Français | English

Short­ly after Aslı Erdoğan’s release on pro­ba­tion in Jan­u­ary 2017, jour­nal­ist Ayşe Arman con­duct­ed a very long inter­view with her. After the inter­view was pub­lished in a Turk­ish news­pa­per with par­tial cen­sor­ship, the jour­nal­ist re-pub­lished in full on her blog.

Here is an Eng­lish trans­la­tion done in the very spon­ta­neous and famil­iar style adopt­ed dur­ing these exchanges.


Wel­come. Between us, how do you feel ?

- Like a fish out of water [Turk­ish expres­sion mean­ing « lost, dis­ori­ent­ed »]. The shock of going to jail is one thing, that of com­ing out is anoth­er. I wasn’t expect­ing to be released. One fine day, they take you, they tear you away from the life you’re famil­iar with, the life you know, then, they kick you out and say « go back to life ! ». The door of the jail ward opens, you step out­side, then the doors slams behind you. That’s how it hap­pened. But sev­en­ty per­cent of me is still in jail.

Of what are you nos­tal­gic when you’re inside ?

- Ahh…of every­thing. Of trees, for exam­ple. You tell your­self « if only I could see a tree ». Out in the jail yard, I had tears in my eyes. You spend four and a half months in a place where you wouldn’t want to stay for a sin­gle minute, in col­or­less and ugly con­crete. Then you come out, and all of a sud­den you see, not one tree, but thousands.

It seems like a lot ? Too much ?

- Yes. Inside, you live with twen­ty peo­ple for months, in a small space, catch­ing the slight­est expres­sion on their faces, so close were we. Now I’m with mil­lions of peo­ple, but I am so far away. The phone calls, the infor­ma­tion streams, the con­fu­sion, the chaos….It’s too much. Like a blind per­son who would see all of a sud­den. I’m try­ing to get used to it. I even had to name the sea « The sea », look­ing at it three times. I’m also some­one who digests slowly.

Did you expect to be released ?

- No, not at all.

What went through your head when you heard the deci­sion to release you ?

- I couldn’t believe it. Because I’d already felt the joy of being released and been dis­ap­point­ed, I told myself « Don’t let them fool you ». But the judge real­ly said « Lib­er­a­tion ». I had to con­trol myself in front of every­one, and I did. After­wards, I col­lapsed and burst into tears between the gendarmes.

And you’re still cry­ing, when you’re alone at home ?

- I cry. I cry for my friends in jail. I cry for their sto­ries. I cry for me. I cry for my coun­try. In oth­er words, I cry.

Did you pick up your things after your release ?

- Yes.

Were you allowed to say good­bye to your friends in jail ?

- That’s it : that moment didn’t hap­pen the way I would have want­ed it! Every­thing went very fast. When you leave a place you’re used to, a home, you take the time to say good­bye. You have your own rit­u­al, you stop, you pack away your mem­o­ries. But I only had a half hour in which to leave a place where stayed four and a half months and to say good­bye to the peo­ple with whom I lived. The guards were con­stant­ly say­ing « come on, come on ». I couldn’t say my good­byes properly.

How did your friends in the ward call you ?

- Some of them called me Aslı, but most of them called me « Aslı Hoca », out of respect maybe, or because I was old­er than they are, maybe as a dis­tanc­ing, who knows. [Hoca : mas­ter, pro­fes­sor, a respect­ful term in com­mon use, even among friends].

What was the mean age in the ward ?

- Thir­ty-one. Most were around twen­ty. There were only two per­sons in their forties.

Did you some­times think « I’ll nev­er get out of here ? »

- Of course. That feel­ing comes to every­one. It had it also. In jail, sui­cides occur in the first weeks. I was almost sure I would nev­er come out. Do you know what I want­ed ? A seer. If she had told me « you’ll walk out on such and such a date », I would have believed her. But such a seer could not be.

Was there no one with an inter­est in astrol­o­gy to do you chart ?

- My astro­log­i­cal chart is a dis­as­ter ! A nightmare !

How do you know ?

- Because I drew it up myself. I nev­er believed in things such as astrol­o­gy. After all, I’m a physi­cist. One day, a book about astrol­o­gy fell into my hands. I drew my char

And ?

- And my chart said I would go to jail.

