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Here is the Eng­lish ver­sion of Ari­an­na Fol­gar­el­li’s inter­view, pub­lished on March 16, 2020 on Ulti­ma Voce in Italian.

Zehra Doğan looks less than 31 years old. Petite and good-look­ing, she dis­plays a   a con­ta­gious smile in her pho­tos. One has to won­der how she man­ages it, con­sid­er­ing she served two years, nine months and twen­ty-two days in prison in Turkey just because she want­ed to show real­i­ty in a drawing.
You may also be won­der­ing why.

In 2016, even before Erdoğan declared a state of emer­gency fol­low­ing the coup d’é­tat, under a state of excep­tion already in the Kur­dish regions since 2015, Zehra Doğan was in Nusay­bin. This small Turk­ish town on the bor­der with Syr­ia is main­ly inhab­it­ed by Kurds. For this rea­son it was lit­er­al­ly reduced to rub­ble by the gov­ern­ment military.

Over­whelmed, first by dis­may and then by out­rage, Zehra, then armed with a dig­i­tal tablet, depicts what she sees appear­ing on a pic­ture of the army: semi-destroyed build­ings from whose win­dows flew Turk­ish flags. The draw­ing, on Twit­ter, went around the world and the sen­tence for “ter­ror­ist pro­pa­gan­da” was obvi­ous­ly not long in following.

Dur­ing the peri­od of deten­tion, despite the ban on paint­ing and cre­at­ing any­thing that had to do with art, she proved to be very clever. With makeshift mate­ri­als she con­tin­ued to draw and to dis­obey. She used left­over food, hair, tea, cof­fee and men­stru­al blood. By draw­ing, she ful­filled her Resistance.

• You are a jour­nal­ist, a writer, an artist and a fem­i­nist. The state accused you of pro­pa­gan­da of ter­ror­ism for rep­re­sent­ing real­i­ty in your own way, you knew the risks you were tak­ing and yet you con­tin­ued to fight in the name of jus­tice. What allowed you to accept an arbi­trary sen­tence and resist jail?

These types of charges and ver­dicts are noth­ing new in Turkey. At dif­fer­ent times, under dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments, this way of silenc­ing and pun­ish­ing oppo­si­tion has exist­ed through­out the his­to­ry of the young Turk­ish repub­lic. In recent years, count­less jour­nal­ists, human rights activists, intel­lec­tu­als, authors-artists, but also male and female politi­cians have been pros­e­cut­ed, charged and impris­oned. I am far from being the only one. Turk­ish pris­ons are con­stant­ly full.

I can say that mine was a tragi­com­ic ver­dict. I was con­vict­ed for draw­ing the destroyed city of Nusay­bin and doing so would have over­stepped the “lim­its of crit­i­cism”. There is noth­ing imag­i­nary in this draw­ing. It is the artis­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of real­i­ty. If draw­ing real­i­ty over­steps the bound­aries of crit­i­cism, I must ask what lim­its were exceed­ed in destroy­ing this city in real­i­ty. More­over, art has no lim­its. Such an inter­pre­ta­tion is the sign of intel­lec­tu­al insufficiency.

nusaybin drapeaux zehra dogan

There­fore, I was nei­ther sur­prised nor down­cast. If prison is the price to pay for pro­claim­ing the truth, well, I was will­ing to take the risk. I was able to resist through aware­ness of this real­i­ty and thanks to the sol­i­dar­i­ty that helps us to stay upright togeth­er in prison. Prison is also a real place of resistance.

• What were the most typ­i­cal episodes of injus­tice and vio­lence you expe­ri­enced on your person?

Vio­lence is not only phys­i­cal. For exam­ple, they kept be from hav­ing draw­ing mate­ri­als. They con­fis­cat­ed my draw­ings and, for two years, I attempt­ed to pro­duce them in secret. There is noth­ing worse for a painter, an artist, to have to hide in order to pro­duce art. And see­ing her work, her achieve­ments destroyed before her eyes is tor­ture. It’s a pol­i­cy of intimidation.

