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Seared on my mind as with a brand­ing iron, the mem­o­ry ris­es of my years of incar­cer­a­tion in Turk­ish jails, bring­ing back a spe­cif­ic period.

Those who lived through those years know that the pustschist gen­er­als who trans­formed Turkey into an open-air prison, were not con­tent with con­fis­cat­ing the free­dom of mil­lions of peo­ple, but they also forced them to relin­quish their identity.

Pro­gres­sive democ­rats and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies were the  first vic­tims of the pustschist gen­er­als’ “reha­bil­i­ta­tion” process. All the mil­i­tary pris­ons, start­ing with those of Istan­bul, Ankara and Diyarbakır were trans­formed into ter­ri­ble “red­di­tion laboratories”.

Resistance and hunger strikes

In the Dik­tat pris­ons, impos­ing the uni­form as “only gar­ment” was the main tool of oppres­sion and sanc­tion. While this per­se­cu­tion of the “only gar­ment” was prac­ticed in all men’s jails of every size, on July 14 1982, in the mil­i­tary prison of Diyarbakır, a “hunger strike to the death” began (mean­ing a hunger strike with no absorp­tion of sug­ared or salt­ed water.)

Dur­ing this strike, Kemal Pir, Mehmet Hayri Dur­muş, Akif Yıl­maz and Ali Çiçek lost their lives. Admin­ist­sra­tive Bul­letin n° 13–1, pro­mul­gat­ed in 1983, made the “only gar­ment” manda­to­ry as of Jan­u­ary 1984, start­ing with the Metris mil­i­tary prison in Istanbul.

On Jan­u­ary 14–15 1984, pris­on­ers’ civil­ian cloth­ing was confiscated.

On April 11 1984, detainees in the pris­ons of Metris and Sağ­mal­cılar began a hunger strike, their demands being “the end of the prac­tice of the uni­form”, “the end of tor­tures”, “the imple­men­ta­tion of humane and social­ly accept­able jail con­di­tions” and “the recog­ni­tion of polit­i­cal incar­cer­a­tion as a sta­tus”. After 45 days, the hunger strike begun by 400 pris­on­ers became a hunger strike until death. At the end of this episode of resis­tance Abdul­lah Mer­al, Hay­dar Başbağ, Fatih Oktul­muş and Hasan Tel­ci had lost their lives.

As a con­se­quence of the pris­on­ers’ protests, the pustschist regime with­drew the impo­si­tion of the  uni­form on Feb­ru­ary 11 1986. But  prob­lems did not dis­ap­pear inside the pris­ons …Vio­la­tion of rights, the prac­tice of tor­ture, rapes and iso­la­tion con­tin­ued to exist as con­stant “red­di­tion” poli­cies prac­ticed by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments, hence as State pol­i­cy. And in lat­er peri­ods,   pow­er­ful wide­spread mobi­liza­tions for hunger strikes, and hunger strikes until death, con­tin­ued to log in vic­tims and fur­ther instances of State vio­lence in Turkey’s history.

In the 90s, resis­tance in the jails turned into destruc­tive strug­gles such as hunger strikes to the death, immo­la­tions and mar­tyrs’ sac­ri­fices. Pris­on­ers were blind­ed into dying rather than living…Hundreds of pre­cious peo­ple, full of life, were moti­vat­ed to die and become mar­tyrs. In pris­ons as well as on the out­side, peo­ple were destroyed by this approach and such moti­va­tions, with no gains whatsoever.

Brief reminder by Kedistan:
- In 1996, prisoners detained in Diyarbakır prison for their membership in the PKK began a massive hunger strike demanding the lifting of the bulletin concerning prisons. The strike was taken up by 2 174 prisons in 43 prisons, 355 of which went on hunger strike until death. During this episode of resistance, ten people lost their lives.
— On October 20 2000, a hunger strike began simultaneously in several prisons. Among other things, the hunger strikers demanded  the closing down of type F prisons and the abrogation of the law concerning the fight against terrorism.  Within one month, this hunger strike, begun by 816 prisoners, became a hunger strike until death. Operations launched by security forces in the prisons cost the lives of 2 gendarmes, 30 prisoners, and left many others victims of different illnesses, particularly of Wernicke Korsakof syndrome as well as severely wounded, such as Veli Saçılık who lost an arm. This operation was code named “Return to Life” (yes, the Turkish State has quite a sense of humor, lest we forget the recent  “Olive Branch” operation in Afrin).
— Among the mass hunger strikes, we can also mention that of the TEKEL workers in 2010.
— Other hunger strikes took place recently, notably those of Kemal Gün requesting the body of her son, and Nuriye Gülman and Semih Özakça, teachers who were fired by decree at the end of 2016, and Esra Özakça, to whom Kedistan has devoted a special dossier.

READ ALSO Turkey • The Return of Prison Uniforms

The “Only Garment”  is back in the news

In 2017, thir­ty-one years lat­er, the wear­ing of uni­forms in prison is back in the news, the prac­tice revived by the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic, Tayyip Erdoğan, and rein­stat­ed by a recent decree.

