English | Français | Castellano | Kurdî | Türkçe

Zehra Doğan, present­ly incar­cer­at­ed in the Type E pen­i­ten­tiary of Mardin, wrote a let­ter to JINHA, the news agency of which she is an edi­tor. She describes pris­ons as places of resistance.

zehra-dogan-portraitZehra spent months cov­er­ing events in Nusay­bin (a dis­trict of Mardin province) where a cur­few was decreed last March 3rd. Zehra was arrest­ed in the evening of July 21 while in a cof­fee shop with her col­leagues. The court placed her in deten­tion await­ing her tri­al for “belong­ing to an ille­gal organization”.

Zehra uses both her draw­ings and her reportages to inform inter­na­tion­al pub­lic opin­ion of the real­i­ties of months of State attacks against Nusay­bin. A short while ago, she rose up agains the clos­ing of the news­pa­per Özgür Gün­dem by pub­lish­ing “Özgür Gün­dem — Jail” with her co-detainees. In this lat­est let­ter to JINHA, Zehra describes the changes she has been through since her arrival in prison and the emer­gence of the con­cept of  “Özgür Gün­dem- Jail”.

Here is her letter:


I woke up far from all of you for anoth­er day in jail today, which is a place of great com­rade­ship. This town where the wind car­ries the arid dust of Mardin, rich with its his­tor­i­cal past, is a place favor­able to dream­ing. It is the birth town of Mani (Edi­tor’s note: prophet, founder of manicheism), who trav­elled across the land to teach the truth, and who spread his mes­sage through his can­vass­es. It is also the city of Shah­mer­an [Edi­tor’s Note  : the snake queen, a leg­endary fig­ure) who, accord­ing to some leg­ends, pos­sessed wis­dom. Being here, even as a pris­on­er, gives me strength. 

Yes, being held cap­tive in my own land is hard for me, but as soon as I entered here, I found myself sur­round­ed by 45 women filled with wis­dom, women who have become god­dess­es. When I saw the spark in their eyes, I under­stood that the most impor­tant space for the strug­gle is this one, pressed in between four walls. Once I under­stood that each one of the women with whom I spoke held in her heart a for­mi­da­ble his­to­ry of strug­gle, I was able to draw strength from them. Dur­ing my first prison stay, I was crushed at being so far from my work and from JINHA, then I real­ized that this was the place where the most impor­tant news was hap­pen­ing. This is where a jour­nal­ist must be, to inform the pub­lic of each injus­tice com­mit­ted here. Who knows, maybe that is why I’m here. 

Dur­ing the inter­ro­ga­tion fol­low­ing my arrest, the inter­roga­tors kept ask­ing me, with their mas­cu­line men­tal­i­ty: “Why do you do this work? Why do you cov­er the news? Why do you draw?” In fact, when we began our work at JINHA, the heiress of wom­en’s resis­tance, we took up our pens with this cry: “we will write with­out think­ing about what men will say about it”. And while we were writ­ing, we learned that “when women begin to write, the image of the men in the mir­ror starts to fade”. This is why I felt no need to answer them. Even behind iron bars, they couldn not take away my best weapon against the oppres­sors: my pen and my paint­brush. I’m aware of the fact I have a right to them thanks to the sac­ri­fices of many wise per­sons before me, and I know I can’t eas­i­ly be deprived of this right. I don’t feel iso­lat­ed from soci­ety, nor from JINHA. Quite the oppo­site, I see myself now as a prison reporter for JINHA, and this makes me feel proud. We con­sti­tute the media arm of the wom­en’s strug­gle for our free­dom, and that is why prison is one of our main bat­tle fields. “A free life must be an infi­nite real­i­ty.” And I think that this is where I can best see this infi­nite reality.

I see a jail hold­ing so many wise peo­ple as a great school of thought. Dur­ing my incar­cer­a­tion, in par­tic­u­lar, I real­ized how impor­tant my pro­fes­sion is.

Özgür GündemThe day Özgür Gün­dem was banned was the worst day of all for many peo­ple in jail. My co-detainee was so sad she cried. And the real­i­ty act­ed on me like a rev­e­la­tion. Our news­pa­per, the one describ­ing the truth, its suf­fer­ings and its resis­tance, had been shut down, and that shut­ting down locked us in. Com­mon reac­tions like those of my friend, illus­trat­ed this clear­ly. Then we thought: ” The news­pa­per has been shut down and many of us are in jail. It is high time we bring the news­pa­per inside this place.”    

Every­one was enthused by this idea and we set to work imme­di­ate­ly. There were many pris­on­ers here whose treat­ment had to be revealed, who had been sub­ject­ed to var­i­ous tor­tures and vio­la­tions of their rights. The best way to make prison real­i­ty known was to pub­lish a news­pa­per. We worked days and nights to cre­ate the Özgür Gün­dem in prison and to fight for this paper. We con­tin­ue to do so on a reg­u­lar basis. We have nei­ther com­put­er nor print­ing press, but we have ball­points and paper. We have no cam­eras to pho­to­graph the peo­ple we write about, but we are also artists. What we can’t pho­to­graph, we can draw. The more I wrote and the more I drew, the more peo­ple talked to me. At first, I was the only one work­ing on this news­pa­per. On the very day when it was tran­scribed onto paper, the iron doors of prison opened. Anoth­er jour­nal­ist, Şer­ife Oruç, joined us. When we most need­ed her, she came to us. We have a news­pa­per. Per­haps sev­er­al peo­ple have read it by now. 

Today, there are a num­ber of jour­nal­ists in our sec­tions. Sev­er­al of our friends have trained to become reporters and write for Özgür Gün­dem in prison. I also give draw­ing lessons twice a week so they may illus­trate the news. Recent­ly, we began prepar­ing an art exhib­it, the ben­e­fits of which will go for sup­port to the self-man­aged zones. We spend more time on this than we do on imprisonment. 

All our friends have the spir­it of “Apê Musa’s lit­tle gen­er­als” [Edi­tor’s note : Kur­dish chil­dren who dis­trib­uted news­pa­pers for­bid­den, cen­sored or seized by the gov­ern­ment.) It is said that “Since human sal­va­tion doesn not come from God, it must be found on earth.” This is why we attempt to turn pris­ons into places of strug­gle. Per­haps I will nev­er be lib­er­at­ed, this is Turkey after all. I don’t realy expect this to end well. 

I know that, with wom­en’s resis­tance tech­niques dis­cov­ered thanks to JINHA, I will destroy pris­ons with my pen and my paint­brush. Don’t for­get that the pen and the paint­brush are still in my hands.

I miss you and embrace all of you. 


Le numéro II, parvenu de main en main jusqu'aux étudiants de l'université Dicle

Num­ber II even reached stu­dents at Dicle University

A cam­paign of sup­port is present­ly under­way: Send sol­i­dar­i­ty post­cards to Zehra Dogan.

You can see Zehra’s draw­ings in our arti­cle: Zehra draws the unspeak­able. (In French)

And here are a few orig­i­nal draw­ings from the wom­en’s prison in Mardin…

Illus­tra­tion: “this is a very dan­ger­ous weapon”

Let­ter pub­lished by JINHA.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
Translation & writing by Kedistan. You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you.
Zehra Doğan on FacebookZehra Doğan on Twitter
Zehra Doğan
Auteure, mem­bre d’hon­neur de Kedistan
Jour­nal­iste, artiste. Jour­nal­ist, artist. Gazete­ci, sanatçı.