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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

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