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In Turkey, for an entire generation in particular, the term “September 12 1980” covers and describes an entire period. The following generations were not spared for all that, and the entire Turkish Leftist movements refers back to it.
The military coup of September 12 1980 in Turkey ran over the country like a steam roller. This nightmarish period of persecutions, of unimaginable tortures, of executions, left indelible traces.
There are several books covering this period, but also testimonies like those of our friend and Kedistan author Sadık Çelik who spent 8 years behind bars before being acquitted so many years later. Pictorial testimonies also which require courage in order to look at them squarely, such as the works of Zülfikar Tak who made drawings of the torture methods. Or yet again, the graphic novel by Zehra Doğan, currently exhibited at the Berlin Biennial and which will be published by Delcourt in March 2021, in which she provides images from her stay in today’s Diyarbakır prison, and retraces the history of this sinister gaol all the way back to the 80s.
This interview with one of the witnesses of the Turkish prisons in the 80s throws a harsh light on the prisons and the methods… Initially published in n° 53 of the the Express magazine published in September 2005. 1+1 is re-publishing it anew for the 25th anniversary of the coup d’état, and Kedistan is sharing translations in French and in English, as archival reference.
Seza Mis Horoz, witness to the September 12 imprisonment
An interview conducted by Siren İdemen and Aysegül Oğuz
The interrogating officer had said, “When you will go out, you will regain such youthfulness that no one will recognize you, not even yourself.” Who were these youths they imprisonned and tortured? What did they want? What was done to them in the September 12 prisons? We listen to Seza Mis Horoz, an active member of İnsan Hakları Derneği (İHD, Human Rights Association), of Tutuklu ve Hükümlü Yakınları Birliği(Union of relative of the condemned and the incarcerated) and of 78’liler Vakfı (Foundation of 78ers) who lived through the persecution perpetrated in the prisons of Erzincan, Mamak (Ankara), Metris (Istanbul) and Çanakkale. Special edition “25 years from September 12” of Express magazine.
Where were you prior to 1980, what were you doing?
It is true enough that for our generation there was a break between “prior to 80” and “after 80”. I lived in a small town in Iğdır until I finished my secondary schooling in 1973. Four of us out of a family of eight went to Istanbul for further studies. I registered in Istanbul University in the Faculty of Economic Sciences. In fact, with my high grades, I could have attended a better school, but since I had to work, I had to choose a school that did not require regular attendance. This is also a specificity of our generation: we had to study while working and, at the same time, we were wholeheartedly involved in politics.
Where did you work?
While attending university, I was integrated as a civil servant in the Social Security regional Directorate (SSK). There, I began learning about political topics. When I lived back home, we didn’t know much about what was going on. When I arrived in a big city and the university, my world changed very rapidly. My horizons widened…
What was the political climate at the university?
As I was a full-time worker and only attended school for exams, I considered myself more as a worker than as a student. I still have dreams in which I did not finish university.
Which is to say that the student movement had no influence on your politization…
When I started working, we had entered a period of transformation of workers into civil servants, implemented in order to confiscate their rights to strike and their collective agreements. As civil servants, we supported the workers’ resistance. This was the first stage in my politization. This is where I started seeing reality: they fired masses of people, with no attention paid to winter, to snow. To make the civil servant status appealing, they gave us three or four additional bonuses. Most of us donated thoses bonuses to the workers. For me, this was something grand, we were participating in the workers’ resistance full-heartedly, in solidarity.
Was there a union, an organization leading this resistance?
There was Sosyal-İş of which the workers were members and the civil servants were in the process of organizing an association with Mem-Der. Moreover, socialists, revolutionaries, democrats participated in this type of resistance. At the time, I went to every meeting of the student movement. The mood in the amphitheaters was very political, discussions took place…The students wanted to clarify, research, attempt to understand life. They were very different from the beings the Council of Superior Learning (YÖK) fabricates these days. Work, school, life in the neighborhood, unions, activities in the slums, all were part of a cohesive movement…
How did you move on to a more structured struggle?
At home, we were close to the MHP [National Action Party]. But our approach was not one of nationalistic, fascistic belonging. We are of Azeri origin and as the Azeris were against Russia, we were MHP sympathizers. After my arrival in Istanbul, I became a CHP sympathizer [People’s Republican Party, secular, kemalist]. (She laughs) Those were the days when Ecevit [still President of the CHP] used to say “manual workers, workers, students”…
Did you participate in CHP activities?
As I was working, I didn’t have such opportunities yet risking the loss of my job, I went to the meetings anyway. During that period, I met politicized friends at work, and then in associations. I began to learn socialist thought, revolutionary ideas, I integrated the political process very quickly and intensely.
In what kind of political activities did you find yourself?
At first, they consisted of association work in order to organize the civil servants. A that time, several activities could be done at the same time. There was a struggle in the slums, with inhabitants, we participated in various workers’ resistance activities, I also mingled with associations and student activists. Workers, civil servants, students, slum dwellers were all part of my field of interests, as was the case for many young people at the time.
In the second half of the 70s, the mood was changing increasingly. The Beyazıt Massacre on March 16 at Istanbul University, the intensification of attacks…How did you experience this red-hot period?
