This is an Eng­lish trans­la­tion done from the French trans­la­tion of the inter­view of Zehra Doğan done by Cumhuriyet.

As a reminder, the cel­e­brat­ed news­pa­per Cumhuriyet has been ampu­tat­ed of a num­ber of its star jour­nal­ists and, like oth­ers, it now prac­tices the self-cen­sor­ship com­mon in Turkey. Zehra Doğan replied in writ­ing from the prison in Tar­sus to ques­tions that were trans­mit­ted to her. These answers must thus be read tak­ing into account what this news­pa­per has become.

Inter­view by Hilal Köse, pub­lished on Feb­ru­ary 2 2019 in Cumhuriyet’s online and paper editions.

Jour­nal­ist and artist Zehra Doğan, has been in prison for the past two years. She was accused of pro­pa­gan­da, judged and sen­tenced for hav­ing relayed the jour­nal of a ten year old child dur­ing the cur­few [note from Kedis­tan: also for a draw­ing]. If parole had been avail­able, she would have been freed a long time ago. Since she is held in the polit­i­cal pris­on­ers’ wards, she is not autho­rized to use this right. Her lawyer’s request is still pend­ing in the Tar­sus sen­tenc­ing judge’s office. And so Zehra cre­ates with what­ev­er her imag­i­na­tion inspires, pen­cils, ball­point pens, peel­ings from pome­gran­ates, iodine, on paper, on sheets… Even noti­fi­ca­tions from the court serve as a medi­um. Her works slip across the bars and reach peo­ple’s hearts. Answer­ing our ques­tions from Tar­sus prison, Doğan says: “Peo­ple have been tak­en over by a mas­sive indif­fer­ence. Fred­er­ic Jame­son calls this a “diminu­tion of affect”. Women are the ones who can emerge from this ter­ri­fy­ing film of grey­ness and apa­thy. I have infi­nite faith in the wom­en’s strug­gle. And this belief makes be strong.”

Zehra Doğan was recent­ly nom­i­nat­ed for the 2019 Index Cen­sorhips free­dom of expres­sion prize which hon­ors those fight­ing against cen­sor­ship in the fields of jour­nal­ism, art and dig­i­tal activism. Doğan could be dis­charge­able as of the upcom­ing Feb­ru­ary 24.

Zehra Dogan

Tar­sus prison 2019. Var­i­ous nat­ur­al pig­ments on sheet.
Theme sug­gest­ed by Songül. Cre­at­ed col­lec­tive­ly by Zehra and her friends Şemal, Rukiye, Lulîlk.

What kind of per­son are you, Zehra Doğan?

When such a ques­tion is put, you stop to think for a moment. I thought long and hard… My fam­i­ly comes from Mardin but I was born in Diyarbakır. I grew up in the most politi­cised neigh­bor­hood in town, in Bağlar. I was raised in a fam­i­ly of nine chil­dren, a bit left to the gods…I think I can say what fol­lows about myself: I am some­one who changes, who attempts to be her­self, con­stant­ly search­ing, teas­ing, putting her fin­ger on things and stunned every time the bee stings, won­der­ing why all these bees are after me.

Your sen­tenc­ing, your impris­on­ment and the sup­port from the outside…How has all that influ­enced or changed you?

 Every­one is shaped by what she sees, what she lives through, the con­di­tions offered to her or the lack of oppor­tu­ni­ties, and the more we age the more def­i­nite the shape becomes. Since my incar­cer­a­tion, what cross­es my mind the most is Ibn Hal­dun’s expres­sion: “geog­ra­phy is des­tiny”. Every­thing that hap­pens changes us. If I were not a Kurd, if I had been born in anoth­er coun­try, my thoughts would be very dif­fer­ent. Death, burned and destroyed vil­lages and towns, suf­fer­ing, resis­tance, cries, apa­thy, all become an eter­nal habit­u­a­tion, an eter­nal time of wait­ing… The fact all this con­tin­ues with­out end, the fact that once some­thing is fin­ished, some­thing else fol­lows, cre­ates a huge ball in the pit of your stom­ach. The pain this engen­ders in your heart forces you into a con­stant move­ment. But, par­al­lel to this, one learns to become strong.

How do you spend you days in prison?

I have learned many things where I am impris­oned. There were times when I spent days and days research­ing top­ics that held absolute­ly no inter­est for me when I was out­side. In this very small space where a num­ber of themes are dis­cussed for hours on end, be they art, lit­er­a­ture or his­to­ry, where opin­ions and dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives are shared in a fresh way every day, I could not have remained the same Zehra as before, no more than my co-detainees have remained as they were the day of their arrival. We change one anoth­er, we advance togeth­er, and we love one anoth­er very much.

