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Diyarbakır, Turkey – When she was 20 years old, Fatê Temel took a surgical needle, balanced it between her index finger and thumb, and dipped the tip into a mixture of lampblack and breast milk.
She brought the needle point to her face. She looked at a mirror hanging on the wall in her family’s home in the village of Derik in the southeastern Turkish province of Mardin, and began to poke the skin of her chin. It was the very first time she had deq – traditional tattoos once common among Kurds.
This was in 2018. Temel, now 24, has since inked hundreds of clients with deq motifs and symbols from the small one-room studio she opened in November 2021 in the Sur district of Diyarbakır’s old town, considered a historic center for the Kurdish culture.
She is one of the few artists in Turkey who has preserved this ancient tattooing culture.
“Every tattoo has a meaning,” says Temel. She dips a spoon into a container of frozen breast milk given to her by her friends who recently gave birth, scrapes it out and hurriedly mixes it into a jar of lampblack – preparing the traditional ink concoction for her clients.
“For the Kurds, we had our own specific meanings and associations with all these symbols and motifs – connecting us to a past that is being forgotten,” she adds. “Deq to me represents another aspect of our disappearing culture. And it is my duty to ensure that this tradition is preserved.”
Deq was once very popular among Kurds, along with Turkmens, Arabs and the Doms – often referred to as “Gypsies” – who all lived side by side as neighbors in the eastern region.
Similar tattoos can be found among Amazigh women in North Africa. And it’s not hard to find older women and some men in Kurdish and Arab villages in the eastern part of Turkey with deq still inked on their skin.