Türkçe Davul | Français | English

Fac­ing up to oth­er people’s suf­fer­ing, see­ing it, is a virtue. Deal­ing with them out of empa­thy, is an even greater virtue still. But the sys­tems that feed off fear and indi­vid­u­al­ism and their mas­ters, detest these virtues and gen­er­al­ly chas­tise those who pos­sess them. The pris­ons in my coun­try are filled with peo­ple who are pun­ished for not hav­ing ignored oth­er people’s suf­fer­ing and whose own pains are ignored.

The one who entered this notion into lit­er­a­ture was named Susan Son­tag. Just as cer­tain notions evoke faces in your mind…When one says “see­ing the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers” the first face that appears in my mind is that of Eren Keskin, along with her voice and her conscience.

This woman who, on first appear­ance seems naive, frag­ile, whose voice is like that of bird­song, is in fact, incred­i­bly strong and sol­id. If truth be told, we all know this. When I say “all of us”, I mean those who had prob­lems and called out “help!”. In these obvi­ous cir­cum­stances, Eren is always the first one called in, solicit­ed. How­ev­er, her con­science, her char­ac­ter, her heart and her brain being so shaped by empa­thy, she nev­er men­tions what she her­self must endure.

So the mat­ter is in our hands. No one has the lux­u­ry of say­ing “not my prob­lem” when because of her activ­i­ty as edi­tor-in-chief of the Özgür Gün­dem paper, and for her arti­cles pub­lished in this same dai­ly, Eren Keskin was declared “mem­ber of a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion”. She was first pun­ished by Istan­bul Penal Tri­bunal n° 23, then this absurd con­dem­na­tion was rapid­ly con­firmed by the Istan­bul Region­al Court of Jus­tice on April 7 2022. Now, we are await­ing the exam­i­na­tion of the mat­ter by the Court of Appeal.

Eren Keskin

Bottomless well of terrorism

I read the file, the indict­ment, the deci­sion of the heavy sen­tence, Eren’s defence and the argu­ment­ed appeal to the Court. You know, it is very easy for soci­ety to pass judg­ment on peo­ple with two phras­es and two lines of writ­ing select­ed here and there, so I wish you could all read the motives invoked in this “pun­ish­ment”.

This coun­try has reached such a stage that, any­one point­ed out as dan­ger­ous or as an obsta­cle can eas­i­ly be pun­ished through any means. The motive invoked being: “ter­ror­ism”. No, I’m not exag­ger­at­ing. Many of you will under­stand when it will hap­pen to you but, in this coun­try, nowa­days, the eas­i­est road through which to accuse an oppo­nent is call­ing him or her a “ter­ror­ist”. We are in a bot­tom­less well of ter­ror­ism, in a spi­ral and any­one, at any time, can be caught in this vor­tex and end up in prison. This is exact­ly what is hap­pen­ing to Eren today.

Groundless allegations

Hav­ing read the mate­ri­als, I reached the fol­low­ing con­clu­sion con­cern­ing the log­ic of these accu­sa­tion: first of all, the tri­bunal declares that the news­pa­per Özgür Gün­dem is a pub­li­ca­tion from an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion, sim­ply based on the­o­ries fig­ur­ing in cer­tain pub­li­ca­tions of the organization.

Yet, you can be in dis­agree­ment with what is writ­ten in a news­pa­per and with the opin­ions of its jour­nal­ists, but in order to call the paper “the pub­lish­ing organ of the orga­ni­za­tion” and its authors “mem­bers of the orga­ni­za­tion” you must be in pos­ses­sion of facts and for­mal evi­dence, no? Is there any? No. “I don’t like the edi­to­r­i­al line.”

Yes, from the onset, per­haps by start­ing with those arti­cles that can be per­ceived as pro­pa­gan­da, the news­pa­per was con­sid­ered as the pub­lish­ing organ of the ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion. Then, as if this mat­ter rest­ed on extreme­ly coher­ent evi­dence, it was the authors’ turn. All the arti­cles they wrote, using their free­dom of thought and expres­sion, became evi­dence of belong­ing to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion. I repeat; you agree or you don’t agree, you appre­ci­ate or you crit­i­cize, you read or you don’t, but for heaven’s sake, what is belong­ing to an orga­ni­za­tion? Do you hap­pen to have an orga­ni­za­tion chart on hand for it? Some hier­ar­chi­cal struc­ture you’ve deci­phered? Are there ascen­dant and descen­dant rela­tion­ships? Has some of the organization’s cor­re­spon­dence been inter­cept­ed? Believe me, I looked for some log­ic, an out­line, a hier­ar­chy, a mes­sage, a piece of cor­re­spon­dence etc in the file but no, there was noth­ing of the kind. Thus the log­ic is as fol­lows: “the pep­per is green, the pep­per is hot, there­fore the hot is green.” We say, so, it’s a done deal, it’s over, that’s it.

