Leyla Imret - Dil Leyla

Leyla Imret grows up in Cizre, in the heart of the Kurdish resistance. When she is five, her father – a guerrilla fighter – is killed. Leyla is sent to Germany to live with an aunt, but she cannot forget the place where she grew up.  Twenty-one years later, she returns. She is welcomed back very enthusiastically as the lost daughter and is even elected as mayor, the youngest of Turkey. However, her relentless positivism to improve her birthplace is soon replaced by fear and uncertainty.

Leyla Imret grew up in the heart of the Kurdish resistance. In the town of Cizre, near the Syrian and Iraqi border, her father was a famous guerrilla fighter. Leyla remembers well that he was away from home often; the men from Cizre went into the mountains to fight. “It always made me cry.” When her father was home, he was her world. ‘Dil Leyla’ he used to call her affectionately: ‘Leyla, my heart.’

Leyla remembers the tanks driving through the streets, being surrounded by people running, fleeing, the smell of blood, bodies everywhere. “When you experience something like that as a child, you will never forget.” Her father is shot dead. Leyla is five years old.

Her mother sends her to Germany, where Leyla grows up with an aunt, her father’s sister. It is a loving home, Leyla attends a good school, gets dear friends and a nice job: altogether a pleasant life.

But she cannot forget her place of birth Cizre. When she goes back after twenty-one years, peace and quiet having returned to the city, she feels such a strong bond with the place that she decides to run in the local elections. She is elected mayor: at 26 years old, she is the youngest mayor of Turkey and the first female mayor of Cizre.

Leyla has big dreams: she wants to build parks and playgrounds for the kids to give them the childhood she never had. She orders the building of modern slaughterhouses, plants 15.000 trees and promises the people a good future.

But then the tide turns and violence flares again. The HDP, the pro-Kurdish party of which Leyla is a member, wins many votes in the national elections in 2015 and becomes the third party of Turkey. However, the Turkish president, Erdogan, accuses the HDP of supporting the terrorist organisation PKK and starts a raid on Kurdish politicians. Cizre comes under fire.

In the time that follows, Leyla’s optimism is replaced by fear and uncertainty. She needs to go into hiding and can be arrested at any time. “I always used to wonder why my father risked his life. Now I’m doing it too, even though I am on the democratic side of the story.” The Turkish government officially relieves her from her mayoral function, but Leyla refuses to give up: “I was chosen by the people. They are the only ones who can dismiss me as mayor.”

Unfortunately, Leyla Imret cannot attend the Movies that Matter Festival.