The Dersim Massacre: The story of a Lost Girl.

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I wanted to write a post about something related to the Dersim massacre (1938). For those who are unfamiliar with Turkey, Dersim (once renamed Tunceli in the process of turkification, but recently renamed Dersim again), is an Alevi majority province in central eastern Turkey. As someone who’s family experienced living through the massacre, I have always been passionate about my heritage and roots…

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There are many things to discuss around this topic, however I am dedicating this blog post to Arshaluys Mardikian (1901)- A young Armenian girl from the town of Çemişgezek in Dersim.  This mainly being because I have only just found out about her. I have been researching Dersim since as long as I can remember, and I have just learnt about this wonderful and inspirational young girl. After the massacre of Armenians in modern day Turkey 1915 she witnessed the death of her family and was sold first as a slave in the Anatolian markets, then to a harem and shared amongst a number of Turkish pashas. She however refused to give up on her life, and fled to Erzurum. With the help of a group of Russian soldiers who had gained control over parts of Erzurum she escaped to Tiflis (modern Tbilisi, Georgia), then to St. Petersburg, from where she traveled to Oslo and finally, with the help of Near East Relief, to New York. Arshaluys wrote about the killing of the Armenians and Dersim people. The book was called Ravished Armenia and was also developed into a film. Arshaluys married and settled in America, but sadly suffered severe mental trauma in her late life due to what she had gone through. She died alone in 1994, and her story was forgotten…But definitely not by me.

Young Arshaluys dressed in traditional clothing.

Young Arshaluys dressed in traditional clothing.

A movie poster for 'Ravished Armenia'. Arshaluys had changed her name to Aurora.

A movie poster for ‘Ravished Armenia’. Arshaluys had changed her name to Aurora.

The Dersim massacre: Dersimite children held hostage. Behind them, Ataturk's Turkish army stand proudly.

The Dersim massacre: Dersimite children held hostage. Behind them, Ataturk’s Turkish army stand proudly.

Turkey: A History of Sexual Violence

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This is an article I wrote a while ago for The Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition. I was very proud that it was successful in being shortlisted for the competition as it’s an issue very close to my heart. I’m also glad that in some way the issue gained some public attention, even if only a little. Horrendous issues such as this go unheard of for too long in Turkey, and many other countries in the world. The article contains some graphic imagery. As Angelina Jolie has been urging more action to be carried out against sexual violence in war torn countries, I felt the need to post my article as it relates to the issue.

 

The rape and torture of Kurdish prisoners in Turkey are disturbingly commonplace.

“I was blindfolded, stripped naked, beaten…and they tried to put sticks up my anus. I fainted,” stated 37-year-old mother of three, Hamdiye Aslan.

Hamdiye Aslan’s alleged perpetrators were five police officers. According to a report from Amnesty International in 2003, she had been detained in Mardin Prison, south-east Turkey, for almost three months in which she was reportedly blindfolded, anally raped with a truncheon, threatened and mocked by officers.

Horrific and shocking as it may sound, activists state that Hamdiye’s case is one of many.

They say that such methods of abuse are regular practice in Turkish prisons, and have reportedly been used on many Kurdish and Alevi women to enforce fear and to humiliate. Hamdiye was told she was being arrested for sheltering the Kurdish rebel movement, the PKK; a charge she denied.

Reporting on cases of sexual abuse in Turkey is often difficult; the issue is still taboo in Turkish culture, as well as the fact that much of Turkish media don’t report on such cases as they tarnish the country’s modern and secular image. The result of this is that many injustices within Turkey, including systematic rapes carried out in prisons to maintain power over communities, go unheard by the rest of the world.

In the early hours of June 28, 1993, Şükran Esen, then aged 21, was accused of assisting the PKK by a group of gendarmes who had arrived at her house. She too denied the charges. A trial observation report by the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) states that, in an aggravated felony court in the province of Mardin, a prosecutor indicted 405 members of the Derik District Gendarmerie Command, 65 of whom were senior officers, for raping Şükran Esen.

The victim stated that on the three occasions that she was detained she was: raped vaginally by the gendarmes and their officer; given electric shocks; put inside a vehicle tyre and rolled over; subjected to high pressure jet sprays of cold water; and threatened with death. On one occasion, as a result of the sadistic sexual violence, she was finally taken to hospital whilst haemorrhaging. Esen was blindfolded throughout the ordeal and was never able to recognise her perpetrators. Although nine witnesses testified to the arrest of the victim by the gendarme, the accused not only denied committing the alleged offences, but failed to acknowledge that Şükran Esen had ever been detained. A medical report from the International Berlin Torture and Rehabilitation Centre, where Esen had undergone treatment, certified that her injuries were the result of torture.

Both the women’s cases offer examples as to why Turkey has been denied entry into the EU by the European Commission due to the country’s human rights issues. The Turkish State classifies the activities of many pro-Kurdish organisations as ‘terrorism’ because they’re viewed as damaging the state. As a result of this, there have been many cases of Kurdish women allegedly sexually abused while in custody on accusations of being associated with such organisations.

There have been reports of women and children raped with serrated objects, beaten, and forced into so-called ‘virginity tests’ by government officials.

