Turkish security forces did not distinguish between armed fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the civilian population during the 1980s and 1990s. Local gendarmerie demanded – as a requirement of the Turkish state – that villages display their ‘loyalty’ to the state by joining the ‘village guards’ (known as ‘korucu’, a specific group of armed, paid and ‘civilian’ security forces), who were expected to mobilise against the PKK.
Villagers who refused this deadly ‘option’ were forcibly evacuated from their communities as their homes, fields, barns and livestock were burned down in ‘scorched earth’ tactics that were employed by the security forces.
According to Human Rights Watch, by the mid-1990s, more than 3,000 villages had been virtually eradicated from the map, and, according to official figures, 378,335 Kurdish villagers were displaced and left homeless (Unofficial figures placed the number at well over a million displaced forcibly).
Each of these ‘displaced people’ suffered oppression and engaged in survival and personal and collective ‘life resistance’ strategies: Hasan Opçin’s story is reflective of the types of struggles displaced Kurds had to undergo.
Opçin’s village, Çağıl (Batit), was located in the Hani district of the eastern province of Diyarbakır (Amed) and it was raided by the security forces during the 1990s. The security forces accused Opçin and his fellow villagers of “assisting and aiding” the PKK and forcibly evacuated them from their village.
After this unlawful and violent evacuation, Opçin had no option but to migrate to Diyarbakır city centre. “We had to vacate our lands after our village was burned down to the ground. We migrated to the city”, Opçin stated in an interview with MA.
The first years in the city were a struggle. “We have suffered a great deal. We had no money, no jobs. We had to start everything from scratch. None of the jobs have made us as happy as we were before, when we were working on our fields”, he said.
Opçin has been collecting waste – made of glass, plastic and paper – for 29 years now in the streets of Bağlar district in Diyarbakır. “Sometimes, I collect 50 kg, sometimes I collect 200 kg of waste. I am paid 5 Turkish Lira (TL) per 5 kg of waste”, he said.
In selling these products for recycling, he is able to earn an income that is just enough to support his household of eleven family members.
Gathering recyclable waste from the streets in Diyarbakır’s city centre enables Opçin to earn an average daily wage of around 100 TL. Opçin has to additionally face the threat and restrictions in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“All waste collectors were hit by the pandemic”, he said. “I am trying to clean and shine some of the used tools we found in the garbage to make ends meet by selling them”. He keeps his hopes and dreams alive despite all the hardship faced: “I want to go back to my village one day. This is all I want”.