Remziye Temel, one of the 16 Kurdish journalists and media workers arrested in June over their journalistic activities, continues to work from her prison ward in Diyarbakır (Amed), telling the story of a 63 year old Kurdish mother for the news website Bianet.
Şefika Kandar first faced terrorism charges in 2016, and is currently held in the same ward as Temel.
This is a version of Temel’s account of the story of the Kurdish Peace Mother, Şefika Kandar.
Mother Şefika is a woman who is always smiling, and a source of strength for all the women in her ward in Diyarbakır (Amed). She reads the Quran and prays every day, and listens to other prisoners tell her stories in Kurdish. She is a resilient woman, and is determined to continue advocating for peace.
Şefika Kandar (63) is one of hundreds of Peace Mothers, a group of women aiming to promote peace between Turkish and Kurdish peoples through non-violent means. She was taken into custody in the southeastern Şanlıurfa (Riha) province in December 2016 and charged with terrorism.
The charges did not come immediately. In her first 22 days in custody at the border province’s anti-terror unit, Kandar was remanded in prison. At the time of her transfer, she still didn’t know why. “I couldn’t find out for the whole 22 days,” she told Temel.
After a year in a prison in Şanlıurfa, she was released. The verdict came four years later, and she was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison.
“I thought I couldn’t go to prison at this age, and decided to leave the country,” Kandar said.
The 63 year old was arrested by Greek patrols as she attempted to cross the border with her son in June 2021. “They took everything we had on us,” she said. “They stripped us down to our underwear … I will not forget this cruelty to the day I die.”
Greek officials handed the mother and son over to Turkey, where they were arrested. Kandar was sent to a prison in the westernmost Edirne province. She stayed there for 44 days, during which time she was denied her medication. In the prison she was transferred to the nearby Gebze district, Kandar was placed in solitary confinement for another 22 days in the name of quarantine at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kandar’s family lived in Şanlıurfa, more than 1,500 km from Edirne, and could not visit. Her petition to be transferred to a closer prison was approved a full year later. She had to pay for the transfer herself, spending 7,000 liras ($400).
Kandar has been imprisoned for over two years and will remain behind bars for another three. “Thousands are unjustly imprisoned just like me,” she said. “My only crime is being a Peace Mother.”
The Peace Mothers Initiative, founded in 1999, consists of Kurdish women many of whom have lost their close relatives to war during the 40 years of conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The women are regularly targeted by the security forces and judiciary, with many facing prosecution as well as mistreatment in custody.
A delegation of five Peace Mothers were subjected to sexual abuse and other forms of torture and mistreatment in army custody after travelling to northern Iraq to mediate in a civil conflict in 2000, according to an Amnesty International report.
In 2006, two Peace Mothers including founder Müyesser Güneş were sentenced to a year in prison for praising a criminal and another 24 were sentenced to a year in prison for terrorist propaganda.
Three Peace Mothers were arrested in Izmir in 2019, and faced charges for terrorist propaganda.
Another 11 members of the initiative are currently facing terrorism charges over their support for their relatives and Kurdish MP Leyla Güven during a prison hunger strike in 2019.