Seared on my mind as with a branding iron, the memory rises of my years of incarceration in Turkish jails, bringing back a specific period.
Those who lived through those years know that the pustschist generals who transformed Turkey into an open-air prison, were not content with confiscating the freedom of millions of people, but they also forced them to relinquish their identity.
Progressive democrats and revolutionaries were the first victims of the pustschist generals’ “rehabilitation” process. All the military prisons, starting with those of Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakır were transformed into terrible “reddition laboratories”.
Resistance and hunger strikes
In the Diktat prisons, imposing the uniform as “only garment” was the main tool of oppression and sanction. While this persecution of the “only garment” was practiced in all men’s jails of every size, on July 14 1982, in the military prison of Diyarbakır, a “hunger strike to the death” began (meaning a hunger strike with no absorption of sugared or salted water.)
During this strike, Kemal Pir, Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, Akif Yılmaz and Ali Çiçek lost their lives. Administsrative Bulletin n° 13-1, promulgated in 1983, made the “only garment” mandatory as of January 1984, starting with the Metris military prison in Istanbul.
On January 14-15 1984, prisoners’ civilian clothing was confiscated.
On April 11 1984, detainees in the prisons of Metris and Sağmalcılar began a hunger strike, their demands being “the end of the practice of the uniform”, “the end of tortures”, “the implementation of humane and socially acceptable jail conditions” and “the recognition of political incarceration as a status”. After 45 days, the hunger strike begun by 400 prisoners became a hunger strike until death. At the end of this episode of resistance Abdullah Meral, Haydar Başbağ, Fatih Oktulmuş and Hasan Telci had lost their lives.
As a consequence of the prisoners’ protests, the pustschist regime withdrew the imposition of the uniform on February 11 1986. But problems did not disappear inside the prisons …Violation of rights, the practice of torture, rapes and isolation continued to exist as constant “reddition” policies practiced by successive governments, hence as State policy. And in later periods, powerful widespread mobilizations for hunger strikes, and hunger strikes until death, continued to log in victims and further instances of State violence in Turkey’s history.
In the 90s, resistance in the jails turned into destructive struggles such as hunger strikes to the death, immolations and martyrs’ sacrifices. Prisoners were blinded into dying rather than living…Hundreds of precious people, full of life, were motivated to die and become martyrs. In prisons as well as on the outside, people were destroyed by this approach and such motivations, with no gains whatsoever.
Brief reminder by Kedistan:
– In 1996, prisoners detained in Diyarbakır prison for their membership in the PKK began a massive hunger strike demanding the lifting of the bulletin concerning prisons. The strike was taken up by 2 174 prisons in 43 prisons, 355 of which went on hunger strike until death. During this episode of resistance, ten people lost their lives.
– On October 20 2000, a hunger strike began simultaneously in several prisons. Among other things, the hunger strikers demanded the closing down of type F prisons and the abrogation of the law concerning the fight against terrorism. Within one month, this hunger strike, begun by 816 prisoners, became a hunger strike until death. Operations launched by security forces in the prisons cost the lives of 2 gendarmes, 30 prisoners, and left many others victims of different illnesses, particularly of Wernicke Korsakof syndrome as well as severely wounded, such as Veli Saçılık who lost an arm. This operation was code named “Return to Life” (yes, the Turkish State has quite a sense of humor, lest we forget the recent “Olive Branch” operation in Afrin).
– Among the mass hunger strikes, we can also mention that of the TEKEL workers in 2010.
– Other hunger strikes took place recently, notably those of Kemal Gün requesting the body of her son, and Nuriye Gülman and Semih Özakça, teachers who were fired by decree at the end of 2016, and Esra Özakça, to whom Kedistan has devoted a special dossier.
READ ALSO Turkey • The Return of Prison Uniforms
The “Only Garment” is back in the news
In 2017, thirty-one years later, the wearing of uniforms in prison is back in the news, the practice revived by the President of the Republic, Tayyip Erdoğan, and reinstated by a recent decree.
Moreover, new prisons of a specific type have been built. Also, the Justice Minister “anticipating” that the number of the condemned or awaiting judgement would reach 275 000 in 2018, plans were made for the completion of 45 new prisons. In these, as in the existing ones, wearing the uniform will be mandatory, whether the detainee is a man or a woman.
