The arrests are part of a wider crackdown on pro-Kurdish activism, which has continued despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are fighting against two viruses simultaneously – COVID 19 and racist authoritarianism against the Kurds and their democratic will – both being severe public health issues," pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP parliamentarians Hişyar Özsoy and Feleknas Uca said in a recent statement on Kurdish municipalities seized by the Turkish state since the local elections of March 31, 2019. 

Since March 2019, 22 Kurdish co-mayors have been arrested and 45 HDP municipalities out of 65 have been seized by the Turkish government. 

According to Amnesty International, nearly 400 NGOs have been shut down since the state of emergency decree was announced 2016 following the failed coup attempt, including women’s rights organisations providing shelter for victims of domestic violence.

The Rosa Women’s Association was established after Kurdish women’s organisations and municipality centres were shut down in Diyarbakır.

Action against Kurdish rights organisations and to remove elected pro-Kurdish mayors is often taken under spurious terrorism allegations. In a statement, the TJA rejected any accusations and charges on terrorism. 

“We are organising the March 8 [protest] against femicide, rape and sexual abuse, gender inequality, child marriage, child abuse, discrimination on the basis of religion, racism, sexism, against state appointed trustees which violate women's right to elect and be elected, against isolation, war, exploitation of labour and patriarchy,” the statement said.

“If this is a crime, then we are all committing this crime. We hereby invite all to stand up for the TJA.”

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.