Kurdish women scarred by state violence in Turkey’s southeast - report

Turkish security forces subjected Kurdish women to rape threats and abuse and denied them access to medical care during the long curfews in southeast Turkey from late 2015 to early 2016, often leaving deep psychological scars, said a report by the Istanbul-based Migration Monitoring Association.

Fierce urban fighting broke out across the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey in late 2015 when the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) declared autonomy in parts of many cities and its youth wing erected barricades to troops out. The army responded by shelling the areas with tank and artillery fire and sending in special forces to crush the insurrection.

Based on interviews with 480 women, the report paints a picture of the deep impact on local women of their fraught existence during the waves of violence and destruction during the period. More than 90 percent of those interviewed blamed the state.

“They tore apart my underwear in the bedroom. Condoms were everywhere around the house. There were a lot of hideous and derogatory writings on the walls,” said a 31-year-old woman from Cizre, who said security officers used her home as their sleeping quarters for an extended period.  

In addition to common problems like dangerous streets and the lack of electricity and water, women also faced not being able to find necessary feminine products, no access to doctors when sick or pregnant, and an increase in domestic violence.

“They even left sh*t on women’s underwear. They wrote nasty things,” said a 43-year-old woman from Diyarbakır. “It has been three years since then, but these writings are still on my mind, like ‘Get ready, girls, we are coming soon.’”

As a result of the experiences, many women are now experiencing deep psychological problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress. Some still see dead bodies on the ground and refuse to leave their homes. Some are unable to handle the trauma.

“Our neighbour’s daughter-in-law killed herself after the curfews. She became depressed, she told her mother-in-law that she was going downstairs and then hanged herself,” said an 80-year-old woman from Yüksekova.

“We could not go out during the curfew. We stayed in the basement for three months. We were seven families, all of us hungry and thirsty. There were a lot of sick people among us. We could neither go to the hospital, nor buy medicine, nor go outside at all,” said a 23-year-old woman in Cizre, where security forces killed more than 130 people who had been stuck in basements as violence raged.

“There were many sick people. We could neither go to the hospital, nor get any medicine. We could not go outside. The state did not treat us as humans, so we do not recognise the state. I do not go to school anymore, I’ve quit, I do not want to,” said an 18-year-old in Cizre.

Many of the women are scarred for life by what they witnessed or what circumstances led them to do. Yet following the curfews and the coup attempt in 2016, the state shut down all of the women’s organisations and initiatives that had been established during a two-year peace process with the PKK that ended in July 2015. As a result, the women now have nowhere to turn for help.

“Soldiers were firing at our house. We hanged a piece of white cloth as a flag on our house, but they continued fire. They shelled our house, making a huge hole in a wall,” said a woman in Nusaybin. “A woman was killed in front of our house. They were firing guns, so we could not go outside. She was a pregnant woman, shot on the stairs, she died right where she was.”

“[My second son] was wounded, but it was not serious. He told me, ‘Mom, do not take me to the hospital, if you take me there, they will kill me’,” said a woman from Cizre. “We took him there and they killed him. This is my greatest regret.”

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