I don’t believe you…

- Real­ly. My plan­ets were per­fect­ly grouped, but a most hor­ri­ble con­flict appeared on my theme. Plu­to, in oth­er words the death plan­et, was in my death house. I wrote to Susan Miller « Death is in my death house. How do you inter­pret this ? » She answered me and inter­pret­ed it this way : « This means you will lose all those you love, jail, sui­cide, trau­ma upon trau­ma. » She also end­ed her let­ter with a « God bless you ». So tragic.

That’s ter­ri­ble…

- Yes, and as if that weren’t enough, in my theme, Plu­to is at a one hun­dred and eighty degree angle with my life plan­et, the Sun. I checked, in fact, this is the most con­flict­ual posi­tion that can exist in an astral theme. Life and death at a 180°. And do you know who else had that conflict ?

Who ?

- Niet­zsche! It means: « sui­cide or mad­ness ». No human being could stand for long a per­son­al­i­ty in which death and life are at war.

Who knows, this could be inter­pret­ed as « genius »…

- In men this can be inter­pret­ed as « genius » but in women it is called« mad­ness ». What I mean by that is : jail was in my astral theme and this became a real­i­ty. Astrol­o­gy blew my mind. But I believe in it now. It’s an art of inter­pre­ta­tion. It offers metaphors relat­ing to life. You learn to ask life questions.

Do you fear they will come to take you again, at any time ?

- Unfor­tu­nate­ly yes ! Despite every­thing, there is this fear. I’m stay­ing at my mother’s right now. Every time the door­bell rings, I jump up, ask­ing myself « Is it the police ? »

What kind of life did you build for your­self in jail ? Who were you with ?

- They used to be called « polit­i­cal pris­on­ers », now they deprive us of that term also and call us « ter­ror­ism detainees ». I was with them. The State’s atti­tude begins with this. I was curi­ous about the com­mon law pris­on­ers but when I saw them lat­er, I knew I couldn’t have sur­vived there. Too many fights and noise…

How is it dif­fer­ent in the polit­i­cal wards ?

- It was a com­mu­nal life. I couldn’t enter into it total­ly. Since child­hood, I’ve been used to liv­ing by myself. Com­mu­nal liv­ing brought a dis­ci­pline. There were set sched­ules for silence, for edu­ca­tion. I didn’t join in the edu­ca­tion ses­sions, but the silence was a good thing.

How did life proceed ?

- Every day was a rep­e­ti­tion of the one before. Accord­ing to the rules of com­mu­ni­ty liv­ing, some­one was on chore duty every day. They nev­er put me on duty, part­ly because I wasn’t part of the com­mu­ni­ty, and also maybe out of respect for my age. The one on duty got up at 7 and pre­pared break­fast for the twen­ty peo­ple, got the bread, if there was any. At 8, she called out « Friends, the tea is ready ». At the same time, in the jail, they announced : « Ladies, roll-call begins ». We would go down to break­fast, we’d shiv­er at that point, because it was freez­ing cold. No one had the strength to say « Hel­lo ». The guards arrived at break­fast time. The oth­er rou­tines of the day fol­lowed. The TV was on all day. The pris­on­ers fol­low close­ly what is going on out­side. No one miss­es the news, for instance. At 9 :30 it’s qui­et time.
Each one goes back to her own occupations.

Did you man­age to write ?

- Not much. It’s as if my inner world no longer belonged to me. Some­times I read. Some­times I danced [clas­si­cal danc­ing]. I almost caught pneu­mo­nia in the yard while try­ing to dance. Being sick in in jail is a big problem.

What did you think you would do as soon as you were released?

- Many things. But one thing I promised myself. I would find a tat­too artist in all urgency. Jew­ish pris­on­ers had their num­ber tat­tooed on their arm, my own impris­on­ment felt so arbi­trary that I felt like a pris­on­er in a con­cen­tra­tion camp. I want to have the date of my arrest tat­tooed, 16.08.2016. Maybe I’ll also have the word “Görüldü” tat­tooed also [lit­er­al­ly “seen”- the stamp on cor­re­spon­dence hand­ed to the detainees after it was read by the cen­sors, « seen » as in “approved”].
As to what I felt nos­tal­gic about…the sound of the sea. I was arrest­ed this past sum­mer, just as I was telling myself I’d go for a swim. I missed going to a café and drink­ing cof­fee. And clas­si­cal music. There’s no music in jail.

Why ?

