Bar­baros Şansal who describes him­self as a tai­lor’s appren­tice is one of the most noto­ri­ous pro­test­ers in Turkey… Fol­low­ing his post­ing of an iron­i­cal video on social medias, he was the vic­tim of an orga­nized attempt at a lynch­ing in Atatürk Air­port (Istan­bul). The mat­ter has been sub­mit­ted to the courts. Although he should not have spent so much as a sin­gle day in jail, he was incar­cer­at­ed nonethe­less. He spent 56 days in a cell at Silivri prison in Istanbul.

Bar­baros puts him­self to the fore in every demon­stra­tion and protest, be it to say “no to war” or to ask that jus­tice be ren­dered for the assas­si­na­tion of Berkin Elvan“Law has been trans­formed into a weapon those in pow­er use against their oppo­nents” says Bar­baros, “this will do for a time and then it will pass. Law is an emp­ty bag. You reap what­ev­er you put in it.”

Français | English | Türkçe Yeni Özgür Politika / sansürsüz link

Reportage by Yavuz Özcan pub­lished in Turk­ish on Decem­ber 5 2019 on Yeni Özgür Politika

You had already been sen­tenced in 1980 and tor­tured in Sansaryan1. What were you accused of at the time?

Per­se­cu­tion had already begun before 1980. Around 1975, due to the fact the var­i­ous polit­i­cal coali­tions could not resolve the coun­try’s prob­lems, uni­ver­si­ties and even high schools became politi­cized and the street became a bat­tle ground. Also, in this same peri­od, Turk­ish cin­e­ma was offer­ing the pub­lic erot­ic films, act­ing as an opi­um. This fact had raised ques­tions of moral­i­ty and, as usu­al, these took homo­sex­u­als as their tar­gets. In those days, I wore red “con­verse” shoes, I was then accused of being a com­mu­nist. It took me 9 years and a vol­un­tary exile to get over this trauma.

Are there oth­er exam­ples of such a sys­tem of justice?

Law is an emp­ty bag. You reap what­ev­er you put into it.

Once gov­ern­ments turn into cal­i­fates for prof­i­teer­ing, leg­is­la­tions stem­ming from inter­na­tion­al treaties with uni­ver­sal appli­ca­tions to civ­il law, jurispru­dence and con­sti­tu­tions are ren­dered sub­jec­tive and non-func­tion­al. Once polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions are trans­formed into com­mer­cial hold­ings, you can lock the pre­sump­tion of inno­cence up in a closet.

The cur­rent Turk­ish Repub­lic is not a State of Law. With bizarre decrees hav­ing val­ue of law (KHK), the state of excep­tion (OHAL) and arbi­trary prac­tices, along with the sys­tem of “secret wit­ness­es” and “inform­ers” the func­tion­ing of jus­tice is ren­dered even more dif­fi­cult. As for exam­ples: in the same man­ner as in the new world order every­where, there is a cult of mon­ey and pow­er and god’s jus­tice remains like the good luck charm in the pack of chewing-gum.

Are there some peo­ple who tell you “you are a scape­goat, we no longer allow you to live in this coun­try, go away”?

Giv­en the tar­get­ing, false accu­sa­tions, false evi­dence, detri­men­tal tri­als, impuni­ty, hate crimes, threats, vio­lence, extor­sions, aggres­sions added on to harass­ment and rape, I can be sub­ject­ed to everything…But that does­n’t mean they will win. I love to fight.

You are an LGBTI, athe­ist, social­ist, ecologist…You wear this chain, this neck­lace around your neck…

What you describe is not a neck­lace. A neck­lace is a jew­el for First Ladies. Mine are medals, a medal of hon­or for human­i­ty. In coun­tries such as the Turk­ish Repub­lic you can become a “scape­goat” for some, “the one to mas­sacre” for oth­ers or then again “a hero”…You can lose mon­ey, your pro­fes­sion or your rep­u­ta­tion. Süley­man Demirel[fotnote]1924–2015. Turk­ish states­man, he served as Prime Min­is­ter, President[/footnot] said “As for rep­u­ta­tion, there is no inter­est, no econ­o­my. It exists or it does­n’t.” All I can say: all those with an aggres­sive atti­tude change when it comes to their inter­ests in busi­ness, in affec­tion, in sex­u­al or phys­i­cal mat­ters. Be it the reli­gious man declar­ing his love, or the min­is­ter’s wife dream­ing of free dress­es, all of them act dif­fer­ent­ly from what they express or demon­strate. As if the impu­dence and trans­gres­sion in their genes reared up inside them…

When you were in jail, Sela­hat­tin Demir­taş’s lawyers came to see you. Did you expect that?