We had mixed feelings and, on the other hand, several people were joining the movement, the struggle was intensifying. Most of us could see this strength, this union. We were convinced of our legitimacy. Some comrades were wounded or fell at our side. The general vision was to put a dressing on our wounds and carry on with the fight. We were in that kind of state of mind. Obviously, there were a lot of provocations. With our colleagues, our school friends, we attempted to face these attacks. Our confidence sprang from the conviction that our cause was legitimate. We were convinced we would win, because we considered those in front of us were wrong, were tyrants. I stayed in Istanbul until February 79. And, following university I headed toward the towns in the East, Erzincan, Elazığ.
What group did you belong to at that time?
To the “Partizan” group [Revolutionary communist organization in Turkey]. This was the first group with which I had become acquainted.
So you went from the CHP to Partizan?
Yes. (She laughs) There was a quick jump for me. One year after arriving in Istanbul, I became a very different person. My head opened up on a number of topics, I lost my bashfullness, I was able to touch on different aspects of life. Politization made me evolve very quickly.
What appealed to you in the revolutionary movement?
The fact people were close to each other, that they were opposed to injustice… A full-hearted opposition to injustice and a natural reflex, defending equality, women-men equality… For me, this was a great freedom. I came from a place where the principles of feudal judgment were dominant. As a women, socialist ideas appealed to me much more… Sometimes I would come home at one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning, and had this been before, I would have heard “a woman must stay at home.” I saw that women could accomplish everything men could, and that the struggle for freedom makes people even more efficient. All that appealed to me. Of course, the most important aspect was the attitude against injustice, exploitation and the demand for a world and a society more just and equalitarian…
When I heard all that, I figured that everyone, my family, even my bosses, State people, would accept socialism. Because it was beautiful and human. People’s sweat would find an answer, there would be work, there would be a socialist State… I thought everyone who wanted to live with dignity would say “yes”. I would never have imagined that those of us who defended this vision would meet a huge persecution and be subjected to heavy violence. At first, I didn’t know that customs and traditions would hold sway with such a strong reaction. In my logic, I had accepted the change so easily that I thought everyone would perceive it in the same way. Moving along in life, I started to see how the forces of career ambition and property are powerful. We became aware of the State’s tyranny through experiencing it. My feet began to stand more firmly on the ground.
And you were living in Istanbul, you had just received your higher education diploma, numerous opportunities were opening up before, did you hesitate in deciding to go East?
Not in the least. I knew we were fighting for beautiful things, that we aspired to a just society that would allow everyone to live happily, humanely. So, I didn’t even look back. And now, today, I may have difficulties but I don’t regret it at all. Back then we did what our heart dictated.
In 1979, did you have a premonition, did you guess a coup d’état was approaching?
In fact, there was talk about it. In the face of various provocations, the fact they sent the fascistic milita up against us, the Maraş Massacre, these were sounds of boots forerunners to the coup d’état. There were comments about an approaching coup d’état such as “in disputes between brothers, I am opposed to the left and on the right.” The junta was built up on that. The provocations were organized so as to create in people the thought that “someone will save us”.
What are your recollections of the Maraş Massacre?
I was in Istanbul at that time. I experienced a huge anger and we were very sad. Despite everything, you tell yourself “such cruelty at such a level is simply not possible”. Pregnant women, children were killed, people were burned… That awoke a lot of anger; so you cling even more to the struggle. There were also some who said “if the State is that cruel, I’m going to stand aside”. In our generation there was a very rapid progress but also, because of this speed, some unhealthy evolutions. A child walks on all four, then he walks standing up, he grows… That was not our case; as soon as we became aware of who we were, we were forced to run. We showed lacks of deep observation on a number of things we had not interiorized, kneaded into our personality…But that was only natural, we must not criticize nor judge.
How did you experience the day of September 12?
We had moved from Elazığ to Erzincan. My companion and I were in our house in the center of Erzincan. On the radio, we learned a coup d’état was occurring. Martial law, curfew, everything took on terrifying proportions. Armored vehicles were deployed everywhere. You know that there had been a presidential crisis prior to September 12. No President of the Republic could be elected, and even the name of singer Bülent Ersoy was showing up in the urns. When I heard the radio announcement of a coup d’état, I unthinkingly asked “who will be President?”. (She laughs) My husband told me “there won’t be a President nor a Republic, the military is everywhere”. Of course, life became even more difficult.
When had you married?
We had married when we decided to head East. Our marriage lasted about a year and a half. But seeing how intense things were, we barely spent a month, a month and a half together. He was also arrested, two months after my arrest.
How did your arrest go? Where did they bring you?
They arrested me shortly after September 12, on October 30 on a bus from Erzincan heading toward Elazığ. They circled the bus. They came directly toward me. Just before that, we had been with a group of comrades, I suppose one of them talked. There were a lot of denunciations at the time.
They took me to Elazığ. They were putting people in places like Nazi camps, in out-of-the way places. They took me into a building where Turkish Intelligence (MİT) and the counter-guerilla worked together, with a notice that read “Regional Traffic Directorate” located in a place known as “1800 Evler” outside Elazığ. The first interrogation began.
The duration of interrogations was increased then to 90 days, was it not?
Yes, but I stayed there 115 days. I functioned under my true identity, I wasn’t on a search list so I thought I would go free quickly. A bunch of police people, men and women, arrived, undressed me, searched me. They immediately took me in for interrogation. That was the standard procedure at the time, to arrest rapidly, as soon as a name was provided. Because as soon as your friends heard of your arrest, they took precautionary measures. For this reason, the first attack was colossal.
They undressed me and suspended me to the strappado. At the same time, they were giving me electrical shocks. I didn’t understand what was going on. No questions, no ‘who are you, where do you come from, where are you going’ no attempts to establish my identity.