More­over,  new pris­ons of a spe­cif­ic type have been built. Also, the Jus­tice Min­is­ter “antic­i­pat­ing” that the num­ber of the con­demned or await­ing judge­ment would reach 275 000 in 2018, plans were made for the com­ple­tion of 45 new pris­ons. In these, as in the exist­ing ones, wear­ing the uni­form will be manda­to­ry, whether the detainee is a man or a woman.

And so, after all the years I passed  in the pris­ons of Selimiye, Alem­dağ, Kabakoz, Metris and Sağ­mal­cılar, between 1980 and 1987, I find myself wit­ness­ing 37 years lat­er, in the new peri­od of dic­ta­tor­ship, the impo­si­tion of the “only gar­ment” in jails.

This time, jour­nal­ists are even more numer­ous among the incar­cer­at­ed. And while I write these lines, I learn that one of my col­leagues and hostage friends, jour­nal­ist and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ahmet Şık has been released.

Ahmet's release

Ahmet’s release

A story of Indomitables

I am sure you will under­stand that mem­o­ries of prison are not very pleas­ant. But their ugli­ness does not flow from those hold­ing these mem­o­ries but rather from the turpi­tudes the sys­tem imposed on them. Which is exact­ly what I under­went dur­ing those years. I wish to state that, despite all the repres­sion I wit­nessed at that time, I think the lib­er­ty-killing prac­tices and the repres­sion to which the pris­on­ers, jour­nal­ists intel­lec­tu­als, polit­i­cal men and women and oth­er oppo­nents to the sys­tem today go far beyond those expe­ri­enced in the past.

With what I will now tell you, I think you will bet­ter under­stand the essence of that cursed period.

The dai­ly expe­ri­ences of pris­ons fol­low­ing the mil­i­tary coup d’e­tat on Sep­tem­ber 12 1980 are of ped­a­gog­i­cal impor­tance in order to under­stand not only the extra­or­di­nary resis­tance of an entire gen­er­a­tion of pro­gres­sist, rev­o­lu­tion­ary and lib­er­tar­i­an youths, fac­ing the pustschist gen­er­als, but also to per­ceive the speci­fici­ties of an entire “mono­type” social gen­er­a­tion, cre­at­ed by State dik­dat through the bay­o­nette of per­se­cu­tions, pro­hi­bi­tions, intim­i­da­tions, ter­ror and demagogery.

To update what I wrote above, I must say: “37 years lat­er, as in the peri­od between 1980 and 1987, pris­on­ers are once again forced to wear the “only gar­ment” which in terms of State pol­i­cy, tar­gets the deper­son­al­iza­tion and red­di­tion of oppo­nents.” And with these words, I invite you into my his­to­ry of the Indomitables.

Being one among the thou­sands of young peo­ple tak­en hostage by the jun­ta in the eight­ies, I am part of this story.

The main Devrimci Sol trial

Brief reminder by Kedistan:
Devrimci Sol or Dev-Sol (Revolutionary Left), a Marxist-Leninist Leftist party, active between 1978 and 1994, is part of an entire historical process followed by the extreme Left in Turkey, maintaining a certain tradition of scissions and dismantlings, constantly rising from the ashes…Thus Dev-Sol preceded the DHKP‑C (Revolutionary people’s liberation Party-Front), founded in 1994 and active to this day.

I was one of the 1,243 per­sons on tri­al dur­ing what was known as “the main Dev-Sol tri­al” which is con­sid­ered as one of the major sym­bols of the absence of Rights in the peri­od fol­low­ing Sep­tem­ber 12.

In 1981, the main tri­al began at the Court of Mar­tial Law N°1. Known as the “giant tri­al” since it brought togeth­er the files of all activists or per­sons relat­ed to the orga­ni­za­tion, or accused of all sorts of crimes such as “resist­ing arrest”, “destruc­tion of pub­lic equip­ments”, “lead­er­ship in an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion” or “mur­der”, and for whom var­i­ous sen­tences of impris­on­ment or even of death – for 250 of them–  were demand­ed. This tri­al last­ed for years, mean­der­ing through var­i­ous stages, appeals, irreg­u­lar­i­ties, loss of files…

I was pros­e­cut­ed under arti­cle 146/1 and stayed behind bars until 1987, a peri­od of approx­i­mate­ly 7 and a half years.

The tri­al end­ed in 2009. I was acquit­ted. The Supreme Court con­firmed the deci­sions in 2013 and after 32 years, the Main Tri­al of Dev-Sol final­ly came to an end.

