Nonfiction from Aslan Demir
Uğruna ne canlar yitirdim ey körolası özgürlük
Ne çok dışlandım, katledildim, oysa kaderimdi Kürtlük
Lives I have lost for your sake, you bloody freedom
I have been ostracized, slaughtered
Yet it was only my destiny to be Kurdish
It was the beginning of spring, still the doldrums of the year as the mountains and hills were still shrouded in white. Nature was yet virgin, quiet and shameful. But the wind already had begun to warm, prophesizing spring. The trees that were naked and brittle would grow over the span of a few moonless nights. The sunrays piercing the heart of mountains and hills would hit limbs pointing the red bud of the new life stirring at the tips of the crackly brown bark. Soon, the snowdrops would make their appearance, not letting white disappear on the skirts as snow jilted. Though the high mountains of Kurdistan dominantly stay shrouded in white, like a damsel’s scarf, year round, as the sunrays pierce their chests, they melt envying the hectic life on the skirts and provide water to the inhabitants. Soon, the hills behind Texchan would blossom, and within a few sunsets, Texchan village would be the prettiest place on earth.
The newborn lambs and goats would jump joyfully around their mothers, appreciating life, while shepherds mounting hills after them worked off their wintery rust.
Like the plants and animals, the children of Texchan sensed the coming of the sun and would greet it wholeheartedly by joining the joy of spring. Soon, the snow melt was going to unblock the roads to the city, and peddlers would bring the balls, toys, popsicles, and ice cream children have been so looking forward to. And children would run after the ice cream man, showing their appreciation for showing up. Mothers would cook fresh vegetables after having dried stocks throughout winter, and fathers would buy fruits if they could. People were going to breathe in the smell of soil and touch it, and cultivate it, and feel it, appreciating its fertility. After all, they all knew it’s what they came from, and it’s what they were going to return to.
Yet that fertile virgin soil was not just foretelling spring, but so much more to come that would change our lives forever. Everything was in harmony; everything, until they showed up.
On a chilly morning, they came. They rammed our doors and stormed into our houses. They searched the houses with dogs barking and breaking our things. They gathered men of age in the center of the village and handcuffed them backward. They bent them on their knees. Some of those resisted and got hit with the butt of their rifles, like my uncle. And they took them away. They took my father away. Texchan village was no longer the prettiest place on earth.
For two months, we anxiously waited in fear, but my father didn’t come. Snow melted, and the village was stuck. Mud flowed from the hills and mountains around us. Early blossomed nature got hit with frost, and the red buds of new life shrunk in their brown cradles. Some of the trees remained naked, and with wind blowing, they looked like deserted dogs barking at heaven. It rained a lot, as if nature was trying to purify the earth of sins. Thus, I didn’t go out much. There was nothing out there that I cared to see. I didn’t see children running after the ice cream man. Maybe he didn’t come at all. The peddler did come, but he didn’t stop in our neighborhood. Who cared? His toys were already stupid cheap stuff. My father’s hand-carved dolls, cradles, and toys were always my favorite ones. On the first day of my school life, before sending me to school, he gave me a wooden pen. It was elegantly handcrafted from wood with the words Jin Jiyan Azadi (Women, Life, Freedom) written on it. I knew he made it for me with his own hands. I still have it and write my stories with that pen.
Being accused of helping enemies of the state, two months later, my father and his friends, one of them limping, appeared at the court in bruises. They were found innocent and released. Later, on their way home, someone in a white Toros cut them off on the road, claiming to be working for the state, and arrested my father again, at least according to his friends.
The white Toros cars were known to be used by JITEM at that time. Their appearance was regarded as a bad omen. People rarely returned back to their families once taken by them, and those who did come back were never the same. Even though JİTEM’s existence was denied for years by its Headquarters and Main General Staff, in Kurdish regions every man and woman was familiar with their loathsomeness, assassins, and drug dealings. People of Kurdish regions were used to seeing them dominantly dressed like guerillas, or sometimes casually like civilians. They could dress like anyone and do anything they wanted. No laws were applied to them. They were the law.
That year, in autumn, they also took my uncle, S.H., who was the elected mayor of the town from the Kurdish political party HADEP. They disappeared with him for a long time, and when he returned, he was not the same. He could barely walk, eat, or sleep for a long time. He was tortured so much, which later became the cause of his partial body paralysis. Sometimes one would almost be better dead than being taken by JITEM.
After my father was taken, things were never the same at home. My mother stopped weaving rugs, and she cried whenever she was alone. I tried to not leave her alone as much as I could. During the day, relatives and neighbors would visit us, after we kids were sent out so not to hear their scary assumptions, as if there was anything scarier than being an orphan. They talked about how worried they were, and showed empathy, again leaving my mum in tears. During the night, thinking we were asleep, she would cry again while watching the roads like dust on the window until dawn was in the scary woods on the hills beyond. Days flowed like the waters of Dicle River, but even water hurts if it flows through a wound. The passing days stole our hope since no good news was to be seen on the horizon. The hopelessness consumed my mother. She became so thin that her finger couldn’t hold her wedding ring. She was listening to a lot, but was not hearing much. Her heart was not ready to digest what people were telling her. She didn’t have that strength. None of us did. She was barely eating. Her grief was affecting my baby brother, too, and he cried all the time, for she could not breastfeed him enough. If she ever fell asleep, exhausted from tears, she would wake up screaming. In my father’s absence, life was like death, but nobody had died yet.
