This is the story of Sema Yüce, who set her body on fire during ‘Newroz’ (a celebration of the arrival of spring which has been a significant day in the Kurdish cultural and political calendar) in 1998 in a protest action. “I want to be the bridge with my body from the 8 March to the 21 March”, Sema Yüce said on 21 March 1998.
’21 March’ has been a significant day – for Kurdish, Persian, Afghan and many other peoples of the Middle East – that celebrates the arrival of the spring and commemorates Kawa, the blacksmith, who is an historical symbol of the freedom struggle due to his successful rebellion against the tyrant Dehaq.
The names Kawa and Dehaq have been representing the ‘oppressed’ and the ‘oppressors’ for the Kurdish people for generations, ever since Kawa liberated his people from the tyranny of Dehaq.
Sema Yüce, therefore, is seen as one of the “modern Kawas” due to her protest action for freedom. Born in a village in Turkey’s eastern province of Ağrı (Agiri) in 1969, Sema Yüce studied sociology at Middle East Technical University, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Turkey. Yüce was highly engaged in the freedom struggle during her college studies.
Her friends witnessed how Zekiye Alkan, who committed a ‘self-sacrifice action’ for Newroz, had a huge impact on Yüce. In April 1991, Sema Yüce become an active freedom fighter. In one of her speeches she said: “The freedom doctrine formulated and inspired by the leader Abdullah Öcalan has become a source of strength for me. When I evaluate myself, I see that all conflicts between Kurdish society and Kurdish sovereign classes have reached the maximum level that they could reach. This is a level that goes beyond myself”.
Sema Yüce had been tortured for 18 days in a police station after she was captured in Ağrı and before she was sent to prison. She refused to become an informant during the time she was tortured and imprisoned. On Newroz in 1998, she set herself on fire in protest when she was a political prisoner in Çanakkale Prison in Turkey. She lost her life on 17 June 1998 in the hospital where she was being treated.