Jin News continues to share portraits of women whose lives have been full of struggle. One of these stories belongs to 72-year-old Sultan Uğraş, who is from the Midyat district of Mardin (Mêrdin) in Turkey. Her family belongs to the Arab “Mihelmi” community.
Sultan was born as one of eight children in 1940, with limited access to education. “Sometimes my friends would come and invite me to go to the movies, but I didn’t want to go. My father was trying hard for me to go… My mother was a little more closed-minded”, she said.
After graduating from elementary school she attended a sewing-embroidery course. “My dream was to open an association where we could do something for women from poor economic backgrounds and come together”, she said.
Her life in Nusaybin
When Sultan was 18 years old, she got married to her uncle’s son, Sabri.
Mardin’s Nusaybin (Nisebin) district became their next stop after the marriage. Sultan talked about the living conditions of women in the region. “One day, when I went to bêrî [milk the cow], there was a pregnant woman about to give birth, but there was no vehicle carrying her. They had put the woman on a donkey, taking her away. I was surprised how they were carrying a pregnant woman like that… But there is a saying: a woman who goes to bêrî, returns with her child. That saying was true, I learned then”.
‘I stood up against all kinds of violence‘
Describing the violence she has experienced, Sultan said, “I opposed all kind of violence within the family or from my husband. I’m not just talking about physical violence. Violence can also be imposed through speech. My husband was a teacher, but I opposed the violence from him. I stood up against all kinds of violence. Since we joined the revolution movement, almost every family in Nusaybin has been subjected to state violence. When my children also got into this struggle, state violence turned towards us more. The state executed my son Serdar in front of his father. His blood stained my hand for two days. But we never compromised”.
Losing children in war
Sultan has four daughters and three boys. Her children joined the Kurdish movement in Nusaybin, where the family experienced perhaps the deepest and most painful period in their lives. Serdar Uğraş, one of the children of Sultan, was executed by the state in 1995.
“The state raided our house in 1995. My other son was looking for Serdar. They entered the house and took Serdar. They took me out. Sabri was also inside. While we were outside, there were gunshots from inside, but I thought he was being tortured. I was saying that ‘the state does not kill people’. They took my son to the hospital. They also cut our phones, so we could not call anyone. They also insulted Sabri, saying, ‘You get a salary from the state, you make your children terrorists with your salary’. When I went to the hospital, I realised that they murdered my child. In Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic I said, ‘The state killed my child'”.
For 40 days she waited to receive her son’s body, while also waiting for her husband, who had disappeared. After 40 days, her husband returned and they arranged the funeral of their son.
‘I learned a lot from my children’
Sultan’s other son Nihat was also a student at Trakya University. In 1996, one year after Serdar’s death, he was detained and sent to prison for 15 years. One year after Nihat’s arrest, Sultan’s daughter Sibel, who joined the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), died as a result of being reported.
”There was no need for anyone to tell me anything. After experiencing and seeing these things, I continued my struggle for all of Kurdistan. I learned a lot from my children, I learned this life from my children”, she said.
“I did not compromise against injustice. I was arrested, I was detained many times. I was detained after every prison visit. I was released after being held for five hours. I will not give up this struggle until women are liberated and the society is liberated. On this basis, we opened an association, which was my dream. NUKAYDER was the name. We were having conversations, and when the Kurdish channel was broadcast we bought a television. We opened courses for knitting and painting. There was a need for such a thing because public education was also closed. Teachers of public education were always women and were unemployed. We kept a five-room apartment and we bought three knitting machines from Istanbul. We ensured that women and children in Nusaybin attended the course. There was a woman who had a police husband at the time. She wanted to come but was afraid. Because she knew me. Then she was with us for eight months. She was like one of us”.
Her life in Belgium: ‘I hold on to my struggle’
Sultan is now living in Brussels, Belgium. Due to her prison sentence, she had to go to Europe in 2010-2011.
”There are many peoples in the area where I live. There are lots of Arabs here. I am an Arab, too. I do not have any difficulties. I go to the market alone, I do my work alone. The only problem is legal proceedings because I do not know the language of the country”, she said, “But we never left each other with the women and as mothers we struggle together. Even though there is a struggle going on here, if you cannot stand up for yourself you will be lost in this system. It is necessary to create women’s solidarity”.
Has she ever thought of giving up on struggle? “How can I give up?” replied Sultan. ”I hold on to my struggle even more after what I have been through. If our leader has been resisting under severe isolation for more than 22 years, if the guerrilla is resisting in harsh conditions, why not me? Here, too, there was an attack against me. A few years ago I was stabbed in front of the consulate by fascists. When I was taken to the hospital, I showed that I would not be afraid and made a sign of victory”.
She concluded, “I am a living witness of what the state is doing. My son Serdar, who was martyred, is an example of this. No need to fear! We must join together with women. There is no other way. Hunger strikes have been going on for over 90 days. We must give voice on 8 March to the spirit of resistance in all of Kurdistan and Turkey”.