Earlier this month, the Turkish news site Bianet, published a remarkable piece of reporting: a letter from political prisoner Remziye Temzel, an accountant for a Kurdish-oriented media company who is currently jailed, together with over a dozen other media workers after an arbitary mass arrest. Determined not to be silenced, the imprisoned media workers decided to continue reporting from behind bars, shedding light onto one the world’s most closed and repressive prison systems. In her brave letter, Demzel wrote about the case of Şefika Kandar, an imprisoned 63-year old Kurdish mother-of-three who she encountered in the same jail.
Kandar, who is described as being unable to read or write, was reportedly criminally prosecuted after being allegedly involved in the Peace Mothers: The peace mothers are a loosely organised, disperate group of elderly Kurdish, devoutly religious-Muslim women, many are mothers of young men imprisoned by the Turkish state on real or imagined charges of Kurdish activism, Kurdish seperatism or radical Kurdish terrorism. ‘Peace mothers’ have no centralised manifesto, but they usually call for reconciliation, ending the conflict and for an amnesty for prisoners. Some peace mothers have demanded the release of the Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan is the convicted and imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a leftwing terrorist group with a long record of drug dealing and violence against civilians, whose supporters have been linked to multiple misogynist honour killings. The Turkish state has responded with extreme brutality and repression to the harmless protests of these pensioners. While there is a clear difference between elderly mothers calling for the release of terror chief Ocalan as part of peace efforts, and young men actively embraccing the ethnocidal, misogynist terror of the PKK, the Turkish state has failed to see any nuances. Instead, it has repressed the Peace Mothers movement with crude brutality. Sit-in Protests by peace mothers have reportedly been dispersed with water cannon and physical force by Turkish police.
In jail, peace mother Şefika Kandar told imprisoned media worker Temzel that she was first arrested in city of Urfa in 2016, charged with membership of a proscribed organisation, but later released on bail pending a final confirmation of the guilty verdict in her case from the courts.Facing an excessive, politically-motived jail sentence over 7 years long, Kandar decided instead to flee from Turkey. "Prison is very difficult and bad for a mother. It is even more difficult for older people like me…. I said I can't go to prison at this age. I decided to go abroad“, Kandar is quoted as saying.
This led Kandar to attempt to cross the land border between Turkey and Greece, into the EU. International law protects the right of all refugees from degrading treatment, torture or illegal return to their country of origin (refoulement), even if they have used unofficial ways to cross a border. There have been many well documented accusations Greek EU border forces illegally expel, violently push back or mistreat migrants who come to the Greek border in search of legal refugee protection. What is ussually missing however is the story of who these migrants are, or what happens to them after they are denied protection in Europe. Like this, it is easy for governments to keep claiming that the large numbers of migrants at the Greek border are undeserving economic fortune-seekers, not people who have a well-founded right to refugee protection. Kandar’s story shows that the brutal reality behind the state policy of pushing politically persecuted people back.
"When I tried to cross the Greek border in June 2021, I was caught together with my son. The Greek military took us and detained us, treating us inhumanely. They took everything I and my son had: money, wallet, jewelry and took off our clothes. Only the undergarments remained…. They put me and my son on a boat and sentit to Turkey“, Kandar is quoted by Temzel as saying. Being forced to undress by Greek soldiers deeply traumatised Kandar. She tells Temzel “I will not forget this cruelty even if I die. I cannot explain how hard it is for a mother to undress in front of her child“.
Back in Turkey, Kandar was immediately detained, later denied medical care in prison, held for a while in solitary confinement and is now serving out her illegal, politically-motivated jail sentence, after been denied freedom and safety in the EU. Kandar’s horrific story of misogynist forced undressing by soldiers guarding the EU border is not the only one. Earlier this year, 16 migrants froze to death on the Turkish side of the border. Erdogan’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, alleged that it happened after “the Greek authorities stripped the migrants of their clothes and shoes after they had crossed the border into Greece“ and then illegally deported them back to Turkey. Greek authorities called the accusations “false propaganda“, saying the migrants never even reached the Greek border, and were not pushed back either. Yet, Kandar is not a a Turkish official, but a woman imprisoned by the Turkish state on political charges. Could anyone accuse her of being part of Turkish state propaganda?
This is the 21st century for you: The racist, white supremacist European Union kills, robs and humiliates penniless migrant women and children at it’s external borders. EU politicians pat themselves on the back and lecture the world about democracy, gender ideology and tolerance. And then they wonder why no one in the global South gives a damn about their preaching or their fake “values“. “Values“ which, by the way, were always a myth. Even in Ancient Athenian “democracy“ (read slave-owning guys with dicks holding some elections, sometimes), women had no political rights: In fact they were so excluded from public life it wasn't even considered permissible for men to mention them in official, legal speeches in a direct way. Ayatollah Khomeni would have loved living in such a society.
Meanwhile, patriachal tryants like Tayyip Recep Erdogan, whose regime funded terrorist war in Syria, are scarred of illiterate elderly mothers. They are scarred because those wise mothers don’t want to loose their sons to another cycle of pointless wars in the name of useless ideologies. So they lock them up in jails, because that’s the only way to nurse their male supremacist ego back to full health.
If you take a holiday in Istanbul, Dalaman or Bodrum this autumn, don’t forget that while you are luxuriating on those lovely sandy beaches, thousands of innocent women and men are being tortured by Erdogan’s racist state appartatus. Maybe there is even a prison near your hotel. All that’s happening with the implicit support of the EU and Nato, as well as, ironically, Russia and Iran at the same time as well, nobody likes to talk about it. By all means, go to Turkey, many people there work in tourism and need money to survive, but use your position as a visitor to highlight the suffering of oppressed people to your folks back at home. Don’t only post those hotel buffet and pool pics on your Instagram....
Mainstream elites in America and Europe love to talk about feminism when it serves to justify their neocolonial, illegal wars in Iraq, Afganistan, Libya or Syria. They celebrate their moral heroism for “rescuing“ female Afgan ex-officials. People who, in search of power and money, often collaborated with US-led occupying armed forces and their puppet government during the 20 years of illegal Western occupation of Afganistan. In fact it is the simple devil’s-bargain obligation of any retreating occupying army to evacuate their local agents, side-kicks and collaborators. There is nothing holy about it, neither does it have anything to do with tolerance. But where are these elite voices when brown people, simple refugees, with no connection to the global centres of power, are mistreated on the borders of Europe, or by Nato-member governments? Do they care about them, value their lives equally?
Will any of them write to their nearest Turkish embassy, demand that they free Şefika Kandar and every other illegally imprisoned Kurdish woman, grant Kurdish women all their legal and collective cultural rights? Or will any of them complain to the Greek Police and the Greek Ombudsman to demand that they investigate Kandar’s story? Will they write to the European Commission, and ask them to investigate whether Kandar’s forced return to Turkey was a violation of so-called European treaties of Human Rights?
I have asked the General Staff of the Greek Army and the Greek Police for comment. If I receive any, I will update this article. I have opted not to attempt to contact Sefika Kandar in jail herself, as the chance that she would be allowed by authorities to express herself freely in an official channel, such as mail, is vanishingly low, and as it is unclear if contact with foreign journalists can prejudice political cases in Turkey.
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