Brief note from Kedistan:
Most of the people were accused under article 146/1 of the Turkish Penal Code and were subject to the death sentence. In 2009, The Red Assistance relayed the conclusion of the story. “After losing hundreds of the files making up the penal document, the ‘civilian’ tribunals deliberated in the same direction as those of their military predecessors. 39 of the 1,243 (!) accused were sentenced to prison in perpetuity. Given the antiquity of the charges, those few among the condemned who survived State terror (many of the accused were assassinated during the 90s) benefited from prescription. Life sentences were converted into prison sentences of eight years in virtue of the law on terrorism covering these types of offences. Most of the condemned having already been jailed eight years or more walked freely out of court. One of the lawyers declared they would appeal this decision, claiming that this trial had begun during the period of the coup, period during which torture constituted the sole means of inquest. Twenty of the activists also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over an unjust trial.

This archival video in which I appear was record­ed on March 14 1982 dur­ing the main Dev-Sol trial:

The trial was held in a sports stadium. We see some of the accused presenting themselves. Family name, Surname, address…When the Judged asks for their trade, they all answer “revolutionary”.

(We’re sor­ry, the video has been delet­ed from Youtube. We’re look­ing for a copy.)

A moment in the video. I have just turned 18 (00:18)

The torturers in the Metris Gaol

1983 was a cul­mi­nat­ing point in the strug­gle inside the prison of Metris, a strug­gle the pustschist gen­er­als did not man­age to put down, no mat­ter what they attempt­ed. In 1982 in the Diyarbakır prison tra­di­tion­al­ly known as the “gaol”, the gen­er­als exer­cised incred­i­ble meth­ods of per­se­cu­tion and tor­ture against patri­ot­ic Kurds, meet­ing extra­or­di­nary resis­tance dur­ing which four pris­on­ers sac­ri­fied their life dur­ing hunger strikes. This resis­tance which great­ly con­tributed to the awak­en­ing of Kur­dish iden­ti­ty, also served as a great source of moral sup­port to all the detainees resist­ing dic­ta­tor­ship inside the pris­ons, start­ing with the prison of Metris.  Many of the patri­ot­ic  Kurds who lived through the days of sav­agery in the gaol of Diyarbakır spent years before man­ag­ing to escape from the trau­ma expe­ri­enced dur­ing this peri­od.  Mem­o­ries of these ter­ri­ble years inspired a num­ber of poems, short sto­ries, nov­els, paint­ings, films and plays.

Hunger Strike and a Commander with an expertise in torture

In the his­to­ry of resis­tance with­in  Metris prison, the defeat of the 28 day hunger strike con­duct­ed in July and August 1983 marked the first break, and the weak­en­ing of the pow­er of “left­ist” lead­ers among the pris­on­ers (jailed cadres of  orga­nized struc­tures) and strike leaders.

At the onset of ’83, per­se­cu­tions had inten­si­fied. First, the  autho­rized num­ber of pris­on­ers’ let­ters were reduced to two per week. Then, paper and pen­cils were pro­hib­it­ed. In this way, pris­on­ers were both deprived of the pos­si­bil­i­ty to defend them­selves, and barred from com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their rel­a­tives. Short­ly there­after, even razors could no longer be found. Books were con­fis­cat­ed, walks out­side the cell blocks, pro­hib­it­ed. Only lat­er would we under­stand, when the wear­ing of the “sole gar­ment” became the main top­ic, that these mea­sures were not acci­den­tal, as they appeared at the time of the imple­men­ta­tion of the Sağ­mal­cılar spe­cial type of prison. These sys­tem­at­ic pro­hi­bi­tions and sys­tem­at­ic forms of psy­cho­log­i­cal oppres­sion were led by Com­man­der Muzaf­fer, an expert in tor­tures, who had arrived from the gaol in Diyarbakır.

In an attempt to defeat the gen­er­als’ “red­di­tion pro­gram” in Metris, 2 000 pris­on­ers (yes, two thou­sand!) start­ed a hunger strike. How­ev­er, while the pris­on­ers planned to con­tin­ue the strike until all their demands were met, in oth­er words until they achieved a clear vic­to­ry, the prison admin­is­tra­tion, under Com­man­der Muzaf­fer, made an abrupt change in its maneu­vers. The pris­on­ers’ cloth­ing was returned to them and the admin­is­tra­tion declared that no one would be forced into wear­ing the “sole gar­ment” (uni­form), and that the oth­er demands would find a response, even­tu­al­ly. Of course, this was a trick and a well-thought out one in order to break the mas­sive resis­tance and influ­ence of the strike. Not real­iz­ing the pur­pose of this sud­den and sur­pris­ing maneu­ver, most of the lead­ers of the orga­nized left  decid­ed to end the hunger strike. Which was ter­mi­nat­ed at the end of 28 days.

Sub­se­quent­ly, the promis­es were not real­ly kept.

1982, an “open vis­it” (with­out cab­ins) Sadık Çelik, top left, Sul­tan Çelik, sec­ond on the right.

Prior to the hunger strike to the death in 1984

Three autonomous rev­o­lu­tion­ary pris­on­ers (belong­ing to no orga­nized left­ist struc­ture)  thus raised this ques­tion on the 28th day of the hunger strike. “Have the promis­es tru­ly been kept?” under­scor­ing the error of end­ing the resis­tance before all the demands were met, and declar­ing they would con­tin­ue the hunger strike. I was one of them.