Eren Keskin

Eren’s exemplary defence

Look at what Eren Keskin said for her defence before the Penal Trubunal:

For the past 30 years, I have been a lawyer and a defend­er of human rights. Cur­rent­ly, I am the co-pres­i­dent of the Human Rights Asso­ci­a­tion IHD. I was famil­iar with the Özgür Gün­dem news­pa­per from its incep­tion and rep­re­sent­ed it as its lawyer from the first day of its exis­tence. Because I wit­nessed the mur­ders of per­sons aged from 9 to 74 years who wrote in this paper, who dis­trib­uted this paper. This news­pa­per was tar­get­ed by bombs, it was shut down on a num­ber of occa­sions, and appeared again under the name Özgür Gün­dem”. I was asked for my sup­port: “As a defendor of human rights, could we use your name?” I accept­ed glad­ly, and I have nev­er regret­ted it. If I was des­ig­nat­ed for a time as edi­tor-in-chief, I did this as a debt of hon­or toward Musa Anter, Fer­hat Tepe and all the others.”

Because my name fig­ured sym­bol­i­cal­ly on the newspaper’s mast­head, even for arti­cles I did not write, some 140 tri­als were opened against me. I am strug­gling with files on unre­solved mur­ders, and I am a per­son who has nev­er defend­ed the use of vio­lence in her whole life. I am not a mem­ber of an armed orga­ni­za­tion, I am a defendor of human rights.”

Read it please. Have you read it? Is it not per­fect­ly clear? Because of a very sym­bol­ic title of edi­tor-in-chief and a few arti­cles, a defendor of human rights, an anti-mil­i­tarist, pro-peace, a leg­endary woman, pro­tec­tor of the for­got­ten, is well and tru­ly declared to be poten­tial­ly an orga­ni­za­tion mem­ber. The orga­ni­za­tion in ques­tion defends the armed strug­gle. We are deal­ing here with qual­i­fi­ca­tions in total con­tra­dic­tion with the place Eren occu­pies on this Earth.

I let Eren speak again, and she says in her defence:

I have nev­er held a weapon in my hand, not even once. I am some­one with dif­fer­ent thoughts than those of the offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy as per­tains to the Kur­dish ques­tion, to the Armen­ian geno­cide, the Cyprus prob­lem, and I am rather favor­able to the fact of express­ing myself open­ly every­where. I’ve paid the price for that on a num­ber of occa­sions. My opin­ions, dif­fer­ent from those of the offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy, have nev­er changed. But the State has a very con­fused mind. As the State opin­ions keep chang­ing, for exam­ple in 2013, dur­ing the peri­od known as the “res­o­lu­tion process”, no tri­als were opened against this news­pa­per. And, at the time, I was there­fore not a “ter­ror­ist”. But, sud­den­ly, the pow­er rela­tion­ship changed in the State, its vision on the Kur­dish ques­tion and even its poli­cies changed. I, and oth­ers like me, sud­den­ly became “ter­ror­ists”, sep­a­ratists, crim­i­nals. There is no ratio­nal­i­ty involved. Yet, I have nev­er budged from where I stand. For 30 years, I have defend­ed human rights.

I will make no oth­er defence. I am under no oblig­a­tion to account for my thoughts to anyone.”

Yes, and here is exact­ly where we arrive at the true prob­lem, to Eren’s unfor­giv­able crime: “think­ing dif­fer­ent­ly than the offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy”, that is tru­ly the great­est of crimes. More­over, express­ing her thoughts, writ­ing them: there you are hold­ing the sec­ond great crime. Appar­ent­ly free­dom of opin­ion and expres­sion exist. No, don’t tell me this free­dom doesn’t exist, obvi­ous­ly it exists, but only for those who think as the offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy dic­tates, and those drink down lib­er­ties until they can drink no more.

