As 8 March ‘International Women’s Day’ approaches, Jin News published an interview with Gülsüm Elvan, a mother who has been targeted by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself for demanding justice for her son, Berkin Elvan, who was hit in the head by a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer in Istanbul during the June 2013 anti-government protests in Turkey.
“We needed bread for breakfast. I was going to buy it but”, Gülsüm Elvan recalled, her son said to her: “Where are you going? You are disabled: I will go and buy it”. Half an hour had passed, yet Gülsüm Elvan noted: “He didn’t show up. Then I heard screams from the street saying; ‘Berkin’s head is split’. I did not believe them: it was early morning and there was no protest march outside, so why would they do that?”.
Her son Berkin Elvan fell into a coma and died after 269 days on 11 March 2014. Since then, Gülsüm has not stopped demanding justice for her son. Although her request and appeal for a fair trial has never been met, she is dedicated to continuing to fight for one.
Her family was threatened and even offered money to stop speaking loudly about their son. But they never accepted any money, neither have they bowed to the threats they have received.
“We are very beautiful terrorists”, she says in response to being targeted by President Erdoğan.
Gülsüm comes from a region whose history is filled with massacres, oppression and persecution. She comes from Dersim in Turkey. Born in 1972 in Çöğürlük village, Ovacık district, she could receive education only till the fifth grade since her family was poor. The first time she faced state violence was when she was very young.
“My father was both a mukhtar and an imam in the village. Behzat Fırik was a person from our village who was tortured to death by the state. My father agreed to wash his body as an imam”, she noted. As her father led the ceremony for Behzat Fırik’s funeral in this context, he was detained for three days.
“He was even tortured for doing his duty as an imam”, she said. Later, her family had to leave their village due to the forced evacuations of Kurdish settlements that took place in a widespread context in the region in Turkey during the 1990’s.
From Roboski to Gezi…
“I could not speak my mother language and I was feeling like I was living in a foreign country”, she noted, after she moved to Istanbul in 1996. Gülsüm worked hard for several years to make a living. As the mother of three children, she even worked taking two jobs at once to make ends meet. Life was difficult for the Elvan family and when Gülsüm heard about the Roboski state-directed massacre, where 34 villagers were killed by a Turkish Air Force strike in 2011, she decided that she could no longer remain silent.
“They were poor villagers and crossing the border just to earn some money. The moment that I saw these children who died, something deeply changed in me. I joined in the protests”. Later, she became more politicized. She attended the Gezi Protests in 2012. “It was not only a rebellion for two or three trees in the park. It was a rebellion against poverty, injustice, and everything”, she says.
Today, you can see her at several protests in Turkey. As a mother and a political activist, what she really wants is to do is look into the eyes of the policeman who fired the canister that killed her son. “If he is innocent, then he should come to the court and face me but he does not. He is afraid. Although it is hard to believe, I know we will win one day, we will continue to fight until that day in court”.