Mehdi and Leyla with children, Rukan (age 3), Ronay (age 7) and his mother. Photograph courtesy of the Kurdish Institute of Paris.

When I was fourteen years old my father decided to marry me off to my thirty-five-year-old cousin Mehdi, who had been arrested in 1971 and spent three years in prison.

On his release his mother asked for my hand for her son, and my father agreed.

In 1980 Mehdi was arrested and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

I was just twenty, I had a small son, and I was pregnant. For the first year after his arrest I did not stop crying. I didn't know how I was going to survive....

When I went to visit Mehdi, I met many different people at the gate of the prison. I began to change, to question my own identity. Until then I had no interest in the fact that I was a Kurd. The ideal was to be a Turk.

In 1988 I was arrested. I had gone to visit Mehdi. There were a lot of people in front of the jail. They announced that we would not be able to see the prisoners. Then, we heard them beating the men we had come to see. We just revolted; we began shouting and throwing stones. I was arrested with another eighty-three people.

That was about that time that I decided to be a political activist.

Leyla Zana in election campaign in Diyarbakir.
Zana was sentenced to fifteen years along with four of her codefendents.
Photograph courtesy Memo Yetkin