Interview: Sabiha Temizkan on Leyla Guven

by The Region    


Ahmet Tulgar interviewed Sabiha Temizkan on December 10th, 2018. This is an English translation of the interview, originally published by Yeni Yasam newspaper.

Kurdish member of parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party and co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress Leyla Güven has been on hunger strike in prison for over a month. A hunger strike is also a difficult process for the relatives of the strikers. Journalist Sabiha Temizkan, daughter of Leyla Güven, regularly visits her mother in prison. I asked Ms. Temizkan how they have been spending this process as mother and daughter, and we spoke about Leyla Güven’s life outside of her political identity. Sabiha Temizkan presented me a portrait of a devoted mother and a super grandmother, a folk heroine and a politician.

Leyla Güven is not only a politician but also a folk heroine. The injustice she suffered and her resistance in prison increased the love for her. You are following her resistance as her daughter and a journalist. Can you tell us how your visits are going?

What a beautiful expression, ‘the folk heroine’. My mother has always been my heroine, but she has never been just my heroine. She has a big heart and wants to touch everyone around her. I see this on my visits. The relatives of the other detainees want to hug and talk to my mother; therefore, there is not much time left for me. Although we have a lot to talk about, we both do not complain about this situation. Because I got used to being ‘the daughter of Leyla Güven’, she got used to being ‘not only my mom’. The first visit after she went on a hunger strike was just like I said. However, on my last visit, I had to meet my mom in a different section, since it was the 26th day of the hunger strike and we had to meet in a hygienic environment. She was trying to look strong. I know she has a will that is like steel. She tried to explain that she was physically good throughout the whole meeting, so that I wouldn't feel sorry. She sends me news every time she talks with her lawyers, saying, "I'm fine." Motherhood is something like that.


What's it like to be the daughter of a struggling mother? How did Leyla carry on both of her identities?  The combination of motherhood and resistance is possible to what extent? What is your observation?

Actually, it's hard... I was in secondary school when my mother started this struggle. From that day on, I learned that I shouldn't approach her only as a daughter. My mom and I were always like friends, but being the daughter of a struggling woman requires different responsibilities. My mother was a politician, and everyone was expecting me to act as her daughter. From my dress up to my lifestyle, I am constantly being evaluated in accordance with my mom. The good part is that everyone who loves my mom loves me sincerely, and I’m not feeling alone. She's always been a great mom, but because of her struggle, she was occasionally away from her children. We have already learned that motherhood doesn't just mean cooking at home, dressing up kids, and sending them to school. She taught us to stand on our feet at early ages. Therefore, it was not so difficult for us to be the children of such a woman who brings struggle and motherhood together. Of course, I tease my mom by saying: I wish you were like the other mothers, making us dinner, flipping the slippers when you are angry. However, there are moments during this resistance when motherhood became more prominent. Because she laid her life so that the people could live in peace, but she doesnot want her family to be upset. I can feel the storms inside her.


When Ishak (Karakas) saw a photo of you with your mother on social media, he said "such a happiness." How do you cope with the longing?

When I embrace my mother, I feel that all my problems are over and I am filled with an incredible tranquillity. In all our photos with my mom, my eyes shine distinctively. Being one of the people who feels her love most closely, being her daughter is a great feeling. When it comes to longing… My mother has been in this struggle for as long as I can remember, and we have always lived in different cities. We never looked for each other like every other mother and daughter. We would miss each other, but we were used to living with it. When we come side by side, I pester her with my kisses all the time. Even though I'm a grown woman, when I go to my mom, I always sleep by her side. Now it is very difficult for me to be on the phone only once a week and not be by her side when I want, especially when she's on a hunger strike. Can she sleep? Is she OK? You cannot even hug your mother in such a moment. What can I say?

Politics is an integral part of Leyla Güven’s identity, but I would also like you to tell us about Leyla Güven when she is not doing politics.