And so, after all the years I passed in the prisons of Selimiye, Alemdağ, Kabakoz, Metris and Sağmalcılar, between 1980 and 1987, I find myself witnessing 37 years later, in the new period of dictatorship, the imposition of the “only garment” in jails.
This time, journalists are even more numerous among the incarcerated. And while I write these lines, I learn that one of my colleagues and hostage friends, journalist and photographer Ahmet Şık has been released.
A story of Indomitables
I am sure you will understand that memories of prison are not very pleasant. But their ugliness does not flow from those holding these memories but rather from the turpitudes the system imposed on them. Which is exactly what I underwent during those years. I wish to state that, despite all the repression I witnessed at that time, I think the liberty-killing practices and the repression to which the prisoners, journalists intellectuals, political men and women and other opponents to the system today go far beyond those experienced in the past.
With what I will now tell you, I think you will better understand the essence of that cursed period.
The daily experiences of prisons following the military coup d’etat on September 12 1980 are of pedagogical importance in order to understand not only the extraordinary resistance of an entire generation of progressist, revolutionary and libertarian youths, facing the pustschist generals, but also to perceive the specificities of an entire “monotype” social generation, created by State dikdat through the bayonette of persecutions, prohibitions, intimidations, terror and demagogery.
To update what I wrote above, I must say: “37 years later, as in the period between 1980 and 1987, prisoners are once again forced to wear the “only garment” which in terms of State policy, targets the depersonalization and reddition of opponents.” And with these words, I invite you into my history of the Indomitables.
Being one among the thousands of young people taken hostage by the junta in the eighties, I am part of this story.
The main Devrimci Sol trial
Brief reminder by Kedistan:
Devrimci Sol or Dev-Sol (Revolutionary Left), a Marxist-Leninist Leftist party, active between 1978 and 1994, is part of an entire historical process followed by the extreme Left in Turkey, maintaining a certain tradition of scissions and dismantlings, constantly rising from the ashes…Thus Dev-Sol preceded the DHKP-C (Revolutionary people’s liberation Party-Front), founded in 1994 and active to this day.
I was one of the 1,243 persons on trial during what was known as “the main Dev-Sol trial” which is considered as one of the major symbols of the absence of Rights in the period following September 12.
In 1981, the main trial began at the Court of Martial Law N°1. Known as the “giant trial” since it brought together the files of all activists or persons related to the organization, or accused of all sorts of crimes such as “resisting arrest”, “destruction of public equipments”, “leadership in an illegal organization” or “murder”, and for whom various sentences of imprisonment or even of death – for 250 of them- were demanded. This trial lasted for years, meandering through various stages, appeals, irregularities, loss of files…
I was prosecuted under article 146/1 and stayed behind bars until 1987, a period of approximately 7 and a half years.
The trial ended in 2009. I was acquitted. The Supreme Court confirmed the decisions in 2013 and after 32 years, the Main Trial of Dev-Sol finally came to an end.
Brief note from Kedistan:
Most of the people were accused under article 146/1 of the Turkish Penal Code and were subject to the death sentence. In 2009, The Red Assistance relayed the conclusion of the story. “After losing hundreds of the files making up the penal document, the ‘civilian’ tribunals deliberated in the same direction as those of their military predecessors. 39 of the 1,243 (!) accused were sentenced to prison in perpetuity. Given the antiquity of the charges, those few among the condemned who survived State terror (many of the accused were assassinated during the 90s) benefited from prescription. Life sentences were converted into prison sentences of eight years in virtue of the law on terrorism covering these types of offences. Most of the condemned having already been jailed eight years or more walked freely out of court. One of the lawyers declared they would appeal this decision, claiming that this trial had begun during the period of the coup, period during which torture constituted the sole means of inquest. Twenty of the activists also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over an unjust trial.
This archival video in which I appear was recorded on March 14 1982 during the main Dev-Sol trial:
The trial was held in a sports stadium. We see some of the accused presenting themselves. Family name, Surname, address…When the Judged asks for their trade, they all answer “revolutionary”.
(We’re sorry, the video has been deleted from Youtube. We’re looking for a copy.)