Let’s talk of anoth­er point. True, as Eren says, she has always held the same posi­tion. Since I’ve known here, she has nev­er made the slight­est con­ces­sion on her posi­tion, she has not changed. Yes but the State has a con­fused mind. Those who at the time of the “res­o­lu­tion process” 1 took part in the talks with mem­bers of the armed orga­ni­za­tion — and, per­son­al­ly, I find this kind of ini­tia­tive very just — can now declare as “ter­ror­ists” defendors of human rights, per­sons who have nev­er seen a weapon up close in their entire life. Can such a jus­tice exist? Some­thing exists, no doubt about that, but it can­not be called justice.

All this set aside, Turkey has signed a num­ber of inter­na­tion­al treaties. For exam­ple, what Eren is sub­ject­ed to is a vio­la­tion of all these treaties, start­ing with the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Human rights.

What is more, there are deci­sions from the Court of Appeals. What does the Court say? Evi­dence of belong­ing comes from being part of the hier­ar­chy of an orga­ni­za­tion, appear­ing in its orga­ni­za­tion chart. But we see that the tri­bunals ignore domes­tic law and say that writ­ing arti­cles is proof of belong­ing to an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion. Why? Because the green is hot.

Eren Keskin empathie

In the meantime, we fall apart and do nothing?

Of course, there is also the oth­er side of the coin. We await the deci­sions from the Court of Appeal…Believe me every­one is tru­ly wait­ing for them. Don’t ask me where this opti­mism comes from… So, I will say frankly that we all know that, deep down inside, as indi­vid­u­als, we do not have and will not have enough strength to face up to stronger oppres­sion, to more severe block­ades. But tell me then, what about her, this woman who indis­crim­i­nate­ly becomes the angel of all those who are oppressed… Will we keep to the side­lines as onlook­ers, to the fact this woman Eren, will be picked out from among us and per­haps locked up in a prison?

Will we waste our time behav­ing like vic­tims, self-pity­ing­ly chant­i­ng our laments over those we have lost or, explain­ing to the hilt this injus­tice and that ille­gal­i­ty, or tak­ing this up as the main busi­ness of the day, and through our sup­port, will we pro­tect Eren? You can pull a face and say “it won’t amount to much” and per­haps you are not wrong. But, per­son­al­ly, I pre­fer a thou­sand times over say­ing “I did every­thing I could but it was not enough” rather than say­ing “I watched on, doing noth­ing, I fell apart, and I chant­ed laments after­wards…” That is my two-cents’ worth of advice for you also.

As Eren has expressed at every step in the tri­als and in all the con­ver­sa­tions she addressed to you, she is not going any­where, she is not flee­ing. This pow­er­ful woman, with her frag­ile appear­ance and her voice like bird­song, greets this blo­cus with dig­ni­ty. But we can­not do that, we should not do that.

I wish to insist: let no one attempt to have Eren pay the price of their own con­fu­sions, mis­takes and of oth­er people’s sins. That would be the great­est of dis­hon­esties and innjustices.

And, now, it’s up to you.

Aslıhan Gençay

Aslıhan Gençay
Aslıhan Gençay was born in 1974 and obtained a diploma from the Economic and Administrative Sciences Faculty of Izmir’s Dokuz Eylül University. Because of her identity as a leftist opponent, she was imprisoned for 10 years in 1992. She still bears the sequels of her “fast to the death”, hunger strikes, carried out in prisons in the year 2000. Following her liberation for health reasons, she began working as a a journalist. She wrote for the RadikalMilliyet Sanat and edited the art and culture pages in Özgür Gündem. In 2016, a reprieve by the European Court of Human Rights was annulled and she was re-imprisoned for five years to carry out the rest of her sentence in the prisons of Sincan (Ankara), Tarsus, Kayseri and Sivas. She regained her freedom in May 2021. She is currently a chronicler for Davul Gazetesi and editor for an NGO.

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges

Sup­port Kedis­tan, MAKE A CONTRIBUTION.

We maintain the “Kedistan tool” as well as its archives. We are fiercely committed to it remaining free of charge, devoid of advertising and with ease of consultation for our readers, even if this has a financial costs, covered up till now by financial contributions (all the authors at Kedistan work on a volunteer basis).
You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you.
Auteur(e) invité(e)
Auteur(e)s Invité(e)s
AmiEs con­tributri­ces, con­tribu­teurs tra­ver­sant les pages de Kedis­tan, occa­sion­nelle­ment ou régulièrement…