The deci­sion by these three pris­on­ers with­in the “sick bay”   to con­tin­ue the strike was deemed “use­less and anar­chic“by the left­ist lead­ers. Some­how, they had labelled us ear­ly on, before we even rec­og­nized our­selves… For my part, frankly, I was rather pleased by this label…

Hav­ing nev­er encoun­tered a hunger strike last­ing more than 28 or 29 days, the prison admin­is­tra­tion pan­icked on the 30th day. They forced us to the infirmery and attempt­ed to insert IV drips. When we refused, they trans­ferred the first of us by ambu­lance, then the two oth­ers, to the Hay­darpaşa mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal. There, we con­tin­ued to resist the doc­tors’ per­sua­sions to accept serum. We also attempt­ed to con­vince oth­er pris­on­ers who had end­ed their hunger strike while hos­pi­tal­ized, and were still on the premis­es.  We con­tin­ued resist­ing for two days, before end­ing our strike on the 32nd day, fol­low­ing our own col­lec­tive deci­sion. Our objec­tive was of course a protest against the oppres­sions and pro­hi­bi­tions, but also against the inco­her­ence of the left­ist author­i­ties that had led this resis­tance to fail­ure. The promis­es were nev­er kept and short­ly there­after, the per­se­cu­tions and pro­hi­bi­tions were rein­tro­duced by stealth.

This is how the trag­ic process of the 1984 hunger strike began. If the 2 000 par­tic­i­pants had shown the deter­mi­na­tion and nim­ble­mind­ed­ness required to pur­sue the hunger strike for a few more days, the vic­tims of the fol­low­ing episode of resis­tance might have been avoided.

Fol­low­ing a brief peri­od of calm in Metris after the hunger strike to the death in 1984, per­se­cu­tions start­ed up again in 1985.

The pustchist gen­er­als opened the Sağ­mal­cılar prison-type prison, built for resis­tors who refused capit­u­la­tion, to a sec­ond group of “indomita­bles”. Hun­dred of pris­on­ers were removed from Metris mil­i­tary prison and “exiled” to Sağmalcılar.

As an autonomous rev­o­lu­tion­ary, I was among these exiled “indomita­bles.”

A cult pic­ture from that period.

My best friend was wearing the  uniform…

Arriv­ing at the spe­cial-type Sağ­mal­cılar prison, we were greet­ed with the “sole gar­ment” and oth­er sanc­tions. Since we resist­ed both the uni­form and the strip search­es, we were beat­en and sub­ject­ed to fala­ka (beat­ings on the soles of the feet).

(Sadık Çelik, Metris prison, 1982)

(Sadık Çelik, Metris prison, 1982)

With our rep­u­ta­tions as “indomita­bles”, what could we do except show them we could not be tamed? By the end of the day the cor­ri­dors were full of torn uni­forms trans­formed into floor mops, our blood­ied and bruised bod­ies, dragged along the ground and our slo­gans ring­ing against the walls. We were thrown into cells of six people.

Over a short peri­od, we healed our wounds and began our new cell life.

I heard that Y, my road com­pan­ion of whom I always spoke as “my friend both out­side and inside”, with whom I had not man­aged to be reunit­ed in the same cell in Metris despite dozens of requests to the admin­is­tra­tion, had now accept­ed to wear the “sole garment”…To me, this was a sad and dis­tress­ing sit­u­a­tion. I had to do some­thing. I thought it over and took a deci­sion that might sur­prise you. I would accept to wear the uni­form and ask to be sent to the same quar­ter as Y. First, I talked this over with my cell com­rades, explain­ing my motives. They accept­ed this idea with under­stand­ing and respect. “It’s mad­ness but it’s worth a try”, said one of them…

The next day at morn­ing roll call, I hand­ed over my writ­ten request to the guard. Fol­low­ing the call, I pre­pared my stuff and began wait­ing. The escape hatch (the door) to our cell opened around twelve and the chief guard announced: “Sadık Çelik, your request was accept­ed. Get your stuff ready and come out!” I was already prepared…

I said good­bye to my cell com­rades and, with the guards, crossed in the oth­er direc­tion the cor­ri­dors through which I had been dragged, blood­ied, on the ground. I reached Block B. The chief guard and his lieu­tenant were as pleased as Punch. At last, they had man­aged to break an “indomitable”! Mean­while, I smiled inside and lived anoth­er kind of joy. When we arrived before Y’s quar­ters, the lieu­tenant said: “Sadık Çelik, we’re putting you in the next quar­ter. But don’t wor­ry, you will use the same walk.”  The chief guard hand­ed me a plas­tic bag con­tain­ing the uni­form “here, these are your new clothes”.

