Mr. Erdoğan, give me back my sons

On top of those arrested in the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, in the last three years alone, an estimated 10,000 political and non-political activists have been arrested on alleged PKK links.

Rozh Ahmad
12 July 2013

Mothers of Kurdish political prisoners say they are “unimpressed” by and even “suspicious” of the Turkey-Kurdish peace process that has been under way for months now; since peace for them would mean the immediate release of their sons and daughters, a demand they claim Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is ignoring.


The 29-year-long conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was finally put on hold on March 21 2013, when both sides pledged to pursue talks for peace dubbed the “solution process” in Turkey.  Negotiations led to the PKK agreeing to withdraw their guerilla fighters from Turkish soil to their compounds in the mountainous border regions of northern Iraqi-Kurdistan.  “The final phase of the withdrawal is now approaching,” said Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP, Ertuğrul Kürkçü, adding that the Kurds were convinced that “the {PKK} guerillas had played their part; it only remained now for Turkey to fulfil the Kurdish demands, beginning with an immediate release of all the political prisoners.”

According to Insan Haklari Derengi (Human Rights Association, IHD), “On top of those arrested in the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, in the last three years alone, an estimated 10,000 political and non-political activists have been arrested on alleged PKK links.”

“Their release, which the PKK and Kurds have demanded as a condition to further the talks, will reassure people that the Turkish government is for peace,” said IHD chairman in Diyarbakir, Raci Bilici, adding that since Turkey had begun to seem unreceptive after all, “Kurds are becoming increasingly skeptical about the whole solution process, especially mothers of the political prisoners, many of whom would now openly state that they are increasingly unconvinced about the intentions behind premier Erdoğan’s talks with Kurds and the PKK. “

“Until I am able to hug my sons outside prison walls, I shall never drop my doubts and believe that peace is about to come to this country. I want to tell Mr. Erdoğan: give me back my sons, then I'll trust you with making peace in Turkey,” said Raife Elyalut, 56, a Kurdish resident of Diyarbakir, whose two sons are currently serving life sentences without parole for having provided PKK guerillas with food and medicine back in the  1990s. “The eldest was arrested in 1994 aged 17 and the youngest was arrested in 1996 also aged 17.”

She said her husband, Mahmut Elyalut, was also a political prisoner. “He was arrested on and off throughout his life for alleged PKK links until his death in 1999. He passed away, shortly after his last release because of the torture he had suffered inside prison.” 

Her jailed sons, Ali Hayder Elyalut and Ali Ejder Elyalut, were not political activists when they  were first arrested, she claimed, but among other things, “the torture they had suffered, the harsh sentences and living with other Kurdish political prisoners, had finally led them become political activists inside prison, just like was their father before them.”  

The Elyalut brothers are now renowned political prisoners among Turkey’s Kurds for having led many protests from inside prison. Last year, they were among the 700 Kurdish political prisoners who were on hunger strike for 68-days across Turkish prisons.

Mrs. Elyalut now lives with her two daughters in an apartment situated in the poor district of Taqa Sere in Diyarbakir.  Across the road rises the gigantic grey wall of the notorious Diyarbakir Prison, above which only a Turkish flag is visible through a mass of barbedwire. The prison is infamous in Turkey as “Diyarbakir Hell”, for here thousands of Turkish and Kurdish political activists were systematically tortured then executed soon after the Turkish generals assumed power in the 1980 coup d'état.

She said that she hated living in this district because her husband and sons were once detained and tortured at the said prison in the 1990's. But she could not afford the rent in other neighbourhoods.

“I’ve spent my entire married life and raised my two younger daughters outside these prison gates, because our life has meant seizing every opportunity to see their father and brothers at different prisons and at different dates of each month,” Mrs. Elyalut said half-heartedly, when as if on cue the noisy turbulence of two military jets flying over her home roared through the district, shaking the teacups on the table in front of her, as if an unexpected earthquake had just hit her apartment. When she slowly began to cry, the interview was effectively over.

Nejat Muhtar, mother of another political prisoner and organiser for the local branch of ‘Peace Mothers’ in Diyarbakir, a women’s civil rights organisation advocating reconciliation among Turkey’s various ethnic groups, said, “Mothers of political prisoners are heartbroken and confused, mainly because everybody is now speaking of peace while our children still suffer under harsh prison conditions.”

Many of the Turkish and Kurdish women involved in the ‘Peace Mothers’ organisation have lost close relatives to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Mrs. Muhtar said that her husband and her eldest son had joined the PKK back in 1997, “only to be killed the following year by Turkish soldiers in Hakari region, south east Turkey.” Her younger son, Shahin, is now a political prisoner, arrested in 2010 for having allegedly thrown a molotov cocktail at Turkish police during a pro-Kurdish protest in Diyarbakir. “He {Shahin} has been held in pre–trial detention since then, because there is no evidence suggesting that he actually did anything to the police. So instead, they keep him locked up just like that because they know a trial would at last free him.”

She said that she too was “suspicious” about Turkey’s intentions in negotiating with the PKK, “For us mothers peace would mean that we see our children released from prison and together celebrate freedom, that we live a normal life like everybody else. But we just keep waiting and waiting for their release and that has become our only purpose in life. And, it is a miserable life.“

She added, “ If the peace process really was under way in this country and the Turkish government was committed to it as Erdoğan always claims on TV, then Turkish prisons would not be packed to the gills with Kurdish political prisoners.”


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