The torturers in the Metris Gaol
1983 was a culminating point in the struggle inside the prison of Metris, a struggle the pustschist generals did not manage to put down, no matter what they attempted. In 1982 in the Diyarbakır prison traditionally known as the “gaol”, the generals exercised incredible methods of persecution and torture against patriotic Kurds, meeting extraordinary resistance during which four prisoners sacrified their life during hunger strikes. This resistance which greatly contributed to the awakening of Kurdish identity, also served as a great source of moral support to all the detainees resisting dictatorship inside the prisons, starting with the prison of Metris. Many of the patriotic Kurds who lived through the days of savagery in the gaol of Diyarbakır spent years before managing to escape from the trauma experienced during this period. Memories of these terrible years inspired a number of poems, short stories, novels, paintings, films and plays.
Hunger Strike and a Commander with an expertise in torture
In the history of resistance within Metris prison, the defeat of the 28 day hunger strike conducted in July and August 1983 marked the first break, and the weakening of the power of “leftist” leaders among the prisoners (jailed cadres of organized structures) and strike leaders.
At the onset of ’83, persecutions had intensified. First, the authorized number of prisoners’ letters were reduced to two per week. Then, paper and pencils were prohibited. In this way, prisoners were both deprived of the possibility to defend themselves, and barred from communicating with their relatives. Shortly thereafter, even razors could no longer be found. Books were confiscated, walks outside the cell blocks, prohibited. Only later would we understand, when the wearing of the “sole garment” became the main topic, that these measures were not accidental, as they appeared at the time of the implementation of the Sağmalcılar special type of prison. These systematic prohibitions and systematic forms of psychological oppression were led by Commander Muzaffer, an expert in tortures, who had arrived from the gaol in Diyarbakır.
In an attempt to defeat the generals’ “reddition program” in Metris, 2 000 prisoners (yes, two thousand!) started a hunger strike. However, while the prisoners planned to continue the strike until all their demands were met, in other words until they achieved a clear victory, the prison administration, under Commander Muzaffer, made an abrupt change in its maneuvers. The prisoners’ clothing was returned to them and the administration declared that no one would be forced into wearing the “sole garment” (uniform), and that the other demands would find a response, eventually. Of course, this was a trick and a well-thought out one in order to break the massive resistance and influence of the strike. Not realizing the purpose of this sudden and surprising maneuver, most of the leaders of the organized left decided to end the hunger strike. Which was terminated at the end of 28 days.
Subsequently, the promises were not really kept.
Prior to the hunger strike to the death in 1984
Three autonomous revolutionary prisoners (belonging to no organized leftist structure) thus raised this question on the 28th day of the hunger strike. “Have the promises truly been kept?” underscoring the error of ending the resistance before all the demands were met, and declaring they would continue the hunger strike. I was one of them.
The decision by these three prisoners within the “sick bay” to continue the strike was deemed “useless and anarchic”by the leftist leaders. Somehow, they had labelled us early on, before we even recognized ourselves… For my part, frankly, I was rather pleased by this label…
Having never encountered a hunger strike lasting more than 28 or 29 days, the prison administration panicked on the 30th day. They forced us to the infirmery and attempted to insert IV drips. When we refused, they transferred the first of us by ambulance, then the two others, to the Haydarpaşa military hospital. There, we continued to resist the doctors’ persuasions to accept serum. We also attempted to convince other prisoners who had ended their hunger strike while hospitalized, and were still on the premises. We continued resisting for two days, before ending our strike on the 32nd day, following our own collective decision. Our objective was of course a protest against the oppressions and prohibitions, but also against the incoherence of the leftist authorities that had led this resistance to failure. The promises were never kept and shortly thereafter, the persecutions and prohibitions were reintroduced by stealth.
This is how the tragic process of the 1984 hunger strike began. If the 2 000 participants had shown the determination and nimblemindedness required to pursue the hunger strike for a few more days, the victims of the following episode of resistance might have been avoided.
Following a brief period of calm in Metris after the hunger strike to the death in 1984, persecutions started up again in 1985.
The pustchist generals opened the Sağmalcılar prison-type prison, built for resistors who refused capitulation, to a second group of “indomitables”. Hundred of prisoners were removed from Metris military prison and “exiled” to Sağmalcılar.
As an autonomous revolutionary, I was among these exiled “indomitables.”