We moved for­ward. They opened the door. The pris­on­ers in uni­form greet­ed me with smiles. I remem­bered some of them from Metris. They were deati­nees sen­tenced dur­ing the E.B. tri­al. After a bit of gos­sip, they showed me my bunk bed. I took my things and set­tled on it. But the “sole gar­ment” wait­ed for a long time at the foot of the bed. I had trou­ble reach­ing for it. Final­ly, I remem­ber, I put it on, think­ing to myself “how cold it feels!”…

The sec­ond prom­e­nade takes place in the after­noon. I had told my friends in the quar­ter that I want­ed to sur­prise my friend Y and asked them not to reveal my name, if any­one from the neigh­bor­ing quar­ter asked who had arrived. They agreed. And the door to the com­mon prom­e­nade opened.

Mamak prison 1981

As the pris­on­ers file out to the prom­e­nade accord­ing to the num­bers on their quar­ters, the guards first opened the door to Y’s. A few min­utes lat­er, our own. And now, my friend stands before me…

When he sees me wear­ing the uni­form, he is voice­less from sur­prise at first. Then we embrace in friendship…In one cor­ner of the prom­e­nade, near the wall, we begin walk­ing back and forth. I say: “I’ve come here to talk to you, the uni­form is my excuse.” “What do you mean, you will take off the “sole gar­ment”? he asks, aston­ished. I answer with a smile, “yes and per­haps we will both take it off…“He stops for a moment. Then con­tin­ues “I under­stand and I respect you. But on this top­ic, I now think dif­fer­ent­ly from you. I don’t want to increase my incar­cer­a­tion through dis­ci­pli­nary sanc­tions. I want to stay qui­et and be lib­er­at­ed as soon as possible.”

Of course, this was the pref­er­ence of a lot of peo­ple. Still, I did­n’t expect to hear this from a mil­i­tant resis­tor. I con­tin­ued walk­ing in silence for a while, not know­ing what to say. Then I start­ed talk­ing about the objec­tives behind this prac­tice of the uni­form and what would be their con­se­quences. I want­ed to con­vince him to remove the uni­form. I knew him, and I knew how he had man­aged to resist under con­di­tions of oppres­sion. He was not a per­son who gave up eas­i­ly, who resigned him­self eas­i­ly. Togeth­er, arm in arm, we had greet­ed the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980, in Alem­dağ prison. Our anger against the gen­er­als was great, who had stolen our youth when we were almost chil­dren. We knew of no pow­er that could resist  this legit­i­mate anger. Besides, we were two inde­pen­dant rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who had man­aged to leave author­i­tar­i­an ide­o­log­i­cal hir­erar­chies. As “inde­pen­dant per­sons”, this mat­tered because, it was dif­fi­cult, even impos­si­ble to face the ter­ror­ism of tor­tures, pro­hi­bi­tions and oppres­sion the pustchist gen­er­als applied sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly in the prison. We had to over­come this real­i­ty with a courage close to mad­ness, and we had succeeded.

The only thing that had kept us inde­pen­dant rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies stand­ing was the sup­port and affec­tion of our rel­a­tives and near ones who attempt­ed to strug­gle on the out­side for us, in con­di­tions even more dif­fi­cult than our own. In par­tic­u­lar, the sol­i­dar­i­ty of our moth­ers, their resis­tance, was the pre­cious source of morale in our resis­tance. Con­trary to what might appear, we were nei­ther alone nor des­per­ate. No mat­ter the con­di­tions, nei­ther of us had bro­ken down under the ter­ror­ism of the gen­er­als, enne­mies of the people.

We ques­tioned one anoth­er.  How could it be that we found our­selves, two trav­el­ling com­pan­ions, at such a cross­road in our jour­neys? What would accept­ing to wear the uni­form resolve at this point? The uni­form was part of the repres­sion the pustschists had prac­ticed for five years, in order to break the strength and the legit­i­ma­cy of the resis­tance. We had even suf­fered deaths on this road.

On that day, dur­ing the hour of the walk and all the days that fol­lowed, we talked to find an answer to these ques­tions. Final­ly, I under­stood sad­ly that I would not receive the answers I expect­ed, and that our fra­ter­nal resis­tance was over. And Y and I exchanged our final words, salut­ed one anoth­er and nev­er again found our­selves on the prom­e­nade together.

I told myself “the fra­ter­ni­ty and mil­i­tant spir­it we fed for years must end here” and told him what I felt. “We have said every­thing we could say. I think if would be sense­less to speak any fur­ther. I won’t be here at the next prom­e­nade. Tomor­row at the vis­it, I will explain to my moth­er why I wore the uni­form, then I will take it off and go back into resis­tance. Safe jour­ney to you, my broth­er, and take care of yourself.”

Son, you gave me a fright”

The next morn­ing, after roll-call, came the time for visits…Would my moth­er come? Since I had not writ­ten nor sent a telegram…I had­n’t done so on pur­pose. Because I had come to con­vince Y and my sit­u­a­tion was tem­po­rary. She did not know yet that I had accept­ed to wear the uniform.

