The personal story of Pınar Yılmaz is like a chronicle of state violence against the Kurds in Turkey’s recent past. Reading or listening to what she has told to Mezopotamya News Agency, it is quite easy to conclude that this is but a tiny fraction of what she has been through; that there are many more chapters to her story.
The ordeal of Pınar Yılmaz, now 42 and living in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority province of Hakkari (Colemerg), started when her father fell victim to an extrajudicial execution when she was just 14 years old. The day he was buried, their village of Çorsîn (Düzcealan) in the district of Tatvan (Tetwan), was burnt down and evacuated by soldiers.
As Pınar Yılmaz grew up in their new home in Van (Wan), she contacted political circles around the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP), which made her – alongside many others – a target for state officials who were doing everything possible to repress the pro-Kurdish political movement.
This was when, in the second half of the 1990s, she started receiving threats and being subjected to attempts to turn her into an informer.
Then one day, as there was no sign that she was or would be intimidated by threats or attempts at persuasion, the police officers finally decided to act. It was then she was abducted, in 1999.
She starts telling her story: “I was abducted. It was the month of June in 1999. I can’t remember the exact date. I don’t remember how many days it went on, how long I was tortured.”
She had been subjected to constant and systematic torture using various methods for a very long time by police officers who were determined to break her will and turn her into an informer.
She recalls the day the officers finally seemed to lose patience.
“He had something that looked like pincers. He pinched my hand with it and squeezed. ‘Go on, cry, beg me,’ he said. When I didn’t cry he got even more furious. He tore off a piece of flesh,” she relates.
“They’d bring me round with cold water every time I blacked out (…) Although it went on for days, they never saw me beg. They never saw those tears. Not then, not afterwards, I’ve never cried, and I won’t cry.”
At a certain point after weeks of torture, when Pınar Yılmaz ceased showing any sign of life after receiving brutal blows to the head during a torture session, the officers concluded that she was dead, and decided to dispose of her body by simply tossing her int a rubbish dump in the city.
“They’d thrown me into a rubbish dump. I wasn’t aware if I’d been there a day or two days… I was in a hospital when I came to. The rubbish collectors had found me when their shovels hit me and realised that there was something heavy under the rubbish. They saw me when they sifted through it. They reported that they had found a corpse. Then a bulldozer operator checked and felt my pulse, they took me straight to hospital.”
A short time afterwards she was transferred for treatment to a hospital in Ankara with the support of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV).
“I had to have operations for years on end. I’ve been through serious processes and undergone physiotherapy. In the end I recovered, but only partially (…) I’d identified both police officers. It was also discovered that the Toros vehicle [a Renault model frequently used in those days in covert operations of the state in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority provinces] they’d used to abduct me was registered to the police station in the city of Mersin. Despite all this they said the suspects couldn’t be found.”
As her medical treatment continued, she started getting threats again.
“When they realised that I was alive, I started getting threatening phone calls from these two. They said they were going to finish the job. ‘You should have croaked. You must be a cat with seven lives’ they said.”
She recalls the day she was back in Van for a short visit, the day she was arrested in a raid.
“I was back from Ankara for a change of air. I was soon to go back for my treatment. I was chatting with a group of friends in a cafe. All of a sudden the place was raided. They started shouting, ‘Pınar Çaçan, surrender.’ I looked around me. I was a disabled woman, and they were keeping their distance as they called on me to surrender, their weapons pointed at me.”
So in 2003, after four years of medical treatment, Pınar Yılmaz was arrested, to be beaten and tortured at a detention centre before being taken to a prison in Van, where she was placed in a solitary confinement cell because she refused to stay in the ward for informers.
Nine months of harassment, beating and torture followed until she started a fire in her cell in protest. She was transferred to another prison, and four months later she was finally released.
“I sometimes wonder if all this struggle is coming out of my own will alone; all this resistance, not to give in to torture, not to give in to their demands. I reflect on this and I think this is actually a legacy left to me by my women comrades, their strength embedded in me. And it’s essentially the power and the will of my father. I have got my power of resistance from him.”
Pınar Yılmaz was imprisoned again in 2010 after a court sentenced her to a prison term of 3 years and 9 months. She was placed in three separate prisons during her prison term, in Hakkari (Colemerg), Mardin (Merdin) and Gebze, a western city 2800 kilometres away from Van.
The last time she was arrested was in 2020, when she was released after three months in custody.
“This war can not be won by killing and arresting people,” she says at the end of the interview. “A woman can’t be subdued by torture or arrest, and neither can she be killed. She’s born again after she’s been killed.”