They suspended you to the strappado straight off?
Yes, as soon as they had undressed me, it was straight to the strappado. It made me panick. That’s their goal.
Were there many people in custody?
Of course, with cries… You can’t see if these are people you know because they blindfold you right away.
For the first five, ten minutes on the strappado, I was confused. Our generation learned everything through experience…I’m suspended there and I say “please, could you take me down?”… (She laughs) They burst out laughing, saying “we must take down her ladyship!” After the laughter I told myself “come on Seza, understand where you are, in what reality”.
How old were you then?
I had just finished university, I was 23 years old.
There were insults, humiliations?
Monumental insults I could barely understand. Sexual assaults, sexual insults of the basest kind…The works. The strappado, electricity, insults, falaka [blows with a stick on the soles of the feet], beatings… Despite all this, I pulled myself together quickly. Once I understood what I could and must endure, I relaxed. I wanted a better world, a better society; I had taken up this cause with conviction and of my own volition. Once I told myself “I am going to face this no matter the cost, I will denounce no one”, my head cleared up, my strength of resistance soared.
How long did the torture last?
They messed me up heavily for two days. They took me down, then put me back up on the strappado. They busied themselves on me for six, seven hours… They took me down, put me up again, took me down, up…
If a person gave up during the first interrogation, he or she was done for. If not, later, people managed to get hold of themselves. They considered that “for each person arrested, five weapons, five men”. That was their acceptable minimum. They went after me heavily. During the first torture session, my right arm became useless. Shortly after, they threw me into an isolation cell. I stayed there alone for 25 days. During the first days, I carved sticks on the wall, I gave that up on the 20th days. During those days, they kept taking me out for torture.
Were there times when you thought you wouldn’t make it through?
Of course. They put you into a specific psychological space, they make you think you will never get out of there if you don’t make a statement. The door is open. You can leave. But they will say “we shot her as she was escaping.” In front of that door, I truly lived through a moment of conflict: “no means of liberation, I leave, they shoot me and this torture ends.” Despite everything, the fact of clinging to life weighed in the balance.
They tortured me for almost a month, nonstop. They brought in groups, college students, because they had shouted slogans, hung up placards… Cries out of children, pleading… They brought in the parents from their village so they would denounce their sons, their daughters…Without interruption, cries from the tortured ones, cries of old people, cries from children… It was terrifying.
The last day I spent there, the commissioner came at midnight, “today you talk or you die”, he told me. He escorted me, filled with hatred. Another policeman approached me: “my girl, I have a daughter your age. I can’t sleep at night, I can’t stand to see you subjected to such suffering. Tell them a thing or two, you will have a chance to live.” Playing out the role of the priest. I answered him “if you had so much conscience, you wouldn’t be able to work in such a place.” He cleared off. Five or six people rushed into the room. The commissioner removed my blindfold. If you had met him on the outside, you would have thought he was a teacher, well dressed, perfumed…But extremely ferocious. “You don’t scare me, you’ll end up by talking!” he told me. Plus, he had a wager going. I’m rather small; “the weak sex”. You resist, his pride takes a hit. The words “you don’t scare me” were extraordinarly stimulating for me. I had been there for a month. My long hair was tangled, filled with lice. My body was wounded and swollen all over. They made me look at myself in a mirror. It was terrifying, I frightened myself. And that sentence “you don’t scare me” pronounced in front of me when I was in such a state made me think that “they, in fact were the ones who were scared by our legitimacy.” He said “this business is going to end today!” He picked up a big stick. Instinctively, I raised my arm to protect my head. On the first blow, my arm broke with a loud snap. One of my arms was useless, the other was now broken. I asked “you have taken both my arms, and you ask me for names?” Then he let go of the stick and went on hitting with the truncheon. He’d let go of the truncheon and administer electricity… For the first time they undressed me completely. Before that, I kept my panties… They took me to the toilet. End of November, it was cold. They sprayed me with pressurized cold water. Then, the strappado again. For the first time, I felt that I was fainting. Then, they had to dress me and threw me into a cell with other women. There were a few women they had brought in from the countryside.
Were there cases of rape?
There were many. There were no rapes there but, regularly, sexual assaults. Once when they were taking me from my cell for torture, there was an older soldier, I think he was a sergeant… a disgusting guy. They were holding me under the arms, dragging me and he was feeling up my breasts. I was nauseous. When they administer electrical shocks, they apply it inside your vagina. It’s an appalling thing. As if all of your inner organs were going to burst out through there. Nipples are also very reactive because they are close to the heart…
Of all these tortures, which did you find the hardest to bear? Or is such a comparison possible?
The estrapaddo is the hardest. It’s impressive. As if your arm was going to pull away from your body. You feel as if your foot could only touch a small area for an instant, you would be in paradise. The estrapaddo is horrible. The electricity, is very bad also. At that point, your heart seems to stop. But when it ends, you breathe again.
There was also the falaka, intensively. The soles of our feet were lacerated. I still remember a guard by the name of Ahmet. He truly suffered a lot from what he saw. He attempted to help. Once everyone was gone, to avoid gangrene setting into my feet, he made me walk in salted water.
What happened at the end of the month when you were put into this cell with the women?
When I came to, the women, expecting I was going to die, were crying around me. They were beating on the door: “she’s going to die, take her to the hospital!” They didn’t torture me again. They held me there for three days, in pain. The reason they stopped the tortures was because they had killed a child. In the middle of the night, we could hear them, hitting him from one corner to another, throwing him. We heard the child’s cries. Then, all of a sudden, the cries stopped. There was an impressive silence. Running footsteps following. The following day, they tortured no one. We learned later that this child was dead.
