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Nurcan Baysal

Nurcan Baysal is a Kurdish activist and writer.

She was born and grew up in Diyarbakır. She graduated from Ankara University Faculty of Political Science. After 1 year assistantship at Bilkent University, she returned her homeland Diyarbakır and began to work for humanitarian issues in the Kurdish Region. Between 1997-2007, Baysal worked as the project coordinator for United Nations Development Program in Diyarbakir. During that time she was active in poverty and development issues as well as in microfinance and women’s entrepreneurship. She was engaged in the establishment of a number of NGOs in the Region. She was part of the Kurdish women’s movement and a big supporter of women NGOs in Kurdistan. In 2000 she established the Development Center Association and worked for the rights of  the forced migrated Kurdish population, evacuated villages, the rights of returnees and rural development.

In 2008, she began working for the Ozyegin Foundation and developed a rural development program in 6 war-torn villages of Tatvan, Kavar. The program made a significant impact on the living standards of over 2,000 people through projects working on education, employment, health and social life. As a result, Baysal was selected as one of “Turkey’s Changemakers” by the Sabancı Foundation in 2012.

Her work in development has had an international impact. In 2000
Baysal was awarded the “Women’s Creativity in Rural Life Award” by the Women’s World Summit Foundation in Switzerland for her work in the Kavar Basin and for her contribution to development literature by linking development with happiness. As she said in an interview “happiness is part of development”.

In 2012, with a group of Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals, activists and academics, she established the Diyarbakir Political and Social Research Institute (DISA). DISA has conducted research on different aspects of the Kurdish question including education in mother tongue, reconciliation, paramilitary forces, disarmament and more. Baysal serves as an advisor or board member to many non-profit organizations, like the Global Fund for Women, the Women Labor and Employment Platform, the Urgent Action Fund, the Mezopotamya Foundation, the Platform to Save Women Kidnapped by ISIS. She is a member of the women’s movement and several peace movements in Turkey.

After ISIS attacked Şengal in August 2014, Baysal immediately began to work voluntarily in the Yezidi camps in Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan. She increased the voice of Yezidi people with her articles and with a group of brave women, she established the Platform to Save Women Kidnapped by ISIS in 2015. The platform continues to give different legal and health support to Yezidi women saved from ISIS and tries to increase the voice of Yezidi women in the world. 

Since 2013, Baysal has been writing as a regular columnist on T24. Her articles have been published in various countries. She is member of PEN Turkey.

Nurcan Baysal is the author of O Gün (That Day), Ezidiler: 73. Ferman (Ezidis: 73rd Decree) and co-author of Kürdistan’da Sivil Toplum (Civil Society in Kurdistan). She has recently been writing on people’s voices and stories who have been displaced in demolished cities of Kurdistan. She is one of the very few reporting from inside the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, from the proud and ancient heart of Kurds living in Turkey – the city of Diyarbakir. She focuses on human rights and war crimes in her articles.

Her new long-form “Those Voices” has just been published by 60pages Publishing in Berlin. In “Those Voices”, she wrote about her city that was under bombardment. How the city itself experienced the bombardment, how daily life continued under the bombardment as well as how different sections of society experienced the bombardment. 

Nurcan Baysal, mother of 2 sons, has just been awarded the “Brave Women Journalists Award” presented by the Italian Women Journalists Association. There are many court cases against her because of her articles about human rights and war crimes in Kurdistan. She has been systematically threatened by nationalists and the deep state in Turkey because of her articles. This doesn’t stop her. As she said in her interview: 

“We are in the middle of a long struggle for democracy, freedom and justice. I write to record the history not written by the powerful, but to remember those who struggle for equality, freedom and justice. 

History books continue to be written by executioners. But truth  needs to find a place in history. I feel it is my responsibility to record truth for the future.”

Nurcan partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Those Voices – Diyarbakır: A City Under Siege

Nurcan Baysal
150 min

Some Notes for the Warmongers

3 min

In the last couple of weeks, İnsan Hakları Derneği (Human Rights Association) Diyarbakır Branch has published an important report on human rights violations between the dates July 24, 2015 and July 24, 2017, which attests to the atrocities faced by our society in numbers. 

According to this report, in the last 2 years: 

– 771 security personnel and 1307 armed militia died in armed clashes. 51 people were caught in crossfire and died. 

– 448 people were killed as a result of extrajudicial killings by soldiers, police or village guards (korucu). Most of these deaths took place during the curfews imposed. 75 of them were children. 

