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Diyarbakır, Turkey – When she was 20 years old, Fatê Temel grabbed a surgical needle, balancing it between her index finger and thumb, and dipped its point in a mixture of lampblack and breast milk.
She lifted the needle point to her face. Turning to a mirror hanging on a wall in her family’s home in the village of Derik in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin, she began poking the skin on her chin. It was the very first time she gave deq – traditional tattoos that had once been common among Kurds.
This was in 2018. Temel, now 24, has since inked hundreds of customers with deq motifs and symbols from the small one-room studio she opened in November 2021 in the Sur district in Diyarbakır’s Old City, considered a historic centre for Kurdish culture.
She is one of the only artists left in Turkey preserving this ancient tattooing culture.
“Every tattoo has a meaning,” Temel says. She stabs a spoon into a container of frozen breast milk she obtained from her friends who recently gave birth, scraping it out and hurriedly blending it into a jar of lampblack – preparing the traditional ink concoction for her customers.
“For the Kurds, we had our own particular meanings and associations with all of these symbols and motifs – which connect us to a past that is being forgotten,” she adds. “Deq represents to me another aspect of our disappearing culture. And it is my duty to ensure this tradition is preserved.”
Deq was once very popular among Kurds, along with Turkmen, Arabs and the Doms – often referred to as “gypsies”– all of whom lived side by side as neighbours in the eastern region.
Similar tattoos can be found among Amazigh women in North Africa. And it is not hard to find elderly women and some men in Kurdish and Arab villages in the eastern part of Turkey with deq still inked on their skin.