For two months we waited, but no news came. Meanwhile, my mother visited police stations over and over again carrying us with her. But there was no such record of my father being taken again. They said they released him among others, and they could not be held responsible for what had happened to him afterward. Initially, they pretended to be concerned by making phone calls and said we were welcome to check everywhere we could. But we knew that wouldn’t change anything. They asked if we had enemies or honor killings. Later on, as our visits yielded no benefit, they made it obvious that they were being disturbed by our visits. They started making fun of my mother. But my mother was not a spiritless woman. She insulted them back, and in the end, they threw us out. Finally, they said they were going to put us in jail if we ever came back and disturbed them again. She was not afraid of them for herself, but for us. If she was put in jail, what would become of us children? She taught me how to get back to the village with my baby brother and younger sister if ever such a thing happened. Mom tried to reach people who had power, but it was useless; they all got stuck at some points and said something beyond their control was going on. Every door we knocked for help, was shut back on our face. Every time we returned back, empty-handedly, the face of Texchan village changed for us.
I prayed to God to send a storm to knock the walls of wherever my father was being kept (as neighbors speculated). I prayed constantly for the corrupt system to decay fast, but, deep down in my heart, I knew it was my mother who was declining faster.
Watching the endless empty roads through windows became part of my mother’s life. She wanted to believe he would return to us someday. And, like a quivering flame of a candle she wanted to light his way back to us like a lighthouse. But father was not lost to the sea or anything natural of that kind. Rather, to a kind of Gog and Magog.
Life, fertility, peace, compassion, mercy and so many similar virtues are attributed to mothers. That’s why we have mother earth, mother language, motherland, mother soil and so many more attributions in other languages. But, after we lost my father, my mother lost her life and her peace. She became like a desert as our neighbors gossiped. They blamed her for not taking care of us well. But we knew it was not true. They didn’t leave us in peace. So, one day, mother came home and said she had rented a place in the city, and we had to move. There was not much for us in the village anymore. Besides, coming to the city every week two or three times looking for father was not easy for mom, because we dragged her down. We didn’t take all we had because she said soon we were going to move back once father returned. We loaded father’s van with essentials, and left Texchan village with the sunrise. That summer morning would remain in my memories for the rest of my life. The village was still and silent, like a grave. I could hear the water hitting the stones in Axur creek. Leaves battled with the wind among the branches of trees lining the creek. Fresh dewy grass bowed allegiance towards whichever side the wild wind was attacking. I could feel the wind on my face and moist eyes. The roads were still empty when sunrise broke the day. Mom started the engine and left our narrow street, getting on the main road towards the city. As we left the neighborhood, a barking dog chased us. Mother killed the barking with the accelerator and the village disappeared in the dusty roads behind us.
By going to police stations we came to learn there were thousands of others lost like my father. We heard people whisper such stories in fear, but we didn’t know someone personally who had lost a family member. I was old enough to know that Kurdish names were forbidden. That’s why most of us had two names: one for our lives and one for the state. Listening to Kurdish music was also forbidden; that’s why our music cassettes were always kept hidden. Patients were thrown out of hospitals for not being able to speak in Turkish. Students, some of them my friends, were constantly slapped or somehow punished by teachers at schools for not being able to speak Turkish. They were not trying to annoy the teachers, but the only Turkish they knew, they’d learned from their teachers or TV. Family members were going missing, and people who went after them faced the same fate. Whenever someone tried to rise against the injustice and oppression by becoming a voice for the innocent and oppressed, he or she disappeared or was somehow silenced. And there was not a single competent or judicial authority willing to change the misfortune of these people. It was then that I promised myself to grow up and lead a life for this cause. Standing against injustice with the oppressed, regardless of their dissimilarities. It was then, after I lost my father, that I promised to be their voice.
After we moved to the city, mom left me at home to take care of my siblings. She went to meet with others to look for father. Every day, she left home after I came from school, and came back with the dark. A few months later, mother went back to the village and brought her weaving loom. She started knitting again. But this time, she started embroidering dark figures, wild animals, owls, and shrubs, all looking formidable. Circles into circles, windows into windows and doors into doors all were getting smaller and smaller, until your hypnotized eyes were led into a puzzled dark nothingness. When we needed the money, she also started accepting orders and knitted rugs for people. I helped her, and we started making enough money to pay for lawyers and others who were helping us. She did have a huge collection of special rugs. But she refused to sell them, even when we couldn’t pay the bills. I knew they were important to her. They were her memories. Her memories with my father that she wove into the rugs knot by knot.
Darkness wove over the sun. Snow wove over the earth. The earth wove its way around the sun. Days over days, seasons over seasons, and lives over lives were woven lustfully, cheerfully, artfully, but nothing different over our lives. Mom stopped going to police stations and started to meet with other people who had also lost their family members. Not a day went by without a new missing case of a father or a son whispered in fear in the dark corners. Years passed, but nothing changed. They started working with associations that stood for human rights. A group of mothers started gathering and became known as Saturday Mothers. Years passed. I am not sure whether it was time or its inflicted pain that hit my mother harder, but eventually her eyes repented to the colors and went dark. We gave up on finding father alive. We just wanted his dead body to be delivered.
Now, at the age of 41, every time I see a father and a daughter walking hand in hand, I feel that pain branded under my left rib. We never found him to lose. We never had his body to bury, to have a proper funeral, to say prayers, to read the Quran beside him, to cry and mourn after him, to know where he lay, to visit his grave on Holy Eids. That’s why my mother’s tears and elegies never stopped until she passed away. Day and night don’t make any difference; being an orphan always has the same dull color. There is no such thing as forgetting the pain, I just got used to it, and learned to live with it. It’s like death, but I’m still breathing.
Aslan Demir is a writer from Turkey, born in Van, an eastern Kurdish city. He completed his bachelors, as a double major, in English Literature and the Urdu Language. Aslan is a former English teacher. He completed his masters, MFA in Creative Writing, at Lindenwood University Saint Charles, USA. His works have been published in several magazines, most of which were on injustice and ordeals his kin the Kurds have been going through. He currently lives in the United States.