I think dif­fer­ent­ly now. In this space where I was placed in order to shut me up, strange­ly, my mouth nev­er stops.

Have you had any news from the young girl whose notes were the cause of your sentencing?

 Dur­ing the cur­few in Nusay­bin, I was put up in the home of ten-year old Elif. I found her notes very touch­ing. She had writ­ten down what had hap­pened, using her own obser­va­tions. I had filmed her also. I wish the judge who sen­tenced me for the arti­cle I wrote had seen that video also. While Elif reads her jour­nal, the sounds of explo­sions and shoot­ing dis­turb even the per­son watch­ing the video. I would love to see Elif again. I did her por­trait dur­ing the cur­few. She also loved to draw.

I went to Mardin when I was freed for the first time [release on bail, 2016 Mardin]. I was hop­ing to see Elif. But there was­n’t a sin­gle trace left of the hous­es. The neigh­bor­hoods were sur­round­ed by barbed wire and every­thing was destroyed. There was con­struc­tion equip­ment instead. I don’t know where they are now. But I still hope to see Elif again and to draw with her.

zehra dogan dessin sur decision tarsus 2019

Zehra Doğan, Tar­sus prison 2019.
Cof­fee, pen­cil, nat­ur­al pig­ments on admin­is­tra­tive paper

What do you think of what you can fol­low in the dai­ly news of the country?

 I have no opin­ions on cur­rent affairs. Per­haps I do, but I’m afraid to express them. If I say what I think, I will be arrest­ed. Oh, excuse me, I am already in jail? So I do not need to be afraid. I will express myself a bit. It is like a muse­um, frozen, root­ed to the spot. It is obvi­ous that beau­ti­ful things have hap­pened in this muse­um. When we lis­ten care­ful­ly, the remains of hap­py peo­ple’s laugh­ter give us a small glimpse of this sed­i­ment. But present­ly, the muse­um is strange. Objects are exposed in it but we don’t real­ly under­stand what they are. Above them, there are glar­ing lights that do not match these objects. This blaz­ing light keeps us from see­ing the objects on exhi­bi­tion, these works that are offered to us. So we accept what we find. After all, we have entered this muse­um. Some­thing is going on in this muse­um, but we don’t under­stand what it is. And I think that since we don’t under­stand, we are unable to react any­more. Some of us look on with indif­fer­ence and apa­thy at what is offered up with­out giv­ing it any kind of mean­ing. Oth­ers, not see­ing well, react strong­ly and then, every­thing becomes too showy. And oth­ers yet are forced to applaud at what is presented.

This is how I see the coun­try at the moment. As if love, affec­tion, hatred, anger, links, life were con­trolled and shaped by a kind of social engi­neer­ing. We have pushed back every­thing that is non-mate­r­i­al. And yet, on these lands, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is the great­est source of life. Every­thing func­tions accord­ing to a com­putable, mea­sur­able log­ic. One of your fam­i­ly mem­bers is killed, you receive an indem­ni­ty. Mon­ey occu­pies the space of the dis­ap­peared per­son. New hous­es go up where hous­es were destroyed. It is so sim­ple. Can every­thing real­ly be so simple?

I am tired of see­ing hys­ter­i­cal and neu­rot­ic type politi­cians who nev­er shut their mouths.

If I ask you what your projects are after your liberation…

I would like to pur­sue my work where it was inter­rupt­ed. I would like to vis­it many coun­tries in the Mid-East and inform on women, on the peo­ples’ strug­gles, and draw them.

What is the link between draw­ing and journalism?

I see jour­nal­ism and art as equal. Because I make the effort of bring­ing both into exis­tence. For me, it is the effort to express real­i­ty. My draw­ings are most­ly on the theme of war. I did not choose this, it comes by itself. Things I’ve expe­ri­enced, the tes­ti­mo­ni­als, what I could tes­ti­fy to myself is reflect­ed in my draw­ings. If I were not a jour­nal­ist, per­haps I would choose oth­er themes. I’ve trav­elled a lot and met many peo­ple. My trade has influ­enced my choic­es and my expression.

zehra dogan tarsus 2019 teinture iode

Zehra Doğan – Tar­sus prison 2019. Iodine, pen­cil on paper.