Why should­n’t I expect it? We shook hands at the com­mem­o­ra­tion for Berkin Elvan in the Cemevi 2 in Okmey­danı (Istan­bul). Mer­al Danış Beş­taş was in the cell next to mine. Demir­taş is a man I appre­ci­ate and fol­low. He is an exem­plary fam­i­ly man, a defendor of rights and lib­er­ties. His lawyers came for a vis­it, late one night on their way back from the jail in Edirne [where Demir­taş is incar­cer­at­ed]. I guess the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice must have giv­en a spe­cial autho­riza­tion. As they were look­ing for evi­dence [to use in their accu­sa­tion], they lis­tened to all my vis­i­tors dur­ing this unjust incar­cer­a­tion, the lawyers, the deputies and oth­er vis­i­tors. They were very dis­ap­point­ed, since they found noth­ing to tie into an [ille­gal] orga­ni­za­tion, noth­ing what­so­ev­er. They had me released in the mid­dle of the night and had me acquit­ted. While in jail, I received vis­its from sev­er­al elect­ed mem­bers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of insti­tu­tions among them, İlh­an Cihan­er, Sez­gin Tan­rıku­lu, Atil­la Ser­tel, Zeynep Altıok Akatlı [deputies of the CHP], Tun­cay Özkan, Hakan Aygün [jour­nal­ists, authors], the lawyers in the tri­al against the dai­ly paper Cumhuriyet, mem­bers of the Antalya Bar Asso­ci­a­tion… How­ev­er, of the thou­sands of let­ters sent to me, I received only four. More­over, despite the med­ical report, I was deprived of treat­ment. Once again, I was in con­tact with the rough and offen­sive face of the State.

You were expelled from [North­ern] Cyprus after post­ing a video on social media. When you arrived at Atatürk Air­port in Istan­bul, there was an attempt­ed lynch­ing on your per­son. Why did all of this hap­pen to you?

Barbaros ŞansalI was expelled ille­galy from Chyprus fol­low­ing a sim­ple order. I proved this inhu­man ille­gal­i­ty with the tri­al n°31/2017 opened at the Supreme Admin­is­tra­tive Court of North­ern Chyprus against the Min­istry and min­is­ters of Domes­tic Affairs. Using black humor and a sar­cas­tic style,I had crit­i­cized the abuse against chil­dren, the bribes, the jailed jour­nal­ists, the press releas­es from rad­i­cal islam and the gov­ern­ments med­dling in the domes­tic affairs of oth­er coun­tries. This was in the first hours of the year 2017. On that same night there was the attack against the Reina Club. An oper­a­tion began on Jan­u­ary 1st. In an orga­nized fash­ion, as part of the engi­neer­ing on per­cep­tions, my shar­ing of the video was pre­sent­ed as if I had released it after the attack on the Reina. Tweets that don’t belong to me were cre­at­ed with fake screen grabs. And on Jan­u­ary 2, the sit­u­a­tion swelled toward great indig­na­tion. Despite the fact we had lodged com­plaints against Cem Küçük, Maran­ki, Alişan and oth­ers who were des­ig­nat­ing me as a tar­get, the com­plaints were not tak­en into account.

The Ana­to­lian Agency [the State infor­ma­tion agency] pub­lished my per­son­al data belong­ing to Turk­ish Air­lines. When I arrived, accom­pa­nied by Chyprus police, to be placed in cus­tody by the police of Istan­bul’s secu­ri­ty direc­torate, I was sub­ject­ed to attempt­ed mur­der by the staff of TGS3, Turk­ish Tech­nic 4, TAV 5, EGM 6, Havaş7, Çelebi 8, along with air­port police­men (excerpt from state­ment sub­mit­ted to the court).

While I was being assault­ed, I was also stripped of my belong­ings, from my shoes to the gold watch on my wrist, they disappeared.

