Goodbye to an idol in Dersim

DERSIM/TUNCELI – ‘Our heart cries blood’, laments Kurdish politician Aysel Tugluk into the microphone. With long sustained tones she speaks to the thousands of people attending the funeral of Sakine Cansiz, one of the founders of the armed Kurdish movement, the PKK. Cansiz was murdered in Paris two weeks ago.

Aysel Tugluk is one of the women carrying the coffin to the graveyard.

Aysel Tugluk is one of the women carrying the coffin to the graveyard.

Shortly after Tugluk is one of the women who carries the coffin, covered in a PKK flag, to the graveyard. The procession goes from the cemevi (the Alevi house of worship) through the small city centre and then to Sakine’s last resting place, just outside the town. The route through the snowy mountain landscape is magical.

A day earlier, Thursday last week, tens of thousands of Kurds said goodbye to Sakine Cansiz and the two other female activists who were assassinated in Paris, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Söylemez. That gathering in the biggest city in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey, Diyarbakir, was not just a communal mourning but also a protest against the ongoing lack of a political solution to the Kurdish question. A cry for peace.

The funeral on Cansiz’ home ground,which she left as a young woman in the seventies to fight for her people, is also political. But it is in primarily a modest goodbye to a woman who meant a lot for the Kurdish struggle and for the freedom of Kurdish women. Or, as Selahattin Demirtas, Kurdish MP, expressed it in Diyarbakir: ‘There used to be not even a place for women of this land at the dinner table. But that we are here now, is also thanks to the struggle of Kurdish women for their people’.

Leyla Atac (37) walks along in the cortege. She was, just like Sakine Cansiz, born and raised in what the Kurds still call Dersim – the Kurdish name of the city that was replaced with Tunceli as part of the ‘Turkification process’ in the nineteen thirties. She calls the funeral the most important event in the city for years: ‘Sakine is my idol. She resisted, as a Kurd and as a woman.’ She joins in shouting the slogan of the day: Jin, Jiyan, Azadî! Woman, Life, Freedom!

The Parisian police have arrested two men in connection with the murders and released one of them. Who is behind the murder remains speculation. The early peace talks between the Turkish government and the imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan don’t seem to be affected by the triple murder. In her speech, Aysel Tugluk has a message for the killers: ‘Know that you can never stop our struggle for freedom’.

Fréderike Geerdink, Diyarbakir

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