- Just like that. Since the years 2000, a lot of things have changed in the jails. There used to be recorders. Now there are no recorders, no CDs, even cook­ing is for­bid­den. What a joke, we didn’t even have cush­ions, because of the state of emer­gency. The guards would raid the cells to grab the cushions.

Yes, but why ?

- So you’ll sit on plas­tic chairs in the mid­dle of win­ter! You sit for half an hour, your stom­ach hurts so much you want to die. In the shared space, there’s noth­ing but white chairs and tables. I could have stayed in my bed all day but the expe­ri­enced detainees warned me : « No mat­ter what, don’t do tha. Move. Get up, take up some sport. Give a hand in the house­keep­ing. If not, you’ll fall into a depres­sion and nev­er get out of it. You’ll stay in your cor­ner, all scrunched up like a cat. » In any event, your bed isn’t warm either. Dur­ing these last weeks, it was very cold, I’d fill emp­ty bot­tles of jav­el water with boil­ing water and put them in my bed.

I’d heard of putting hot water in water bottles.

- That’s what the girls did. I pre­ferred the 2‑liter size bot­tles of jav­el water. Their plas­tic is heav­ier. But what­ev­er you do, after two or three uses, the caps start leak­ing. Two nights after the tri­al, I went to bed with my bot­tles of boil­ing water. Luck­i­ly they didn’t burst, but they leaked, drop by drop. I didn’t feel a thing. I woke up shiv­er­ing in the morn­ing. Because all the water had leaked into my bed. Every­thing was soaked, the bed, the comforter…

Dis­as­ter !

- Yes. My teeth rat­tled. My morale was down to zero. But, there you have it, there’s fan­tas­tic sol­i­dar­i­ty among the women in the ward. One of them imme­di­ate­ly real­ized. “Aslı Hoca, what’s wrong, why do you look so glum ? » I explained. « The bed is all wet, I don’t know how I’ll dry it out. » “Ah, that’s no prob­lem ! » they said. One of them turned over the bed and threw it out­side, anoth­er took out the com­forter, anoth­er dried the sheets. After­wards, they all had a good laugh. « With all the emo­tion from the tri­al, you’re leak­ing or what, Aslı Hoca ? » So I relaxed and start­ed to laugh. Inside, there’s a friend­ship that’s impos­si­ble to describe.

Beau­ti­ful ! I always think one can stay faith­ful to one’s self any­where. Is that pos­si­ble inside ?

- That isn’t pos­si­ble ! You can’t [re]create your world in jail. Because the space doesn’t belong to you, time doesn’t belong to you. The whole sys­tem is built to remind you of this. Let’s say you’ve start­ed writ­ing some­thing, the guards come in unex­pect­ed­ly, and start a search…With no pri­or warn­ing, thir­ty guards come in. Hard to find the soul and the ener­gy to cre­ate. It’s impos­si­ble to write a nov­el or any­thing whatsoever.

How many books did you man­age to read ?

- They intro­duced a new rule with the state of emer­gency. Fif­teen books per pris­on­er. You can’t have more. Luck­i­ly, the polit­i­cal pris­on­ers had a com­mon library. I could find books.

How long did you stay ?

- 136 days.

How would you qual­i­fy this period ?

- That’s dif­fi­cult. A dark grey obscu­ri­ty. Imag­ine a con­crete yard, soul­less. There’s a small open­ing to the sky. Sounds don’t reach you inside. And your voice doesn’t reach the out­side. Of the out­side, you can only see this con­crete. A horror.
When I was in jail, there were close to one hun­dred and fifty jour­nal­ists and authors under arrest like me. As time went by, the num­bers increased. But that grow­ing num­ber wasn’t reas­sur­ing. I can’t man­age to com­fort myself with the growth of the tragedy. When I was a child, per­haps, the thought « there are many peo­ple in my sit­u­a­tion » con­soled me a bit, but it no longer does. On the con­trary, it makes it worse. Turkey is head­ed for a very trou­bling point. You’re not exempt from that knowl­edge, when you’re in jail

Did you man­age to adjust to the ward straight off ?

- No.

You felt like a stranger, a guest, the odd one out ?

- Yes because I was already like that in my life. Every­where I went, I was off to the side, the odd one out. When I par­tic­i­pate in a debate, I also give off that impres­sion — « I don’t belong to this place. » At first, it was the same over there.

But the polit­i­cal pris­on­ers were wel­com­ing, weren’t they ?

