“No mother in the world sees righteousness in the glorification of a nation” – Interview with a Kurdish Peace Mothers activist
The Peace Mothers is a unique women’s movement that arose in Turkey in 1996 as a reaction to continuing violence against Kurdish people. Since then, the movement has become the voice of those who have suffered the pain of forced migration, ethnic discrimination and human rights violations. Today, the Mothers are active in Istanbul, Diyarbakır and Van, where they hold sit-down protests, organize street marches, issue short press releases and write critical articles. The fact that they point to the loss of their children and blame the state for the ongoing war has led to further discrimination against them. The Turkish government officially recognizes only women from the Mothers of Martyrs as legal mothers and calls other activists “fake mothers”. We spoke to Berivan, one of the members of the movement, who lost two children in the struggle between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish army and was forced to migrate to Germany due to her peace activism and how, in spite of everything, she has learned not to be afraid.
The interview was conducted by Zahir and Güneş Su Yazici with a Peace Mothers activist in Berlin.
Zahir/Güneş: What was the common thread that tied the Peace Mothers together?
“It is our pain that brought us together.“
The suffering we as Kurdish women have.
Zahir/Güneş: Was there any specific reason for the Peace Mothers to hold their first meeting in front of Galatasaray University in 1996?
Berivan: The Galatasaray University of Istanbul is an important symbol for the mothers who used to grieve the loss of their husbands, children and brothers. This is a symbolic place where another group called the Saturday Mothers first gathered. They have been organizing sit-in acts in Galatasaray Square every Saturday since 1995 for their children who have disappeared in custody and have been eliminated by “unsolved “political murders” and expressed their grief.
Zahir/Güneş: Why was it important to you to organize yourselves as mothers?
Berivan: Mothers are always considered sacred in our society. For them, the most important thing is to take care of their children.
“They always suffer for their children. I think mothers are naturally a symbol of peace. “
Zahir/Güneş: What is the difference in the understanding of motherhood by the Peace Mothers and the Turkish government?
Berivan: While the government is trying to destroy children, mothers are trying to save their lives.
“No mother in the world sees righteousness in the glorification of a nation.“
A mother teaches her child never to hurt anyone; a mother will always protect and teach peacefulness; she rejects conflict and oppression; a mother is always first and foremost a mother, even if there exists extreme hostility between two different groups. She is always in favor of peace.
Zahir/Güneş: How has your involvement in the Peace Mothers influenced your understanding of the role of a mother and the very idea of motherhood?
Berivan: I never went to school, I am illiterate and it really upsets me. The reason I am illiterate is that the Turkish government didn’t want women from colonized groups to become aware of their terrible situation. When I met Peace Mothers, I met revolutionary women who inspired me and gave me courage. I lost my two children and was forced to leave Turkey.
“The consciousness and resistance that I gained through the movement were the main forces that helped me to continue to live until this day.“
Meetings with the Peace Mothers gave me courage. I learned how to keep peace both in my family life and my social environment. Over time, the courage I gained from the Peace Mothers taught me not to get scared of the government, prison or oppression. The main fear people have is the thought that their child and home will be harmed. The children of the Peace Mothers are already in danger. The houses in Sur and Cizre were destroyed. We have nothing more to lose.
Zahir/Güneş: How has the attitude of the people around you changed after you became one of the Peace Mothers?
Berivan: When you get involved in politics, you learn to protect your rights, for example, those related to your body. You become aware of yourself so the attitude of people towards you certainly changes.
“After all, when you begin to respect yourself, others begin to respect you.”
Zahir/Güneş: Is there any support from other international women’s initiatives?
Berivan: I believe the contrary is the case. We support women all over the world, even though we lack resources. No one expected Kurdish women to be able to fight ISIS, while even the EU-NATO coalition failed to do so. The courage and peaceful activism of Kurdish women inspired the world.
Zahir/Güneş: What is the difference between the Peace Mothers and Mothers of Martyrs ?
Berivan: The difference is that they, unlike us, are afraid. They have no power without the government, they are not organized in groups. In the Peace Mothers both Kurdish and Turkish women are welcome and take part in the activism. Kurdish and Turkish mothers are united by the fact that they have lost their children.
Zahir/Güneş: What are the main challenges you are facing?
Berivan: I’ve been living in Germany for over 40 years. The police confiscated the flags and banners of Kurdish resistance movements that we use during the actions and that are forbidden in Germany. But the situation concerning peaceful protest in Turkey is even worse. For example, during the state of emergency on 20 july 2020 , the Turkish government prohibited any political activity. Women from the Peace Mothers were beaten, dragged along the streets, and some were even imprisoned.
Zahir/Güneş: How did you manage to keep the movement alive despite the challenges you have been facing?
Berivan: What unites us is our striving for peace in defiance of the government’s repressive policies. The Turkish state’s pressure on the Kurds has always continued, therefore our peace struggle against the state and our insistence on peace have always continued.
Zahir/Güneş: Looking at the problems that you faced, do you see any differences in terms of the reaction of the government, mainstream media and people’s attitude towards the movement if you compare the 1990s and now?
Berivan: The Peace Mothers are becoming better known due to the rise in oppression. Our insistence on the struggle has positively changed the way people think about us.
Zahir/Güneş: How would you interpret the role of the Peace Mothers as political activists in connection with the hunger strikes initiated in November 2018 by Peace Mothers’ children and what do you expect from the Turkish government?
Berivan: The Peace Mothers played a very important role in ending the hunger strikes. Peace mothers were not scared of government policies. They didn’t get fed up and resisted with determination.
“The only expectation we have of the Turkish government is peace.“
We do not want to be attacked by government officials and their army and of course, we do not want anyone to die any more. We truly believe in peace.
 Mothers of Martyrs are the mothers of soldiers and police officers and sometimes the mothers of somebody who have died while serving for the army. The government creates “acceptable and unacceptable mothers” by putting Martyr Mothers in front of peace mothers.
 July 15 coup attempt: the state of emergency was declared for a period of 3 months in Turkey (15 Temmuz darbe girişimi: Türkiye’de 3 ay süreyle olağanüstü hâl ilan edildi), 2016, July 20. Retrieved February 28, 2020
The interview is based on notes taken during a conversation in Kurdish with the activist on June 1, 2019 in Berlin, Germany and was later translated into English. The full version of this interview is available in English.
Photo © Ensar Ozdemir
Adnotation: The photos are artistic and do not represent the interviewed group.