As for phys­i­cal tor­ture, I have friends who were phys­i­cal­ly tor­tured, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Tar­sus prison. They want­ed to install sur­veil­lance cam­eras in the wards. These are our zones of pri­va­cy and my friends did not accept this. This hap­pened before I arrived. They also object­ed to a mil­i­tary reg­i­men. The admin­is­tra­tion demand­ed mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline from the inmates. They replied that polit­i­cal pris­on­ers would nev­er accept that. They held protests, Femen actions. They were tor­tured. They were locked up for days in the cell known as the “sponge room”. They were kept in rooms that can make human beings psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly very, very dis­turbed. Some had teeth knocked out, oth­ers lat­er devel­oped gynae­co­log­i­cal dis­eases. When I arrived, some of the women still had bruis­es around their waists. They had been heav­i­ly tor­tured. They had been deprived of food and water for days. This kind of thing is ongo­ing in Turkey today. This was in 2017.

• What were the episodes of sol­i­dar­i­ty and closeness?

As polit­i­cal hostages, we have a com­mon Right of Com­rade­ship. We women know very well the mean­ing of the peri­od through which we are liv­ing. In our life expe­ri­ences, there are rem­nants of thou­sands of years of patri­ar­chal power…What hap­pened that led men to put the world in such a state? The answer lies in hier­ar­chies, ambi­tion, dis­sat­is­fac­tion, accu­mu­la­tion, pow­er, author­i­ty, vio­lence, wars and aggres­sion that force peo­ple to defend themselves…In your opin­ion, is it pos­si­ble to con­stant­ly fall into the same mis­takes, while know­ing these facts and dis­cussing them every day and think­ing of ways to extend the strug­gle? This is why there is no room for author­i­ty or any hier­ar­chy among us in prison.

For exam­ple, some “moth­ers” were incar­cer­at­ed in our wards. They looked at us and said “such a waste. How can they destroy young peo­ple like you?” and they wept. “We can under­stand when it comes to us, but you, you should­n’t be pris­on­ers.” On the oth­er hand we were say­ing: “They should­n’t arrest moth­ers, we’ll do prison time for them.” Each one was think­ing of pro­tect­ing the other.

• Despite your expe­ri­ences, you place your trust in the future, what nour­ish­es this optimism?

Should we start from a pos­si­ble point of rup­ture that would change the world? We must focus our minds on life virtues such as good­ness, beau­ty, jus­tice. Because, just as evil brings ugli­ness and blind­ness with it, good brings beau­ty and jus­tice. This extreme­ly sim­ple, yet dialec­ti­cal state­ment, is impor­tant and burn­ing with reality.

The ambi­tion of pow­er is a dis­ease. It comes out of every pore in the body. It has put the world in the shape it’s in. This dis­ease of pow­er ide­ol­o­gy has spread, tram­pling on women for thou­sands of years. I believe women will change the face of this world which is dying from patri­archy. This is the con­vic­tion that dri­ves my opti­mism for the future.

For exam­ple, there is cur­rent­ly a huge chal­lenge in Roja­va. The chal­lenge of not admin­is­ter­ing fol­low­ing men’s log­ic but in a gen­der-neu­tral, self-man­aged style in the hands of women. This chal­lenge brings hope to the world. This is why before every­one, women must take own­er­ship of this project and sup­port this revolution.

• How do you live your con­di­tion of exile?

I don’t con­sid­er myself an exile. I’m not a refugee, I haven’t asked for asy­lum. I am cur­rent­ly in res­i­dence, I live a nomadic lifestyle, I work and I trav­el a lot. For the time being, I work in places that give me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to prac­tice my art in com­plete freedom.

Soon­er or lat­er, I know I will return to these lands to which I belong and from which I draw my strength. I will be reunit­ed with my home, my fam­i­ly, my friends, my colleagues…

• How did you react when you learned that Banksy had ded­i­cat­ed the Bow­ery Wall of Man­hat­tan to you?