My best friend was wearing the uniform…
Arriving at the special-type Sağmalcılar prison, we were greeted with the “sole garment” and other sanctions. Since we resisted both the uniform and the strip searches, we were beaten and subjected to falaka (beatings on the soles of the feet).
With our reputations as “indomitables”, what could we do except show them we could not be tamed? By the end of the day the corridors were full of torn uniforms transformed into floor mops, our bloodied and bruised bodies, dragged along the ground and our slogans ringing against the walls. We were thrown into cells of six people.
Over a short period, we healed our wounds and began our new cell life.
I heard that Y, my road companion of whom I always spoke as “my friend both outside and inside”, with whom I had not managed to be reunited in the same cell in Metris despite dozens of requests to the administration, had now accepted to wear the “sole garment”…To me, this was a sad and distressing situation. I had to do something. I thought it over and took a decision that might surprise you. I would accept to wear the uniform and ask to be sent to the same quarter as Y. First, I talked this over with my cell comrades, explaining my motives. They accepted this idea with understanding and respect. “It’s madness but it’s worth a try“, said one of them…
The next day at morning roll call, I handed over my written request to the guard. Following the call, I prepared my stuff and began waiting. The escape hatch (the door) to our cell opened around twelve and the chief guard announced: “Sadık Çelik, your request was accepted. Get your stuff ready and come out!” I was already prepared…
I said goodbye to my cell comrades and, with the guards, crossed in the other direction the corridors through which I had been dragged, bloodied, on the ground. I reached Block B. The chief guard and his lieutenant were as pleased as Punch. At last, they had managed to break an “indomitable”! Meanwhile, I smiled inside and lived another kind of joy. When we arrived before Y’s quarters, the lieutenant said: “Sadık Çelik, we’re putting you in the next quarter. But don’t worry, you will use the same walk.” The chief guard handed me a plastic bag containing the uniform “here, these are your new clothes”.
We moved forward. They opened the door. The prisoners in uniform greeted me with smiles. I remembered some of them from Metris. They were deatinees sentenced during the E.B. trial. After a bit of gossip, they showed me my bunk bed. I took my things and settled on it. But the “sole garment” waited for a long time at the foot of the bed. I had trouble reaching for it. Finally, I remember, I put it on, thinking to myself “how cold it feels!“…
The second promenade takes place in the afternoon. I had told my friends in the quarter that I wanted to surprise my friend Y and asked them not to reveal my name, if anyone from the neighboring quarter asked who had arrived. They agreed. And the door to the common promenade opened.
As the prisoners file out to the promenade according to the numbers on their quarters, the guards first opened the door to Y’s. A few minutes later, our own. And now, my friend stands before me…
When he sees me wearing the uniform, he is voiceless from surprise at first. Then we embrace in friendship…In one corner of the promenade, near the wall, we begin walking back and forth. I say: “I’ve come here to talk to you, the uniform is my excuse.” “What do you mean, you will take off the “sole garment”? he asks, astonished. I answer with a smile, “yes and perhaps we will both take it off…”He stops for a moment. Then continues “I understand and I respect you. But on this topic, I now think differently from you. I don’t want to increase my incarceration through disciplinary sanctions. I want to stay quiet and be liberated as soon as possible.”
Of course, this was the preference of a lot of people. Still, I didn’t expect to hear this from a militant resistor. I continued walking in silence for a while, not knowing what to say. Then I started talking about the objectives behind this practice of the uniform and what would be their consequences. I wanted to convince him to remove the uniform. I knew him, and I knew how he had managed to resist under conditions of oppression. He was not a person who gave up easily, who resigned himself easily. Together, arm in arm, we had greeted the military dictatorship of September 12 1980, in Alemdağ prison. Our anger against the generals was great, who had stolen our youth when we were almost children. We knew of no power that could resist this legitimate anger. Besides, we were two independant revolutionaries who had managed to leave authoritarian ideological hirerarchies. As “independant persons”, this mattered because, it was difficult, even impossible to face the terrorism of tortures, prohibitions and oppression the pustchist generals applied systematically in the prison. We had to overcome this reality with a courage close to madness, and we had succeeded.