In April this year, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hailed the withdrawal of PKK rebels from Turkey as the end of “a dark era” and stated: “Turkey is changing its ill fortune and is entering a new phase.” However as sexual violence against women, men and children by state agents remains both common and unmitigated, this promise of a change comes with a dark cloud of doubt looming over it. It’s poignant to question whether Turkey’s idea of fighting terrorism is being used, as it has previously around the world, to undermine human rights in more concealed ways.

The Turkish State doesn’t appear to openly accept its bloody history; the most recent incident being the Uludere massacre in 2011 where Turkish warplanes bombed teenage Kurds crossing into Turkey from Iraq. As time unravels, reports of rape during the systematic ethnic cleansing of Kurdish and Alevi people in the 1937 Dersim massacre have also come to light, though remain unpublicised.

Amnesty International’s 2003 campaign, ‘End Sexual Violence against Women in Custody’ highlighted the “state’s inability to implement its own new legal code and its failure to act with due diligence when complaints are made.” Furthermore, stating that there is “a general climate of impunity for those suspected of torture in Turkey.”

Recent years have revealed that children too are subject to sexual violence in Turkish prisons. In 2012, Turkish newspaper Dicle News reported on the alleged sexual abuse and torture inflicted on Kurdish children whilst imprisoned in Pozantı Juvenile Prison in southern Turkey. The children, all between the ages of 13-17, weren’t only sexually abused by prison officers, guards and soldiers, but denied medical attention and hung from basketball hoops until close to choking as a means of torture.

“Some of our friends were raped by the ordinary prisoners dozens of times. They sometimes tried to force our trousers down. Our experiences cannot be described,” claimed 15-year-old H.K.

With the use of social networking sites, the Pozantı case was exposed. The children were moved to another prison. Their crimes: throwing stones, or as some would point out, they were Kurdish children throwing stones. The Pozantı case is not an “isolated” case, as Turkey’s ruling right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) was quick to trumpet to its people. The same government was also very quick to detain the journalists first to report on the Pozantı children, on accusations of being linked to the KCK; a Kurdish organisation linked to the PKK.

Human rights abuses continue to be reported with a rise in complaints by Kurdish women who’ve found the courage to speak out. However, there remain many obstacles in the way of these women getting justice. Many women don’t have much faith in either the Turkish penal system or the police, and so don’t feel that fighting against the history of sexual violence carried out by those with power in patriarchal Turkey is a war which they can prevail.

This feature was written before May 12 2013 as part of the Guardian International Development Journalism competition.

 

Getting around in London – A Guide For International Students

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Pic by Jonna Michelle

Being a university student in London myself, I know my city very well (especially central and North London). However I’m also aware of the great influx of international students who come to study in London…and at times may feel a little arghh. It is quite a crazy but great place to be. I write freelance for the website Student World Online – a great site for all students, and here’a an article I wrote recently which may be of help to some. 

LONDON is one of the world’s most exciting and dynamic cities. From the bustling streets of central London to the trendy nightclubs in East London or the quieter suburbs in north London, there is much to be explored and many different ways of getting around.
 

The idea of travel in London may seem daunting to some newcomers at first. But with so many alternative ways of traveling –  the renowned London underground, the big red buses, Boris bikes, overground trains, slightly pricey black cabs and even the Emirates cable air line – you’re bound to find a favourite which will help to serve your traveling needs.

Read our handy guide to avoid the traffic gridlock without spending a fortune.

Student Oyster Card
This card is an absolute must for London students. It is one of the most important things you will carry at all times during your stay in the capital. The Oyster Card is a plastic card that you can use instead of cash or credit cards to pay for journeys by train, tube (underground train) and any bus run by Transport for London (TFL).

Although you can still use cash and credit or debit cards to buy paper tickets in London, the Oyster Card is much cheaper – more than half the price per journey in some cases.
And a Student Oyster Card will give you an even bigger discount. The 18+ Student Oyster Photocard will save you up to 30% against the price of adult rate Travelcards and bus and tram passes.

From summer 2014, cash will no longer be accepted on London buses. So it will be even more important to have an Oyster Card, unless you plan to buy a season or concessionary ticket in advance or use a contactless payment card

How to add credit to your Student Oyster Card
You can “top up” (add credit to) your 18+ Student Oyster card at all tube stations and National Rail stations in London by using the Oyster card machine. Most newsagents also top up Oyster Cards. You can add a 7 Day, monthly or annual season ticket to your card, or add money to pay as you go. However, the extra student discount does not apply to the pay-as-you-go method.

As an example, if you want to travel between Zones 1 and 3, a daily top-up will cost you £10.60 during peak times or £7.70 during off-peak times. A 7-day top-up will cost you £25.70, a monthly top-up £98.70, and an annual top-up £1,028.

You will be able to use your card on buses and trains as well as the London underground.
To apply you will need to visit www.tfl.gov.uk and pay a £10 fee. You must be a registered, full time student for at least 14 weeks in order to apply for a Transport for London 18+ Student Oyster Photocard.