Banksy’s sup­port made me very hap­py. But the great­est hap­pi­ness for me was that the draw­ing of the destroyed city of Nusay­bin, for which I was impris­oned, was pro­ject­ed in giant dimen­sions on the busiest avenue in New York. Through this pro­ject­ed draw­ing, the vic­tims won a vic­to­ry because the whole world knew what had hap­pened in Nusay­bin. The real­i­ty the Turk­ish state attempt­ed to hide, for which I was con­demned, explod­ed before the eyes of the world like a slap in the face.


Voir cette pub­li­ca­tion sur Instagram


Sen­tenced to near­ly three years in jail for paint­ing a sin­gle pic­ture. #FREEzehrado­gan

Une pub­li­ca­tion partagée par Banksy (@banksy) le 15 Mars 2018 à 5 :54 PDT

• While serv­ing your sen­tence were you aware that there was an inter­na­tion­al mobi­liza­tion for your cause?

Yes, I knew. My friends at Kedis­tan had already thought of hav­ing some of my work escape out of the coun­try and orga­niz­ing exhi­bi­tions. After a long time I spent on the run, my arrest imme­di­ate­ly trans­formed their approach into a mobi­liza­tion of sup­port. Inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing PEN also sup­port­ed me from the start.

All these net­works quick­ly meshed into a sol­i­dar­i­ty cam­paign. I received the news through let­ters. More­o­ev­er, my respons­es to this cor­re­spon­dence were pub­lished in French, at the end of 2019 by Edi­tions des femmes under the title “Nous aurons aus­si des beaux jours.” (We shall also know fine days). So I was aware of every­thing that was going on. What made me and my female pris­on­er friends hap­py was the col­lec­tive and uni­ver­sal aspect of this cam­paign. For dur­ing the hard­est times, col­lec­tive sol­i­dar­i­ty is the great­est source of morale and ener­gy for pris­on­ers. In those places where human beings are torn from their envi­ron­ment, locked up and iso­lat­ed, where every­thing is done accord­ing to this men­tal­i­ty to sub­due them, com­mu­nal life with­in and col­lec­tive sup­port from with­out are what keep peo­ple standing.

• Is the dis­in­te­gra­tion of democ­ra­cy in Turkey an irre­versible process?

I will answer that with a ques­tion. Has democ­ra­cy real­ly ever exist­ed in Turkey, even for only one day? As demon­strat­ed by the accu­sa­tions and sen­tences I men­tioned in answer­ing your first question.

What is it then when a State camps on a monis­tic atti­tude, impos­ing a lan­guage, a peo­ple, a reli­gion and writ­ing a nation­al­ist nar­ra­tive in this image, deny­ing the mosa­ic of peo­ples, their diver­si­ty, and attempts at all cost to muz­zle those that have not gone along with its project, since the begin­ning? This is the his­to­ry of Turkey. In this his­to­ry, there is lit­tle room for democ­ra­cy, free­dom of expres­sion and free­dom in gen­er­al. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, democ­ra­cy is not just a ques­tion of elec­tions. Even today in Turkey, politi­cians who were elect­ed with very large majori­ties are removed from office, replaced by state-appoint­ed admin­is­tra­tors or lan­guish in prison.

There have been so many peri­ods of repres­sion. The mil­i­tary coup in Sep­tem­ber 12 1980 ran over the coun­try like a steam­roller. That night­mar­ish peri­od has left indeli­ble marks. But, as activists, defend­ers of rights say who have expe­ri­enced the pre­vi­ous eras, the cur­rent pow­er is only con­tin­u­ing with the meth­ods of repres­sion inscribed in the coun­try’s his­to­ry, and now con­di­tions are even more severe and difficult.

Seen from the out­side, from Europe or else­where, the ten­den­cy for years has been to talk of a “dis­in­te­grat­ing democ­ra­cy” or of a “coun­try on the verge of dic­ta­tor­ship”. Where is the bor­der that allows to say final­ly that it has been crossed?

Por­trait: pho­to Refik Tekin

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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