Racist attack in Sakarya: "They wanted to kill us"

In Kurdistan, there is a wave of outrage at the racist attack on Kurdish seasonal workers in the western Turkish province of Sakarya. We have spoken with those affected.

The racist attack on Kurdish harvest workers in the western Turkish province of Sakarya has triggered a wave of outrage. Anti-Kurdish racism has always been a feature of Turkey, the human rights association IHD said. "The further spread of this deep-seated intolerance towards Kurds can only be avoided by abolishing institutionalized racism. Since the present political system in Turkey fires racism however further, the prognoses look gloomy.”

On Friday a 16-headed group from seasonal workers from Mazıdağı district of Mardin was nearly lynched by a Turkish farmer and his relatives in Sakarya. The mob consisted of two sons of the owner of the hazelnut plantation as well as other inhabitants of the village. Video recordings can also be seen of the seasonal workers being attacked by several males. In the meantime, ANF was able to speak with a large number of those affected.

"It all started when the owner of the plantation, Hacı Hüseyin Cebecioğlu, insulted us", explains Rojda Demir, who recorded the attack with her cell phone. "Our family had been working on the plantation for seventeen days, for about 100 lira per day. The incident took place on the 18th day of our stay there. A grandson of Cebecioğlu came up to us and told us to collect the hazelnuts at the entrance. While we were still talking to him, Cebecioğlu insulted us from his terrace as a 'pack of mutts'. The man also voiced other expressions. We replied that we should not be subjected to such insults, put the buckets on the ground and left the plantation. Hacı Hüseyin Cebecioğlu continued his insults in the meantime. After about ten minutes, as we had reached our accommodation, Hasan and Kenan Cebecioğlu, the two sons of the farmer, rushed towards us and shouted: 'How dare you leave the plantation? This is not Mardin, but Sakarya.' Shortly after that my cousins were beaten. When my 15-year-old cousin tried to intervene, she was slapped.”

It is the third summer that the Demir family spends in Sakarya with seasonal work, the young woman continues. So far they have not experienced any racist experiences of exclusion comparable to yesterday's lynching attempt. "Since I was eleven years old, I have been helping my parents with seasonal work in the summer months. What happened yesterday is nothing but anti-Kurdish racism," adds Rojda Demir.

Governor tries to cover up incident

The governor's office of Sakarya tried to cover up the incident on Friday, claiming that the attack took place in Kocaeli last year. In a corresponding statement, the governor pointed out that no report had been received by the police. Hadra Demir stated that the military police (Gendarmerie) had been notified several times but had not come. "At some point we gave up waiting because the Gendarmerie would probably have sided with the attackers. They threatened to burn us if we did not leave the city.”

Rojda Demir's father Hamdin Demir states that people from the surroundings of Cebecioğlu tried to intercept the bus of the harvest workers during the drive out of the village. "Some had cutting tools like axes with them. They just wanted to kill us. Our children survived only with luck. It must be emphasized that our children escaped from this situation alone. No one, neither the police nor the gendarmerie helped them."

People affected are interrogated by gendarmerie

The Kurdish seasonal workers have returned to their hometown on Saturday. There they first had themselves medically examined. In the afternoon, they were ordered to the headquarters of the gendarmerie to give information about the attack. They are looked after by lawyers from the IHD branch office. "Instead of the perpetrators, it is again the victims who are supposed to justify themselves," says Hamdin Demir. In the meantime, three of the attackers are said to have been taken into custody.

Not the first racist attack on Kurds in Sakarya

In recent years, the western Turkish province of Sakarya has repeatedly become the scene of racist attacks on Kurds, some of which ended fatally. 19-year-old seasonal worker Şirin Tosun was lynched by a group of six in August 2019 and then shot for speaking Kurdish. In December 2018 Kadir Sakçı (43) and his 16-year-old son Burhan were attacked with a firearm in Sakarya because they had answered "yes" to the question of being Kurds. The father succumbed to his gunshot wounds, while the son was seriously injured. The attacker said in his defense that he was drunk and could not remember anything.