The only thing that had kept us independant revolutionaries standing was the support and affection of our relatives and near ones who attempted to struggle on the outside for us, in conditions even more difficult than our own. In particular, the solidarity of our mothers, their resistance, was the precious source of morale in our resistance. Contrary to what might appear, we were neither alone nor desperate. No matter the conditions, neither of us had broken down under the terrorism of the generals, ennemies of the people.
We questioned one another. How could it be that we found ourselves, two travelling companions, at such a crossroad in our journeys? What would accepting to wear the uniform resolve at this point? The uniform was part of the repression the pustschists had practiced for five years, in order to break the strength and the legitimacy of the resistance. We had even suffered deaths on this road.
On that day, during the hour of the walk and all the days that followed, we talked to find an answer to these questions. Finally, I understood sadly that I would not receive the answers I expected, and that our fraternal resistance was over. And Y and I exchanged our final words, saluted one another and never again found ourselves on the promenade together.
I told myself “the fraternity and militant spirit we fed for years must end here” and told him what I felt. “We have said everything we could say. I think if would be senseless to speak any further. I won’t be here at the next promenade. Tomorrow at the visit, I will explain to my mother why I wore the uniform, then I will take it off and go back into resistance. Safe journey to you, my brother, and take care of yourself.”
“Son, you gave me a fright”
The next morning, after roll-call, came the time for visits…Would my mother come? Since I had not written nor sent a telegram…I hadn’t done so on purpose. Because I had come to convince Y and my situation was temporary. She did not know yet that I had accepted to wear the uniform.
>>>Read part 2
The uniform in Turkish prisons • The Indomitables | 2
Brief note from Kedistan:
Sultan Çelik, Sadık Çelik’s mother, is one of the co-founders of TAYAD, the Solidary Association of Families of Prisoners. She was part of the struggle by the prisoners’ family following the period after the September 12 coup. One of the leading figures of this period, she was called “Mother Sultan”. She is also one of the founders of Özgür-Der (Association for the right to free speech and education) and DEMKAD (Women for the democratic struggle). She died of cancer on July 25 2003.
Whether it is a visiting day or not, my mother or “Sultan ana”, TAYAD’s Mother Sultan, stands guard every days in front of the prison with other mothers and fathers, leaders of the association. And this solidarity watch allows the families to stay close to the news concerning the prisoners and to maintain the strength of their support.
Visits are forbidden to prisoners who refuse the uniform, but not to those who wear it. On visiting days, the soldiers read off to the visitors the list of prisoners who have accepted to wear the uniform, and if they have visitors, they are informed of this. So this would be a day of surprises for my mother. As the thought I might accept the “sole garment” would never cross her mind, she wouldn’t expect to hear my name, and wouldn’t greet the news very warmly…
Toward the end of the visiting hour, the door opens to our quarters and the soldier reads my name on the list. “Sadık Çelik, you have a visitor, get ready!”
I prepare and wait by the door. I am a bit moved and tense. The door opens and my feet carry me toward the cabin, I who have not had a visitor for months. I reach the cabin with the soldier. And I wait.
After all these months, I see my mother with a worried expression on her face. I tell her: “Don’t worry. This was a very special situation. I put on the uniform in order to convince Y, but unfortunately I didn’t succeed. Tomoroww I will take off the unirform and return in the resistors’ quarters. Today, I wanted to accept the visits because I wanted to inform you. I would have preferred you not see me like this. “
Having undertood the situation, my mother took a deep breath. “Son, you gave me a fright. You can’t imagine how badly I felt when they read off your name. If Sevgi hadn’t told me, “Go sister Sultan, go and see, perhaps there is a reason”, I wouldn’t have set foot in here. I’ll never forget how people looked at me when the soldier read your name. This kind of situation is complicated for us, the families. Especially if the son of one of the TAYAD leaders does such a thing. It’s even harder to explain to the families. Son, don’t do this again, don’t wear that rag again and don’t call me back to this visitor’s cabin. I would not want to visit you with shame”, she tells me. I answer “I’m truly sorry to have caused you shame, but don’t worry, next time, you will come to my visit not with shame but with joy. And so this day may come, we will continue to fight, us inside, you outside, in solidarity. Your son knows he is not alone, no matter what the circumstances may be. I am proud to have a kind mother filled with sollicitude. I salute all our mothers with the same feelings, and our fathers, brothers and sisters supporting our resistance. My mother with the carnation red cheeks looked at me with eyes filled with tenderness, “yes, son, we will win together. May my love and tenderness be with you always, you and all the other jailed children.” She left the visitor’s cabin, head held high and with a light heart…
At this point in my story, I must pause before describing the following year the prison administration reserved for me, in total isolation.
