In Turkey, the mil­i­tary coup of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980 ran over the coun­try like a steam­roller. This night­mar­ish peri­od left indeli­ble traces. One of them points to Mil­i­tary Prison N° 5 in Diyarbakır, com­mon­ly known as the “Amed Gaol”. (Amed being the Kur­dish name of Diyarbakır.)

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There, Cap­tain Esat Oktay Yıldıran, respon­si­ble for the pris­on’s admin­is­tra­tion, assist­ed by Dr Orhan Özcan­lı, orga­nized sytem­at­ic torture.

This cap­tain was killed years lat­er by some­one who rec­og­nized him aboard a bus, despite the plas­tic surgery he had relied on in order to become anony­mous. Before his act, his killer said “Kemal the Laz from Diyarbakır prison salutes you”. As for Dr Orhan Özcan­lı, “Diyarbakır’s Men­gele”, he became a busi­ness­man, head­ed the news­pa­per “Öncü” and found­ed a chain of Sev­gi hos­pi­tals (Sev­gi means “Love” in Turk­ish!) and the foun­da­tion man­ag­ing this chain is still in activity…

Zülfikar Tak’s drawings testify

Zül­fikar Tak is undoubt­ed­ly the one who best con­veys the sin­is­ter real­i­ty of the Diyarbakır prison in the 80s, and he does so through his draw­ings. His works express the repres­sion and the vio­lence in which Zül­fikar, like all the oth­er polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, were immersed dur­ing the post-putsch years of that period.

On July 27 1980, when Zül­fikar Tak was thrown into the Diyarbakır prison, he was a young man of 17. Despite his youth, he was accused “of found­ing a sep­a­ratist ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion, killing mil­i­tary per­son­nel, par­tic­i­pat­ing in protests.” If this reminds you of cur­rent events, do not hes­i­tate, you are right.

There is prob­a­bly no need to remind any­one that these con­stant­ly repeat­ed accu­sa­tions are still in use today, this time by the cur­rent pow­er incum­bents, adapt­ed to cur­rent tastes and used against any oppos­ing think­ing brain, be it on the shoul­ders of intel­lec­tu­als, authors, jour­nal­ists, artists, aca­d­e­mics, lawyers or politi­cians, male or female…

These draw­ings are a silent but evoca­tive expres­sion beyond words, of a fact nev­er suf­fi­cient­ly repeat­ed: No, Turkey was not ” a beau­ti­ful democ­ra­cy” ruined by Erdoğan, as some stub­born­ly insist on proclaiming.

Zül­fikar “resided” in the Diyarbakır gaol for 3 years. His incar­cer­a­tion last­ed a total of 19 years, 8 years of which were spent in iso­la­tion. He nev­er for­got what he lived through and to what he tes­ti­fied in these jails. In 2003, he pub­lished a col­lec­tion of “car­toons” that are not the least bit fun­ny, titled “Tor­ture meth­ods in the Diyarbakir prison”. How­ev­er, through this book of non-humor, black­er than black, he expressed what was in his heart: “I would have loved to draw beau­ti­ful things. This was a work that trig­gered and stirred emo­tions, but, I hope this kind of work will no longer to be pub­lished, and that all that was expe­ri­enced will be forgotten.”

Here are a few excerpt from the book and the exhi­bi­tion titled “The great con­fine­ment” reveal­ing the real­i­ty of the Diyarbakır prison fol­low­ing Sep­tem­ber 12 1980…

The resistance

In 1981 pris­on­ers in the Amed gaol held a “fast to the death” (a hunger strike with no inges­tion of rein­force­ments) denounc­ing the tor­tures and the prison con­di­tions. The strike last­ed 43 days and dur­ing this resis­tance, pris­on­er Ali Erak was killed under torture.

Three years lat­er, dur­ing the resis­tance in Jan­u­ary 1984, Necmet­tin Büyükkaya, Yıl­maz Demir, Remzi Aytürk were killed and Orhan Keskin and Cemal Arat died of the sequels of their hunger strike.

Of course, all these acts of resis­tance were severe­ly put down…

Yıl­maz Demir killed him­self in a final act of resis­tance and as a protest against the tor­ture. He left a mes­sage explain­ing his act: “I am sac­ri­fic­ing myself so that the tor­ture will cease in the jails, and so humane con­di­tions of incar­cer­a­tion will be imple­ment­ed”, he said and his mes­sage end­ed with these words: “One who does not fight for free­dom can­not be called a free­dom fight­er.” The fol­low­ing draw­ing repeats this final sen­tence of his.

Zülfikar Tak

The welcoming ceremony”

This is the first tor­ture inflict­ed on pris­on­ers arriv­ing in Diyarbakır prison. It’s aim is to break the will of the new arrivals.

The tower

Like chil­dren play­ing with wood­en blocks, the guards attempt to demol­ish a tow­er made up of pris­on­ers, by hit­ting them with trun­cheons and pieces of wood. There comes a point when the pris­on­ers can no longer stand the blows and all the men col­lapse from a height of sev­er­al meters, in a heap on the cement floor.

