Shortly after Aslı Erdoğan’s release on probation in January 2017, journalist Ayşe Arman conducted a very long interview with her. After the interview was published in a Turkish newspaper with partial censorship, the journalist re-published in full on her blog.
Here is an English translation done in the very spontaneous and familiar style adopted during these exchanges.
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges.
French version : Aslı Erdoğan • Une interview qui a suivi sa libération provisoire
Welcome. Between us, how do you feel ?
– Like a fish out of water [Turkish expression meaning « lost, disoriented »]. The shock of going to jail is one thing, that of coming out is another. I wasn’t expecting to be released. One fine day, they take you, they tear you away from the life you’re familiar with, the life you know, then, they kick you out and say « go back to life ! ». The door of the jail ward opens, you step outside, then the doors slams behind you. That’s how it happened. But seventy percent of me is still in jail.
Of what are you nostalgic when you’re inside ?
– Ahh…of everything. Of trees, for example. You tell yourself « if only I could see a tree ». Out in the jail yard, I had tears in my eyes. You spend four and a half months in a place where you wouldn’t want to stay for a single minute, in colorless and ugly concrete. Then you come out, and all of a sudden you see, not one tree, but thousands.
It seems like a lot ? Too much ?
– Yes. Inside, you live with twenty people for months, in a small space, catching the slightest expression on their faces, so close were we. Now I’m with millions of people, but I am so far away. The phone calls, the information streams, the confusion, the chaos….It’s too much. Like a blind person who would see all of a sudden. I’m trying to get used to it. I even had to name the sea « The sea », looking at it three times. I’m also someone who digests slowly.
Did you expect to be released ?
– No, not at all.
What went through your head when you heard the decision to release you ?
– I couldn’t believe it. Because I’d already felt the joy of being released and been disappointed, I told myself « Don’t let them fool you ». But the judge really said « Liberation ». I had to control myself in front of everyone, and I did. Afterwards, I collapsed and burst into tears between the gendarmes.
And you’re still crying, when you’re alone at home ?
– I cry. I cry for my friends in jail. I cry for their stories. I cry for me. I cry for my country. In other words, I cry.
Did you pick up your things after your release ?
Were you allowed to say goodbye to your friends in jail ?
– That’s it : that moment didn’t happen the way I would have wanted it! Everything went very fast. When you leave a place you’re used to, a home, you take the time to say goodbye. You have your own ritual, you stop, you pack away your memories. But I only had a half hour in which to leave a place where stayed four and a half months and to say goodbye to the people with whom I lived. The guards were constantly saying « come on, come on ». I couldn’t say my goodbyes properly.
How did your friends in the ward call you ?
– Some of them called me Aslı, but most of them called me « Aslı Hoca », out of respect maybe, or because I was older than they are, maybe as a distancing, who knows. [Hoca : master, professor, a respectful term in common use, even among friends].
What was the mean age in the ward ?
– Thirty-one. Most were around twenty. There were only two persons in their forties.
Did you sometimes think « I’ll never get out of here ? »
– Of course. That feeling comes to everyone. It had it also. In jail, suicides occur in the first weeks. I was almost sure I would never come out. Do you know what I wanted ? A seer. If she had told me « you’ll walk out on such and such a date », I would have believed her. But such a seer could not be.
Was there no one with an interest in astrology to do you chart ?
– My astrological chart is a disaster ! A nightmare !
How do you know ?
– Because I drew it up myself. I never believed in things such as astrology. After all, I’m a physicist. One day, a book about astrology fell into my hands. I drew my char
– And my chart said I would go to jail.
I don’t believe you…
– Really. My planets were perfectly grouped, but a most horrible conflict appeared on my theme. Pluto, in other words the death planet, was in my death house. I wrote to Susan Miller « Death is in my death house. How do you interpret this ? » She answered me and interpreted it this way : « This means you will lose all those you love, jail, suicide, trauma upon trauma. » She also ended her letter with a « God bless you ». So tragic.