“Here you will see nothing but the wall!”
The next morning before roll call, I did not put on the “sole garment” and I did not show up for roll call. When the call team entered the quarter, I was in the dormitory, sitting on bed in shorts and undershirt, awaiting what would come next.
First I heard the lieutenant’s voice, “Hey, where is Sadık Çelik?” One of the prisoners answered “in the dormitory!”In a stern voice the lieutenant ordered the chief guard “get him out here!” The guard and the soldiers behind him entered the dormitory and dragged me out to the space for meals, and attempted to make me stand in the row for roll call. The lieutenant approached me “so, you played a trick on us. All right, we’re removing you from here. We’ll take you to a nice place now. You’ll love it”, he said with a mocking air. The chief guard and the soldiers pushed me toward the corridor, striking me and dragging me howling before the shamedfaced silence of the quarter’s prisoners. While I struggled in the corridor we went by the door to Y’s quarter and I thought of him for a moment. I told myself “luckily, we weren’t in the same quarter.” Because I wouldn’t have wanted to see Y among the prisoners lowering their eyes in shame, while holding their position for roll call as I was dragged in front of them…
They took me up to the third floor of the same block. They stopped in front of the door of the first cell in the corridor. I recalled my mother’s words “yes, son, we will vanquish together. May my love and tenderness be with you always, you and all the other imprisoned children”.
The lieutenant arrived last and said to me “here you will see nothing but the wall”and he had them open the isolation cell which was mine for a year.
This is how my days of isolation began, filled with prohibitions and persecutions…
On entering my cell, the first thing I did was to stand with my back against the door and then to measure the space in footsteps toward the windows facing me. “One, two, three, four, five”. And the width, from one wall to the other. “One, two, three, three and a half”… I have two very grey barred windows at a one-meter distance from one another, close to the ceiling. Stretching my arms I flip them open. Through them, I see the roof of the promenade strewn with barbed wire. It reaches from the ceiling of my cell to the blind wall at the end of the promenade. It is hard to see the sky, and even less so the birds, the gulls flying by, or a passing airplane… And at night, there will no longer be blinking stars or a moon…
There is a small sink under the windows. A bit further on the right, a toilet next to a half-wall one and a half meters thick. Behind it, a metallic bed, screwed to the ceiling and to the floor. On the bed, a military mattress, blanket, pillow and sheets… Facing the bed, against the wall, a table and a chair await me. I drag my wounded body toward the bed. I lie down. I knit my hands under my head, and I nosedive into deep thoughts…
I awake to the voice of the soldier on guard. Lunch. Without another word, the soldier opens the trap for meals at the bottom of the door, at foot level, and hands over the “tabldot” tray (and expression originating in French. “Table d’hôte“, written in Turkish…). I loathe this way of serving the meals, extremely unsanitary and degrading.
My cell is like an hourglass filled with prohibited walks, vists, lawyers, tribunal, hospital, shower, letters, books. Il flows, and flows and flows through the days, the weeks, the months…
By the end, my cell with its view on a cold, blind and mute wall, taught me one thing: remaining alone in a cell and not forgetting how to speak is an art.
For months on end, I remained without the sound of any other human voice than my own with which to hold a conversation. In order to preserve myself from the destructive effect on reality compacted into 14 square meters, I felt the need for an extraordinary amount of imagination and moral strength…
By nature, a human being is a social creature interacting and dialoguing with those surrounding him. There can be no more inhuman offence than to remove a human being from his free and natural orbit in order to shut him up in a space with no contact with other humans. This is why I personally refuse this concept of imprisonment as a natural and normal dissuasive argument, born of the relationship between the State, the crime and its punishment. By refusing all these arguments, we will understand that the concepts of prison and captivity in isolation are counter-productive since they trespass the limits of a human being’s physical needs.