- Yessss ! They were incred­i­bly sup­port­ive. Par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing the first five days when I was kept in iso­la­tion. New arrivals go to the iso­la­tion cell on the first day. But they kept me there for five days. In a room mea­sur­ing four and half square meters. It was very dirty, they didn’t give me any­thing to clean it, but nev­er mind, I was left with­out water. They didn’t give me water for two days.

Why ?

- I have no idea. I asked for the open­ing of an inquest, they deny refus­ing me water. But they know full well they didn’t give me any, there are cam­era record­ings. They said : « You just have to drink water from the tap ». The water ran yel­low, I could have caught jaun­dice. There was urine in the cell. It stank tremen­dous­ly. Dur­ing five days, they gave me food from time to time. But the thirst was the worst. No tea, no cigarettes…

What did you do ? How many kilos did you lose ?

- I sup­pose 5 kg in the first 8 days. I learned to string the rope dur­ing that period.

What do you mean ?

- I would string the rope from my cell and the pris­on­er on the floor below mine would tie water to it. She even sent me boil­ing water and tea. They sent me food, but also cig­a­rettes, a radio, read­ing material.

Where did you find the rope ?

- They threw it up and I caught it. After­wards, you let it down, lit­tle by lit­tle, they tie some­thing on, and you pull it up. Of course the tea is in a bot­tle, you have to pull it gen­tly in between the bars. I didn’t know how to do it and scald­ed myself with boil­ing hot tea.

Like in a movie. What you’re say­ing is surrealistic.

- Yes, the first days I expe­ri­enced the sur­re­al intense­ly. I had the feel­ing that I wasn’t liv­ing through my own life, that I’d fall­en into a movie tak­ing place in jail. The­ses had to be dreams, not real­i­ty. Maybe that feel­ing pro­tects from shock. Because while going through these things, I was observ­ing myself from the out­side, the way I see you. As I low­ered the rope, I would tell myself :« This would make a great scene in a movie. »

I thought you could cook inside.

- No, it’s for­bid­den! But of course the pris­on­ers are very cre­ative. They can sort out, I don’t know, the wheat in the soup for instance, and make some­thing else with it. Where do they cook ? In an old bro­ken samovar. There’s no stove. They’re real­ly very cre­ative. In this ward, they even made cakes. With the choco­late pud­dings giv­en by the admin­is­tra­tion or from the can­teen, they pre­pared mosa­ic cakes, they made region­al dish­es with bul­gur. It all depend­ed on the cre­ativ­i­ty of whomev­er was on duty that day. Look at my neck­lace, it’s made out of a peach stone…

Wow, it’s beautiful…

- A lot of things have changed with the state of emer­gency. The girls in our ward used to grow flow­ers in the yard, tend­ing them over the years. After the state of emer­gency, that became for­bid­den. There was a sud­den raid. The guards dug up all the flow­ers they had been tend­ing all those years and threw them out to die in the exte­ri­or yard of the jail. Such a fune­re­al mood, I can’t describe. But one of the girls had hid­den her plant in the toi­let and man­aged to save it as she could. It was seized dur­ing the fol­low­ing search. After­ward, one of us found a seed some­where. But there was no earth. We start­ed by mak­ing earth. It’s unimag­in­able, but we did it. The process last­ed for weeks. Every day, we drank tea. We spread out the dregs from the steeped tea on news­pa­per and let them dry in the sun. We added crushed egg shells to enrich the soil that would feed the plant. Then we plant­ed the seed. And it ger­mi­nat­ed. It was a lousy plant, but that didn’t mat­ter, we took care of it as we would have the apple of our eyes. We hid it dur­ing every search. It had ger­mi­nat­ed thanks to the care of twen­ty women.

Like the Lit­tle Prince’s rose.

- Real­ly, that’s how it was ! We would take it out­side so it could catch the sun. After­wards, we’d say « it needs a bit of rain­wa­ter ». Then « take care it doesn’t get too drenched »… But they found that plant too. They took it from us.

Why do they do that ?

- I don’t know, they take plea­sure in it. The guards would yell « We’ve fou­u­u­u­u­und a plaaaaaaant ! » They’d ask us with sadis­tic irony : « When did you make it grow, girls ? » Our plant last­ed four months, then it was gone.

What you’re telling me is bizarre. There’s no need for fic­tion, this is direct­ly a novel.

