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Longing for end to 'dirty' war in Turkey

By Kadir Konuksever
BBC Turkish, Diyarbakir

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Sakine Arat has lost three sons in the armed struggle

Recently there has been talk of finding a solution to Turkey's long running war with the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, and negotiations are said to be going on behind the scenes to bring about peace. Promising signs for some - too late for others.

"We need to stop this dirty war. Don't let our children die anymore," Sakine Arat tells me. She, as much as anyone, knows the cost of this war.

The first time I saw Mrs Arat, a Kurdish woman in her 70s, was on a television programme.

"Is there any other pain more profound than the loss of one's child?" she lamented as I watched her describe how she had lost three sons during the 25-year conflict.

When I went to meet Mrs Arat, she told me about the devastating impact the struggle has had on her.

Family tragedy

Mrs Arat was born in the western city of Kutahya, and moved to Diyarbakir when she was 11. At the age of 18 her father arranged for her to marry a wealthy land owner.

Back then, when one lived by a strict social code, saying "no" to one's father was unimaginable. So she quietly accepted the marriage.

Mrs Arat's first-born survived only three months and her second child died when he was one and a half. But she went on having children.

She finally stopped when she had five boys and three girls. She devoted herself to them and to their future. And all that hard work began to pay dividends when her eldest son, Cemal, got a place at a university in Ankara.

Tragedy

But then disaster struck. Cemal was one of tens of thousands who were arrested during the 1980 military coup.

Cemal was sent back to Diyarbakir and thrown into a notorious prison, where the terrible conditions and poor management led him to go on a hunger strike, which cost him his life.

TURKISH KURDS
The PKK has fought for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey since 1984
It is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the US
An estimated 12 million Kurds are thought to live in Turkey

When the news of his death reached home, it was too much for his devoted sister Semra - she committed suicide, even though she had a child herself.

By now, Mrs Arat had lost four children. Heartbroken, she still plodded on for the sake of the remaining six.

Then in 1982 another son, Tacettin, was arrested on charges of being a PKK member. Like his brother, Tacettin, was sent to prison. But he survived and was released after two years.

He then went up in the mountains to join the PKK guerrilla campaign for independence which was launched in 1984.

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PKK fighters carrying out training at a camp

Tacettin's younger brother Murat also followed suit and joined the PKK. Neither of them returned, and to this day Sakine still does not know exactly what fate befell her two sons.

Compounding her misery, her youngest son Servet was killed in a road accident.

Devastated by the deaths of seven of her children Mrs Arat became a virtual recluse, and it took years for her to re-enter society.

So what was it that gave her a new lease of life?

"It was the Diyarbakir Mothers for Peace Initiative," she replies, referring to a group set up by women who, like her, have lost their children in the conflict.

No more deaths

Since its inception in 1999, the group known as the "Peace Mothers" have regularly been in the news. Their aim is to end the violence and promote peace between Turkey's different ethnic groups.

Mrs Arat refuses to give up up on her mission.

"I am a Kurdish mother, and my heart breaks whenever I hear the death of a soldier. They are our sons," she says.

"I have been calling for peace for years. The pain of the mothers who lost their children is the same, whether their son is from the PKK or the army."

She remembers her son Cemal's words before he left for Ankara to study. "I will come back when mulberries have turned black" he said, looking at the mulberry tree in the courtyard.

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Turkish soldiers on patrol in the mainly Kurdish region of Sirnak

She waited for her son's return. The mulberries darkened, then ripened, and eventually fell crushing against the hard basalt stones of her courtyard. Not only did Cemal not return, but several of his siblings have not either.

Now there is talk of a road map to peace and new initiatives. And just a few weeks ago the leader of the PKK said he was abandoning the decades-old quest for an independent Kurdish state. The prime minister, too, has hinted that a solution to the conflict may not be far off.

For many, like Sakine Arat, that would be welcome, if much too late.



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