News / Europe

Former Child Prisoners Seek Help in Turkey

Before Turkey reformed its anti-terror laws last July, hundreds of Kurdish children had been prosecuted and jailed for allegedly supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party.  Since then, many have been released, but deep psychological scars remain.  Efforts are underway to help the children in Diyarbakir in the predominantly Kurdish southeast region of Turkey.

For 18-year-old Hebon Akkaya, this treatment center in Diyarbakir has almost become a second home.  He was just 15 years old when he and a couple of friends were arrested near a Kurdish-rights demonstration.  He said he could make no sense of what happened to him when they were taken to the police station, lined up, and terribly beaten by huge policemen weighing more than 100 kilograms.  He said he just kept thinking "why, why, why?"  He said that memory never leaves him.

Akkaya spent more than a year in an adult prison, charged under Turkey's anti-terror law.  He was released earlier this year and came to the Human Rights Foundation's treatment center in Diyarbakir after his father persuaded him to seek help.

Social worker Nevim Yakut Gunay is the first person people like Akkaya see when they seek help.  Gunay said that for most cases they say, "I was in prison and it is finished, now I can go back to life."  She said there is this denial, they say, "I do not need any help."  But for most cases you can read from their faces, they have suffered a terrible trauma.  She said she starts therapy by asking simple questions and slowly their story comes out.

The Human Rights Foundation is a converted residential apartment with a kitchen and living room.  The bedrooms have been turned into interview rooms.  It is comfortable and homey by design, to help those visiting feel at ease.

Gunay said the children are encouraged to treat it as their own home and allow them to do simple things, like letting them use the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

The center helps anyone who has suffered abuse or torture, but now much of its efforts and resources are devoted to children.  The Human Rights Foundation draws on the expertise and help of social workers, psychiatrists, community workers, and parents.  Meetings of the various groups are held to discuss how to deal with the growing numbers of children looking for help.  Foundation head Necdet Ipekyuz says they need all the help they can get.

Ipekyuz said they are desperately short of social workers and psychiatrists who speak Kurdish and understand the particular customs culture and traditions of Kurds, which is important in working with these children.  He said it is a huge job because all of the family can be affected, and cites a case in which the sister of an imprisoned child was completely traumatized, suffering hysterical crying fits.

Ipekyuz says one of its most important supporters is the group Justice for Children, which was created by parents of the imprisoned children.  One of its founders was Akkaya's father, Arif, who explained the network not only works to help their children, but also helps the families to come to terms with what happened.

Arif Akkaya said he has been imprisoned, and his daughter and eldest son have both been taken into custody, so they know very well what prison means.  But he said his family was more worried for Hebon because he was only a child.  Arif said they felt helpless, and when Hebon came out of jail he was not the same son, he never talked and just wanted to be alone, his soul was gone.

With his new freedom, Hebon Akkaya is making plans to attend university.  He said for now he has stopped seeing his psychiatrist so he can focus on up coming exams.  But when asked if he considers himself as a child anymore, he smiles.

He said after going through all of this, no child can remain as a child.  He said that before he was carefree, but not anymore.  The terrible things that happened ended my childhood."  He said he is filled with rage and anger, but he now understands there are other ways to fight against injustice, and that is why he is studying hard to go to university and become a lawyer.

While the word lucky seems inappropriate in Hebon's case, he is fortunate for having received help early.  But centers like this are only able to serve a few dozen children at a time, while hundreds of others are facing their traumas alone.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs