Friday, June 29, 2012

The Trial--Prologue, My First Trip to A Prison

First, a Quick Turkish Lesson
One of the many perks of dealing with an oppressive government is how it expands your vocabulary. For example, who knew that there were so many words for prisoners?  Thanks to the case against my wife’s dad and a visit to a prison, I now can distinguish between someone who is merely a göz altına alınan (someone taken into custody, but not charged) and a tutuklu (someone who has been formally charged but not yet convicted). Once you have been sentenced you become a hükümlü (convict with sentence) or more generally a mahkum (convicted).  There are people hanging in between the tutuklu and the hükümlü status, and these indecisive sillyheads are called hükümözlü—someone convicted but waiting on their sentence to be finalized. Among the tutuklu, hükümlü and hükümözlü you have the adli (incarcerated for real crimes like rape and murder) and the siyasi (incarcerated for political crimes).  It’s a lot like the Eskimos and their thousand words for snow. 

There are over 8000 tutuklus from the Kurdish case alone at this point—an exact number is difficult to arrive at because there are new arrests every week. Just yesterday—June 28th—a court in Ankara charged 22 more people from the KESK, an organization of labor unions, then added another six this morning. Never mind the individuals not lucky enough to be arrested in a newsmaking group, like the one lone guy from Mardin on June 25th.  There you are! 29 brand new tutuklus in just 2 days, and those are just the ones I can find on a quick search of the major newspapers.


I made my first visit to a Turkish prison on Wednesday, June 27th, 2012. My father-in-law, Kemal Seven, the man I call Mamoste, orteacher’ in Kurdish,  was transferred on Monday from Kandıra F Type Prison to Silivri L Type in anticipation of his trial. What in hell do these letters mean? An L Type prison is for lesser crimes—male drug users, the sign outside the wards explained, or handicapped convicts that other prisons cannot accommodate, or those with sexual inclinations deemed ‘unsuitable’ by the Ministry of Justice.  Because the type of prison had changed, there seemed to be a chance for me to get in to see him, (as a foreigner, I am forbidden from high security F-Types) and so I decided to go with my wife and her aunt to the weekly visit.
It has rained hard the night before and Istanbul’s traffic was a greater disaster than usual. We left at 10:30 in the morning and immediately got stuck in a traffic jam just outside our house. We jumped into a cab to escape down the side roads and were caught at the intersection that led to the bus station. Once on the bus, we languished an hour and half on the bridge to get across to the European side. This was maddening—the visit was scheduled for 2:30. We had come about 10 miles in two hours and had at least forty miles to go.  Our hands clenched into fists.  We tried to sleep to avoid looking at the long line of unmoving cars.

We arrived at Silivri around 2 o’clock. The bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere among some rolling fields and farmland. In front of us, in the distance, we could see the flat blue-gray of the Marmara Sea.  A rattling minibus sped by headed for the prison and we hopped on.  It was crowded. I looked around at all the faces—each had someone locked inside.  There was a young girl in a headscarf, a family with a little girl in pink bows and her toddler brother, a man with a bushy moustache, a guy with a tattoo on his arm that said ‘Darling Mother’. The minibus dropped us off about ten minutes later at the prison gates. The dirt parking lot was full of other minibuses and a woman selling tea and gözleme out of the back of a white truck.

The first guard waved me through without even looking at my ID.  Delal asked if foreigners were allowed to visit prisoners, and he just scowled and barked, ‘Of course they are!’ We walked up a long drive to the main building.  For the first time, I started to think that I might actually be let in. We passed through the second security check—I handed in my cell phone and walked through the X-Ray machine. On the other side was a cafeteria, a waiting room, bathrooms, and doors to the busses that took you to whatever wing of the prison you needed to go. We boarded a bus and started up the roads that wound through the prison walls.

High, smooth white walls with water stains—flat concrete broken only by guard towers. Behind the walls, we could see the wards, block after block topped with red roofed tiles. ‘This place is more relaxed than Kandıra,’ Delal said. ‘It’s almost like visiting a high school.’ We pulled into the parking lot for our ward, number 2 if I remember correctly. There was a high wall, a guard tower, and a pea-green building to process the visitors.

From the prison all you could see was farmland. Wind rolled in across the planes and whipped at our clothes. As I walked toward the green building, it seemed like it was going to happen. I was actually going to get in to see him.  Unexpectedly, my eyes watered up and I felt tears streaming down my cheeks. To be frank, I had been nervous about the whole day. What if they did let me in? I never did have an easy time talking to my father-in-law. I always got so nervous around him and sometimes his more academic Turkish really taxed my language skills, and what in the world do you say to someone who’s been locked up as a political prisoner for months anyway? And yet, just meters away from the doors, I was overwhelmed with this need to go see him.  All the tension, all that waiting that had been locked inside since October started shaking loose. I smiled.

‘Can you imagine being brought here to stay?’ Delal said to her aunt.  ‘What an awful feeling that would be?’

The officer in charge took our ideas.  Behind him was a waiting room colored bubble gum pink with fake white plants at the end of rows of pink chairs. He looked at my passport and asked who I was. ‘Son-in-law,’ I explained.  Delal handed him our marriage certificate. ‘No foreigners are allowed without permission from the prosecutor’s office,’ he said and handed back my passport.  ‘The rest of you need to be searched.’

