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And so, four for­eign postage stamps and two offi­cial ones. Her name at the top left-hand side of the envel­op; under it, the address of her prison (with a despi­ca­ble name); inside, a lined sheet of paper cov­ered in the black ink of Turk­ish words. The script, round­ed, leans very slight­ly toward the right. A stamp attests, under her sig­na­ture, that the let­ter was sub­ject­ed to the usu­al con­trols (I briefly imag­ined a guy at his desk with piles of let­ters near him, a tiny room with non­de­script walls, a flag hang­ing some­where – or the por­trait of the despot he con­sid­ers it appro­pri­ate to call Pres­i­dent, unless all he wants is to earn a liv­ing). A com­rade was quick to trans­late Nûdem Durak’s let­ter for me.

In March 2019, I had already writ­ten in oth­er columns: “A song impris­oned.” The young woman, born in Jan­u­ary 1988 was sen­tenced to nine­teen years of reclu­sion. Offi­cial rea­son: belong­ing to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion; real rea­son: she is Kur­dish and sings about her peo­ple’s cen­tu­ry-old strug­gle. At that time, she was in an iso­la­tion cell after let­ting her moth­er know over the phone that she sup­port­ed the hunger strike thou­sands were hold­ing in Turk­ish pris­ons, fol­lowed by the entire dias­po­ra, in order to protest against the iso­la­tion to which is still sub­ject­ed Abdul­lah Öcalan, leader of the Kur­dish rev­o­lu­tion­ary cause, held on the island-prison of Imralı. Strikes she was more than sup­port­ing; she was tak­ing part in them. The con­ver­sa­tion had been sud­den­ly cut off. One year ear­li­er, the singer had already received a dis­ci­pli­nary sanc­tion – a three-month sus­pen­sion of vis­it­ing rights – for hav­ing protest­ed against the wear­ing of the prison uni­form and the pro­hi­bi­tion of some activ­i­ties said to be “of leisure”.

In Turkey, as we know, pris­on­ers are now count­less. News from Nûdem Durak, as from her sis­ters and broth­ers in incar­cer­a­tion, are extreme­ly rare. Some arrive from Ger­many, at times; from France, none to speak of.

But I now have this let­ter after sev­er­al months of a wait for which I could­n’t help but search for rea­sons: her health and carcer­al sit­u­a­tion; cen­sor­ship; her refusal to cor­re­spond, which would be legit­i­mate, of course; the vagaries of postal ser­vices. She tells me she is enter­ing her sixth year of deten­tion, for hav­ing sung; she reads, writes, draws; will not back down and will not deny a thing about her music. “What mat­ters most is not whether the body is impris­oned but if the think­ing and the mind are free. If I man­age to car­ry them all the way to you on the out­side, that means I am free.”

I had also want­ed to con­tact her old­er broth­er, who is free; this was done and, count­ing on a few sen­tences in a Turk­ish rest­ing  on trans­la­tions and online dic­tio­nar­ies, he had answered the fol­low­ing in sub­stance: his younger sis­ter is ill and vis­it­ing her peri­od­i­cal­ly is almost impos­si­ble. In fact: some­thing like ten hours of road time sep­a­rate the prison of Bay­burt, in the town and province of that name, from the mod­est fam­i­ly home in Cizre, in the South­ern part of the country.

Oth­er let­ters were sent since.

Thanks to the help of the co-founder of Kedis­tan, a Fran­co-Turk born in Turkey, a long con­ver­sa­tion was pos­si­ble with Nûdem’s broth­er in March 2020. “As is the case for all Kurds that are arrest­ed, an absurd label was stuck on her – belong­ing to an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion and pro­pa­gan­da. It was also stuck on Nûdem’s back. The truth of the mat­tre is, she is a peo­ple’s artist. She is a polit­i­cal pris­on­er.”  As I had writ­ten, her gui­tar was smashed. So were her pen­cils. Her books and those of her cell­mates were seized dur­ing the strikes. “Giv­en all that, Nûdem has lived through one demor­al­iza­tion after anoth­er. With the stress, her health rapid­ly dete­ri­o­rat­ed. She fell ill. She suf­fers from a thy­roid insuf­fi­cien­cy. Despite the symp­toms – weight loss, fatigue, asth­ma – prison author­i­ties have not autho­rized a vis­it to the hos­pi­tal to see a doc­tor.” This posi­tion was final­ly recon­sid­ered; Nûdem Durak is now being treat­ed. “But she has not recu­per­at­ed yet.” And her broth­er warns us he has hired a new lawyer who wish­es to re-open the file – I will say no more about it here.

This time, some fifty man­u­script pages, in Kur­dish, were sent to us. Prison poems in the form of a col­lec­tion, Awazên Jida Azad (Voic­es of Free Women). Because Nûdem Durak dreams of pub­lish­ing a book, some day. I also read the trans­la­tions of the texts of Nûdem, in Özgür Gün­dem Geôle, a hand­writ­ten diary cre­at­ed in prison.

One of them con­sists of a brief and defin­i­tive envi­ron­men­tal speech : in it she denounces the destruc­tion of the liv­ing by the indi­vid­u­al­is­tic, tech­no-indus­tri­al and State-dri­ven civ­i­liza­tion – while rais­ing her voice against the “hideous attempts at exter­mi­nat­ing the Kur­dish people.”

For­teen years to go still, how can that be, and yet.

A few hours before his death, Pasoli­ni said in an inter­view: “by con­stant­ly hit­ting on the same nail, you can bring a house down”.
So, let’s go on hitting.

Joseph Andras


You can sup­port Nûdem Durak

Petition Free Nûdem Durak • Facebook  Free Nûdem Durak • Twitter @NudemDurak •  Youtube Free Nûdem Durak • Write to Nûdem and her friends in prison: Nûdem Durak M Tipi Kapalı Cezaevi Bayburt — TURKEY

joseph andras

In 2016, Joseph Andras published his first novel, “De nos frères blessés”, to salute the memory of Fernand Iveton, an independence activist. On this occasion, he received the Goncourt Prize for the first novel, which he refused. In May 2017, alongside D’ de Kabal, he released a book-disc “Si il n’y resteit qu’un chien”, a poem about the port of Le Havre. In 2018, he spent nearly two months in Chiapas. In September 2018, he published “Kanaky. Sur les traces d’Alphonse Dianou”: an investigation into a FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front) activist killed in 1988. In April 2017, he was one of the signatories to a forum denouncing the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey. On March 25, 2019, he published in Humanité this article on the Kurdish singer Nûdem Durak.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges |
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