– Yes, and as if that weren’t enough, in my theme, Pluto is at a one hundred and eighty degree angle with my life planet, the Sun. I checked, in fact, this is the most conflictual position that can exist in an astral theme. Life and death at a 180°. And do you know who else had that conflict ?
– Nietzsche! It means: « suicide or madness ». No human being could stand for long a personality in which death and life are at war.
Who knows, this could be interpreted as « genius »…
– In men this can be interpreted as « genius » but in women it is called« madness ». What I mean by that is : jail was in my astral theme and this became a reality. Astrology blew my mind. But I believe in it now. It’s an art of interpretation. It offers metaphors relating to life. You learn to ask life questions.
Do you fear they will come to take you again, at any time ?
– Unfortunately yes ! Despite everything, there is this fear. I’m staying at my mother’s right now. Every time the doorbell rings, I jump up, asking myself « Is it the police ? »
What kind of life did you build for yourself in jail ? Who were you with ?
– They used to be called « political prisoners », now they deprive us of that term also and call us « terrorism detainees ». I was with them. The State’s attitude begins with this. I was curious about the common law prisoners but when I saw them later, I knew I couldn’t have survived there. Too many fights and noise…
How is it different in the political wards ?
– It was a communal life. I couldn’t enter into it totally. Since childhood, I’ve been used to living by myself. Communal living brought a discipline. There were set schedules for silence, for education. I didn’t join in the education sessions, but the silence was a good thing.
How did life proceed ?
– Every day was a repetition of the one before. According to the rules of community living, someone was on chore duty every day. They never put me on duty, partly because I wasn’t part of the community, and also maybe out of respect for my age. The one on duty got up at 7 and prepared breakfast for the twenty people, got the bread, if there was any. At 8, she called out « Friends, the tea is ready ». At the same time, in the jail, they announced : « Ladies, roll-call begins ». We would go down to breakfast, we’d shiver at that point, because it was freezing cold. No one had the strength to say « Hello ». The guards arrived at breakfast time. The other routines of the day followed. The TV was on all day. The prisoners follow closely what is going on outside. No one misses the news, for instance. At 9 :30 it’s quiet time.
Each one goes back to her own occupations.
Did you manage to write ?
– Not much. It’s as if my inner world no longer belonged to me. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I danced [classical dancing]. I almost caught pneumonia in the yard while trying to dance. Being sick in in jail is a big problem.
What did you think you would do as soon as you were released?
– Many things. But one thing I promised myself. I would find a tattoo artist in all urgency. Jewish prisoners had their number tattooed on their arm, my own imprisonment felt so arbitrary that I felt like a prisoner in a concentration camp. I want to have the date of my arrest tattooed, 16.08.2016. Maybe I’ll also have the word “Görüldü” tattooed also [literally “seen”- the stamp on correspondence handed to the detainees after it was read by the censors, « seen » as in “approved”].
As to what I felt nostalgic about…the sound of the sea. I was arrested this past summer, just as I was telling myself I’d go for a swim. I missed going to a café and drinking coffee. And classical music. There’s no music in jail.
– Just like that. Since the years 2000, a lot of things have changed in the jails. There used to be recorders. Now there are no recorders, no CDs, even cooking is forbidden. What a joke, we didn’t even have cushions, because of the state of emergency. The guards would raid the cells to grab the cushions.
Yes, but why ?
– So you’ll sit on plastic chairs in the middle of winter! You sit for half an hour, your stomach hurts so much you want to die. In the shared space, there’s nothing but white chairs and tables. I could have stayed in my bed all day but the experienced detainees warned me : « No matter what, don’t do tha. Move. Get up, take up some sport. Give a hand in the housekeeping. If not, you’ll fall into a depression and never get out of it. You’ll stay in your corner, all scrunched up like a cat. » In any event, your bed isn’t warm either. During these last weeks, it was very cold, I’d fill empty bottles of javel water with boiling water and put them in my bed.
I’d heard of putting hot water in water bottles.
