Barbaros Şansal who describes himself as a tailor’s apprentice is one of the most notorious protesters in Turkey… Following his posting of an ironical video on social medias, he was the victim of an organized attempt at a lynching in Atatürk Airport (Istanbul). The matter has been submitted to the courts. Although he should not have spent so much as a single day in jail, he was incarcerated nonetheless. He spent 56 days in a cell at Silivri prison in Istanbul.
Barbaros puts himself to the fore in every demonstration and protest, be it to say “no to war” or to ask that justice be rendered for the assassination of Berkin Elvan…“Law has been transformed into a weapon those in power use against their opponents” says Barbaros, “this will do for a time and then it will pass. Law is an empty bag. You reap whatever you put in it.”
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Reportage by Yavuz Özcan published in Turkish on December 5 2019 on Yeni Özgür Politika
You had already been sentenced in 1980 and tortured in Sansaryan1. What were you accused of at the time?
Persecution had already begun before 1980. Around 1975, due to the fact the various political coalitions could not resolve the country’s problems, universities and even high schools became politicized and the street became a battle ground. Also, in this same period, Turkish cinema was offering the public erotic films, acting as an opium. This fact had raised questions of morality and, as usual, these took homosexuals as their targets. In those days, I wore red “converse” shoes, I was then accused of being a communist. It took me 9 years and a voluntary exile to get over this trauma.
Are there other examples of such a system of justice?
Law is an empty bag. You reap whatever you put into it.
Once governments turn into califates for profiteering, legislations stemming from international treaties with universal applications to civil law, jurisprudence and constitutions are rendered subjective and non-functional. Once political institutions are transformed into commercial holdings, you can lock the presumption of innocence up in a closet.
The current Turkish Republic is not a State of Law. With bizarre decrees having value of law (KHK), the state of exception (OHAL) and arbitrary practices, along with the system of “secret witnesses” and “informers” the functioning of justice is rendered even more difficult. As for examples: in the same manner as in the new world order everywhere, there is a cult of money and power and god’s justice remains like the good luck charm in the pack of chewing-gum.
Are there some people who tell you “you are a scapegoat, we no longer allow you to live in this country, go away”?
Given the targeting, false accusations, false evidence, detrimental trials, impunity, hate crimes, threats, violence, extorsions, aggressions added on to harassment and rape, I can be subjected to everything…But that doesn’t mean they will win. I love to fight.
You are an LGBTI, atheist, socialist, ecologist…You wear this chain, this necklace around your neck…
What you describe is not a necklace. A necklace is a jewel for First Ladies. Mine are medals, a medal of honor for humanity. In countries such as the Turkish Republic you can become a “scapegoat” for some, “the one to massacre” for others or then again “a hero”…You can lose money, your profession or your reputation. Süleyman Demirel[fotnote]1924-2015. Turkish statesman, he served as Prime Minister, President[/footnot] said “As for reputation, there is no interest, no economy. It exists or it doesn’t.” All I can say: all those with an aggressive attitude change when it comes to their interests in business, in affection, in sexual or physical matters. Be it the religious man declaring his love, or the minister’s wife dreaming of free dresses, all of them act differently from what they express or demonstrate. As if the impudence and transgression in their genes reared up inside them…
When you were in jail, Selahattin Demirtaş‘s lawyers came to see you. Did you expect that?
Why shouldn’t I expect it? We shook hands at the commemoration for Berkin Elvan in the Cemevi 2 in Okmeydanı (Istanbul). Meral Danış Beştaş was in the cell next to mine. Demirtaş is a man I appreciate and follow. He is an exemplary family man, a defendor of rights and liberties. His lawyers came for a visit, late one night on their way back from the jail in Edirne [where Demirtaş is incarcerated]. I guess the Minister of Justice must have given a special authorization. As they were looking for evidence [to use in their accusation], they listened to all my visitors during this unjust incarceration, the lawyers, the deputies and other visitors. They were very disappointed, since they found nothing to tie into an [illegal] organization, nothing whatsoever. They had me released in the middle of the night and had me acquitted. While in jail, I received visits from several elected members and representatives of institutions among them, İlhan Cihaner, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Atilla Sertel, Zeynep Altıok Akatlı [deputies of the CHP], Tuncay Özkan, Hakan Aygün [journalists, authors], the lawyers in the trial against the daily paper Cumhuriyet, members of the Antalya Bar Association… However, of the thousands of letters sent to me, I received only four. Moreover, despite the medical report, I was deprived of treatment. Once again, I was in contact with the rough and offensive face of the State.