- When I arrived in the ward, my morale was shot. I’d say things like « I won’t be able to stand this for long, I’m going to kill myself. »
And I defend­ed this as a prin­ci­ple. Of course the girls were hor­ri­fied. They’d ask me : « What do you mean ?! » They didn’t under­stand. And I’d say : « If you look at it from the philo­soph­i­cal angle, this is my most fun­da­men­tal right. » We had long dis­cus­sions of this kind. Before my release, I apol­o­gized to them. I said : « I learned some­thing from you. I saw the trou­ble you took for four months to grow a plant. Now I under­stand bet­ter my kind of caprice in say­ing I want­ed to com­mit sui­cide. Thanks to you. »

What did being jailed teach you the most ?

- This four-month strug­gle to grow a tiny lit­tle plant touched me deeply. This respect for life. I learned many things from those girls. Most of all, I learned to resist.

Is the Aslı who was sent to jail the same as the Aslı who came out?

- It’s hard to appre­ci­ate about myself, but I think we’re talk­ing of two women. I’m a dif­fer­ent Aslı now. Cer­tain trau­ma sep­a­rate those who live through them from those who don’t, for all eter­ni­ty. In oth­er words, those who go through jail rec­og­nize one anoth­er some­how. A bond builds up between them. You can­not explain to some­one who’s nev­er been to jail what it is like. In the hear­ing room, I met some­one I knew from before and who had been released recent­ly. Every­one embraced me, but the two of us, two detainees, we embraced in a dif­fer­ent way.

What did this hor­ri­ble expe­ri­ence add to your life ?

- I used to be a more cyn­i­cal per­son. I knew noth­ing of notions such as « resist­ing, sur­viv­ing, » etc. Of course, you can show sol­i­dar­i­ty through your writ­ing, you can resist in that way, but I looked at that kind of thing from a dis­tance. My soli­tude was the most sacred thing of all. All at once, I learned to sur­vive, to resist, to be able to re-sow the seed right away, the day after your plant has been tak­en from you, not to col­lapse. I need­ed to learn that, I used to give up too quick­ly. You could say I became braver. If it had been pos­si­ble, I would have want­ed not to expe­ri­ence this. I did not choose to live it. The only thing I can do is to bear it with dig­ni­ty. But I must admit that what I have lived through has left a deep imprint on me. I met twen­ty women. In what oth­er con­di­tions would I have come to know these twen­ty women ? And to lis­ten to their sto­ries ? I miss them. I didn’t think I would miss them as much as I do. I’ll be going home to my place in a few days. It’s a bit trau­mat­ic, of course, I’m going back to a house raid­ed by the police. All my doc­u­ments and papers have been scat­tered. A house with 3 500 books, 10 000 papers. Putting them in order will take months.

Is it pos­si­ble to sleep in jail ? Is it pos­si­ble to for­get while you sleep?

- At first, I couldn’t sleep. I had con­stant night­mares. I’d jump out of bed. I reached a point where I was afraid to sleep. Then I start­ed to sleep, and even to over­sleep and I dreamt of jail con­stant­ly. I’d escaped jail, but I had to go back. My dreams were always too awful. Sleep isn’t a space in which you can escape…

Did the prison author­i­ties believe you’d com­mit­ted the offens­es of which you were accused ?

- Of course not. They were a lousy joke and every­one knew it. Even the police­men who came to my place said a bit lat­er : « You’ve spent your life read­ing and writ­ing ! » For the love of God, who can believe that a fifty-year-old writer can be a leader of the PKK ? There’s a rea­son, there’s a log­ic. Same as for the fact that Ahmet Şık is sup­posed to be a mem­ber of DHKP, FETÖ and PKK all at once, this tri­al is just as surrealistic…

What did you know about the sup­port you received from every­where in the world…

- Not every­thing was trans­mit­ted inside, of course. I heard about it through my lawyer. I was sur­prised. I didn’t expect so much sup­port. I knew writ­ers would sup­port me, but I couldn’t imag­ine that it would spread out so much, cir­cle upon cir­cle, that I would receive let­ters from Mar­garet Atwood, from Coet­zee. There are 1 200 let­ters still await­ing a reply.

It seems to me your father is abroad, have you com­mu­ni­cat­ed with him ?

- My father and I no longer see each other.

Your moth­er was incred­i­bly ‘upstand­ing’. There have been dimen­sion­al changes in your relationship ?