»>Read part 2
The uni­form in Turk­ish pris­ons • The Indomita­bles | 2

Brief note from Kedistan:
Sultan Çelik, Sadık Çelik’s mother, is one  of the co-founders of TAYAD, the Solidary Association of Families of Prisoners. She was part of the struggle by the prisoners’ family following the  period after the September 12 coup. One of the leading figures of this period, she was called “Mother Sultan”. She is also one of the founders of Özgür-Der (Association for the right to free speech and education) and DEMKAD (Women for the democratic struggle). She died of cancer on July 25 2003.

Sultan Çelik

Whether it is a vis­it­ing day or not, my moth­er or “Sul­tan ana”, TAYAD’s Moth­er Sul­tan, stands guard every days in front of the prison with oth­er moth­ers and fathers, lead­ers of the asso­ci­a­tion. And this sol­i­dar­i­ty watch allows the fam­i­lies to stay close to the news con­cern­ing the pris­on­ers and to main­tain the strength of their support.

Vis­its are for­bid­den to pris­on­ers who refuse the uni­form, but not to those who wear it. On vis­it­ing days, the sol­diers read off  to the vis­i­tors the list of pris­on­ers who have accept­ed to wear the uni­form, and if they have vis­i­tors, they are informed of this. So this would be a day of sur­pris­es for my moth­er. As the thought I might accept the “sole gar­ment” would nev­er cross her mind, she would­n’t expect to hear my name, and would­n’t greet the news very warmly…

Toward the end of the vis­it­ing hour, the door opens to our quar­ters and the sol­dier reads my name on the list. “Sadık Çelik, you have a vis­i­tor, get ready!”

I pre­pare and wait by the door. I am a bit  moved and tense. The door opens and my feet car­ry me toward the cab­in, I who have not had a vis­i­tor for months. I reach the cab­in with the sol­dier. And I wait.

After all these months, I see my moth­er with a wor­ried expres­sion on her face. I tell her: “Don’t wor­ry. This was a very spe­cial sit­u­a­tion. I put on the uni­form in order to con­vince Y, but unfor­tu­nate­ly I did­n’t suc­ceed. Tomoroww I will take off the unir­form and return in the resis­tors’ quar­ters. Today, I want­ed to accept the vis­its because I want­ed to inform you. I would have pre­ferred you not see me like this. ”

Hav­ing under­tood the sit­u­a­tion, my moth­er took a deep breath. “Son, you gave me a fright. You can’t imag­ine how bad­ly I felt when they read off your name. If Sev­gi had­n’t told me, “Go sis­ter Sul­tan, go and see, per­haps there is a rea­son”, I would­n’t have set foot in here. I’ll nev­er for­get how peo­ple looked at me when the sol­dier read your name.  This kind of sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cat­ed for us, the fam­i­lies. Espe­cial­ly if the son of one of the TAYAD lead­ers does such a thing. It’s even hard­er to explain to the fam­i­lies. Son, don’t do this again, don’t wear that rag again  and don’t call me back to this vis­i­tor’s cab­in. I would not want to vis­it you with shame”, she tells me. I answer “I’m tru­ly sor­ry to have caused you shame, but don’t wor­ry, next time, you will come to my vis­it not with shame but with joy. And so this day may come, we will con­tin­ue to fight, us inside, you out­side, in sol­i­dar­i­ty. Your son knows he is not alone, no mat­ter what the cir­cum­stances may be. I am proud to have a kind moth­er filled with sol­lic­i­tude. I salute all our moth­ers with the same feel­ings, and our fathers, broth­ers and sis­ters sup­port­ing our resis­tance. My moth­er with the car­na­tion red cheeks looked at me with eyes filled with ten­der­ness, “yes, son, we will win togeth­er. May my love and ten­der­ness be with you always, you and all the oth­er jailed chil­dren.” She left the vis­i­tor’s cab­in, head held high and with a light heart…

At this point in my sto­ry, I must pause before describ­ing the fol­low­ing year the prison admin­is­tra­tion reserved for me, in total isolation.

Here you will see nothing but the wall!”

 The next morn­ing before roll call, I did not put on the “sole gar­ment” and I did not show up for roll call. When the call team entered the quar­ter, I was in the dor­mi­to­ry, sit­ting on bed in shorts and under­shirt, await­ing what would come next.

First I heard the lieu­tenan­t’s voice, “Hey, where is Sadık Çelik?” One of the pris­on­ers answered “in the dor­mi­to­ry!“In a stern voice the lieu­tenant ordered the chief guard “get him out here!” The guard and the sol­diers behind him entered the dor­mi­to­ry and dragged me out to the space for meals, and attempt­ed to make me stand in the row for roll call. The lieu­tenant approached me “so, you played a trick on us. All right, we’re remov­ing you from here. We’ll take you to a nice place now. You’ll love it”, he said with a mock­ing air. The chief guard and the sol­diers pushed me toward the cor­ri­dor, strik­ing me and drag­ging me howl­ing  before the shamed­faced silence of the quar­ter’s pris­on­ers. While I strug­gled in the cor­ri­dor we went by the door to Y’s quar­ter and I thought of him for a moment. I told myself “luck­i­ly, we weren’t in the same quar­ter.” Because I would­n’t have want­ed to see Y among the pris­on­ers low­er­ing their eyes in shame, while hold­ing their posi­tion for roll call as I was dragged in front of them…

They took me up to the third floor of the same block. They stopped in front of the door of the first cell in the cor­ri­dor. I recalled my moth­er’s words “yes, son, we will van­quish togeth­er. May my love and ten­der­ness be with you always, you and all the oth­er impris­oned children”.

