For two and a half months, Kurdish mothers have relentlessly been demanding the PKK terrorist group to return their children back to them. In a sit-in protest in front of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) headquarters in southeastern Diyarbakır province, the mothers and many families who have joined them with similar hopes continue to hail support from all segments of society.
Many of the province's most highly esteemed female teachers decided to openly show their support and so they all decided to gather over the weekend and pay the grieving mothers a visit.
On Saturday, 50 female teachers employed throughout Diyarbakır, who wished to share the sorrow of the families, paid a surprise visit. They sat side by side with the mothers, who have been staging a sit-in protest against the terrorist group for more than 75 days now.
One of the teachers, Şirine Eronat, said that it hurt to watch mothers on TV and thus they felt the necessity to pay a visit to show that they are with them.
"Children who have been abducted by the terrorist group had to go away from their families while they were supposed to go to schools and work to have a job," Eronat said, adding that they will be happy when the all of the protesting mothers receive good news and are happy.
Another teacher, Berrin Aksoy, said that all the mothers have different stories, and each has a unique tale of tragedy.
"I am a mother as well. As a mother, being separated from your children, longing for your children is really hard. I share the sorrow of all of them in my heart," Aksoy expressed.
Initially, a lone mother Hacire Akar started the protest in front of the offices of the HDP provincial organization in Diyarbakır in September. Akar wanted her 21-year-old son Mehmet Akar, who had been missing for three days after he was abducted by the PKK terrorist group, to be returned to her. Following her sit-in, and with the help of security forces in Diyarbakır, Akar was finally reunited with her son.
Fatma Bingöl, a mother who is participating in the protest in hopes of one day getting back her son Tuncay who was kidnapped when he was only 14 years old some five years ago, said that she was touched by the teachers' visit.
"My child was supposed to be in the school but instead, he is in the mountains, holding a weapon. I never wanted my child to hold weapons. I wished for my child to go to school, become a teacher, a police officer, I wanted him to have a regular job. But they did not let him be," she said, emphasizing that all of their dreams have been broken by the PKK.
Currently, the protests are continuing and growing with the participation of 56 families.
"I have been in here for 76 days and will not leave without getting back my child," said Süheyla Demir, whose daughter Hayal was abducted in high school back in 2014. She also called on all the mothers in the country to show support for their cause.
Interior Ministry urges surrender
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry launched a new initiative to urge abducted children to surrender to security forces. Families are involved in the process, informing security forces about their children while calling on the children to surrender. The initiative also ensures the children that as long as they do not commit any crimes in Turkey, they will not be charged and will be able to continue their lives once they testify. According to the news of the Doğan News Agency (DHA), so far 214 children have been saved from the PKK with this new initiative.
One of the fathers who desperately wants to reunite with his child said his son was tricked into joining the PKK when he was only 15, causing unbearable pain and suffering for the family for years.
"He got lost when he was 15. I've informed security forces immediately. But for six or seven years, we have not been able to reach him. He has not gotten in touch with anyone," the father said, adding that some of his friends were a bad influence.
Explaining that as a Kurd he has never been wronged by the state, he said that the real harm is caused by the PKK terrorist group which kidnaps children and forces workshops to shut down.
"My son was regretting that he got involved with the terrorist group. He wanted to come back but couldn't. They did not let him," he said with sorrow and anger.
The families spoke to the reporters anonymously for security reasons.
Another father talked about how his son became a member of the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG). He said that his son was kidnapped when he was only 15 years old. The father said that because he himself was sick, the father said that the terrorist group benefited from their vulnerabilities and tricked the son to join them. Underlining that his son got in touch with him in the aftermath, the father said that he could not speak freely because he believed the telephone lines were being listened to by the terrorist group.
"If I had enough financial resources, I would go Syria myself and convince my son to come back," he said.
Former PKK member regrets past
While some families' processes of getting back their children still continue, others are already enjoying the return of their children thanks to this new government initiative.
"I did not listen to my family. I've lost my childhood, my youth as a result," said a former PKK member who was duped into joining the terrorist group at the tender age of just 14 years old.
Expressing regret for his past, he said, "I was resentful toward my family. We were supposed to go to Istanbul with my friends in 2015. But the PKK was very active at the time and my friends tricked me into giving up on going to Istanbul and instead we joined the terrorist group. We joined the terrorist group in Lice," he said.
Adding that the terrorist group claimed that it was fighting for the rights of the Kurds, the surrendered member said that he realized that was in fact not the case soon after he got in.
"It is easy to trick a child with a few good words. Your friends affect who you become in the end," he said. He further stated that they received training on weapons, bombs and rocket launchers for three months and then divided into camps. Soon thereafter, he said he was brought to Iraq when he was only 15 to fight for the terrorist group.
Weary eyed, he also said that some of the people he knew at the camp who got caught trying to escape from the terrorist group were killed before his very eyes. "There was pressure. Once they ordered something, you have to do it, you don't have any other chance. You can't avoid it, even if you really do have a valid excuse," he said.
The surrendered terrorist also recalled that the terrorist group did not let them get in touch with their families so they remain emotionally numb.
"Sometimes, when I was on top of the mountain, I saw the lights coming from nearby villages. I would miss my family. Eventually, I decided to return. If I died there, I knew they would not even care. They would forget about me in a couple of days," he said, adding that he made up his mind that he would rather die trying to make it back to his family rather than for the PKK.
The PKK and YPG's use of child soldiers in its ranks has repeatedly been documented and criticized by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The groups reportedly trick families into giving up their children or kidnap them and take them to training camps, where they are denied contact with their families.