I wish to return to relating my own conditions of captivity…For months, the most terrible part of my prohibition-laced solitude consisted of the impossibility of speaking to anyone. I told myself “Being forced to face this is unbearable. I must find a method.”At that moment, two free books that had remained accidentally at the bottom of a prison bag told me there was a pleasant and persuasive way leading to “another world”. “A Man” by Oriana Fallaci and “Eski Filmler” (Old Films’) by Vedat Türkali.
I erased the boundaries of my sentimental and moral universe and I read these two books in turn, aloud, as if presenting a scene. Over and over… Every day, every day…
The soldiers on guard thought I had become crazy, from time to time they would come and watch through the trap. One day, I told one of them: “No, I haven’t become crazy, and I won’t become crazy either…Your lifeless, mute, deaf and dumb walls, your prohibitions will not drive me crazy.”This is what I attempted to tell them in a few words.
At last, I had found the right method. From then on I lived everything, time, space, volume, human beings, everything, outside the 14 square meters, in another dimension. I had loads of friends in the two books. Every day, we met in a story, I talked with them freely.
What I loved the most was discussing with the main character in Oriana Fallaci’s novel, Aléxandros Panagoúlis and echoing him. I even identified with him. From then on, beyond being a character in a book, he represented for me a certain attitude in life. He had become my travelling companion, opening up my world to new horizons, and giving me the strength to endure the prohibitions and oppressions.
I would like to introduce him…
Alexandros Panagoulis: Known as a Greek activist, politician and poet. He marked political history following the 1967 military coup. On August 13 1968, he conducted a bomb attack against the pustschist general Papadopoulos: “I never wanted to kill a human being. I cannot kill a human being. Personally, I wished to kill a tyrant“, he declared. Arrested by the pustschists, he was conducted to a center of the ESA, the military junta’s security agency and tortured during 90 days. At the tribunal he said: “You cannot stand in judgment of me, for you are the junta’s judges. If you acquitted me, you would acknowledge your own crime. If my action had succeeded, you would be standing trial in my stead.”
On November 17 1968, after the five days of the trial, Alexandros was transferred to the Island of Aegina where he was to be executed. He waited for three days for the firing squad. During that time, international public opinion mobilized demanding the lifting of his sentence. The only reason that would allow the annulment of the execution and transform it into jail in perpetuity would have been an amnesty pronounced by general Papadopoulos. All it took was a signature on the document by Alexandros. But to the officer who brought him the document for signature, Alexandros said: “Get out of here, I won’t sign!”
In 1973, after 4,5 years in jail, Alexandros was freed nonetheless along with all the other political prisoners during a general amnesty pronounced by Papadopoulos in an unsuccessful attempt at giving his regime a “freer” appearance.
In Turkey, I spent one year in this isolation cell.
“Mama, we’ve succeeded!”
One morning in February 1986, I woke up to an announcement resonating off the loudspeakers in the promenade:
“Attention! Attention! To all prisoners! As of tomorrow, by order of the General Directorate of carceral institutions, all the prisoners will be allowed to go to the promenade, to appear at visits to their families and lawyers, and before the tribunal judging them, in their usual clothing. Thus, they will be allowed to receive the clothing, food and medication brought by the visitors, conditional on their inspection.”
I joyfully told myself: “There you go! We’ve succeeded, mama!”
My joy, our joy resounded then inside and on the walls: “Long live the resistance! Long live victory!”
Carrying on with the resistance, from yesterday to today
During the current period of dictatorship with Erdoğan, the “sole garment” is being imposed again.
Let us listen to a voice resonating since the eighties. Words from those ancient times have not aged and provide proof of the fact that successive powers follow the same roads, using the same repressive methods.
And they remind us we must never give up the struggle. One letter* addressed from Metris prison to the Martial Law Tribunal N° 2 in Istanbul reads: “To those who want to confiscate our thoughts and turn us into their slaves, we answer: YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED!”
Note from Kedistan: This letter was published on page 56 of the book titled Devimci Sol Dava dilekçeleri 12 September Eylül Mahkemeleri Dosyasi – 2″ (Dossier of written demands concerning the Dev-Sol Trial, September 12, Volume 2) by Arslan Tayfun Özkök.
Top Photo: A scene form the film Kanlı Postal (Bloodied boots). Directed by Muhammet A.B. Arslan and released on September 11 2015, the film tells the story under the military coup of September 12 1980, in the Diyarbakır prison (Video in Turkish)