– That’s what the girls did. I preferred the 2-liter size bottles of javel water. Their plastic is heavier. But whatever you do, after two or three uses, the caps start leaking. Two nights after the trial, I went to bed with my bottles of boiling water. Luckily they didn’t burst, but they leaked, drop by drop. I didn’t feel a thing. I woke up shivering in the morning. Because all the water had leaked into my bed. Everything was soaked, the bed, the comforter…
– Yes. My teeth rattled. My morale was down to zero. But, there you have it, there’s fantastic solidarity among the women in the ward. One of them immediately realized. “Aslı Hoca, what’s wrong, why do you look so glum ? » I explained. « The bed is all wet, I don’t know how I’ll dry it out. » “Ah, that’s no problem ! » they said. One of them turned over the bed and threw it outside, another took out the comforter, another dried the sheets. Afterwards, they all had a good laugh. « With all the emotion from the trial, you’re leaking or what, Aslı Hoca ? » So I relaxed and started to laugh. Inside, there’s a friendship that’s impossible to describe.
Beautiful ! I always think one can stay faithful to one’s self anywhere. Is that possible inside ?
– That isn’t possible ! You can’t [re]create your world in jail. Because the space doesn’t belong to you, time doesn’t belong to you. The whole system is built to remind you of this. Let’s say you’ve started writing something, the guards come in unexpectedly, and start a search…With no prior warning, thirty guards come in. Hard to find the soul and the energy to create. It’s impossible to write a novel or anything whatsoever.
How many books did you manage to read ?
– They introduced a new rule with the state of emergency. Fifteen books per prisoner. You can’t have more. Luckily, the political prisoners had a common library. I could find books.
How long did you stay ?
– 136 days.
How would you qualify this period ?
– That’s difficult. A dark grey obscurity. Imagine a concrete yard, soulless. There’s a small opening to the sky. Sounds don’t reach you inside. And your voice doesn’t reach the outside. Of the outside, you can only see this concrete. A horror.
When I was in jail, there were close to one hundred and fifty journalists and authors under arrest like me. As time went by, the numbers increased. But that growing number wasn’t reassuring. I can’t manage to comfort myself with the growth of the tragedy. When I was a child, perhaps, the thought « there are many people in my situation » consoled me a bit, but it no longer does. On the contrary, it makes it worse. Turkey is headed for a very troubling point. You’re not exempt from that knowledge, when you’re in jail
Did you manage to adjust to the ward straight off ?
You felt like a stranger, a guest, the odd one out ?
– Yes because I was already like that in my life. Everywhere I went, I was off to the side, the odd one out. When I participate in a debate, I also give off that impression – « I don’t belong to this place. » At first, it was the same over there.
But the political prisoners were welcoming, weren’t they ?
– Yessss ! They were incredibly supportive. Particularly during the first five days when I was kept in isolation. New arrivals go to the isolation cell on the first day. But they kept me there for five days. In a room measuring four and half square meters. It was very dirty, they didn’t give me anything to clean it, but never mind, I was left without water. They didn’t give me water for two days.
– I have no idea. I asked for the opening of an inquest, they deny refusing me water. But they know full well they didn’t give me any, there are camera recordings. They said : « You just have to drink water from the tap ». The water ran yellow, I could have caught jaundice. There was urine in the cell. It stank tremendously. During five days, they gave me food from time to time. But the thirst was the worst. No tea, no cigarettes…
What did you do ? How many kilos did you lose ?
– I suppose 5 kg in the first 8 days. I learned to string the rope during that period.
What do you mean ?
– I would string the rope from my cell and the prisoner on the floor below mine would tie water to it. She even sent me boiling water and tea. They sent me food, but also cigarettes, a radio, reading material.
Where did you find the rope ?
– They threw it up and I caught it. Afterwards, you let it down, little by little, they tie something on, and you pull it up. Of course the tea is in a bottle, you have to pull it gently in between the bars. I didn’t know how to do it and scalded myself with boiling hot tea.
Like in a movie. What you’re saying is surrealistic.
