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Turkey, land of every type of oppres­sion, tar­get­ing even art, remains among the lead­ing coun­tries in terms of per­se­cu­tions, vio­la­tions of rights and jail­ings. It also takes the front rank in terms of artists thrown in jail.

The courts remain­ing under polit­i­cal pres­sure, its jour­nal­ists, politi­cians, defendors of human rights, but also artists, are stamped “mem­bers or pro­pa­gan­dists for an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion” and sent to jail. Dilan Cûdî Saruhan is one of these artists. Accused of “belong­ing to an orga­ni­za­tion” and sen­tenced to 9 years in prison, she has been incar­cer­at­ed since Decem­ber 2017 in Istan­bul’s Bakırköy wom­en’s prison. In a recent let­ter, she speaks of con­di­tions in jail and says “Although here, every­thing tends to iso­late the spir­it thus gnaw­ing away at it, I resist. Because of my strong belief in life and in art.”

Note from Kedis­tan: From Aslı Erdoğan to Zehra Doğan, includ­ing Ahmet Altan, the words of artists and authors are muz­zled in Turkey. Their words and writ­ings in describ­ing the world of jails and of their resis­tance to incar­cer­a­tion are remark­ably similar.

sanatçi Dilan Cûdî Saruhan


My name is Dilan Cûdî Saruhan,

I am speak­ing to you as a woman pris­on­er in  a coun­try sur­round­ed by walls.

To be an artist in oppo­si­tion in a city called Istan­bul is suf­fi­cient to fill the require­ments lead­ing to becom­ing a pris­on­er in this coun­try of pharaons. This coun­try has always been one where those who opposed, who rebelled, who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle, were made to fill the pris­ons. But now, even per­sons con­sid­ered poten­tial­ly in oppo­si­tion are also in jail. I who am an artist resist­ing against all kinds of tyran­ny, and a Kur­dish woman, am here also.

On the road I fol­lowed to make my dreams come true, every one of the exhi­bi­tions I had planned took place with­out me. The sculp­tures I was mak­ing remained unfin­ished. For a long time now, my clay sculp­tures have dried out and cracked. And here, what I feel that I need the most, is a bit of clay…

The judge con­sid­ered my exchange of mes­sages with a school friend as “con­trary to the com­mon sense of life” and, in truth, what were sanc­tioned were the facts of lov­ing human beings and my artis­tic socia­bil­i­ty. What was judged was­n’t my per­son, but the rela­tion­ship to anoth­er human being.

 And under­ly­ing this was the anger against my iden­ti­ty and my mater­nal lan­guage. That is what was con­demned in fact. As you will have under­stood, because of my mes­sages “con­trary to the com­mon sense of life”, I have been held for the past 21 months inside a “reha­bil­i­ta­tion home.”

Although here, every­thing tends to iso­late the spir­it thus gnaw­ing away at it, I resist. Because of my strong my belief in life and in art.

I increase my cre­ative strength through writ­ing and draw­ing. In impos­si­ble con­di­tions, of course, and by invent­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. There is no paint here, nor paint­brush­es, nor draw­ing pads. There are no scis­sors, no glue. There isn’t even a rel­a­tive­ly decent pen­cil. Read­ing resources are extreme­ly lim­it­ed. But I told myself, “there are still eye­lin­ers, lip­sticks…” and I drew. Some­times nei­ther pen nor note­book could be found at the can­teen. I told myself “there are col­ored threads”. When there were no more threads, I un-knit­ted my sweater, I took nee­dle and thread and I embroi­dered, like my moth­er does. I embroi­dered a sky, first. Then, the night…I rep­re­sent­ed nights, the light of the moon through the bars. I embroi­dered them on my own T‑shirts.

There is also the ques­tion of get­ting what I do to the out­side world. The guards at the door do not under­stand what I pro­duce and con­sid­er it worth­less. Once, dur­ing a search in our quar­ter, visu­als I had col­lect­ed for a col­lage were noticed by the guards. They want­ed to con­fis­cate them and throw them in the garbage because “accu­mu­la­tion is for­bid­den”. I fought, and won, I did­n’t let them get away with it. Oth­er times, when I want­ed my lawyers to take out my draw­ings, the prison admin­is­tra­tors tried to con­fis­cate them. I fought them and man­aged to go against them.

Rules against cre­ation rise up con­stant­ly in my way. This unyield­ing will to obstruct may attempt to con­fis­cate, to leave me unfin­ished, but in vain; draw­ing, writ­ing, cre­at­ing are the only things they can nev­er obliterate.

Essen­tial­ly, what I want to say: even if I am locked behind four walls in a 7‑door labyrinth enclos­ing 21 peo­ple behind bars; even if in this “reha­bil­i­ta­tion home”, con­trollers try to invade our inti­ma­cy; I will nev­er give up my free think­ing and spir­it, thanks to the work of the 21 women here, I will nev­er be “reha­bil­i­tat­ed”.

Dilan Cûdî Saruhan

Support Dilan Cûdî with your cards and letters

To write to her (in Turk­ish only – some texts avail­able here you can change the name– and noth­ing for­bids you writ­ing on one side only of col­or­ful paper…) 

Dilan Cûdî Saruhan
B‑4 Koğuşu
Bakırköy Kadın Kapalı Cezaevi
Zuhu­rat­ba­ba Mah. Dr. Tev­fik Sağlam Cad.
Bakırköy — Istan­bul  TURKEY

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Zehra Doğan
Auteure, mem­bre d’hon­neur de Kedistan
Jour­nal­iste, artiste. Jour­nal­ist, artist. Gazete­ci, sanatçı.