You were expelled from [Northern] Cyprus after posting a video on social media. When you arrived at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, there was an attempted lynching on your person. Why did all of this happen to you?
I was expelled illegaly from Chyprus following a simple order. I proved this inhuman illegality with the trial n°31/2017 opened at the Supreme Administrative Court of Northern Chyprus against the Ministry and ministers of Domestic Affairs. Using black humor and a sarcastic style,I had criticized the abuse against children, the bribes, the jailed journalists, the press releases from radical islam and the governments meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries. This was in the first hours of the year 2017. On that same night there was the attack against the Reina Club. An operation began on January 1st. In an organized fashion, as part of the engineering on perceptions, my sharing of the video was presented as if I had released it after the attack on the Reina. Tweets that don’t belong to me were created with fake screen grabs. And on January 2, the situation swelled toward great indignation. Despite the fact we had lodged complaints against Cem Küçük, Maranki, Alişan and others who were designating me as a target, the complaints were not taken into account.
The Anatolian Agency [the State information agency] published my personal data belonging to Turkish Airlines. When I arrived, accompanied by Chyprus police, to be placed in custody by the police of Istanbul’s security directorate, I was subjected to attempted murder by the staff of TGS3, Turkish Technic 4, TAV 5, EGM 6, Havaş7, Çelebi 8, along with airport policemen (excerpt from statement submitted to the court).
While I was being assaulted, I was also stripped of my belongings, from my shoes to the gold watch on my wrist, they disappeared.
Vasip Şahin, the prefect of Istanbul, protected the policemen on duty via a decree with force of law. It took two years to obtain the opening of a public trial. At the second hearing, none of the accused showed up and neither did the judge. The hearing was then delayed for three months. The next hearing will be held in February 2020. Impunity has reigned during all these years. All this happened because I wrote about the wife of an AKP member and her passion for gambling. While she was exhibiting dollars like flags on the gaming tables, her relatives were hoarding the public’s money.
By the way, what has come out of the attack on the Reina?
Following your expulsion, what did you think of the attitude of the government of Chyprus?
I have a past in Chyprus since 1965. I have many friends there, in Northern as well as in Southern Chyprus. I still go there and I own property there. The lifting of Hüseyin Özgürgün’s immunity, who was Prime Minister at the time, is not accidental. But what is strange is that, as much as I have been ill-treated illegally by people in Turkey or who work for Turkey in Northern Chyprus, I have received nothing but friendship, affection and respect from the Turks in Southern Chyprus. Food for thought. For the governments in Northern Chyprus, what the Republic of Turkey says is like Revealed Truth.
You did not eat the food provided by the jail. Why?
In jail, you cannot spend more than 300 Turkish lira [equivalent to 46,93€ at current rates]. The Ministry of Justice does not authorize higher spending. This sum includes the cost of newspapers, tobacco, products for personal hygiene, cleaning products, and all other costs. (Journalist) Tuncay Özcan lost a kidney in Silivri prison. During the quarantine period, they attempted to force medication on me. And I refused the prison meals, including the bread because “the bread Berkin carried was stained with blood” 9. I tried to survive by buying wrapped foods at the canteen, with my own money.
Did you think your video share would lead to all this?
In the Republic of Turkey, even if you share nothing, everything can happen to you. In this country, Lale Oraloğlu [comedian] was jailed for a porcelain plate 10. The brief of indictment against Osman Kavala has still not been produced. 11. The Turkish Amnesty Trial, Tahir Elçi 12, Hrant Dink 13, Behice Boran 14… Everything is at their liking. The security of life and of belongings has never been as trampled, in any other period. I’m not even mentioning freedom of opinion or of expression.
What did you experience when they arrested you?
My file had been ordered from on high. As I had already lived through arrests, I had grown accustomed to them. It also seemed obvious that being inside was safer than being outside. Those who wanted me dead wanted me in isolation at that time.
And if I asked you where Turkey is headed?
My grandmother used to say: “On the back of a prediction, let us head toward the apocalypse”. In my opinion, Turkey is headed into the unknown. But things must improve. The Turkish Republic has a strong and dynamic structure. It cannot be seen in isolation from the rest of the world. Notions such as racism, nationalism, ethnicity, fundamentalism only sell by monthly installment with high interest rates. At that price, their commercialization ends up weighing ever more heavily.