 

The London Underground (the tube)
The tube is often the quickest route from one part of London to another. It can be confusing at first; however you will quickly find it is very simple, fast and usually reliable apart from occasional delays. 
The London Underground has 13 different ‘lines’ represented by different colours. All lines run from one part of the city to another and stop at different stations. At many stations you can switch from one line to another. Kings Cross St Pancras is the city’s biggest interchange station, serving six underground lines as well as two above-ground train stations.
If you get yourself a copy of the tube map you will find that the city is split up into nine different zones labelled 1-9. Ticket prices vary according to which zones you travel to and from and at what time of day. For example, a single journey in Zone 1 at peak times will cost £2.20 with an Oyster Card or £4.70 with cash.

 

Bus
Traveling by bus is quite simple and great for short-medium distance travel. It would be advised that if you are getting from one end of London to another, the bus may not be the best route, as although it may be cheeper in some cases, long bus journey’s can be frustrating and some buses can get very busy. As well as that the traffic in London can sometimes be quite bad.

There are many different bus routes in London and each bus is represented by a number such as the ‘41’. Sometimes buses consist of letters too such as the ‘C11’. The most popular form of pay again is the Oyster card. Every bus has an Oyster card scanner which you scan your card against when boarding the bus. Some buses allow you the option of paying with cash and the single fare bus ride is £2.40 for everyone without an Oyster Card. You can find details of which buses stop at which bus stops if you visit the Transport for London web page.

Bus drivers will no longer accept cash on London buses from summer 2014. Passengers will have to pay by Oyster Card,contactless payment card, pre-paid or concessionary ticket. 

 

Minicabs and Black cabs
You may find that if you’ve spent the night in town and it’s pretty late, not all buses and trains will be running. In this case some people may choose to take a cab or taxi. It will probably cost you a bit more then using public transport however in some cases it is a lot more convenient.

Before getting into a taxi, make sure you are certain that it is a genuine certified and registered vehicle you are getting into. Only licensed taxis (black cabs with an orange light displaying the word ‘TAXI’), can pick up passengers on the street. You can also find taxis at designated taxi ranks. If you’re using a minicab, make sure it has been booked through a licensed minicab firm. Minicab drivers who pick up customers without a booking (ie on the street or outside pubs and clubs), are acting illegally and dangerously, even if they have a licence disc displayed in their vehicle or have a private hire driver badge. 

You can also phone different minicab offices to get quotes on journeys and compare the prices to ensure you are being asked for the correct amount of money for your journey.
It is useful to download the free cab-booking mobile phone app ‘Cabwise’ by TFL. The app allows you to find a cab from a list of minicabs or black cabs suggested. Other useful phone apps include Dial-a-cab and Hailo.

 

Bike and Walking
Getting around London by bike or on foot are both great ways of getting to see more of the city. There are some things which wouldn’t offer the same experience if you were to only ever use public transport. Most of London’s streets have designated areas for bicycles ensuring safety.

One big phenomenon that arose after the election of London’s mayor Boris Johnson was the introduction of the ‘Boris’ bikes. They work as part of the Transport for London scheme and are available in central London and some boroughs. The bikes have proved very popular and many people use them to cycle to work and school, or even just to ride around London. Bike hire is just £2 for 24 hours and £10 for 7 days, which is great value for money.

 

Car
Few students in London have cars because of the high price of insurance, road tax, petrol and parking as well as the difficulty in finding a parking space in London. If you do intend to drive, be aware that there is a £10 daily charge for driving a vehicle within the Congestion Chargezone in the very centre of London between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday. 
Remember to drive on the left-hand side of the road. 

 

My Tips

  • Absolutely get yourself an 18+ Student Oyster Photocard!
  • Get familiar with your surroundings. Free tube, train and bus maps are available at underground stations as well as on the TFL website.
  • Always make sure you only use licensed minicabs or taxis (black cabs) for safety.
  • If traveling alone at night and using a bus, it may be wise to sit close to the bus driver.
  • Use the Journey Planner on the TFL website to plan your journeys the night before. It’s almost always very accurate and very useful.
  • Remember to drive / cycle on the left hand side of the road.

Read more of my articles @ Student World Online 

Let me introduce myself

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I thought it would obviously be a good idea to start of with a little introduction blog post…because well I’m kinda new to this whole blogging thing. So I thought why not give a few fun facts about myself…here we go!

– I’m a 21 year old girl from London. Born and bred.
– Of Turkish/Kurdish heritage.
– I’m a recent graduate with a 2:1 in English Literature and Creative writing at the University of Westminster…currently completing my MA in Cultural and Critical Studies.
– I’m a freelance writer at the moment PLUS a full time big sister.
– I was shortlisted for the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition 2013. (One of the youngest) –> http://bit.ly/1lFSjt6
– I sing…You can find me on Youtube. –> http://bit.ly/1p2oq8T
– I love art, food, fashion, politics (especially concerning women & human rights), travel and
quite a lot of things really.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to start blogging but for some reason never got round to doing it. However now I feel like it’s time. I don’t have a specific topic for my blog, partly because I have so many random and diverse interests, and soo I will be blogging about pretty much whatever sparks my interest, get’s me thinking, as well as lifestyle.