– Yes, the first days I experienced the surreal intensely. I had the feeling that I wasn’t living through my own life, that I’d fallen into a movie taking place in jail. Theses had to be dreams, not reality. Maybe that feeling protects from shock. Because while going through these things, I was observing myself from the outside, the way I see you. As I lowered the rope, I would tell myself :« This would make a great scene in a movie. »
I thought you could cook inside.
– No, it’s forbidden! But of course the prisoners are very creative. They can sort out, I don’t know, the wheat in the soup for instance, and make something else with it. Where do they cook ? In an old broken samovar. There’s no stove. They’re really very creative. In this ward, they even made cakes. With the chocolate puddings given by the administration or from the canteen, they prepared mosaic cakes, they made regional dishes with bulgur. It all depended on the creativity of whomever was on duty that day. Look at my necklace, it’s made out of a peach stone…
Wow, it’s beautiful…
– A lot of things have changed with the state of emergency. The girls in our ward used to grow flowers in the yard, tending them over the years. After the state of emergency, that became forbidden. There was a sudden raid. The guards dug up all the flowers they had been tending all those years and threw them out to die in the exterior yard of the jail. Such a funereal mood, I can’t describe. But one of the girls had hidden her plant in the toilet and managed to save it as she could. It was seized during the following search. Afterward, one of us found a seed somewhere. But there was no earth. We started by making earth. It’s unimaginable, but we did it. The process lasted for weeks. Every day, we drank tea. We spread out the dregs from the steeped tea on newspaper and let them dry in the sun. We added crushed egg shells to enrich the soil that would feed the plant. Then we planted the seed. And it germinated. It was a lousy plant, but that didn’t matter, we took care of it as we would have the apple of our eyes. We hid it during every search. It had germinated thanks to the care of twenty women.
Like the Little Prince’s rose.
– Really, that’s how it was ! We would take it outside so it could catch the sun. Afterwards, we’d say « it needs a bit of rainwater ». Then « take care it doesn’t get too drenched »… But they found that plant too. They took it from us.
Why do they do that ?
– I don’t know, they take pleasure in it. The guards would yell « We’ve fouuuuuund a plaaaaaaant ! » They’d ask us with sadistic irony : « When did you make it grow, girls ? » Our plant lasted four months, then it was gone.
What you’re telling me is bizarre. There’s no need for fiction, this is directly a novel.
– When I arrived in the ward, my morale was shot. I’d say things like « I won’t be able to stand this for long, I’m going to kill myself. »
And I defended this as a principle. Of course the girls were horrified. They’d ask me : « What do you mean ?! » They didn’t understand. And I’d say : « If you look at it from the philosophical angle, this is my most fundamental right. » We had long discussions of this kind. Before my release, I apologized to them. I said : « I learned something from you. I saw the trouble you took for four months to grow a plant. Now I understand better my kind of caprice in saying I wanted to commit suicide. Thanks to you. »
What did being jailed teach you the most ?
– This four-month struggle to grow a tiny little plant touched me deeply. This respect for life. I learned many things from those girls. Most of all, I learned to resist.
Is the Aslı who was sent to jail the same as the Aslı who came out?
– It’s hard to appreciate about myself, but I think we’re talking of two women. I’m a different Aslı now. Certain trauma separate those who live through them from those who don’t, for all eternity. In other words, those who go through jail recognize one another somehow. A bond builds up between them. You cannot explain to someone who’s never been to jail what it is like. In the hearing room, I met someone I knew from before and who had been released recently. Everyone embraced me, but the two of us, two detainees, we embraced in a different way.
What did this horrible experience add to your life ?