- Of course. We didn’t have the usu­al moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship for the longest time. My fam­i­ly split up when I was eigh­teen. But it real­ly split. No, it wasn’t just a divorce, it was a tear­ing apart. I had to tes­ti­fy at their divorce. It was a bad peri­od. After that, I lived many trau­mas, one after the oth­er. Sev­er­al peo­ple died who were dear to me. But I learned many things in jail : in this life, you must expect sol­i­dar­i­ty and friend­ship from women. Men don’t want it, they put on a show, but in these kinds of times, they dry up. The women are much braver. Real­ly, when things get stuck, you won’t find a sin­gle dude around. I’m not talk­ing about lovers. Some men with whom I’m in a pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship too, poof, they dis­ap­peared say­ing : « Oy, they might take me for a mem­ber of the PKK also ». There were also women who dis­ap­point­ed me, but they were few. The women have been strong and depend­able, start­ing with my moth­er. We learned to be moth­er and daugh­ter dur­ing this period.

You received three prizes while you were in jail, what was your feel­ing about that ?

- A great feel­ing, but what can you do ? We cel­e­brat­ed, twen­ty girls sit­ting around a plas­tic table, eat­ing sun­flower seeds, singing and pound­ing on the table. The sodas and sun­flower seeds were on me. I also want­ed to buy choco­late, I’d promised the girls, but I had no more mon­ey. They con­sid­er my lit­er­a­ture impor­tant but I can do bet­ter. I’m real­ly unlucky not being a woman writer in Paris. But this coun­try is the way it is. This soci­ety isn’t despis­ing me for the first time. They’ve despised me, dis­crim­i­nat­ed against me, have left me fam­ished. Had it not been for the finan­cial need, I wouldn’t have writ­ten chron­i­cles. I’m not look­ing for more read­ers. Being a show­case isn’t some­thing I like, but I had to do it. I think I lost a few books that way. On the oth­er hand, curi­ous­ly in this process, my chron­i­cles have brought my lit­er­a­ture to the forefront.

It’s as if you are bet­ter known abroad that in Turkey, that you are more val­ued. Why ? Does this sad­den you ?

- I don’t think that’s the way it is. I’m not an impor­tant, famous author. I’ve nev­er reached the fame of Elif Shafak. I’ve always been con­sid­ered « a minor writer, good and respectable ». In any event only the lit­er­ary cir­cles and writ­ers know me. I nev­er had such an audi­ence. I was sur­prised myself to be in the news abroad dur­ing my detention…

Do you think that those who accuse and con­demn you are aware of what you write ? That they have read the books you’ve written ?

- I’ve come across peo­ple who were talk­ing about me in debates. I’m sure the ones who say : « Aslı es a very good writer » haven’t read a sin­gle one of my books. I have trou­ble relat­ing to that. The charges against me are so absurd, if they had tak­en an hour to real­ly read my chronicles…The fact I’m against vio­lence is so clear and obvi­ous. To accuse me of being a mem­ber of a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion is tru­ly ridiculous.

Then, why, in your opinion ?

Was I real­ly the tar­get, or was the aim to intim­i­date White Turks [A rel­a­tive­ly unknown term out of Turkey. It applies to Turks belong­ing to none of the minori­ties, hence the dom­i­nant and non-reli­gious seg­ment of soci­ety.] I still don’t know the answer. Was I cho­sen at ran­dom? Was one of the high­er ups angry at me? Because if we look at the ques­tion from a polit­i­cal view­point, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of the Kur­dish ques­tion, I’m not at all an impor­tant per­son. I’m noth­ing but the han­dle to the out­side door. All right, I write for Özgür Gün­dem from time to time but I don’t have hard­line polit­i­cal views, or any­thing of the kind. I’m not the only lit­er­ary fig­ure writ­ing in that paper. From Murathan Mungan to Vedat Türkali, to Feyza Hep­çilin­girler, sev­er­al peo­ple have writ­ten for Özgür Gün­dem, it isn’t an offense. As for the mat­ter of being an « advi­sor », I’m some­one who can’t say no. If anoth­er news­pa­per had asked me : « Do you accept to be our advi­sor ? » I wouldn’t have refused. To be hon­est, I nev­er under­stood the rea­sons for my arrest myself. Either I angered some­one, either it’s a mes­sage to White Turks. « If you give even indi­rect sup­port to the Kurds, you’ll end up like this woman », some­thing like that.