Were there medical doctors participating in the tortures?
I don’t know. But there were certainly some people who were advising the torturers. For example, so as not to kill, they only raised the dosage of electricity to a specific level.
Three days later, they transferred me to the military hospital in Elazığ. September 12 wasn’t institutionalized everywhere yet. In many places, there were still some people left with a conscience. Over there there was a head nurse by the name of Ayse and her husband, a doctor. When they saw the condition I was in, they were angry. Tangled hair, dirty, no functional arms, lice, fleas, I was even disgusted with my own self. I was in such an inhuman condition… I told them “please excuse me, I’m in a terrible condition”. They answered “how can you say that? The shame is on those who put you in this state.” They were very warm-hearted. They cut my hair, cleaned me up.
Were there military men or policemen watching over you?
Of course. Policewomen stood guard. Three of them behaved correctly, attempted to keep a positive attitude. In reality, September 12 was a shock for everyone. They were complaining also, they had trouble putting up with what was going on. The three others had fascist skulls. As I couldn’t use my hands, they were forced to feed me. One of them did so by pushing on my mouth, spilling everything on me.
The doctor said I would require treatment for at least a month and a half and gave me a report saying so. Nine days later, a team arrived. They took me in this condition, put me into a Renault and took me to Ankara. A disgusting trip, under assault, unceasing insults…
What was the reason for this transfer toward Ankara?
With no statement, no revelation of organizational links on my part, they couldn’t do a thing. In Ankara, there is a place called “Müteferrika”, they brought me there. There was already a group of 28, 30 people arrested in an operation. They wanted to integrate me in this group. [the post-coup d’état trials, concerning accusations of belonging to an illegal organization were almost always opened against groups. The most impressive is the trial known as “the main trial of the Dev-Sol” with 1 243 accused.]
I said I did not know any of these people. The police who had accompanied me said “if your reveal anything here, we shoot”. They bragged saying “no one can get admissions out of those who didn’t talk in Elazığ.” I stayed one month in Derin Araştırma Laboratuarı [DAL – Advanced Research Laboratory]. During the first few days, they went after me relentlessly. Then they said “we won’t get anything out of this one.” Both of my arms were in casts, they got rid of me. Since they couldn’t include me in a trial in Ankara, they brought me to Istanbul, in Gayrettepe.
This time, they tried to work me into another group arrested during operations in Istanbul. I said I had no links with those people either. Istanbul was a catastrophy, the place overflowed. They brought in people from associations, unions, anyone that happened to fall into their hands. In a tiny cell, we were nine, ten. There was no room to budge. You could barely breathe. We would take turns moving our head up close to the window, and breathing. Lice crawled over us. The toilets with a sharp smell were horrific, you felt as if your brain would explode. Even the police complained: “because of you, our wives won’t let us into the house. We keep spraying ourselves with cologne water but this smell doesn’t disappear.” Hundred, thousands of people were held there for months…
They had put a pregnant women in with us. They told her “if you talk we will free you”. The woman was in a panic, “here my child will be born handicapped”… You don’t know what to say. On the one hand, other lives are in the balance. On the other hand, you try to understand this women. We would tell her “you should resist, you can’t trust them to keep their word.” She would answer “they promised they would release me”. So she signed a statement, she wrote down names of people she knew. They brought them in also. But of course, they did not release this woman. She was going crazy, in an attack of nerves, she would hit her heads agains the walls “here, my child will be born handicapped”. For us, her “beating of wings” like a bird caught in the net were an even heavier torture than the others.
Were you still being tortured at that time?
They continued of course. They said “here this is Istanbul, all tongues loosen”. My arms were still in casts, they could not suspend me to the strappado, they assaulted me, beating me with truncheons.
I thought they would release me at the end of the legal term of 90 days. They kept me 15 days longer. Then, they sent me back to Ankara again. And they opened a trial solely for me.
Under what accusations?
Under article 141/5, belonging to an illegal organization, Partizan.
There was a place in the very heart of Ankara, they called it “The school of languages.” This is where they took me. I felt as if I had landed in paradise. (She laughs) They removed the casts from my arms. Friends washed me, scrubbed me down. This was the first time I washed following my custody, three and a half months earlier…
Were there persecutions and violence there also?
At first, they approached women with progapanda in the style of “you were deceived, you are children from good families. Make the statement requested by the prosecutor, then you can go on and build your life.”
When new people were arrested during the ongoing operations, you might be pulled out again for interrogations. This possibility of going back at any moment to the commissariat was also a kind of psychological torture in its own rights. We were close to 200 women. All the revolutionary organizations were there. It was a prison with cell blocks.
At first again, they attempted to bribe us. For example, they would offer 4 different kinds of meals. They would threaten us with a transfer to the Mamak prison. They attempted to annihilate our political identity. We didn’t really know how we should organize the resistance. Among us were some very new militants. Not everyone was at the same level. But we thought we had to start somewhere.
Did they impose military discipline on you?
Some things were imposed. First of all, the national anthem. Some of us said “let’s not sing”, others said “let’s pretend to sing.” We had discussions. They kept telling us “there are four or five leaders among you egging you on, denounce them. You, you are nice young ladies.”