– I used to be a more cynical person. I knew nothing of notions such as « resisting, surviving, » etc. Of course, you can show solidarity through your writing, you can resist in that way, but I looked at that kind of thing from a distance. My solitude was the most sacred thing of all. All at once, I learned to survive, to resist, to be able to re-sow the seed right away, the day after your plant has been taken from you, not to collapse. I needed to learn that, I used to give up too quickly. You could say I became braver. If it had been possible, I would have wanted not to experience this. I did not choose to live it. The only thing I can do is to bear it with dignity. But I must admit that what I have lived through has left a deep imprint on me. I met twenty women. In what other conditions would I have come to know these twenty women ? And to listen to their stories ? I miss them. I didn’t think I would miss them as much as I do. I’ll be going home to my place in a few days. It’s a bit traumatic, of course, I’m going back to a house raided by the police. All my documents and papers have been scattered. A house with 3 500 books, 10 000 papers. Putting them in order will take months.
Is it possible to sleep in jail ? Is it possible to forget while you sleep?
– At first, I couldn’t sleep. I had constant nightmares. I’d jump out of bed. I reached a point where I was afraid to sleep. Then I started to sleep, and even to oversleep and I dreamt of jail constantly. I’d escaped jail, but I had to go back. My dreams were always too awful. Sleep isn’t a space in which you can escape…
Did the prison authorities believe you’d committed the offenses of which you were accused ?
– Of course not. They were a lousy joke and everyone knew it. Even the policemen who came to my place said a bit later : « You’ve spent your life reading and writing ! » For the love of God, who can believe that a fifty-year-old writer can be a leader of the PKK ? There’s a reason, there’s a logic. Same as for the fact that Ahmet Şık is supposed to be a member of DHKP, FETÖ and PKK all at once, this trial is just as surrealistic…
What did you know about the support you received from everywhere in the world…
– Not everything was transmitted inside, of course. I heard about it through my lawyer. I was surprised. I didn’t expect so much support. I knew writers would support me, but I couldn’t imagine that it would spread out so much, circle upon circle, that I would receive letters from Margaret Atwood, from Coetzee. There are 1 200 letters still awaiting a reply.
It seems to me your father is abroad, have you communicated with him ?
– My father and I no longer see each other.
Your mother was incredibly ‘upstanding’. There have been dimensional changes in your relationship ?
– Of course. We didn’t have the usual mother-daughter relationship for the longest time. My family split up when I was eighteen. But it really split. No, it wasn’t just a divorce, it was a tearing apart. I had to testify at their divorce. It was a bad period. After that, I lived many traumas, one after the other. Several people died who were dear to me. But I learned many things in jail : in this life, you must expect solidarity and friendship from women. Men don’t want it, they put on a show, but in these kinds of times, they dry up. The women are much braver. Really, when things get stuck, you won’t find a single dude around. I’m not talking about lovers. Some men with whom I’m in a professional relationship too, poof, they disappeared saying : « Oy, they might take me for a member of the PKK also ». There were also women who disappointed me, but they were few. The women have been strong and dependable, starting with my mother. We learned to be mother and daughter during this period.
You received three prizes while you were in jail, what was your feeling about that ?
– A great feeling, but what can you do ? We celebrated, twenty girls sitting around a plastic table, eating sunflower seeds, singing and pounding on the table. The sodas and sunflower seeds were on me. I also wanted to buy chocolate, I’d promised the girls, but I had no more money. They consider my literature important but I can do better. I’m really unlucky not being a woman writer in Paris. But this country is the way it is. This society isn’t despising me for the first time. They’ve despised me, discriminated against me, have left me famished. Had it not been for the financial need, I wouldn’t have written chronicles. I’m not looking for more readers. Being a showcase isn’t something I like, but I had to do it. I think I lost a few books that way. On the other hand, curiously in this process, my chronicles have brought my literature to the forefront.
It’s as if you are better known abroad that in Turkey, that you are more valued. Why ? Does this sadden you ?
– I don’t think that’s the way it is. I’m not an important, famous author. I’ve never reached the fame of Elif Shafak. I’ve always been considered « a minor writer, good and respectable ». In any event only the literary circles and writers know me. I never had such an audience. I was surprised myself to be in the news abroad during my detention…
Do you think that those who accuse and condemn you are aware of what you write ? That they have read the books you’ve written ?