Does prison increase cre­ativ­i­ty or make it rust ?

- In the long term, it would turn it to rust. You can’t sing with a knife to your throat, it’s a bit like that. You are in a strug­gle, but you’re strug­gling for your sur­vival. In those con­di­tions, how would you find the time and ener­gy to con­cern your­self with the esthet­ics of a sen­tence ? Besides, per­son­al­ly, I like to have all my books close at hand in order to be able to write. Not because I read 3 000 books at the same time. But Rilke must be there, where I can reach him when I want. My clas­si­cal music must be there also. These are small things. There was none of all that. But there is also this, that in brief moments my cre­ativ­i­ty feeds off frac­tures and sud­den breaks. I believe this expe­ri­ence will have pos­i­tive returns for me.

How to man­age not to revolt ? How is it that you don’t howl « This is injus­tice ! » until you’re hoarse ? How do you attain such tran­quil­i­ty ? How can you stay calm ?

- I think one of the qual­i­ties of the detainees is the fact they have learned to con­trol them­selves. You have to learn this, because is you yell, you go into a cell. But peo­ple explode, of course. On of the effects or the objec­tives of sol­i­dar­i­ty and com­mu­nal liv­ing in the polit­i­cal wards is to avoid this kind of explo­sion. There’s an inter­nal dis­ci­pline in the ward. There exists a ward spokesper­son. We sit and dis­cuss before things reach an explo­sive lev­el. That was how we did things in our ward. The girls try to stay away from con­fronta­tions and use­less argu­ments. But if it con­cerns some­thing in which they believe, they know how not to retreat as a ward. They say : « If we must, we’ll go on a hunger strike ». I observed close­ly, of course, with fear each time, won­der­ing how far it could go. The admin­is­tra­tion can send in the troops. The detainees can go on hunger strike.

Would you have to par­tic­i­pate in such a case ?

- As a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, I don’t chant orga­ni­za­tion­al slo­gans. I accept only one slo­gan. When one of the detainees was freed, we, all the girls, formed a cir­cle at the door. We’d salute one anoth­er, cry­ing, embrac­ing, one by one. Then, when she left, we would chant : « Life, woman, free­dom ». That I also chant­ed. Because I believe strong­ly in those three concepts.

Your works are con­sid­ered « con­tem­po­rary-clas­sics ». Hun­dreds of arti­cles have been pub­lished about you and your works in news­pa­pers such as Le Monde, Frank­furter All­ge­meine, die Welt, der Fre­itag, die Berlin­er Lit­er­atur Kri­tik. You’ve been com­pared to Kaf­ka, to James Joyce. You haven’t been tempt­ed to cry out to the Turk­ish author­i­ties : Do I deserve to be treat­ed like this ?

- No, but there have been times when I’ve said things to pro­tect myself. When I was in cus­tody, the police had a threat­en­ing atti­tude on the first night. They didn’t con­tin­ue that way. They said things like : « We are the anti-ter­ror­ist sec­tion. You’re a writer, but don’t count too much on that. » I answered with dig­ni­ty : « Lis­ten, I am a known writer. » They looked at me and made fun of me. I con­tin­ued : « Among my read­ers, there’s the Queen of Nor­way, but also the Ger­man Chan­cel­lor. » “Oh is that so, then, we wish you con­tin­ued suc­cess » they said. I answered : « But there’s anoth­er dimen­sion. I have a proth­e­sis in my neck, if there’s an acci­dent, a tragedy, I think my read­ers will react. » They said : « If you act respect­ful­ly with us, we’ll do the same. » I said : « I don’t remem­ber ever act­ing dis­re­spect­ful­ly with any­one. » They had no answer to that one. If I’m not in too tight of a cor­ner, I don’t men­tion my noto­ri­ety. But it’s some­thing I can use if the per­son fac­ing me stomps his foot to despise me, I can say : « You stop that now ! I can play that game too. » Oth­er than than, I’m not an idiot to the point of tak­ing myself for Kaf­ka, or for James Joyce. Final­ly, I don’t know what I can write, but I know the val­ue of what I’ve writ­ten, more or less. Yes, I could have writ­ten bet­ter, and I can still do it, but I think Turkey is falling on me in a sav­age way. Not only on me, on many peo­ple. Since the years 2000, it’s been like that…

What are your great­est difficulties ?