Once when they asked us to sing the national anthem, some did, some didn’t. They came toward us and said “all of you sit on the floor”. We didn’t know what we should do, you must always act as a group. Seven, eight friends stayed standing, the others sat down. They started to charge us violently with truncheons, kicks. Then, something beautiful happened, like you see in films. What did we see, one woman stood up, then others, one by one. All the women stood, together. It was beautiful.
Can we say that this moment was a turning point for the resistance?
Yes, somewhere, that’s truly what it was. The military were panicked. We were were close to 200, they took some sixty of us down into the cellar. A stifling space where the windows are painted over in black, filled with rats, where the sewers drip and with bunk beds.
The next morning, they came in and announced “you are also part of the military; you must stand at attention/at ease!” There again there was the threat of Mamak prison “if you resist you will go to Mamak!” For three, four days, they persecuted us, beat us, some to the point of loss of consciousness.
Did the policewomen also join into the beatings?
Of course! Especially the ones with fascist skulls. They were the worst. For example: once, I was exhausted, my arm in a cast and one of these women was beating me. There were young comrades around us. One of them, no longer able to bear the scene jumped on her “she is sick, don’t hit her!” Latching on to the opportunity, all the others joined in, pulled at her hair, pinched her, punched her… She panicked, and the others had to pull her out…
What happened after the cellar?
We stayed there for almost a week. Then they pulled me up and sent us to block D in Mamak.
Did you know for how long you would be incarcerated?
No one knew exactly. If truth be told, in the first period of the junta, the sentences were not as heavy as they are now. In those days, for “belonging to an illegal organization”, you were sentenced to 4 years and 2 months. One of our comrades was sentenced to 5 years, for “leading an illegal organization”. I was sentenced to 4 years and 2 months.
What were your first observations in Mamak?
The first day, they put us in a very big and long block. There were fifty or sixty of us. The block contained wooden bunk beds. The beds were made out of wood so they could not be used as weapons. The mattresses were a disaster, you simply could not sleep on them. The meals were disgusting… The food was covered with some kind of bituminous oil. We threw it out before eating and rinsed the ingredients like chickpeas on the plate.
They tried to impose military style ranks with “attention, at ease!”. But we resisted. In Mamak there was a lot of presure on the men, but also quite a lot of redditions. The men gave in to orders more easily.
How do you explain the fact the women resisted more?
The women were more self-determined in defending their freedoms. I thought it was important to practice the values instilled in me by the fact of being a revolutionary. Being a revolutionary brings a lot more to women in their daily life. You become part of the political life, your world changes totally, you become more efficient. You then feel that you must appropriate and defend all that you have gained. And also, I think the stubbornness in women is something else. We had been able to acquire this state of mind. Some tongues did loosen from time to time, but on the whole we were pretty resistant.
For example, we were ordered “you must address us as ‘my commander’ or you open your hands”; they would use the truncheon on the open palms. Those truncheon ripped your guts out. We did not say “my commander”, we opened our hands. In fact, you shouldn’t open your hands. Once, a friend opened her hands. The soldier started hitting, hitting… he was red with exhaustion… He said “lower your hands, you dirty bitch!” And we were telling our friend “stop, stop, you’ll end up handicapped”. In the end the soldier was the one who threw in the towel and left. Obviously, our friend could not use her hands for months.
Are there moment of admission you still remember?
Yes. For example, when they put us in the cellar, a few people said “I accept!” This type of behavior was not related to the political careers of the individuals. For example, there was one with quite a career who withdrew into a corner on the very first day and yet, there were very young sympathizers who resisted to the end. We witnessed that kind of admission.
How long did you stay in Mamak?
Not long. Because they didn’t know what to do with me there either. (She laughs) Then they took me to the military prison of Erzincan. This is where my trial ended. With all this fuss, I spent a total of one and a half years in prison.
In those days, some television chains put up the photos of prisoners, particularly of certain women with the caption “flash! Flash!”. They gave them various surnames, “Filiz the squid”, “Leyla the bomber” …While I was held at the “language school” (Ankara), we were watching TV. What do I see? My photo on the screen: “Female terrorist wanted”. (She laughs)
What was the atmosphere in the prison in Erzincan?
It was a rather small place. We were nine women, things were quieter. I was released toward the middle of 1982.
How had your companion been arrested?
My husband was arrested in Erzincan. They also took him to Ankara. He was sentenced to 5 years of which he did about 2 and a half years.
What did you do after your liberation?
I went back close to my family in Istanbul. I attempted to earn a living as an accountant. I worked in the office of an Armenian citizen in Sultanahmet. The police bothered him also. He told me “Don’t hold it against me but I’m going to be in trouble, you can’t go on working here”. So I found myself unemployed. To widen my range of skills, I took training sessions as a typist, in health care.
Whatever I did, the police did not let go of me. They followed me, disturbed my family also. In those days, many people were taken into custody, associations and unions shut down, it was a terrifying atmosphere. I realized there was nothing I could do, building a life was impossible, I left home. I re-entered political life. And in March 1984, I was arrested again.
How did your arrest go this time?
It happened in Istanbul. One of our comrades revealed our meeting place to the police.
What feelings does this situation give you? A great feeling of treason, or does it seem like an ordinary part of the whole?
A very bad feeling. You are ashamed for that person. You experience great anger. Truly, this was a very devoted, very modest comrade. You knew the person’s past. You experience a double emotion: on the one hand, despite everything, you must not betray. No one enters this cause forced by a third party. On the other hand, seeing the condition to which torture reduces people, you feel anger. You feel oppressed.