-14 people died as a result of armored cars hitting them. 

– As a result of armed groups actions, 129 people died all around Turkey, 64 of whom were living in Kurdish cities. In Kurdish region, 14 people died after being detained by armed militia or due to attacks committed by them. 

– 15 children died due to mines or residues from armed clashes. 56 people died due to fire opened at people near the borders. 

In total 2891 people died. 2891 lives lost, 2891 hearts stopped beating! Those injured can go up to 3000. 

The report also includes the curfews declared and special security regions designated in the past two years. A total of 4842 days under declaration of special security regions. Curfews declared were not even calculated in days. Today marks the 647th day of the declared curfew over Sur, where I come from. You can imagine the rest. In the “practices related to funerals of militia”, one reads about all those cemeteries destroyed, corpses that were never given to the family of the deceased, or those that were exposed naked to the public. 

When you add up the villages displaced, forests burned, people tortured, detentions, arrests, house raids; violations against the right to organize, the right of expression, economic and social rights- you can see the horrible mess we have been in for the past two years.

It is important to recognize that these violations and atrocities are just the ones identified. It is noted that this report should be considered as a MINIMUM since there can be cases out there that have not been identified yet. In the preparation of the report, only the formal counts were used. It is underlined that military and militia death numbers are actually higher than the reported numbers.  

This is the part of war that can be analyzed through statistics. What about the aspects that cannot be analyzed in numbers? Everything listed above causes a trauma, separates family members, destroys, causes anger and makes one weary of life, and lose aspirations of the future, struggling to stay alive amidst all the destruction…

These days warmongering is on the rise again and it is important to remind ourselves about these numbers and bring up the heavy consequences of war whenever we can. As I look at these numbers, I think about what a mother in Cizre told me after the curfews were lifted:

“If the Turks knew about what the war meant, they would never want to be engaged in war. But they don’t. They don’t know what their children are doing here. I wish they knew…”

Those warmongers are the cloaked ones, politicians, writers, and the media… Think for a minute about what war really means, do you really have a sense of what it means? It is clear that you are very eager to experience it, then go ahead and get in the frontlines and let the young live! 

The Year 2016, Turkey, the story of two dead bodies 

9 min

This is the story of İsa Oran and Mesut Seviktek, whose dead bodies were left lying on the ground for 29 days in Suriçi, Diyarbakır because they could not be retrieved. 

Let me first of all say this; I am writing this article so that what happened will go on the record; so that what has happened in the Turkey of 2016 will not be forgotten, in order to ensure history records it! 

I met İsa Oran’s father Mehmet Oran and Mesut Seviktek’s older brother İhsan Seviktek on December 30, 2015. I was organizing the program for Defenders of Peace in the city; 106 people from the initiative including intellectuals, artists and individuals from various vocational groups had come to Diyarbakır. A young woman came to me, she was crying. She said there were two dead bodies  on the street in Suriçi, and their families were devastated and asked for our help. Making an addition to the program, we organized for the families to talk about what happened at the Defenders of Peace meeting that day, and again the same day, we visited the Governor of Diyarbakır as a group of intellectuals to ask for his support to retrieve the remains. 

Let me summarize what happened afterwards: I met with the families almost every day, anyway just a few days later the families went on a hunger strike at the Diyarbakır branch office of Human Rights Association (İHD). In the meantime, while trying to bring the issue to the public agenda, we kept going from door to door for support with the President of İHD Diyarbakır, Raci Bilici. We rushed from pillar to post between institutions. We were told that the bodies were in the garden of Yavuz Sultan Selim School and security forces could not go inside, that it was behind the trenches. Finally, about ten days ago, we met with the Governor of Diyarbakır again, and agreed on a plan that the curfew be lifted for two hours, and the special ops to retreat for that period so that with the municipality’s funeral coach, the families and a group of civil society representatives could go and retrieve the remains. 

In the meantime, during our Ankara visit two weeks ago, we conveyed the situation to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Ministry of Interior Affairs Efkan Ala as well.  

You know what took place afterwards from the press anyway. On January 12, the curfew was lifted for two hours. Even though it was said that the special ops would retreat, when the group went to Suriçi there were hundreds of special ops around, then the conflict intensified, and families had to leave Suriçi without being able to get the bodies. Something the security forces told the family and the group that day surprised me and many people. It turns out there were special ops inside the school where the bodies lay anyway. That is to say, the remains were in a place where there were special ops  to begin with! 

