Not only in Iranian Kurdistan, Kurds from Turkey are also openly protesting and speaking about the fate of their children.
With the sit-in protest led by families against the PKK in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır about to put its third year behind it, the abducted children’s stories reveal the reality of the group’s recruitment of child soldiers.
The protest started after Hacire Akar turned up outside the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) Diyarbakır office demanding that she be reunited with her son. Akar’s son later returned home on Aug. 24, 2019 – giving hope to many other families. Since the families’ sit-in protests began on Sept. 3, 2019, the movement quickly spread from Diyarbakır to Van, Muş, Şırnak, Hakkari, Izmir and even Berlin. It has been 1,064 days since then and 303 families have joined in the sit-in protest so far, with 37 mothers reunited with their children.
For many years, child soldiers have been forcibly recruited by the PKK. The PKK prefers recruiting young children, as they are more easily indoctrinated and have the potential to serve longer. A recent report of the United Nations on children in armed conflict states that the PKK recruited 221 child soldiers in Syria in 2021. The report does not emphasize on numbers of children recruited in Iran, nor Turkey.
In addition, the U.N. report “Children and Armed Conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic,” released May 18, claims that 417 children were used by the PKK’s Syrian branch, the YPG, between July 2018 and June 2020. Furthermore, there are many more undetected child soldiers who are not included in international reports.
As explained in an analysis piece based on field research published by Anadolu Agency (AA), the stories of kidnapped children help people better understand the mothers of Diyarbakır and the true nature of the PKK’s child recruitment practices.
The first of three narratives that help reveal this reality is that of Rojhat Çifçi. Rojhat was kidnapped six years ago in Hakkari when he was 15. He contacted his family twice in these long years, and was caught by PKK militants while trying to escape the camp. Later, the PKK pulled Rojhat’s nails out to discourage him from attempting to run away again. Meanwhile, Rojhat’s mother and brother were searching for him in the PKK camps, including in the Qandil Mountains. During one of these visits, Rojhat’s brother got into an argument with PKK militants when they would not give Rojhat back to his family or let them see him. Shortly after Rojhat’s family returned home, the militants raided their village at midnight and killed Rojhat’s older brother in the family’s barn.
Hamza Adıyaman was only 9 years old when he was kidnapped by the PKK. No one would believe that a 9-year-old boy joined a terrorist organization willingly. Hamza lived in the village of Kırıkdağ in Hakkari and was kidnapped in front of his school. When his family realized that their child was missing, they went to the school searching for him and saw a black car that they believe Hamza was in. Later, the PKK and HDP told the family that Hamza “died by falling into the Zap River,” however, his parents believe this was a lie.
They sought help from the HDP twice and were told “the child is not here nor is he in the PKK.” However, the family saw a photograph of Hamza donning PKK clothes and holding a gun in the PKK’s camp. Hamza’s family did not lose hope and visited the PKK camps in Iraq 20 times to get Hamza back. During one of these visits, Hamza’s father saw his son in a car in the Khakurke area, and called out to him but Hamza could not answer. The PKK immediately moved the car from there. Hamza’s father said that “there were eight others in that vehicle, they all looked like children.”
Finally, there is Eyüp Baran. He was introduced to the PKK when he was 9 years old. On Feb. 14, 2011, the PKK and its sympathizers asked the children in his village not to go to school and to join the protests on the anniversary of the capture of Abdullah Öcalan – the jailed PKK terrorist head. However, Eyüp’s father sent him to school anyway, going against the terrorist organization’s wishes. On the same day, PKK militants gave Eyüp a bomb to detonate and he lost his left hand. After a long period of treatment, Eyüp disappeared while playing a game in the courtyard of his house and his family never heard from him again.
Eyüp’s father was asked in the interview why the PKK would kidnap a child who could not hold a gun since he lost his hand and what use the group could have for him, writes researcher Abdullah Erboğa.
The father’s answer was very clear: “They definitely kidnapped him to use him as a suicide bomber.”
The return of children after seeing their mothers’ calls in the media has served as motivation for other families. The mothers of Diyarbakır strongly believe that one day all the children captured by the PKK will be freed.