Was it a man, a woman?
The comrade was a man. I’ve never received a blow from women. (She laughs)
Do you have an explanation for the fact some people resist despite the worst tortures while others give in to the slightest nudge?
I think the fact of giving in to the slightest nudge is, in truth, the sign of a disintegration that had happened outside. This person arrives there with a conviction but it has already been altered on the outside. Entering a trial process is no easy matter. You must constantly be calculating in order to be stronger. You must acknowledge your own reality. Human beings must take on responsibilities to the degree they can bear. People endure torture up to a certain point and, once that limit is reached, they may talk. Despite everything, no one should move straight into admissions at the first nudge.
And what happened after your second arrest?
I was taken once again to the famous Gayrettepe (Istanbul). I remained there for approximately a month and a half.
Were the interrogations as violent?
The methods were the same. The violence was maybe a bit less. But still, falaka, estrapaddo, electricity, beatings… The most intense was what we called “meydan dayağı” [group beating], a kind of lynching. Then I was sent to Metris.
When did you appear at the hearing?
I appeared at the first hearing, two years later. We had a third trial involving 380 people. They had their first hearing four years later. Of these, 49 persons were liberated. Had these people had their trial only a few months after their arrest, they would have been released at that time. For four years, these comrades were subjected to the most intense persecution of the junta period. Most of them were acquitted, by the way.
How was Metris in 1984?
They practiced torture under cover of “searches”. A search was also imposed in order to go out for the “promenade”, we did not accept it and that meant you would not go out for months on end. The blocks were full. We slept in bunk beds, three to a bunk. Sometimes, on the top bunk, we tied ourselves down so as not to fall off.
Was there the practice of the uniform [known as the “single garment“]?
Of course, they imposed the wearing of the single garment. There was a 28 day hunger strike held against this practice. They did not impose it on the women but we also took part in the struggle against everything imposed on the men.
Prior to visits, they wanted us to stand in line. You cannot conduct visits in a file. Their aim was to destroy our political identity.
We put up pictures of children, of landscapes. They tore them down. They did not want us to keep the slighest link with life. They tore them down, we put others back up again. It was a war of wills. We could receive blows for days, just because of an image. The image wasn’t in question, they wanted to destroy whatever might interest us.
In the early periods, prohibitions covered newspapers, correspondence, pencils, visits…We shared our thoughts between ourselves, mutually, so that our brains wouldn’t rust. We tried to answer riddles, we performed plays. We taught one another whatever we knew, one taught maths, the other English, and a third, something else again…We did everything we could to keep our brains functional.
They often put prohibitions on water which is particularly important for women During menstrual periods, everything requires water. We adapted to the point of being able to bathe with a tiny bowl of water.
Menstrual periods were impacted by the conditions, no?
Particularly because of the tortures, most of us had terribly painful periods. For some of my friends, the periods were perturbed, too frequent or only every two, three months…On that score, the women lived through a lot of problems. In any event, during the torture sessions, they told us “we will dry out your descendants, we will dry out your uterus”. This was their greatest threat against women: “you will never bear a child again.” To tell the truth, I didn’t think I would be able to put a child into the world. You are so messed up! But the human body is an unbelievable mechanism, it repairs itself.
Introducing objects in the body, delivery of electrical shocks through the vagina, were these generalized methods?
Of course. The use of electricity was very widespread. They had introduced truncheons in some women’s vagina. They may have been more reluctant with young women [virgins] but they knew no limits.
Were some women raped?
Of course they were.
Did these women speak about this type of torture, did they share this with others?
This depended on the levels of consciousness, the ways of seeing life. Some hesitated, feeling embarrassed. Some hid it, feeling oppressed, living with the problems. When we sensed this, we tried to talk to them, to share, to help one another. When they took a grip on themselves, when attention was paid to them, they managed to speak up and rehabilitate themselves. There were some who didn’t manage to talk. You would rather not remember, and not relive those moments again. And of course, there are those judgments, those feudal criteria. They felt humiliated, soiled.
How long were you in Metris?
They gave me twenty years.
What were you accused of this time?
This time, I had a promotion. (She laughs) According to article 168/1, which means “founding a gang, leading a gang”… Yes, I became a gang leader also. (She laughs)
I didn’t stay very long in Metris. Shortly after I was transferred to Çanakkale.
When we say Metris, what left the greatest impression?
The resistance we organized against the searches. The friendships. We lived beautiful things, truly. The efforts we made to communicate with our male comrades…
How did you communicate with the men?
They tried to keep us separated as much as they could. They behaved as if only the men were political prisoners, and we were there by accident. And that stimulated us even more. This is why it was so important for us to organize as a group, to resist as a group. When they did something to the men, we behaved as if they had done it to us.
We tried to communicate when going to the tribunals, when passing in the halls. Or again through Morse code, on the walls…Later, after long efforts, we organized an aerial line. It was unbelievable.
How did you do it?
There was a promenade between our block and the men’s. The men had to throw up a rope with a weight up to our window. We waited entire nights in front of the window. It didn’t work. And then the miracle happened one night.
Did you rig a pulley system?
Yes. Before that we communicated with bits of paper. You could hardly read them with a magnifying glass. With the aerial line letters and photos were exchanged, there were personal communications. People saw photos of one and another, recognized faces.
Then, we struggled and won the right to the library. We could go there on certain days of the week.
You were there during the “escape from Metris”, what happened?