– I’ve come across people who were talking about me in debates. I’m sure the ones who say : « Aslı es a very good writer » haven’t read a single one of my books. I have trouble relating to that. The charges against me are so absurd, if they had taken an hour to really read my chronicles…The fact I’m against violence is so clear and obvious. To accuse me of being a member of a terrorist organization is truly ridiculous.
Then, why, in your opinion ?
Was I really the target, or was the aim to intimidate White Turks [A relatively unknown term out of Turkey. It applies to Turks belonging to none of the minorities, hence the dominant and non-religious segment of society.] I still don’t know the answer. Was I chosen at random? Was one of the higher ups angry at me? Because if we look at the question from a political viewpoint, especially in the context of the Kurdish question, I’m not at all an important person. I’m nothing but the handle to the outside door. All right, I write for Özgür Gündem from time to time but I don’t have hardline political views, or anything of the kind. I’m not the only literary figure writing in that paper. From Murathan Mungan to Vedat Türkali, to Feyza Hepçilingirler, several people have written for Özgür Gündem, it isn’t an offense. As for the matter of being an « advisor », I’m someone who can’t say no. If another newspaper had asked me : « Do you accept to be our advisor ? » I wouldn’t have refused. To be honest, I never understood the reasons for my arrest myself. Either I angered someone, either it’s a message to White Turks. « If you give even indirect support to the Kurds, you’ll end up like this woman », something like that.
Does prison increase creativity or make it rust ?
– In the long term, it would turn it to rust. You can’t sing with a knife to your throat, it’s a bit like that. You are in a struggle, but you’re struggling for your survival. In those conditions, how would you find the time and energy to concern yourself with the esthetics of a sentence ? Besides, personally, I like to have all my books close at hand in order to be able to write. Not because I read 3 000 books at the same time. But Rilke must be there, where I can reach him when I want. My classical music must be there also. These are small things. There was none of all that. But there is also this, that in brief moments my creativity feeds off fractures and sudden breaks. I believe this experience will have positive returns for me.
How to manage not to revolt ? How is it that you don’t howl « This is injustice ! » until you’re hoarse ? How do you attain such tranquility ? How can you stay calm ?
– I think one of the qualities of the detainees is the fact they have learned to control themselves. You have to learn this, because is you yell, you go into a cell. But people explode, of course. On of the effects or the objectives of solidarity and communal living in the political wards is to avoid this kind of explosion. There’s an internal discipline in the ward. There exists a ward spokesperson. We sit and discuss before things reach an explosive level. That was how we did things in our ward. The girls try to stay away from confrontations and useless arguments. But if it concerns something in which they believe, they know how not to retreat as a ward. They say : « If we must, we’ll go on a hunger strike ». I observed closely, of course, with fear each time, wondering how far it could go. The administration can send in the troops. The detainees can go on hunger strike.
Would you have to participate in such a case ?
– As a matter of principle, I don’t chant organizational slogans. I accept only one slogan. When one of the detainees was freed, we, all the girls, formed a circle at the door. We’d salute one another, crying, embracing, one by one. Then, when she left, we would chant : « Life, woman, freedom ». That I also chanted. Because I believe strongly in those three concepts.
Your works are considered « contemporary-classics ». Hundreds of articles have been published about you and your works in newspapers such as Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine, die Welt, der Freitag, die Berliner Literatur Kritik. You’ve been compared to Kafka, to James Joyce. You haven’t been tempted to cry out to the Turkish authorities : Do I deserve to be treated like this ?