- My health. My neck is a cat­a­stro­phy. I had four her­nias, they removed one disk and put in a proth­e­sis. In jail, with the cold, it has got­ten worse. Apart from that, I suf­fer from Raynaud’s dis­ease to a cer­tain degree. Blood does­n’t flow to my hands and feet. I have cir­cu­la­to­ry prob­lems and the cold didn’t help that either. Par­al­lel to these two things, my intestines are also affect­ed. I have asth­ma and I’m dia­bet­ic. None of this is life-threat­en­ing but all those prob­lems togeth­er can be dan­ger­ous. The cold, the stress…I’m sur­prised myself that I man­aged to hold on. When I arrived in jail, I was telling myself « I won’t be able to stand this more than two months. » I thought I would come down with a seri­ous illness.

It’s not pos­si­ble to get med­ical help in prison ?

- That’s anoth­er prob­lem ! The most dif­fi­cult part of prison is the med­ical help. Infir­mary vis­its are once a week. They are a hor­ror. Out­side secu­ri­ty from gen­darmerie escort you there. They load you aboard this hor­ri­ble vehi­cle, the ‘ring’. The ‘ring’ is some­thing that even the twen­ty pris­on­ers who are used to every­thing can­not stand. I’ve nev­er seen any­thing as inhu­man as this vehi­cle. They sit six hand­cuffed women, side by side, is a space no larg­er than a cof­fin. The door slams shut on you. The win­dow is hard­ly big­ger than the palm of a hand. In sum­mer, it’s extreme­ly hot, in win­ter it’s cold, and there’s no air. You are jos­tled so much that peo­ple vom­it. They take you to the hos­pi­tal like this. They bring the women inside, one by one, with the gen­darmes and pad­locks. The oth­ers wait in the nar­row cof­fin. Three hours, some­times four. Those who vom­it, those who faint… Peo­ple turn white. At the same time, you want at once to see a doc­tor, you’ve wait­ed months for this trans­fer and yet you tell your­self : « How will I be able to stand the ‘ring’ ? »

And if you’re suf­fer­ing, this trip must affect you even more…

- Of course, try to image, for instance, one of the women needs a blood sug­ar test. Good grief, keep the woman in the hos­pi­tal ! No, they do the blood test and bring her back to this hor­ri­ble vehi­cle. She faints. It’s a cru­el sys­tem. They say : « All that is for your safe­ty. » But in our case, it’s ridicu­lous. What need is there to trans­port­ing women, blind, hand­i­capped, preg­nant, and lock them in with two gen­darmes and three weapons ? Where can they escape ? And you enter the hos­pi­tal in hand­cuffs. The doc­tors must have the hand­cuffs removed dur­ing the exam­i­na­tion. But some doc­tors don’t do it, despite the fact the per­son is very ill…

Why don’t they removed the restraints dur­ing the examination ?

- Because the pas­sion for pow­er can take all kinds of forms. A pris­on­er is some­one every­one can despise, espe­cial­ly if he or she is a polit­i­cal prisoner…

There’s spon­ta­neous fra­ter­ni­ty between pris­on­ers in jail ?

- Yes ! And it’s incred­i­ble. But they’re not even aware of it. For exam­ple, one of them drops a plate while doing the dish­es, two peo­ple run to help her right away. One picks up the plate, the oth­er asks her if she’s all right. It’s such a sol­i­dar­i­ty, and so inter­nal­ized that the pris­on­ers don’t even notice it. They prob­a­bly don’t know that out­side, peo­ple don’t behave that way toward one another.

Do you have such close friends on the outside ?

- There were nev­er any like that. Let me illus­trate: the morn­ing after the day where I insist­ed on danc­ing out in the cold, I had a fever. I heard the con­ver­sa­tions : “Aslı Hoca is sick, she didn’t smoke a sin­gle cig­a­rette today. » I fell asleep after­ward. One put a hot water bot­tle, anoth­er cov­ered me with her com­forter, anoth­er with her shawl. All day glass­es of mint tea, of thyme came my way… three, four women took care of me, just as with a baby.

You still have friends in jail. What mes­sage would you like to pass on.

- I miss them a lot, a part of my heart has stayed with them. In my head I always have the songs they sang togeth­er, that I fol­lowed by keep­ing the rhythm.
There was a soul over there that I’ll nev­er find on the outside.

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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.
KEDISTAN on EmailKEDISTAN on FacebookKEDISTAN on TwitterKEDISTAN on Youtube
Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.