By Rabia Iclal Turan
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AA) - Their eyes in tears and hearts full of hope, dozens of Kurdish families have been staging a sit-in protest in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir, demanding the return of their children, who, they claim, were forcibly joined the PKK/YPG.
On Aug. 22, a Kurdish mother Hacire Akar staged a protest near Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) office in Diyarbakir, claiming that her 21-year-old son was taken to the mountains by PKK after being brainwashed by the party members.
Her son returned home four days later giving hope to a number of mothers who suffer the same circumstances.
On Sept. 3, another mother, Fevziye Cetinkaya, started a protest saying that her son was forcibly recruited by the PKK, immediately joined by other mothers. Since then, the number of families in front of the building is growing.
The families, who come from different provinces, say their children either kidnapped or deceived before going to the nearby mountains to join the terror group PKK.
"We just want our children back," says Suleyman Aydin, 39, who was a taxi driver in Diyarbakir, before getting fired from his job, just because he attended the protest, he claims.
Like other families, Aydin is looking for his son Ozkan Aydin, 19, who disappeared four years ago.
"My son was 15 years old. He was a 6th grade student. He would work at a barber shop after school," he said.
He believed his son was deceived, and said: "My son's dream was to become a police or a soldier".
When asked about why he was sitting in front of the HDP's office, he said: "There are records showing my son entering this building. Where else should I go?"
In testimony to law enforcement, four confessed terrorists gave vivid details of links between the terrorist PKK and HDP, a party long accused by Turkish authorities of having links to terrorism, according to security sources on Sept. 29.
- Seeing daughter in PKK-affiliated channel
Turkan Mutlu, 43, mother of Ceylan Tekin, came all the way from Turkey's northwestern province of Bursa, in the hope of finding her daughter.
Her daughter Ceylan, 24, disappeared seven years ago when she was just 17, preparing to study sociology at Turkey's Balikesir University.
"We had dreams. They destroyed our dreams," Turkan said.
Less than a year Ceylan went missing, she saw her daughter at a PKK-affiliated broadcast channel. "She was in Kobane, northern Syria," Turkan added.
Turkan believes a friend of Ceylan threatened her to go to the mountains. "She was brainwashed. They first take their brains, then their bodies," she said.
Fatma Akkus, 49, has been searching for her daughter for five years. "My daughter Songul was just 14 when she went missing. She was a calm and modest girl, working at textile sector," she said with tears in her eyes.
Fatma said that she was holding Songul's last photograph, which was taken for her open education registration. "She wanted to be a health care worker, to take care of me and her father," she added.
"She just left a note, saying, 'I'm going to freedom,' but her twin is sure that the handwriting doesn't belong to Songul," Fatma added.
- The PKK/YPG, child soldiers
The PKK terror group has long been documented and criticized by national and international organizations for recruiting children aged 11-16.
Yilmaz Aytekin, writer of the book They Were Just Children, said 20,000 children joined or forced to join to PKK over the last 35 years.
Yilmaz was a former PKK member, who was jailed for 10 years, and later dedicated his life to draw attention to PKK's child soldier recruitment.
"The mother's protest in Diyarbakir is one of the most important peaceful protests I've seen in the last 35 years," he told Anadolu Agency.
The protest is an important step as it was impossible for mothers to raise their voice back in 1990s, he said.
According to UN's Children and Armed Conflict report, the People's Protection Units (YPG), PKK's Syrian offshoot, has recruited 313 children in 2018, up from 224 in 2017. The report also unveiled that nearly 40% of children recruited by the YPG, were girls, 20 of them under 15.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed the same year that the groups were still recruiting children for military training, despite pledges to stop using child soldiers.
"It’s especially horrendous that the group is recruiting children from the vulnerable families in displacement camps without their parents’ knowledge or even telling them where their children are," said Priyanka Motapharty, acting emergencies director at HRW, in a statement in 2018.
YPG is the Syrian branch of PKK, which uses the acronym SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) as a cover for the U.S. support.
The PKK has been waging a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years, in which nearly 40,000 people, including women, children and infants, have been killed. It's recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU.