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Mer­al Şimşek is a Kur­dish author, cur­rent­ly threat­ened. She was born in 1980 in Diyarbakır. She became known through her poems, nov­els and short sto­ries. She works as edi­tor for mag­a­zines and pub­lish­ing hous­es, writes lyrics and com­pos­es songs. She is a mem­ber of the Kur­dish PEN, of the Kur­dish Lit­er­ary Asso­ci­a­tion (Kürt Ede­biy­atçılar Derneği) and of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Kur­dish writ­ers of Mesopotamia (Mezopotamya Yazarlar Derneği).

She has pub­lished three col­lec­tions of poet­ry (Mül­te­ci Düşler, Ateşe Bulut Yağdıran, İnc­ir Karası) and one nov­el (Nar Leke­si). Her writ­ing has been trans­lat­ed into sev­er­al lan­guages and often award­ed prizes: in 2016 in Irak, she received the sec­ond prize and in 2017 the first Deniz Fırat poet­ry prize. In 2017, the third Yaşar Kemal poet­ry prize, in 2018, Diyarbakır’s best writer/poet in the Altın Toprak prizes, the first prize for her short sto­ries in 2020 by the Fed­er­a­tion of Alevy Unions of Ger­many (AABF). The Com­ma Press selec­tion in Eng­land, 2020. And in 2021, the Hacı Bek­taş lit­er­ary prize award­ed by UNESCO-AABF-KSK. In Ger­many again, the first prize in short sto­ries for Der­sim Gemeinde e V. Köln (The Der­sim mas­sacre).

Mer­al Şimşek was pros­e­cut­ed and con­demned for her writ­ing which focus­es on social real­i­ties. Some of her tri­als are still ongoing.

We spoke with Mer­al Şimşek whose remark­able pen Kedis­tan has attempt­ed to present in dif­fer­ent lan­guages to its read­ers for a cer­tain time already. You will find these works in this archive.

Dear Mer­al, you are before Turk­ish tri­bunals for your writ­ing, your books and your words. At the same time, you have been award­ed sev­er­al prizes… I know the prob­lems you encounter, like oth­er Kur­dish and pro­gres­sive authors are noth­ing new.

We con­stant­ly come across an expres­sion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in main­stream Euro­pean media, an expres­sion we sim­ply can­not stand: the sen­tence “every­thing began with the failed coup d’état of July 15 2016”, which shows up in inter­views, news items and even in doc­u­men­taries. Whether you inter­pret this with indul­gence as “a lack of under­stand­ing” or “igno­rance”, or delib­er­ate­ly, this sug­gests the notion that Turkey was a very demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­try but that Erdoğan messed every­thing up… We think it’s cru­cial to repeat each and every time, unceas­ing­ly, that Erdoğan and the AKP regime are a pow­er struc­ture that has appro­pri­at­ed the exist­ing nation­al­is­tic and fascis­tic poli­cies exist­ing every since the found­ing of the said Repub­lic of Turkey and that keeps on imple­ment­ing the “tra­di­tion” of Turci­ty.  These are the rea­sons why I felt the need to add these words.

With your iden­ti­ties as a Kur­dish woman and author, the real­i­ty of this “per­ma­nen­cy” is also present in your life. When and how did the oppres­sions, threats and arrests against you begin?

In fact, the great­est of the false notions, one that is shared social­ly, is to think that tyran­ny appeared with the cur­rent ones in pow­er. Because pow­ers are only the guards and pro­lon­ga­tions of the exist­ing sys­tem. Those who con­sid­er what is cur­rent­ly going on in Turkey as some­thing new, make the prob­lems more and more   unsolv­able. The tyran­ny is noth­ing new, it’s sim­ply that it applies to a wider spec­trum. If we con­sid­er to what the Kurds have been sub­ject­ed, if only over  the past 40 years, it will be obvi­ous the extent to which the atroc­i­ty is deeply ground­ed and sys­tem­at­ic. There’s no need to go back much fur­ther in the past to refresh memories.

Indeed what I’ve expe­ri­enced is unfor­tu­nate­ly not lim­it­ed to recent times. This process affects my fam­i­ly in the wide sense of the word, and also my imme­di­ate one. I was sub­ject­ed to a first deten­tion and tor­ture when I was bare­ly 13 years old. Dur­ing offi­cial and non-offi­cial deten­tions, on a num­ber of occa­sions, I was sub­ject­ed to all kinds of tor­ture, includ­ing rapes. My broth­er and my sis­ter were mur­dered at three year inter­vals dur­ing this same peri­od. My broth­er does not even have a bur­ial site, still. Many mem­bers of my wider fam­i­ly were tor­tured, impris­oned for sev­er­al years and oth­ers were assassinated.

But the seri­ous and con­crete attacks against my lit­er­ary exis­tence began in 2019. I was ille­gal­ly seized by secu­ri­ty forces in Malatya. I was threat­ened with death, sub­ject­ed to black­mail. I was ordered to do as they said, to shut up, under the threat that they “would end my lit­er­ary life.” Faced with this, of course, I did not remain silent. I took judi­cia­ry mea­sures through lawyers and I also made the threats pub­lic through press releas­es. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, while no real and con­crete inves­ti­ga­tions were opened against these indi­vid­u­als, quite the oppo­site occurred after a cer­tain length of time when tri­als were opened against me, accus­ing me of belong­ing to an ille­gal organ­i­sa­tion and of spread­ing its pro­pa­gan­da. Final­ly, I can say that a kind of revenge oper­a­tion was car­ried out against me because I did not keep quiet.

At the tribunal…

In Turkey, pris­ons are crammed with jour­nal­ists, politi­cians, artists, writ­ers. The regime incar­cer­ates a num­ber of oppo­nents who have done noth­ing oth­er than cry out for “Peace”, labelling them as “ter­ror­ist” and, in order to do so, using as an excuse a sig­na­ture, a book and even some­times a sen­tence tak­en out of con­text or a draw­ing, a shar­ing on social net­works. What were the “excus­es” used to judge you? Were you con­demned? As there oth­er tri­als ongoing?

As I said, alas , the per­se­cu­tion is direct­ed in mul­ti­ple direc­tions.  There’s an attempt to con­trol and extin­guish any and every voice con­sid­ered as oppo­si­tion­al. My judg­ment process as per­tains to lit­er­a­ture began with a raid on my home on Decem­ber 9 2020, using these same excus­es. Then, my lit­er­ary cre­ations, some of the awards I received and lit­er­ary ini­tia­tives in which I par­tic­i­pat­ed were used as motives and tri­als were opened against me for the crime of belong­ing to an armed organ­i­sa­tion, and propaganda.

Dur­ing the tri­al, I was faced with pro­hi­bi­tions against leav­ing the ter­ri­to­ry and the oblig­a­tion of sign­ing in at the com­mis­sari­at. In fact, these judi­cia­ry con­trols amount to a kind of incar­cer­a­tion because your liv­ing space is thus lim­it­ed. Dur­ing this peri­od, I was unable to stand the sit­u­a­tion and I attempt­ed to leave the coun­try. But in the coun­try where I was able to land, in Greece, I was sub­ject­ed to tor­ture by the the police and, as if that had not been enough, I was thrown into the Mar­itza riv­er and left to die. Despite every­thing, I man­aged to sur­vive and to return to Turkey where, unfor­tu­nate­ly, I was sent to prison. As if they were not suf­fi­cient, to the pros­e­cu­tions against me were added a new tri­al for hav­ing “breached the bor­ders of a mil­i­tary zone”.

Last Octo­ber, the local tri­bunal ruled in the mat­ter where I was pros­e­cut­ed for belong­ing and pro­pa­gan­da. While I was acquit­ted of belong­ing, I was sen­tenced to 15 months for pro­pa­gan­da. But these deci­sions are not final, we are await­ing the deci­sion from the region­al court of appeals. We don’t know if the result will be in my favour or against me.

Of course, the first two hear­ing on the mat­ter involv­ing my pas­sage in Greece have already tak­en place. A sen­tence of up to 5 years has been request­ed in this tri­al and the next hear­ing is on Jan­u­ary 11. I have no idea of what the ver­dict will be.

The fate of refugees forced to leave their homes for rea­sons such as war, pil­lag­ing, oppres­sion, vio­lence, is strewn with inhu­man dif­fi­cul­ties that can also lead them to death. You met with unimag­in­able vio­lence in June 2021 when you attempt­ed to reach Greece. Strip search­es, con­fis­ca­tion of your mon­ey and phone and what is more, the vio­la­tion of your right of asy­lum, as well as the fact that you were beat­en and thrown into the Mar­itza river… 

I know that return­ing on what you expe­ri­enced rekin­dles your trau­mas. And I’m ask­ing ques­tions here that will re-awak­en those ter­ri­ble moments for you.  I am sor­ry for that. I dare do it because you have begun writ­ing about your expe­ri­ences with your mag­nif­i­cent pen of which we pub­lish trans­la­tions in Kedis­tan… What does return­ing to those moments mean for you?

Meral Şimşek

First of all, I wish to say that we are not the ones who should be apol­o­gis­ing to each oth­er.  Yes, what we are expe­ri­enc­ing is rather dif­fi­cult and painful, but shed­ding light on the truth will not be pos­si­ble if we do not express all that.

The event in Greece is obvi­ous­ly a huge dis­ap­point­ment for me. Because as one who has lived through and con­tin­ues to expe­ri­ence all kinds of State vio­lences in Turkey for a num­ber of years,  I con­sid­ered Europe a place for liv­ing where I hoped for the prop­er func­tion­ing and respect of the law. Yet, my expe­ri­ence demon­strat­ed that, for those of us who resist, vio­lence and fas­cism know no borders.

Of course, I find it painful going back to those moments. Just as when I remem­ber the atroc­i­ties I lived through ear­li­er. Yes, I have sur­vived mirac­u­lous­ly, as I did in the past. The pos­si­bil­i­ty that I would lose my life was so high that I still can’t man­age to believe I pulled through. That is why I am still receiv­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal aid at the moment. Because on that occa­sion, all my past trau­mas also resur­faced. I had to receive seri­ous surgery these last few months. In fact, it was the ninth surgery I’ve expe­ri­enced because my body is bad­ly dam­aged. So, this lat­est peri­od has again wound­ed both my soul and my body.

Your writ­ing usu­al­ly focus­es on Kur­dis­tan,  the lands where you were born and where you grew up, and the Kur­dish peo­ple to which you belong. While we were talk­ing, you told me “I work on the real­i­ty of Kur­dis­tan and of the Kur­dish peo­ple.” That real­i­ty includes many years of oppres­sion, per­se­cu­tion, mas­sacres, denial of the lan­guage, of the cul­ture, of the iden­ti­ty, in short, the denial of the exis­tence of a peo­ple. Unre­solved assas­si­na­tions, tor­ture, mis­ery, the treat­ment of women but there is also of course a strong spir­it of resis­tance and an unre­lent­ing strug­gle. Is your fam­i­ly not a piece in that ensemble?

Yes, alas, my fam­i­ly has suf­fered a lot, as have thou­sands of Kur­dish fam­i­lies. My broth­er and my sis­ter were only 19 when they were assas­si­nat­ed. It was trau­mat­ic for us, the remain­ing broth­ers and sis­ters, our moth­er, and will remain so for all our lives. My father is no longer alive. He died in pain also.

After all these loss­es, to be able to go on resist­ing is in fact anoth­er chal­lenge for the Kurds. Imag­ine dying, being tor­tured, denied, but despite all that, you go on resist­ing because, the moment you would stop resist­ing, your true dis­ap­pear­ance would be unavoidable.

Where does your moti­va­tion to write and to express your­self in var­i­ous ways come from? What feeds the strength you find in order to continue?

Of course, writ­ing is not only a mat­ter of tal­ent, it must be fed. As a gen­er­al rule, your own life is the way to feed it, what you have wit­nessed and, of course, your world view. The top­ics I cov­er are painful sto­ries, this is true, but I attempt to treat them not only from the angle of pain. Quite the oppo­site, I attempt to instil the con­vic­tion that hope exists and that the land will become beau­ti­ful. Because if there are still peo­ple who resist despite all the suf­fer­ing and the cru­el­ty, hope still exists very strong­ly. I sim­ply attempt to be a part of this hope. And I must say that I owe it to my belief that keeps on grow­ing with­in me and nev­er dies.

Your books have not yet been trans­lat­ed in French I sin­cere­ly hope this inter­view will attract the atten­tion of a pub­lish­ing house… I dis­cov­ered a new book of short sto­ries will be out soon: “Arzela”. While this book is judged and con­demned in Turkey, one of the short sto­ries in the book, the one with that title, was select­ed for an anthol­o­gy Kur­dis­tan +100 pre­pared by Com­ma Press in the Unit­ed King­dom. Arzela is the name of a flower and of a spe­cial con­cept. Can you tell us some­thing about it? 

Of course, it would be a great joy for me if my books were pub­lished in French. Obvi­ous­ly, all authors would like their writ­ings to reach a read­er­ship in dif­fer­ent lan­guages. But French is one of the most mag­i­cal lan­guages for me, and for me, that would be very pre­cious. With the trans­la­tions you have done, I under­stood that even better.

Arzela: a wild rose endem­ic strict­ly in the soils of Halfeti in the province of Urfa. The region’s micro­cli­mate and the com­po­si­tion of the soil allows the ros­es to remain black, even after bloom­ing. Plan­ta­tions in oth­er regions pro­duce red roses.

So, Arzela is a col­lec­tion of sev­en short sto­ries and an  intro­duc­to­ry arti­cle. My sto­ry Arzela is one of the short sto­ries in the col­lec­tion and the one giv­en that name was con­sid­ered wor­thy of enter­ing the Kur­dis­tan + 100 anthol­o­gy, which is a very impor­tant selec­tion in the Unit­ed King­dom. How­ev­er, this sto­ry Arzela, despite the fact it has yet to find a read­er­ship in Turkey has become one of the rea­sons for my tri­al and con­dem­na­tion. Not only Arzela, in fact, but also many of my awards and works are used against me in judi­cial proceedings.

As for Arzela, yes indeed, it is the name of a spe­cial vari­ety,  a “black rose”, “karagül”. And the only place in the world where it grows nat­u­ral­ly is on Kur­dish soil.  From my point of view, this was very impor­tant for the integri­ty of the mean­ing in this con­text, and I think it will also be the case from the reader’s point of view.

What are your plans for the com­ing days?

This col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, Arzela, will be pub­lished soon, it will be my fifth book. After that, new edi­tions of my four first books will come out since the first edi­tions are out of print and re-edi­tions have not been pos­si­ble since 2019 because of my judi­cial pro­ceed­ings and what I went through. Apart from these, I have sev­er­al oth­er books ready for pub­li­ca­tion, and I plan to bring them to pub­lic atten­tion a bit later.

Cur­rent­ly, I con­tin­ue writ­ing, but I also work as an edi­tor. Also, since par­tial trans­la­tions of my pro­duc­tions are occur­ring in var­i­ous coun­tries, I’m also work­ing at keep­ing all of this as an entity.

In fact, I must say that no mat­ter what I go through, I attempt to keep on nav­i­gat­ing at the heart of lit­er­a­ture and the arts, with­out ever giv­ing up or becom­ing tired.

I thank you with all my heart for this inter­views, and also on behalf of our readers.

Adapted in English from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.