The lieu­tenant arrived last and said to me “here you will see noth­ing but the wall“and he had them open the iso­la­tion cell which was mine for a year.

This is how my days of iso­la­tion began, filled with pro­hi­bi­tions and persecutions…

On enter­ing my cell, the first thing I did was to stand with my back against the door and then to mea­sure the space in foot­steps toward the win­dows fac­ing me. “One, two, three, four, five”. And the width, from one wall to the oth­er. “One, two, three, three and a half”… I have two very grey barred win­dows at a one-meter dis­tance from one anoth­er, close to the ceil­ing. Stretch­ing my arms I flip them open. Through them, I see the roof of the prom­e­nade strewn with barbed wire. It reach­es from the ceil­ing of my cell to the blind wall at the end of the prom­e­nade. It is hard to see the sky, and even less so the birds, the gulls fly­ing by, or a pass­ing air­plane… And at night, there will no longer be blink­ing stars or a moon…

Turquie prisons

There is a small sink under the win­dows. A bit fur­ther on the right, a toi­let next to a half-wall one and a half meters thick. Behind it, a metal­lic bed, screwed to the ceil­ing and to the floor. On the bed, a mil­i­tary mat­tress, blan­ket, pil­low and sheets… Fac­ing the bed, against the wall, a table and a chair await me. I drag my wound­ed body toward the bed. I lie down. I knit my hands under my head, and I nose­dive into deep thoughts…

Turquie prisons

I awake to the voice of the sol­dier on guard. Lunch. With­out anoth­er word, the sol­dier opens the trap for meals at the bot­tom of the door, at foot lev­el, and hands over the “tabldot” tray (and expres­sion orig­i­nat­ing in French. “Table d’hôte”, writ­ten in Turk­ish…). I loathe this way of serv­ing the meals, extreme­ly unsan­i­tary and degrading.

My cell is like an hour­glass filled with pro­hib­it­ed walks, vists, lawyers, tri­bunal, hos­pi­tal, show­er, let­ters, books. Il flows, and flows and flows through the days, the weeks, the months…

By the end, my cell with its view on a cold, blind and mute wall, taught me one thing: remain­ing alone in a cell and not for­get­ting how to speak is an art.

For months on end, I remained with­out the sound of any oth­er human voice than my own with which to hold a con­ver­sa­tion. In order to pre­serve myself from the destruc­tive effect on real­i­ty com­pact­ed into 14 square meters, I felt the need for an extra­or­di­nary amount of imag­i­na­tion and moral strength…

Resisting Alone

By nature, a human being is a social crea­ture inter­act­ing and dia­logu­ing with those sur­round­ing him. There can be no more inhu­man offence than to remove a human being from his free and nat­ur­al orbit in order to shut him up in a space with no con­tact with oth­er humans. This is why I per­son­al­ly refuse this con­cept of impris­on­ment as a nat­ur­al and nor­mal dis­sua­sive argu­ment, born of the rela­tion­ship between the State, the crime and its pun­ish­ment. By refus­ing all these argu­ments, we will under­stand that the con­cepts of prison and cap­tiv­i­ty in iso­la­tion are counter-pro­duc­tive since they tres­pass the lim­its of a human being’s phys­i­cal needs.

I wish to return to relat­ing my own con­di­tions of captivity…For months, the most ter­ri­ble part of my pro­hi­bi­tion-laced soli­tude con­sist­ed of the impos­si­bil­i­ty of speak­ing to any­one. I told myself “Being forced to face this is unbear­able. I must find a method.“At that moment, two free books that had remained acci­den­tal­ly at the bot­tom of a prison bag told me there was a pleas­ant and per­sua­sive way lead­ing to “anoth­er world”. “A Man” by Ori­ana Fal­laci and “Eski Film­ler” (Old Films’) by Vedat Türkali.

I erased the bound­aries of my sen­ti­men­tal and moral uni­verse and I read these two books in turn, aloud, as if pre­sent­ing a scene. Over and over… Every day, every day…

The sol­diers on guard thought I had become crazy, from time to time they would come and watch through the trap. One day, I told one of them: “No, I haven’t become crazy, and I won’t become crazy either…Your life­less, mute, deaf and dumb walls, your pro­hi­bi­tions will not dri­ve me crazy.“This is what I attempt­ed to tell them in a few words.