For me, this escape was supposed to be a private event.( She laughs.) I was the only one informed in the women’s block. The men were the main instigators. There was an area known as the “Siberia Block”, they were meant to make their get-away through there. The first time they told me about it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In those days, the saying was “even a bird can’t escape Metris”. I said “this is impossible”, I was filled with fear. I felt two things at once: liberty and death. If they failed, destruction awaited! And they were not just a few, they were 29.
For how long did they dig the tunnel?
For four, five months.
Did you know the date planned for the escape?
Yes because my fiance was over there. (She laughs) I had separated from my first husband. I met my fiancé in prison.
How did you live the day of the escape?
It was terrifying. I couldn’t sleep. They were supposed to escape between midnight and 5 AM. Since there were 29 of them, they were going to leave by small groups. Obviously, I was close to death with fear all night long. I didn’t know a thing about how things were going…I was living in fear and in joy at the same time.
The administration realized what had happened during the morning head count. The only ones left were the ones whose sentences were nearing their end. The soldier asked “where are they?” and the comrade replied “escaped”. The soldier insisted “stop joking, they must come out!” They couldn’t believe it. They searched everywhere.
Did the violence increase after the escape?
This is what we expected. But they were in a state of shock. Then, the transfers began and I was sent to the prison of Çanakkale. I stayed there until 1991.
How was Çanakkale?
After 1989 and through the struggles, certain rights were obtained. Many people had been sentenced to death or to perpetuity. Conditions had changed a bit from those in the initial period after September 12. At Çanakkale, we had some rights. We could meet the men prisoners, there were open visits [without a cabin] we could receive food from the outside.
Outside special days, what was the daily routine?
My life was so busy outside. I slept five, six hours, I was running all the time. I couldn’t even imagine living in a prison, locked up between four walls. But I was incarcerated for a total of nine years and, even there, time went by.
In prison, I went to bed at midnight and got up at 6 AM. I practiced a sport in the morning. We read a lot, we wrote, we had training activities. I liked working with my hands, I knitted hats, pencil cases. Sometimes we had no money and sold these items.
What happened to your fiancé after the escape?
Nine of the comrades were re-arrested a month and a half later. They were sent to Metris, then they were deported to Bartın prison. I then asked for my transfer to Bartın so that we could marry. There was a hitch and the marriage didn’t take place. Then both of us were sent to Çanakkale. We married on March 8 1990.
Could you see each other after your marriage?
Yes. There were spousal visits. Moreover, we could see the male prisoners.
What was your husband’s sentence?
Perpetuity. In 1991, they received a conditional release.
How did you find the social climate at your liberation in 1991?
What seemed the oddest to me was to see that everything was measured with money. Before, we embraced a lot when we met up again, we experienced great enthusiasm. I found that this aspect had diminished. And also, the lack of interest in politics…On the outside, September 12 had achieved its true objective.
As we still had close ones, comrades in prison, we regularly attended the democratic organizations, we met up there with the families. A short while later, my husband was liberated and we went on together in the turmoil of the outside world…
Did you decide to have a child right away?
I loved children very much and wished to have some. But there were fears also. I had gone through so much that I didn’t think I could get pregnant right away. But it is quite possible that I became pregnant on the very first night. (She laughs)
After my husband’s liberation, we lived as if we wanted to recapture the time spent in prison. We travelled, we went on treks in mountains, valleys, walked, reconnected with friends…It was a mad life. For the first time in my life, I bathed in the sea…
One day, we were with friends, I had odd discharges, my gums were painful. I was pregnant. My son is now 14 years old.
In fact, your husband went back to prison, didn’t he?
They arrested him in 2001 and sentenced him to 15 years.
If you compare today’s prison conditions  and those in the 80s?
Conditions in type F prisons [prisons with a specific architecture allowing for isolation] are really very harsh. Despite all the suffering, at least we were all together. The type F is disgusting, inhuman. My husband was in the type F of Tekirdağ, then he was deported to Bolu. Conditions are even worse in Bolu.
How much longer must he stay in prison?
In fact, until 2012, we will see how the new law will be applied. We think he still has two, two and a half years.
It is even harder being a political prisoner these days. The aim of type F prisons is to intimidate society through persons in prison, to keep people away from politics. But no matter what the conditions may be, people struggle, you can’t paralyze the movement completely.
What is your analysis of “hunger strikes to the death” [Hunger strikes with no absorption of tonics] carried out in type F prisons and the fact that no strong and widespread reaction takes place despite the number of dead and handicapped?
One must consider hunger strikes to the death as the final phase of the struggle. Because there is nothing left to defend beyond life. I think it is the ultimate point one can reach. Society should be able to see this: if people put their life at stake, what they are struggling against must be serious. They impose things worse than death; isolation, purification of political identity… The December 19 massacre  was another gauge; they broadcast the savagery live. Faced with this policy of destruction, people had no other choice than to endanger their bodies. Heavy prices were paid, serious events were experienced. But, unfortunately, this did not resonate in society or elsewhere. It was not a prison problem, but this is the result of September 12 that has pushed society to this point. With no reaction from society, one had to cease action from that point on. In fact, several people analyzed the situation and stopped their hunger strike to the death.
Finally, all this will be inscribed in history. I think we should look not at those who died but at those who killed them.
When you compare the young generation of the opposition to the youth prior to the 80s, what fundamental differences do you see?