Vasip Şahin, the pre­fect of Istan­bul, pro­tect­ed the police­men on duty via a decree with force of law. It took two years to obtain the open­ing of a pub­lic tri­al. At the sec­ond hear­ing, none of the accused showed up and nei­ther did the judge. The hear­ing was then delayed for three months. The next hear­ing will be held in Feb­ru­ary 2020. Impuni­ty has reigned dur­ing all these years. All this hap­pened because I wrote about the wife of an AKP mem­ber and her pas­sion for gam­bling. While she was exhibit­ing dol­lars like flags on the gam­ing tables, her rel­a­tives were hoard­ing the pub­lic’s money.
By the way, what has come out of the attack on the Reina?

Fol­low­ing your expul­sion, what did you think of the atti­tude of the gov­ern­ment of Chyprus?

I have a past in Chyprus since 1965. I have many friends there, in North­ern as well as in South­ern Chyprus. I still go there and I own prop­er­ty there. The lift­ing of Hüseyin Özgürgün’s immu­ni­ty, who was Prime Min­is­ter at the time, is not acci­den­tal. But what is strange is that, as much as I have been ill-treat­ed ille­gal­ly by peo­ple in Turkey or who work for Turkey in North­ern Chyprus, I have received noth­ing but friend­ship, affec­tion and respect from the Turks in South­ern Chyprus. Food for thought. For the gov­ern­ments in North­ern Chyprus, what the Repub­lic of Turkey says is like Revealed Truth.

You did not eat the food pro­vid­ed by the jail. Why?

In jail, you can­not spend more than 300 Turk­ish lira [equiv­a­lent to 46,93€ at cur­rent rates]. The Min­istry of Jus­tice does not autho­rize high­er spend­ing. This sum includes the cost of news­pa­pers, tobac­co, prod­ucts for per­son­al hygiene, clean­ing prod­ucts, and all oth­er costs. (Jour­nal­ist) Tun­cay Özcan lost a kid­ney in Silivri prison. Dur­ing the quar­an­tine peri­od, they attempt­ed to force med­ica­tion on me. And I refused the prison meals, includ­ing the bread because “the bread Berkin car­ried was stained with blood” 9. I tried to sur­vive by buy­ing wrapped foods at the can­teen, with my own money.

Did you think your video share would lead to all this?

In the Repub­lic of Turkey, even if you share noth­ing, every­thing can hap­pen to you. In this coun­try, Lale Oraloğlu [come­di­an] was jailed for a porce­lain plate 10. The brief of indict­ment against Osman Kavala has still not been pro­duced. 11. The Turk­ish Amnesty Tri­al, Tahir Elçi 12, Hrant Dink 13, Behice Boran 14… Every­thing is at their lik­ing. The secu­ri­ty of life and of belong­ings has nev­er been as tram­pled, in any oth­er peri­od. I’m not even men­tion­ing free­dom of opin­ion or of expression.

What did you expe­ri­ence when they arrest­ed you?

My file had been ordered from on high. As I had already lived through arrests, I had grown accus­tomed to them. It also seemed obvi­ous that being inside was safer than being out­side. Those who want­ed me dead want­ed me in iso­la­tion at that time.

And if I asked you where Turkey is headed?

My grand­moth­er used to say: “On the back of a pre­dic­tion, let us head toward the apoc­a­lypse”. In my opin­ion, Turkey is head­ed into the unknown. But things must improve. The Turk­ish Repub­lic has a strong and dynam­ic struc­ture. It can­not be seen in iso­la­tion from the rest of the world. Notions such as racism, nation­al­ism, eth­nic­i­ty, fun­da­men­tal­ism only sell by month­ly install­ment with high inter­est rates. At that price, their com­mer­cial­iza­tion ends up weigh­ing ever more heavily.

For the past 17 years, the AKP has been in power…

Should we say, for the past one thou­sand year or even 12 000 years like Hasankeyf, or again 15 000 years like Göbek­li Tepe? When a coun­try reach­es this con­di­tion, those who live in it, its cit­i­zens are the main cul­prits. They are led as they deserve to be.

We know you are anti-war and we know your actions around this. What would you like to say about what the Kurds are sub­ject­ed to, both here in Turkey as well as in Syria?

Only in Syr­ia? Bruk­i­na Faso, Soma­li, Libya, Con­go, Rwan­da, Rohingya, Kashmir…Only the Kurds? Arme­ni­ans, Yazidis, Ale­vis, LGBTIQ, Jews, Chris­tians, Mus­lims… War brings blood and death, gen­er­ates suf­fer­ing and hatred. As for peace, love, respect and tolerance…War will con­tin­ue as long as the monop­o­lis­tic pro­duc­ers of chem­istry and weapons will man­age, via the media, to get those elect­ed that will do what they want.