While the families continued the hunger strike, two days ago, the prosecutor’s office calls Diyarbakır İHD and says that the bodies have been brought to the morgue and the families should come to the morgue to identify the bodies. 

Disintegrated bodies 

The father Mehmet Oran and brother İhsan Seviktek go to the morgue to identify the bodies. 

Let’s hear the rest in the father Mehmet Oran’s words:

“The prosecutor’s office said, ‘you shouldn’t go, don’t go in the morgue, you’ll faint’, and I said, ‘I’ll keep remain standing to see your cruelty.’ I went in the morgue. My son’s head wasn’t intact; it was burned, as if a chemical substance had been poured over it… His torso was carved out, his intestines hanging out, all in pieces, pieces of flesh had been torn off, as if an animal had bitten them off, I was able to recognize my son only from one of his arms, they had ripped my boy to shreds.”

There are hundreds of bullets on the body of the 25 year old Mesut Seviktek. His brother İhsan tells us about it:

“My brother is anyway martyred by the wound in his skull and chest. Then they shot hundreds of bullets at him. His face has become unrecognizable. What does it mean to do this to a dead person? Turkey’s problem can’t be resolved by doing this, the Kurdish problem can’t be resolved like this.” 

“Just like we had to leave Lice in 93 without even taking a spoon, that’s how we had to leave Sur in 2015” 

To tell you the truth, I am astonished, angry, enraged and in pain. I was personally involved in this, I still haven’t been able to make sense of why they made us struggle for days to get the remains if the security forces had them in the first place or if the bodies were somewhere they could get them; what their aim was in doing so. The families had anyway thought the state had the bodies from the outset, how naïve I was! How naïve I was as we were planning how and from which street they could be brought, how I was waiting with some shred of hope every day, thinking okay, they’ll be retrieved today! How naïve I was beating at the door of the state for days! 

Mr. İhsan says: 

“We told you from the outset, this state has the bodies. We knew from the first day the bodies lay there, because we live in Suriçi, we were talking on the phone with our neighbors, our friends, they were telling us, the bodies are in the school yard and the special ops have set up camp in the school.” 

Mr. Mehmet adds: 

“We knew from day one the state had these bodies, we know this state, we are the ones who know how dirty they are.” 

Mr. İhsan continues: 

“We were in prison together with my brother Mesut for three years, at the time I had gone on a hunger strike with my brother, now I am on a hunger strike with my mother to get my brother’s body.” 

I gasp. 

“It was a holiday in 1993, the state sent us away from the village. In that commotion, we had forgotten Mesut in the village, the next day, a neighbor who had stayed in the village called to inform us, we went and got Mesut. Mesut worked in construction, worked shining shoes on the streets, finally we opened a grocery store in Sur together. We built a life with great hardship. Now the store is also gone, it is demolished. Just like we had to leave Lice without even taking a spoon in 93, that’s how we had to leave Sur in 2015.”

“This is a political problem, it can’t be solved with arms, trenches, destruction” 

As we are talking there is movement on the walls of the hall in İHD where the families are on hunger strike. Two more pictures of young people are hung on the walls, photos of Turgay Girçek and Gündüz Akmeşe. They were actually killed four days ago but their families learned that they were killed only yesterday. I look at the photos of youth on the wall that increase by the day. Mr. İhsan, who notices I am shaken, holds my arm, sits me down, tries to give me strength despite his own state of agony: 

“Look, this is the outcome. For months the state bombed the martyrs’ graves, it did all in its power to the graves of Kurds, and then it boiled the problem down to the issue of trenches. What did you think would happen after you bombed so many graves, did you think the Kurdish youth would meekly accept all that was done? There were no trenches then, why did you bomb the graveyards? 

This is a political problem, it can’t be resolves with arms, trenches, destruction.” 

“I am calling out to the families of police and soldiers: Don’t say ‘all for the sake  of the homeland’!”

Mr. İhsan also has something to say to the families of soldiers and police: 

“The mothers of police and soldiers should see these sufferings too. Look I am saying this in my pained state. We are sad if soldiers die, we are sad if police die. I am calling out to the families of police and soldiers. Don’t say ‘all for the sake of the homeland’ over our children, if you are thinking about your dead child work for peace. Empathize. Mesut was my brother. They killed him, that wasn’t enough, they riddled him with over a hundred bullets. We are still saying let these be the last ones. Let our children be the last victims of the Kurdish people, of the Turkish people. Don’t let your children be sacrificed to this dirty war.   

The government should come out of this eclipse of reason immediately. The place to return to is the [negotiation] table. There is no place but the table.”