September 12 ejected a large part of the youth out of life, discussing politics, culture, life activities… I see the fact of being born after September 12 as a misfortune. They have killed their hopes, fetishized selfishness, upended values…Despite this, there exists a youth that shows political resistance. But naturally, you cannot dissociate a person from society. They bear the traces of a more individualistic, less devoted existence, but they ask more questions.
What do you have to say about the “sisterhood” (bacı) literature that has taken shape around the period prior to 1980?
We must analyze life experiences in their own conditions. At that time, there existed a certain form of feudalism in relationships, undoubtedly, but it would be unfair to remain blocked on this. Many women became aware of political struggle at that time, they emancipated themselves to a certain point, became active. Of course, in the political struggle, it isn’t possible to establish the balance immediately between men and women. A true socialist conscience does not dominate immediately for everyone. At times, there may have been a question of remaining in second place. But when you look at the condition of women today, you see that masses of women are still removed from society and lacking in confidence.
But I think that this period brought me a lot personally. I behaved very differently from my mother, my younger sister. I thought I could choose my companion, participate in the political struggle and despite the protests from my family, I could take my place in life. The political struggle is what brought me that.
Of course you don’t begin the fight on an equal footing with men. There were even some women who, in order to be accepted, felt the need to behave like men. There were experiences attempted to become more virile, feelings of estrangement from one’s own gender. This is still going on. Back then, there was a certain revolutionary culture, we wore pants, did not use make-up, paid no attention to clothes. Of course these were deficiencies but they were also things we accepted willingly. But we could have been more flexible.
When you analyze the question now, some approaches can appear sectarian. But we were not burning with the desire to wear make-up. We lived a life in which we were happy, we considered ourselves successful, confident.
Your earn your bread, you help your family, you study at the university, you are at the heart of the struggle… Today people can’t manage just their professional life, or only with their schooling…Back then we could do several things at once, we managed, we were self-confident. In passing, there were failings, we could have lived our femininity better, brought it to the forefront. That would have been quite beautiful.
Looking back in a general fashion over the revolutionary movement of that period, what are the fundamental lacks and errors that stand out for you?
I think we should have questioned more deeply, politically speaking. We questioned much more than most others in society but, in an area as ambitious as the revolution, we should have questioned even more deeply. Moreoever, you want to go beyond existing attitudes, traditions, habits, an archaic world. For that, you must fight against archaism and habits in every area of life, uninterruptedly. I think there were failings in that respect. We should have questioned traditional relationships more deeply and realized the calamities they caused and gone beyond them in our own lives. As long as you live with this incapacity, you cannot carry society further ahead. That failing existed and men-women relationships are a part of it.
What is the most positive inheritance from this period that we must protect?
The reflex of opposing injustice, the will to search, the demand for a just society and a better world…The fact of being aware one can oppose injustice and obtain rights and the desire to do so is very important. We must transmit this today.
September 12 confiscated the dream for a better world.
The consciousness that one can fight against injustice has faded, people have become passive. Today, the question is not judging Kenan Evren or four or five other generals. The results created by September 12 are what must be judged and condemned.
Despite everything, you wouldn’t want that those responsible for the coup d’état and its executioners at different levels be judged some day?
Yes, absolutely, how could I not want this? It is also needed in order to create a consciousness in society, showing how the unjust are judged. But if you only say “let them be judged” it will provide nothing but a simple feeling of revenge. Today, beyond everything to which I was subjected, the problem resides in the way September 12 demolished an entire society. The Law, the culture, the ideology of September 12 must stand judgment. And their executioners, absolutely.
You observe other countries. You see resistance occurring in healthier societies. For example in Greece, close to here, you can live more democratically today. The same is true in Argentina. In those societies where injustices are judged, the people elaborate reflexes of opposition to injustice.
The mentality of September 12 was to convince people that they cannot judge the State, that they cannot oppose it. Had it been otherwise, they would have sacrificed Kenan Evren. They would have used this one and the other, then thrown them away like soiled handkerchiefs. If the 25th anniversary could contribute to this, it would be a joy for society.
What do you do these days, how do you spend your time?
As September 12 shoved us aside, outside life, we stubbornly insist in being a part of life, of being a subject. I take a very close interest in prisons. I try to put a shoulder to each activity, each democratic organization involved in prisons. I am a member of Tutuklu ve Hükümlü Yakınları Birliği (TÜYAB, Union of relatives of the sentenced and the incarcerated). We have founded an association called Dayanışma Ağı (Solidarity Network). Moreover, I am with the 78’liler Vakfı (Foundation of 78ers). All together, with our own means, we attempt to obtain judgement on September 12 and that the estrangement between generations be dissolved. I am everywhere where the struggles for human rights is carried out.
How do you provide for your livelihood? Has your past been a barrier to finding work?
Obviously. After our liberation, my husband and I worked for ten years in the press. We were with comrades and attempted to live modestly. Following my arrest, I started to focus more on activities around prisons. I attempt to remain standing with my own strength. I’m very familiar with the job of a journalist, having been one for ten years. But I can’t possibly work in bourgeois newspapers. Nor would they hire me, nor would I go there.
For me, access to prison visits are very important. After so many years in politics, a life turned only toward survival weighs on me. I clean offices and homes, that way I can spend the rest of my time on the rest.
This article is already fifteen years old, in this month of September 2020. Kedistan is publishing it so that you may develop a deeper perspective on the ongoing situation in Turkey.
Illustration: Seza Mis Horoz (front right), the Kurdish feminist activist “Sara” Sakine Cansız is also in this picture (top right). Çanakkale Prison, January 1981.