You are among the women who received the Courage in Jour­nal­ism Prize from the IWMF. What is courage for you?

I am a woman who lives more with her fears. My fears are always the strongest. This is why I can­not describe courage exact­ly. Nor do I know if this ques­tion has an answer. Yaşar Kemal might answer. When he speaks of Slim Memed, he pays atten­tion to per­cep­tions and social facts. He turns every­thing upside down. Slim Memed isn’t a strong, fear­less and impos­ing man. Quite the con­trary, he has qual­i­ties and fail­ings, a true human being. What make Slim Memed is the fact he is himself.

We can see the same thing in Yaşar Kemal’s Sto­ry of an island. Once we’ve fin­ished the book, we under­stand that all the labels we have used were false, even if we still haven’t found the answer.

While he was still alive, I could have wait­ed for days before his door and run to him when he came out, to kiss his hand and say “Thank you. Thank you with all my heart, uncle”…

My draw­ings, my exhi­bi­tions do not promise fab­u­lous mas­ter­pieces to any­one. For me artis­tic con­sid­er­a­tions alone do not go beyond cul­tur­al elit­ism. [Miss­ing sen­tences in the arti­cle that end with: expres­sions with­out the desire to live them, with­out even being touched by them, put in a jar sole­ly as artis­tic mate­r­i­al, can­not be sin­cere. They are prod­ucts from the fortress of cul­tur­al elit­ism. They are noth­ing but “choos­ing a top­ic” and that is mean­ing­less.] An artist who choos­es a top­ic with­out liv­ing and breath­ing it, shows great arro­gance. I have the impres­sion there exists a bor­der on earth. [Miss­ing sen­tences in the arti­cle which end with: “The world of boss­es, of elites, is sur­round­ed by barbed wire. Some­times I won­der if we are the ones quar­an­tined or if they are?” ] Some of us throw our­selves [body and soul] against that bor­der and attempt to break it down. We call this dynam­ic our courage.

What would you like to say to women?

Sup­port from the out­side gives me strength and makes me hap­py. It makes all the women here hap­py. This sup­port must go beyond my per­son and become gen­er­al­ized. There are present­ly thou­sands of women in jail. Every one of them has a sto­ry worth telling. Moth­er Sisê who is 86 years old can­not sleep at night because of cough­ing, high fevers, hypertension.

Since first being incar­cer­at­ed, I have met dozens of chil­dren who are in jail. Here, there is Der­sim, 2 years old, Ayşe who is 3, Çınar who is 5. These chil­dren have nev­er seen the out­side, they do not know what it is like to touch tree leaves, earth. We try to teach them from books. Every time we come back from the walk and cross the hall, Çınar cries and yells “I don’t want to go inside.“She attacks the guards. Der­sim and Ayşe are filled with anger. Every time the guards close the close, they frown. They can’t sleep because of the noise. They keep wak­ing up and cry­ing. All three are in dif­fer­ent quar­ters. Ayşe cries out under the door: “I’m here, do you hear me? Çınar, Der­sim, are you OK?”

Songül Bağatur has been giv­en a life sen­tence and has been in jail for 26 years, and oth­er women were pun­ished with the iso­la­tion cell for hav­ing refused to be count­ed dur­ing their cus­tody. Their lib­er­a­tion was delayed. They will have to stay in jail longer than they should have.

Some friends are on hunger strike to sup­port Ley­la Güven [note from Kedis­tan: freed on Jan­u­ary 25 2019, she con­tin­ues her hunger strike and sev­er­al pris­on­ers have joined her strike in a num­ber of prisons.]

And in this cli­mate, the women con­tin­ue to laugh. They smile and keep on hoping.

What emo­tions inspire you when you draw?

Peo­ple have been tak­en over by a mas­sive indif­fer­ence. Fred­er­ic Jame­son calls this a “diminu­tion of affect”. Women are the ones who can emerge from this ter­ri­fy­ing film of grey­ness and apa­thy. I have infi­nite faith in the wom­en’s strug­gle. And this belief makes be strong.”

The human body is like lands with­out begin­ning and with­out end. There is an infi­nite and limpid road in the abyss of the eyes. This deep, long and mys­te­ri­ous road is much in evi­dence in wom­en’s eyes. I am very impressed by wom­en’s eyes. They bewitch me and give me conviction.

I would like to serve as a go-between for the salu­ta­tions from all the women resist­ing in jail to all the women out­side and to all the women who strug­gle. 

Zehra Doğan : “Le pays est comme un musée figé” Cliquez pour lire
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