Mr. Mehmet, who joins in, says, “Everyone shot at Mesut, whoever came around shot at him, what religion, what humanity, in which God’s book does this exist?” 

I want to ask the officials, particularly Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who told us during our Ankara visit, “We will take care of all dead bodies, inform us”:  

Where were these bodies for one month? 

Who did this to these bodies? 

Will those who did these to these bodies be punished? 

Let history record this. The year 2016, the month of January. The dead bodies of the 21 year old İsa Oran and 25 year old Mesut Seviktek were left lying on the ground for 29 days in Suriçi, Diyarbakır, their families went on a hunger strike to retrieve the dead bodies of their children. When they were brought to the morgue on January 19, the bodies had been disintegrated… 

Nurcan Baysal, January 22, 2016 

Is Şırnak one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

4 min

I am in Şırnak, one of the Kurdish cities that was under curfew for 8 months, between 14 March-14 November 2016 . 70% of the city has been totally destroyed. 8 of the city’s 12 districts do not exist anymore. The streets that I walked on before, the parks, the main square of the city, Cumhuriyet Meydanı, where I met together with the Şırnaqi youth years before, none of them exit. There are no streets left. One of the biggest districts, Bahçelievler, with a population of 12.000 has now been flattened. It is hard to believe that there were houses, shops, parks, schools and life before. It is hard for me to believe that I am in Şırnak.

There has been huge destruction in other Kurdish cities; in Cizre, Nusaybin, Yüksekova and Sur as well. None of them are like Şırnak.  Think about a city, that no longer has a city center! 

While looking at the remains of Şırnak, the HDP parliamentarian Aycan İrmez said to me: “Most of the city was destroyed after the operations finished on the 3rd of June. More than 10.000 houses were ruined. The property of Şırnaqi  people  were distributed like prize goods of a war. The state did not allow people to enter their own houses and to save their belongings.”

A woman now living in a tent told me how she entered her house:

“I snuck into the city with my husband and my 2 kids one night. I entered my home and tried to take the air conditioners, but we couldn’t move them. Then we quickly moved to the kitchen and tried to remove the boiler, but there was water inside and we couldn’t manage it either. Suddenly, a man saw us. He was from the company, responsible for demolishing Şırnak. He said “Stop! You can’t enter your house. As a company we won the contract from the state, which includes all your belongings.  He had big guns. He took us to a bus where there were other people, like us, who tried to enter their homes. The bus took us outside the city. I was only able to take my umbrella from my home” 

Another Şırnaqi man said: “We entered our houses like thieves.”

“Şırnak is a Turkish city”

To enter the city is a different kind of hard work. It is worse than passing into another country. There was a line of cars more than one kilometer long. I waited in the car for half an hour, before deciding to walk.  I walked to the control point. What I saw was,  a control point like that of  a border! Hundreds of police, army, tanks and barbed wire fences… After the barbed wire fences there were four booths like at the borders. The policemen were checking identity cards inside the booths. After passing another barbed wire fence, I finally entered Şırnak 1.5 hours later.  

When I had visited the city 2 months before, there was a big plaque at the entrance of the city, which said: “Şırnak is one of the 81 cities of Turkey”. Now the writing on the plaque has been changed to simply say:  “Şırnak is a Turkish city.”

Şırnak, one of the main Kurdish centers was burnt in 1992 by the state. Hundreds of people died, more than 20,000 people were forced to migrate. After 24 years, in 2016, Şırnak was again   destroyed by the state.  Before the curfew, the population was 64,000. Now the population is 30,000.  50,000 people are homeless. There are no residential areas left in Şırnak. Thousands of people live in tents and have migrated to rural areas, while others are left to live in overcrowded conditions, several families living together in the few houses that are left standing.

I have learned that the state has blocked all kind of aid to Şırnak. There is no interest from NGOs , aid organizations, media and international organizations in Şırnak. The city is totally isolated from the outside world, left alone with it’s ruins and pain.  

I can’t help but wonder: Is Şırnak really one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

15.02.2017, Şırnak

Turkey, a modern day soap opera

5 min

Last week, I met with my Canadian friend who lives in Turkey. She told me about a Turkish soap opera that she watched that morning.  In the soap-opera, the young women gave a bunch of flowers to her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law threw the flowers to the floor and stomped on them. My friend said, “this is too much, too dramatic!” I laughed and answered, “No, this is not too much for Turkey. Turkey is a modern day soap-opera!”