– No, but there have been times when I’ve said things to protect myself. When I was in custody, the police had a threatening attitude on the first night. They didn’t continue that way. They said things like : « We are the anti-terrorist section. You’re a writer, but don’t count too much on that. » I answered with dignity : « Listen, I am a known writer. » They looked at me and made fun of me. I continued : « Among my readers, there’s the Queen of Norway, but also the German Chancellor. » “Oh is that so, then, we wish you continued success » they said. I answered : « But there’s another dimension. I have a prothesis in my neck, if there’s an accident, a tragedy, I think my readers will react. » They said : « If you act respectfully with us, we’ll do the same. » I said : « I don’t remember ever acting disrespectfully with anyone. » They had no answer to that one. If I’m not in too tight of a corner, I don’t mention my notoriety. But it’s something I can use if the person facing me stomps his foot to despise me, I can say : « You stop that now ! I can play that game too. » Other than than, I’m not an idiot to the point of taking myself for Kafka, or for James Joyce. Finally, I don’t know what I can write, but I know the value of what I’ve written, more or less. Yes, I could have written better, and I can still do it, but I think Turkey is falling on me in a savage way. Not only on me, on many people. Since the years 2000, it’s been like that…
What are your greatest difficulties ?
– My health. My neck is a catastrophy. I had four hernias, they removed one disk and put in a prothesis. In jail, with the cold, it has gotten worse. Apart from that, I suffer from Raynaud’s disease to a certain degree. Blood doesn’t flow to my hands and feet. I have circulatory problems and the cold didn’t help that either. Parallel to these two things, my intestines are also affected. I have asthma and I’m diabetic. None of this is life-threatening but all those problems together can be dangerous. The cold, the stress…I’m surprised myself that I managed to hold on. When I arrived in jail, I was telling myself « I won’t be able to stand this more than two months. » I thought I would come down with a serious illness.
It’s not possible to get medical help in prison ?
– That’s another problem ! The most difficult part of prison is the medical help. Infirmary visits are once a week. They are a horror. Outside security from gendarmerie escort you there. They load you aboard this horrible vehicle, the ‘ring’. The ‘ring’ is something that even the twenty prisoners who are used to everything cannot stand. I’ve never seen anything as inhuman as this vehicle. They sit six handcuffed women, side by side, is a space no larger than a coffin. The door slams shut on you. The window is hardly bigger than the palm of a hand. In summer, it’s extremely hot, in winter it’s cold, and there’s no air. You are jostled so much that people vomit. They take you to the hospital like this. They bring the women inside, one by one, with the gendarmes and padlocks. The others wait in the narrow coffin. Three hours, sometimes four. Those who vomit, those who faint… People turn white. At the same time, you want at once to see a doctor, you’ve waited months for this transfer and yet you tell yourself : « How will I be able to stand the ‘ring’ ? »
And if you’re suffering, this trip must affect you even more…
– Of course, try to image, for instance, one of the women needs a blood sugar test. Good grief, keep the woman in the hospital ! No, they do the blood test and bring her back to this horrible vehicle. She faints. It’s a cruel system. They say : « All that is for your safety. » But in our case, it’s ridiculous. What need is there to transporting women, blind, handicapped, pregnant, and lock them in with two gendarmes and three weapons ? Where can they escape ? And you enter the hospital in handcuffs. The doctors must have the handcuffs removed during the examination. But some doctors don’t do it, despite the fact the person is very ill…
Why don’t they removed the restraints during the examination ?
– Because the passion for power can take all kinds of forms. A prisoner is someone everyone can despise, especially if he or she is a political prisoner…
There’s spontaneous fraternity between prisoners in jail ?
– Yes ! And it’s incredible. But they’re not even aware of it. For example, one of them drops a plate while doing the dishes, two people run to help her right away. One picks up the plate, the other asks her if she’s all right. It’s such a solidarity, and so internalized that the prisoners don’t even notice it. They probably don’t know that outside, people don’t behave that way toward one another.
Do you have such close friends on the outside ?
– There were never any like that. Let me illustrate: the morning after the day where I insisted on dancing out in the cold, I had a fever. I heard the conversations : “Aslı Hoca is sick, she didn’t smoke a single cigarette today. » I fell asleep afterward. One put a hot water bottle, another covered me with her comforter, another with her shawl. All day glasses of mint tea, of thyme came my way… three, four women took care of me, just as with a baby.
You still have friends in jail. What message would you like to pass on.
– I miss them a lot, a part of my heart has stayed with them. In my head I always have the songs they sang together, that I followed by keeping the rhythm.
There was a soul over there that I’ll never find on the outside.