Şemsixan Ertunç has spent the last twelve years of her life travelling in between prisons in different cities of Turkey to visit her 5 jailed sons.
She has been living in Turkey’s eastern province of Hakkari (Colemerg) with her husband Ahmet and their five children Fırat, Murat, Recep, Ali and Ferhat.
But as one by one, all her children were sent behind walls, the life of Ertunç family began to drastically change.
“They first took Fırat from me, they gave him five years in prison. He was then released, but arrested again due to the self-governance resistances and he was given 16 years in prison,” Ertunç told Yeni Özgür Politika. “Two months after Fırat was arrested, my other son Murat was sentenced to 21 years in prison and when were visiting him in prison in Muş, my other son Recep was detained.”
“A prosecutor took his testimony and sent him to jail, before he was able to defend himself in court. Recep was given six and a half years, and to eight and a half years in prison in addition due to an ‘anonymous’ witness statement,”
Fırat and Murat have been in prison for ten years, Recep has now been in prison for eight years. During these years, Ertunç’s other son Ali was arrested based on ‘anonymous’ witness statements against him on charges of terrorism.
Her youngest son Ferhat was sent to prison when he was only 13 years old. “He was sent to Sincan F-Type Prison [in Ankara]. We were never able to see him. He was tortured and the torture was revealed on the media. He was given thirteen years in prison,” she said.
Having been sentenced to in total of 80 years in prison, the five brothers are being held in three different prisons in Diyarbakır (Amed), Van (Wan) and Tekirdağ (the most northwestern part of Turkey).
Ertunç summarises her situation with the following words: “I have five children and all five are in prison. I have been travelling on the roads to these prisons for twelve years now,” she said.
“I feel imprisoned like my children, life has turned to a prison for me as well. Therefore I resist, just like they resist in the prisons.”
Three of her sons are now on hunger strike, which was launched as a rotating indefinite hunger strike by Kurdish political prisoners on 27 November 2020.
All of her five children participated in the previous hunger strike action, initiated on November 2019 by Leyla Güven, co-chair of Democratic Society Congress and was then joined by hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners.
Ali and Ferhat suffer from irreversible heath problems due to the first hunger strike, which was a non-rotating indefinite action.
“As they launch hunger strike, I refuse to eat myself. How can I eat when my children are hungry? As they are transferred to another prison in another city, I am also exiled to that city. Wherever they are, I follow my children,” Ertunç said.
Ertunç feels more lonely after she lost her husband Ahmet in 2020 due to a heart attack. “At least, I had a comrade outside, we have been resisting with my husband for the last twelve years, we were supporting each other, but the heart of my husband could no longer take all this pain,” Ertunç said.
When Ahmet Ertunç lost his life, none of his five children were given official permission to bid a last farewell to their father. “We had to bury my husband without my children. My children could not see their father for a last time,” Ertunç said.
The family have only one photograph, where the father and all his five sons are in the frame and that photograph was also taken in prison.
“The state owes me five children,” said mother Ertunç. “They have stolen my life from me, they have taken my children and my husband, I have been left all alone, but I do not give up on my children’s cause.”
“It is not only my children, all the Kurds are in prisons. I have learned what this state is in the prisons. I have not studied, I do not know how to write or read, but I do know what the Kurds have been suffering, I know the state. Each time I visited the prison, I have learned something new. Every second of the last 12 years of my life, I have been learning something new.”
After everything, Ertunç has been actively resisting to be a support to her children, who were all jailed due to political grounds for more than a decade.
Just like tens of thousands of Kurdish mothers, she has been giving a meaning to the Kurdish saying, “Berxwedan jiyane” (“Resistance is life”).
“I don’t know how long I would be able to resist, but I know that I will continue to resist for my children as much as I can,” she said. “I want justice not just for my children, but all those held in prisons. The Kurds should unite and stand up against this all together.”