At last, I had found the right method. From then on I lived every­thing, time, space, vol­ume, human beings, every­thing, out­side the 14 square meters, in anoth­er dimen­sion. I had loads of friends in the two books. Every day, we met in a sto­ry, I talked with them freely.

What I loved the most was dis­cussing with the main char­ac­ter in Ori­ana Fal­laci’s nov­el, Aléxan­dros Panagoúlis and echo­ing him. I even iden­ti­fied with him. From then on, beyond being a char­ac­ter in a book, he rep­re­sent­ed for me a cer­tain atti­tude in life. He had become my trav­el­ling com­pan­ion, open­ing up my world to new hori­zons, and giv­ing me the strength to endure the pro­hi­bi­tions and oppressions.

I would like to introduce him…
Alexandros Panagoulis: Known as a Greek activist, politician and poet. He marked political history following the 1967 military coup. On August 13 1968, he conducted a bomb attack against the pustschist general Papadopoulos: “I never wanted to kill a human being. I cannot kill a human being. Personally, I wished to kill a tyrant”, he declared. Arrested by the pustschists, he was conducted to a center of the ESA, the military junta’s security agency and tortured during 90 days. At the tribunal he said: “You cannot stand in judgment of me, for you are the junta’s judges. If you acquitted me, you would acknowledge your own crime. If my action had succeeded, you would be standing trial in my stead.”
On November 17 1968, after the five days of the trial, Alexandros was transferred to the Island of Aegina where he was to be executed. He waited for three days for the firing squad. During that time, international public opinion mobilized demanding the lifting of his sentence. The only reason that would allow the annulment of the execution and transform it into jail in perpetuity would have been an amnesty pronounced by general Papadopoulos. All it took was a signature on the document by Alexandros. But to the officer who brought him the document for signature, Alexandros said: “Get out of here, I won’t sign!”
In 1973, after 4,5 years in jail, Alexandros was freed nonetheless along with all the other political prisoners during a general amnesty pronounced by Papadopoulos in an unsuccessful attempt at giving his regime a “freer” appearance.

Turquie prisons

Lib­er­a­tion after the hunger strike. 1987, in the TAYAD Istan­bul office.

In Turkey, I spent one year in this iso­la­tion cell.

Mama, we’ve succeeded!”

One morn­ing in Feb­ru­ary 1986, I woke up to an announce­ment res­onat­ing off the loud­speak­ers in the promenade:

Atten­tion! Atten­tion! To all pris­on­ers! As of tomor­row, by order of the Gen­er­al Direc­torate of carcer­al insti­tu­tions, all the pris­on­ers will be allowed to go to the prom­e­nade, to appear at vis­its to their fam­i­lies and lawyers, and before the tri­bunal judg­ing them, in their usu­al cloth­ing. Thus, they will be allowed to receive the cloth­ing, food and med­ica­tion brought by the vis­i­tors, con­di­tion­al on their inspection.”

I joy­ful­ly told myself: “There you go! We’ve suc­ceed­ed, mama!”

My joy, our joy resound­ed then inside and on the walls: “Long live the resis­tance! Long live victory!”

Car­ry­ing on with the resis­tance, from yes­ter­day to today

Dur­ing the cur­rent peri­od of dic­ta­tor­ship with Erdoğan, the “sole gar­ment” is being imposed again.

Let us lis­ten to a voice res­onat­ing since the eight­ies. Words from those ancient times have not aged  and pro­vide proof of the fact that suc­ces­sive pow­ers fol­low the same roads, using the same repres­sive methods.

And they remind us we must nev­er give up the strug­gle. One let­ter* addressed from Metris prison to the Mar­tial Law Tri­bunal N° 2 in Istan­bul reads: “To those who want to con­fis­cate our thoughts and turn us into their slaves, we answer: YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED!”

Note from Kedistan: This letter was published on page 56 of the book titled Devimci Sol Dava dilekçeleri 12 September Eylül Mahkemeleri Dosyasi – 2″ (Dossier of written demands concerning the Dev-Sol Trial, September 12, Volume 2) by Arslan Tayfun Özkök.

Turquie prisons

July 2017 – Istan­bul. IHD (Asso­ci­a­tion for Human Rights) Protest against the rein­state­ment of the uni­form in front of Metris prison.

Top Pho­to: A scene form the film Kan­lı Postal (Blood­ied boots). Direct­ed by Muham­met A.B. Arslan and released on Sep­tem­ber 11 2015, the film tells the sto­ry under the mil­i­tary coup of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980, in the Diyarbakır prison (Video in Turkish)

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Sadık Çelik
REDACTION | Journaliste 
Pho­tographe activiste, lib­er­taire, habi­tant de la ZAD Nddl et d’ailleurs. Aktivist fotoğrafçı, lib­ert­er, Notre Dame de Lan­des otonom ZAD böl­gesinde yaşıy­or, ve diğer otonom bölge ve mekan­lar­da bulunuyor.