Kurd Protests: `Daddy, we're burning daily'

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The Independent Online
THE FATHER of the Kurdish teenager who set fire to herself in London said he understood why she did it.

Suleyman Coskun, 45, said that as a father he was concerned and worried but understood she acted out of a feeling of helplessness about the plight of the Kurds.

Pictures of Nejla Kanteper, 15, setting fire to herself outside the Greek embassy in Holand Park, London on Tuesday were flashed around the world as a gesture of Kurdish protest against Turkish rule.

Yesterday she and her family were adjusting to the fact that she may be scarred.

She is in a specialist unit at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, west London, which issued a statement last night saying she has 15 per cent burns to her back, arms and chin.

"Her condition is stable and comfortable. She is fully conscious and is receiving medication for pain control." Treatment for her injuries is to begin in the next few days, involving operations to remove burnt tissue, followed by skin grafting. She is expected to be in hospital for three to four weeks. A spokeswoman said: "Her injuries are not life- threatening, but clearly any burns are very serious."

Ersin Coskun, 19, her brother, said she was "just fine" after he visited her. "She's all right but tired," he said, adding that he did not agree with what she had done. "Of course I don't agree, but she did it," he said, shrugging. Ersin did not see his sister set herself alight, as he had been arrested earlier in the day. He heard about it only after his release at the end of a court hearing yesterday morning. "I was shocked," he said.

Nejla, an attractive girl described as having all the interest in her looks a teenager normally has, was at the rally without the knowledge of her family. Yesterday her father, who is unemployed, said she was well aware of the cruelty being inflicted on the Kurds and of their suffering. "Our power is not enough to take it out or take revenge. When you do not have the power you turn it in on yourself and burn yourself. It is part of our culture."

Mr Coskun said that he had not been aware she was at the protest, held in support of up to 90 Kurds who seized the Greek embassy and who are holding the caretaker hostage.

He visited Nejla in hospital on Tuesday night. He said that when he asked why she had acted as she had, she told him: "Dad, we are burning every day." He added: "We had no idea she was in the demonstration. We knew nothing until the police contacted us at home to tell us she was in hospital."

He said that his daughter had told him she had acted after police attacked Ersin, pushing her back when she tried to intervene.

"You Europeans are selling your arms to Turkey. You are selling our nation to Turkey. Our power is not enough to overcome you so we burn ourselves. It is our way of protesting."

But for Nejla's sister, Elif, the sacrifice and protest was regarded as a futile gesture.

She said: " I can't understand why she did it. The Turks have killed thousands and thousands of Kurds and stolen their homeland. Why should they worry about something like this? They are happy to see the Kurdish people suffer. This came out of the blue. She is not a particularly political person. All of the family is shocked."

Earlier, Christine Daubney, Nejla's teacher at White Hart Lane secondary school, said she was a lively and popular pupil who was working hard for her exams.

"I am aware that she feels deeply about matters which concern her, friends and her family, but I am shocked that she should injure herself. I have spoken to someone in her family home and obviously we are all very concerned about her well-being."

Both the sisters are pupils at the White Hart Lane school, in north London.