For the past 17 years, the AKP has been in power…
Should we say, for the past one thousand year or even 12 000 years like Hasankeyf, or again 15 000 years like Göbekli Tepe? When a country reaches this condition, those who live in it, its citizens are the main culprits. They are led as they deserve to be.
We know you are anti-war and we know your actions around this. What would you like to say about what the Kurds are subjected to, both here in Turkey as well as in Syria?
Only in Syria? Brukina Faso, Somali, Libya, Congo, Rwanda, Rohingya, Kashmir…Only the Kurds? Armenians, Yazidis, Alevis, LGBTIQ, Jews, Christians, Muslims… War brings blood and death, generates suffering and hatred. As for peace, love, respect and tolerance…War will continue as long as the monopolistic producers of chemistry and weapons will manage, via the media, to get those elected that will do what they want.
What did you live through in prison?
As for what I lived through in jail, I won’t have enough room here to describe it. But those who so wish can be my guest, in my cell, by reading my book “Makam Odas/Linç” published (in Turkish) by Destak Yayinlari. It may not be available in bookstores because it disturbs certain people. But you can find it on internet. [Kedistan note: Now in its 8th printing].
Do you currently fear for your safety?
I’m told the Turkish Republic can provide me a so-called “protection on demand”. But in fact, being constantly shadowed by an informer would put my life in danger. I don’t rust them. During a planned operation, in an international airport, they brought me face to face with death. And now, they are protecting the organizers and executioners.
Many journalists, writers and intellectuals are in jail for having criticized the government. What do you think about this?
Justice can be useful for everyone, some day. I don’t agree with the sentence that says “Law is power’s prostitute”. In my opinion, it should be called a “pimp”. Just like those who, as soon as a source of power is on the decline, go searching for new investments and clients…The same thing happens with each coup d’Etat.
You describe yourself as a tailor’s apprentice. Out of modesty?
If you don’t make fun of yourself, life makes sure to make fun of you instead. In a world where mistresses of rich men, incompetents with no merit whatsoever are called fashion stylists, I prefer to describe my profession as that of tailor. As my master Ildirim Mayruk is still alive and still calls himself a “tailor” how else could I describe myself?
As a stylist having done time in jail, what do you think of the so-called “sole clothing” in jail?
Costumes are a section of performance arts. The uniform always diminishes the one who puts it on. Especially if it this is done with no thought given to its function, its care and repairs. You end up stinky. In the 21st century, if society is still attempting to establish a reputation through clothing, it is because it is ashamed of its nakedness.
You are the child of a family from the elite. Had did you family react to your decision to become a tailor?
I’m not the one who decided, in fact. I started when I was 7 years old with my paternal grandmother. But I added variations: production, choreography, writing, collections… I enriched myself through my hobbies. Besides, I’m against the notion of “family from the elite.” What you called “elites” are only those who get themselves elected.
Do you think what you have been through was intended to created fear in others?
Only through me?
Fear is their enemy. The enemy of plotting hyenas, not mine.
Those who insult me or lie, I expose them on social media. And I come across certain hitmen in different environments. A number of them ask me “if I go to bed with you, how much will you pay me?” That’s Turkey for you!
Are there any others in Turkey who manage to say, or even to howl, “I am a homosexual” with as much ease as you do? Where does this courage come from?
I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it. I don’t bother with what others will think either. Yes, as far as my body and sexual orientation are concerned, I am free. I am in peace with myself. In any event, even beyond this, there is not a single zone of activity in which the State does not intervene. They could even have us all circumcised before we even knew it. And in the Turkish Republic there are very few homosexuals. The others describe themselves by saying; “I am active.”
If not being afraid requires courage, then it is a character trait. I don’t think about what must remain in my life but about those who must leave it behind. And I won’t give up as long as they won’t have taken my right to life away.
During the Gezi revolt, you rivalled the very best journalists. You broadcast live for hours. Do you have the soul of a journalist?
Gezi was the breaking point in these lands. The fact they are still chewing over Gezi like a wad of gum all these years later, and still searching for “exterior forces” is useless. With 10 million participants, it was the biggest movement of social resistance in the history of the [Turkish] Republic.