A Colorful Story by Bercem Akkoç Alemdarzade
Growing up, unlike most of my friends I never embraced a book character like Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennett as my hero. Instead, I had my mom, Nebahat Akkoç, and her entourage as my heroes as they mesmerized me with their courage and strength. They were a handful of women led by my mother, fighting to end violence against women in Southeast Turkey. I’ve always been fascinated by how they greeted each day with determination and hope as they stood against the injustices they had faced. They were the ones who taught me at an early age that if you want something in life, you have to fight hard for it.
There are hundreds of women all over the world fighting for the same cause, what’s so interesting and different about your mother, I can hear you say. Let me tell you the whole story, which goes back to 1993. I was born and raised in Diyarbakir as the youngest child of the Akkoç family. Both of my parents were school teachers who fell in love when they were really young. As true sweethearts, my mother was only 18 years old when they got married. We were like any other family until the year I turned 14 when my father was killed on his way to home after work. The authorities couldn’t find who did it and my father’s case was filed as one of the many “unresolved crimes” in those years in Turkey. I wasn’t even sure what unresolved crime really meant at that time. I just missed my father and tried to accept the fact that he was gone. But my mother couldn’t accept that no one was found guilty for her loss, for her soul mate’s disappearance. She wanted an answer and did her best to get one. She went to the police station every day. She organized protests along with other victims of unresolved crimes. She lodged a complaint to the Supreme Court of Turkey. When that didn’t work, she made an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. That was a first in Turkey. She did her best to find the person responsible for my father’s death. She was detained 15 times in one year just because she raised her voice to ask the questions no one dared to ask at that time. As a teenager, I was terrified and constantly worried if she would not come home at night.
It was 1994, a year after my father’s death anniversary. My mother came home to tell me the decision she made, which changed our lives forever. She was just released from another detention, in which she had a light bulb moment. She came to realize that there were bigger issues in the world that she cared about as much as my father’s unresolved case. She decided to devote her energy and dedication to one of those issues: violence against women. For over a year, she was mistreated not just as an individual but also as a woman. Just because she was so focused on my father, she didn’t even realize it. The moment she noticed this in her cell, she decided to act on it hoping that her efforts might change the mistreatment of other women. How? By establishing a foundation, which will fight with the mindset in Turkey instead of authorities. My grandmother was so happy with this decision. She wholeheartedly encouraged my mother to let go of her past and move forward.
The next day at the age of 41, my mother got her first computer, turned our house into an office and set to work. First, she had to do a serious research about violence against women in Turkey and the reasons behind it so that she can decide which methods would be more effective. After a year of research, she concluded that 95% of women accept violence as normal. She also found out that there were limited shelters offer to women in Turkey. These two conclusions set her organization’s mission: raising awareness of women’s rights and establishing safe spaces for women in need. Her approach? Fighting violence with nonviolence and leaving identities behind. This has also become my mother’s philosophy in life. As a result, she decided to form KAMER as an NGO and kept it intentionally distant and separate from any political movement. That’s how KAMER came to life in 1997 in Diyarbakir.
Right away we started conducting house visits, listened to the struggles of women face in our city and asked how we can support them. Each case and each woman are different while our mission has always been the same: giving women a voice. As we raised awareness of women’s rights, we’ve got enormous support and encouragement from the local women in Diyarbakir. They even helped us with moving to and cleaning our first office space, in which a truck full of garbage was thrown away. They kept us focused and helped us ignore the death threats we received through phone calls; and stand up to the attacks organized by men.
Inspired by my mother and the courageous women under her wings, my brother and I, embraced human rights as part of our lives. I studied law and defended KAMER women in the courts for many years while my brother became a doctor and dedicated himself to saving lives. It’s been 19 years since my mother started uniting women under one roof to be ‘one’ against violence. Since then, we’ve increased our work area from one to 23 cities, reached out to thousands of women, gave a safe space to those whose lives were in danger because of ‘honor killings,’ encouraged women to seek justice in the courts, advocated for women’s rights and published a dozen of books to empower women and raise awareness on women’s rights.
True, we still don’t know the person behind my father’s death but we know that we prevented many women from sharing his fate. This is my mother’s story – the story of a woman who dedicated herself to make a difference in the world with her optimism and determination. Here is to all unbreakable women around the world who inspire us each day as they raise their voices and fight for our rights no matter what.
You can read more on KAMER here.