Just 3 weeks ago, the cafeteria manager of Cumhuriyet newspaper said that he would not serve tea to Tayyip Erdoğan. He was immediately taken into custody after the police raided his home. Authorities said that he was arrested for insulting the president.  In Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable for up to four years in prison. There are more than 1,800 cases against people including cartoonists, school children, journalists and writers all accused of insulting Erdoğan. 

President Erdoğan and members of the government often make statements that “you should report the people who insulted Erdoğan”. Last month, a taxi driver recorded the voice of his passenger who “insulted Erdoğan”. He sent the recording to the police, who raided the home of the passenger. Moreover, just a few days ago the village headman (muhtar) of the Cemilli Village in Mersin, a Mediterranean city, filed a criminal complaint against 18 villagers for “insulting Erdoğan”. Investigations have been opened against the villagers.

It is not surprising to hear court cases like: “I killed my wife because she insulted Erdoğan”, “I killed her because she was a member of FETÖ” or “I want a divorce because my wife does not like Erdoğan”,“my wife is supporting PKK terrorists”.

The parliament is one of the main characters in this soap-opera.

Last week, a parliamentarian from CHP, the opposition party, called the Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım “Cin Ali”, a popular cartoon character in children’s books, due to his speech about the constitutional change. During the constitutional change process parliamentarians have fought with fists, but last week, during these fights, one of the AKP’s parliamentarians claimed that his leg was bitten by an opposition parliamentarian. The other day, AKP parliamentarians hung up papers inside the parliament which had written, “dogs cannot enter”. A few days later, a CHP parliamentarian who is also a doctor gave a detailed medical speech with x-ray films and claimed that the bite was not a human bite but a bite of a horse! 

Yesterday, we watched the drama of this soap opera unfold.

The AKP party has been pushing for constitutional changes to bring about a presidential system, likely to be put to a public referendum in early spring. During the parliament sessions regarding constitutional changes, an independent parliamentarian Aylin Nazlıkaya, handcuffed herself to the speaker’s microphone. She challenged the MHP parliamentarians to change their position and vote against the upcoming presidential system to protect the republic of Atatürk. After many hours, Nazlıkaya remained standing. Women parliamentarians from the AKP party came to remove the handcuffs. Unable to do so, they removed the microphone. At this point, physical violence broke out. CHP and HDP women parliamentarians stepped up to protect Nazlıkaya from these beatings. Two of these women were sent to hospital.

The country is like a dark comedy. The most useful term of this dark comedy is “terror”. Everyone uses this term for their own interests. Just 4 days ago, Erdoğan said the Turkish economy is also under a “terror” attack. He said that “there is no difference, where aims are concerned, between a terrorist with a gun and bomb in his hand and a terrorist who has dollars, euros and interest rates”. He also asked citizens to continue selling dollars and euros to counter the threat. 

After Erdoğan’s speech against the boost of the dollar value,  a group of village headmen in Adıyaman protested the dollar by cleaning their noses with dollars and burning them. 

The other day, Aziz Yıldırım, president of the Fenerbahçe football association, asked for Erdoğan’s help to punish the football referees who he claims are terrorists! Everyone is a terrorist in someone’s eye! “Terrorist” is also a very useful term for covering the criminals: “My neighbor is a FETÖ terrorist”, “I killed my wife because she is a FETÖ terrorist”, “the football referee is a terrorist”, “people who have dollars are terrorists”, “I raped her because she is a PKK terrorist…”

The destructive language that the political leaders are using is causing tragic consequences on the society.

Just a week ago, Alper Engeler, a famous psychologist was killed by a local shopkeeper. Engeler had built a small house to protect the cats from cold snow. The shopkeeper and Engeler quarreled, resulting in the shopkeeper killing Engeler. Last year, journalist Nuh Köklü was killed  by a shopkeeper after a snowball accidentally struck his shop window. In his many speeches to local shopkeepers, Erdoğan stated that “when needed do not hesitate to use guns”.

As a consequence of crazy politics, we now have a crazy society in Turkey! We are living in a fishbowl where people are ready to kill each other, blame each other, and assault each other while bombs explode in streets, at the hearts of big cities, on the roads…

Turkey, maybe worse than a soap-opera!

20.01.2017, Diyarbakır

Those Voices – Diyarbakır: A City Under Siege

Nurcan Baysal
150 min

Some Notes for the Warmongers

3 min

The Year 2016, Turkey, the story of two dead bodies 

9 min

Is Şırnak one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

4 min

Turkey, a modern day soap opera

5 min