My mother is the youngest daughter of a family with seven children. She was married to a relative when she was 16. She is the mother of two children, and also a grandmother. She was in her 30s when she got divorced. She was a woman who had only primary school education and she had never worked in her life, but nevertheless, she did not accept the submissive femininity role that was imposed on her. She found a job, and she worked. She endeavoured to raise us in the best possible way. I think it would not be wrong to say that her life was also a resistance before she got involved in politics. She always struggled to be involved in the society as a woman. But if you want to see Leyla Güven outside of her political identity, I think you should see her with grandchildren. At that time, struggling woman Leyla becomes a super grandmother.


The hunger strike is a very destructive process for the relatives of the striker. How do you and your relatives feel in this process?

It is really hard. Although I respect my mother's actions, I sometimes can't stop saying, 'why did she do this?' Maybe it's selfish, but sometimes I think, ‘why it is always my mother?’ The whole family is worried. We're trying to do everything in our power to get through this process without being hurt. We struggle to protect our hope. I'm in one of the most desperate moments I've ever had. When my mother explained her decision to go on hunger strike, she said: ‘I apologize to the Peace Mothers and our people for not bringing peace.’ As a Kurdish woman, she emphasized that she was influenced by the woman's perspective introduced by Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of PKK, and that he was an important actor for peace. In other words, we are witnessing an action that is initiated for social peace. For all possible adverse outcomes in this process, the responsibility belongs to the AKP government, which kept my mom in prison without justice, because she is a deputy and has not been released despite the fact that she has parliamentary immunity. There could have been other kinds of actions that she could have done to demand peace, but she stated that her options in the prison are very limited, and that hunger strike is a form of resistance in prison. This means the authorities have left no other way for my mother, and they are responsible for this action.

As a journalist, do you think the mainstream media and alternative media relevant to the subject are sufficient? Of course I ask separately?

I follow the media closely, but my mother could not find a place yet in the mainstream media. An elected member of parliament has been on hunger strike in prison for more than a month, and the mainstream media is blind, deaf, mute. I'm not surprised— a contrary attitude would surprised me. The presence of alternative media gives us an idea about press freedom in Turkey. Alternative media is interested in my mother's condition. They're interviewing me and my mom. My mom's messages are constantly taking place in alternative media. But, look at the atmosphere. The government hasn't said a single word yet. The political parties other than HDP haven't made any statements. Seeing that, I think that it is necessary to apply to the opinions of different groups about this hunger strike.


Are you still hopeful for this country, as a young woman who experienced so much social injustice? How do you protect your hope and smile?

Hope... It sounds like a dream sometimes, but this word is now the only shelter for me. Hope is the only motivation for standing up nowadays. After a very bad period, good things were happening in this country. There were moments when we unexpectedly came closer to peace. Although they try to steal our hope, we have to keep our hope alive.

How do you assess Turkey's media environment as a woman journalist?

I am trying to do journalism as a Kurdish woman. If you are a Kurd and if you are a woman, you are always prevented from expressing yourself fully. You learn how to fight against it. Now, doing journalism has become a form of struggle. Journalism is considered to be a criminal action by the government, and our colleagues are always in the corridors of the courthouses or in prisons. Our colleagues in mainstream media are complaining about not being able to make journalism in newspapers and TV stations, broadcasting like the government bulletin. They're also unhappy. Most importantly, the sexist language in the media is very disturbing. When I read some news, I think that I'm in a ‘male conversation’. Fortunately, there are still some qualified media platforms and journalists.

I guess your mother is following the media in prison. Do you have any news suggestions from her? Is your mother a good news source?

My mother used to spend most of her day following the news. She watched news programs almost every hour, when she was free. She might be disturbing her friends about this matter in prison now. She sometimes makes suggestions for the news, but she is tight-lipped when it comes to sharing news from ‘inside’. You could never learn from her what was being spoken behind the back doors of the parliament.

What would you do with your mother if she got out of prison today?

I would steal her from everyone and I would sleep by her side at night.

Do you want to tell her something?

My mother, my dear comrade… I believe that everything will be beautiful. You will gladden everybody’s heart in all your beauty again. I know we will see good days. We will be together on those beautiful days: side by side, hand in hand. I love you so much. I am so glad I have you!