Barbaros ŞansalWhat did you live through in prison?

As for what I lived through in jail, I won’t have enough room here to describe it. But those who so wish can be my guest, in my cell, by read­ing my book “Makam Odas/Linç” pub­lished (in Turk­ish) by Destak Yayin­lari. It may not be avail­able in book­stores because it dis­turbs cer­tain peo­ple. But you can find it on inter­net. [Kedis­tan note: Now in its 8th printing].

Do you cur­rent­ly fear for your safety?

I’m told the Turk­ish Repub­lic can pro­vide me a so-called “pro­tec­tion on demand”. But in fact, being con­stant­ly shad­owed by an informer would put my life in dan­ger. I don’t rust them. Dur­ing a planned oper­a­tion, in an inter­na­tion­al air­port, they brought me face to face with death. And now, they are pro­tect­ing the orga­niz­ers and executioners.

Many jour­nal­ists, writ­ers and intel­lec­tu­als are in jail for hav­ing crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment. What do you think about this?

Jus­tice can be use­ful for every­one, some day. I don’t agree with the sen­tence that says “Law is pow­er’s pros­ti­tute”. In my opin­ion, it should be called a “pimp”. Just like those who, as soon as a source of pow­er is on the decline, go search­ing for new invest­ments and clients…The same thing hap­pens with each coup d’Etat.

You describe your­self as a tai­lor’s appren­tice. Out of modesty?

If you don’t make fun of your­self, life makes sure to make fun of you instead. In a world where mis­tress­es of rich men, incom­pe­tents with no mer­it what­so­ev­er are called fash­ion styl­ists, I pre­fer to describe my pro­fes­sion as that of tai­lor. As my mas­ter Ildirim Mayruk is still alive and still calls him­self a “tai­lor” how else could I describe myself?

As a styl­ist hav­ing done time in jail, what do you think of the so-called “sole cloth­ing” in jail?

Cos­tumes are a sec­tion of per­for­mance arts. The uni­form always dimin­ish­es the one who puts it on. Espe­cial­ly if it this is done with no thought giv­en to its func­tion, its care and repairs. You end up stinky. In the 21st cen­tu­ry, if soci­ety is still attempt­ing to estab­lish a rep­u­ta­tion through cloth­ing, it is because it is ashamed of its nakedness.

You are the child of a fam­i­ly from the elite. Had did you fam­i­ly react to your deci­sion to become a tailor?

I’m not the one who decid­ed, in fact. I start­ed when I was 7 years old with my pater­nal grand­moth­er. But I added vari­a­tions: pro­duc­tion, chore­og­ra­phy, writ­ing, col­lec­tions… I enriched myself through my hob­bies. Besides, I’m against the notion of “fam­i­ly from the elite.” What you called “elites” are only those who get them­selves elected.

Do you think what you have been through was intend­ed to cre­at­ed fear in others?

Only through me?
Fear is their ene­my. The ene­my of plot­ting hye­nas, not mine.

Those who insult me or lie, I expose them on social media. And I come across cer­tain hit­men in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments. A num­ber of them ask me “if I go to bed with you, how much will you pay me?” That’s Turkey for you!

Are there any oth­ers in Turkey who man­age to say, or even to howl, “I am a homo­sex­u­al” with as much ease as you do? Where does this courage come from?

I don’t know, I’ve nev­er thought about it. I don’t both­er with what oth­ers will think either. Yes, as far as my body and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion are con­cerned, I am free. I am in peace with myself. In any event, even beyond this, there is not a sin­gle zone of activ­i­ty in which the State does not inter­vene. They could even have us all cir­cum­cised before we even knew it. And in the Turk­ish Repub­lic there are very few homo­sex­u­als. The oth­ers describe them­selves by say­ing; “I am active.”

If not being afraid requires courage, then it is a char­ac­ter trait. I don’t think about what must remain in my life but about those who must leave it behind. And I won’t give up as long as they won’t have tak­en my right to life away.

Dur­ing the Gezi revolt, you rivalled the very best jour­nal­ists. You broad­cast live for hours. Do you have the soul of a journalist?

Gezi was the break­ing point in these lands. The fact they are still chew­ing over Gezi like a wad of gum all these years lat­er, and still search­ing for “exte­ri­or forces” is use­less. With 10 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants, it was the biggest move­ment of social resis­tance in the his­to­ry of the [Turk­ish] Republic.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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