Under the bed

An order is giv­en so that all the pris­on­er lie down at the same time under the wood­en beds: “Under the bed!”. The pris­on­ers rush under the beds. The guards beat those parts of the body or limbs that are not com­plete­ly under the beds, with sticks and wood­en planks on which are writ­ten such cre­ative slo­gans as “my ram”, “good appetite, lit­tle one”, “caress me” or again “black calami­ty.”

Zülfikar Tak

The stretch

The pris­on­ers are bound with chains with one foot on the bars of the stairs, the oth­er on the door. The “stretched” pris­on­er is also beat­en with planks bear­ing these slogans.

Zülfikar Tak

The rehearsal

The pris­on­ers are removed from their beds in the mid­dle of the night and brought, one by one, in front of a table set up near the door. After the read­ing of his “crimes” as they appear in the pros­e­cu­tor’s indict­ment from the main file of the PKK tri­al, pre­pared by the mil­i­tary tri­bunal of Diyarbakır, the pris­on­er is placed on a stack of emp­ty fruit crates, a rope attached to the stairs is strung around his neck. After the guard kicks the crates away, the pris­on­er remains sus­pend­ed for a while. He is “saved” by a sig­nal from the “Lit­tle Lieu­tenant” super­vis­ing the pro­ce­dure through the bars of the iron door.

Zülfikar Tak

The caravan

The guards line up the pris­on­ers in the prom­e­nade for “mil­i­tary edu­ca­tion”. The line is a “car­a­van”. The guards divide it into four parts: camels, humans, don­keys and dogs. “Edu­ca­tion” takes place accord­ing to these cat­e­gories, often under beatings.

The Kurd with a tail

This con­sists of acts of rape done with oiled trun­cheons in the pris­on­er’s anus. The exter­nal part of the trun­cheon rep­re­sents the name giv­en to this method. The per­son shown at the bot­tom right hand side of the draw­ing is Dr Esat Oktay Yildiran, who has gone down in his­to­ry as the author of these acts of savagery.

Zülfikar Tak

Shit or the lamb

This is one of the most vicious forms of tor­ture. The guards give each pris­on­er a plate and line them up before the sep­tic tank. Each one must help him­self from the human excre­ments and eat them. The pris­on­ers who refuse to obey are beat­en with sticks and planks bear­ing slo­gans. Garbage is also used in this game… (Çöp: garbage can)

Zülfikar Tak

The mop

This takes place in the main cor­ri­dor ser­vic­ing the cells and the quar­ters, which is sev­er­al meters wide. A con­cen­trat­ed mix­ture made with liters of deter­gent and water, trasnformed into foam is spread on the floor. Four pris­on­ers are forced to lie down in this foam. Four oth­er pris­on­ers drag their com­rades all along the cor­ri­dor, thus doing “house­work”.

Zülfikar Tak

The promenade

The pris­on­ers are out in the court­yard. They under­wear is tak­en away. The guards order them to bend over and stick lit cig­a­rettes in their anus. The pris­on­ers are forced to “take their walk” in this posi­tion until the cig­a­rette is finished.

Zülfikar Tak


KocaeliThe pris­on­ers are thrown and piled up one on the oth­er to ren­der a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Atatürk ascend­ing Kocatepe.

This “recon­struc­tion” is relat­ed to a pho­to done on August 26 1922 of Mustafa Kemal climb­ing the hill.
Nation­al­ist cre­ativ­i­ty does not omit this pop­u­lar imagery of the peri­od “dur­ing the war of independence.”


Zülfikar Tak

The Scale

The guard choos­es the tallest and strongest pris­on­er among those in the court­yard and des­ig­nates him as “the scale. He approach­es the naked pris­on­ers lying on the ground, one by one. He must grab them by the penis and lift them. He must also declare as with a mil­i­tary insruc­tion: “So-and-so weigh­ing such-and-such is at your orders, my commander!”

Zülfikar Tak

You must admit these meth­ods are most inven­tive. There are many oth­ers… On some of the images below, you see the inscrip­tions on the walls. Here are their translation:

Bir Türk dünyaya bedeldir” – A sin­gle Turk is worth the whole world.
“Adalet mülkün teme­lidir” (in the prison and in the hear­ing rooms in court): Jus­tice is the foun­da­tion of property.
“Önce Vatan” – The coun­try before all else.
“Ne mut­lu türküm diyene” (part­ly vis­i­ble) – Hap­py is the one who con­sid­ers him­self Turkish.

Zül­fikar’s work is unde­ni­ably a link in resis­tance art, with that of Zehra Doğan who, hav­ing tes­ti­fied of the State’s exac­tions in the Kur­dish region, in East­ern Turkey in 2015 con­tin­ues today to archive the cur­rent con­di­tions in the impos­si­ble con­di­tions of the gae­ol in Amed.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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