And so after passing through all those doors, the last one was closed and the waiting resumed. Delal and her aunt went through search after search that led her to retract her statement about things being more relaxed here. I got the news when they came out—conditions were a little better. No isolation wards—they slept in three person bunk beds and during the day stayed in a cell with 15 people. Things were at least more social, more communal.

The trial would start next week, right here at the prison. (Weirdly, Silivri is holding it's International Yogurt Festival the same week). We have no idea what will happen. Will we get to go in the courtroom?  Will he stay at Silivri long enough afterward for me to get the required papers and get into see him? It will begin with the mandatory reading aloud of the 3000 page indictment on Monday, July 2nd. This is an odd date to choose for the beginning of a trial against Kurds—it’s the anniversary of the burning down of the Madımak hotel and the deaths of some 33 journalists and writers. The fire was an attack against Alevis—many of the prisoners, including Mamoste, are Alevi. It will end on July 13th when the judges go on their summer vacation. And then what? It’s a big terrifying blank for us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mamoste Update--No Friends But the Mountains Part 2

HEPİMİZ HRANT DEĞİL MİYİZ?  OR  So what was that apology about a couple of weeks ago?

As Mamoste’s trial approaches, we have started to plan how we are going to arrange our summer around it. No one really talks much about the emotions involved. And why should they?  There’s nothing we can do about anything. I sometimes wonder if (or fret that) the little bit I’ve written here and the interview in Radikal somehow made things worse. Perhaps that’s why the name ‘Kemal Seven’ pops up so much in almost a third of the 2500 page indictment—the government is punishing him for the small bit of publicity whipped up by his son-in-law. Unlikely, but it crosses my mind.

Occasionally, the topic of anger comes up between me and my in-laws. When I watch the news with Delal, or any of the various talk shows where the shrieking talking heads blather about their benighted political reviews or when I read newspaper articles by Westerners that, after talking about the detention of elderly Kurds for ‘terrorism’ or the massacre of the thirty four teenagers of Uludere, feel obligated to say ‘The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S, the E.U., and Turkey’—I feel such anger as I’ve never felt before. The city would burn to the ground if my anger could get out of my head. My family here inevitably says they’re used to it—it’s been happening all their lives in one way or another and ‘You develop a thick skin’. But what’s under that thick skin? We’re all outwardly calm, but I have dreams sometimes, where Delal and I are hunted by brownshirts or else trapped in a room and killed with cyanide gas. The dreams usually revolve around my failure to protect her.

Recently I have gotten in a few arguments with a few yokels who tell me that I have no right to stick my nose in this KCK business. As one commentator on a blog site said,

‘Jeff, I know some of those people arrested through KCK case. Turkey, unfortunately or fortunately, is not as powerful as those outside-looking super powers. Otherwise, Turkey would have its own Guantanamo base. And, outside-looking Turkish people would not dare to talk about it. Instead they would focus on the jails in other countries.’

Even if this KCK case and Mamoste’s arrest had no direct effect on my life or my emotions here, the effect it had on my wife (who is my soul mate, lover, best friend etc. etc.) just might move me a little bit—not to mention the effect it has on all my in-laws, whom I happen to love. I may be foreign, but the imprisonment of one man in Turkey is far more relevant to me than anyone incarcerated in the United States right now.

Someone else told me I don’t have the right to meddle in Turkey’s business recently; someone rather unexpected and in a rather backhanded way. For a few months now I have been translating Tuba Çandar’s biography of Hrant Dink, Hrant. A journalist friend of mine was fortunate enough to interview Ms. Çandar and passed my name on to her as someone who might write an article that could drum up interest in an English version of her book. Maureen Freely (Orhan Pamuk’s translator) had been signed on as translator and had drawn up a proposal but it was drawing little interest in the English publishing world, and maybe a few articles or reviews here and there would help. I wrote Ms. Çandar explaining who I was and what I wanted. I ended with the web address of this blog and said that out of enthusiasm for her work, ‘I have translated maybe 60 pages on my private blog—but always with your name attached and if this makes you uncomfortable in anyway, I will immediately erase them.’

Five days passed before she wrote me back and it was a very angry and aggressive email. Her first point was understandable. She said I had used her material without her permission, which was a violation of copyright. I could see why she was upset about that, which is why I posted the apology a couple of weeks ago and erased all the translation I had done. It had simply never struck me as important before because, let’s face it, my blog is read by a small group of family and friends and by the occasional Google searcher who types in ‘Peacock enemies’.  But there were more than a few things about her letter that struck me as odd, above and beyond someone who feels that the right to their work has been violated, and I wanted to discuss them here—not because I want revenge (though I am angry and it may come out, so be aware) but because it might have something larger to say about the whole situation here in Turkey.

The first thing she wrote was this,

Hello Jeffrey Gibbs,

I received your mail and your evaluation of my biography really caught my attention. Especially, ‘It’s truly one of the most brilliant examples of oral history I have ever seen’ and It’s not just about Hrant, but about a country’s history that has been deliberately forgotten, hidden, or erased ‘,’ I was powerfully moved by your book, and particularly impressed by its structure’ and ‘I consider it an imperative that the English speaking world know this story ‘. Upon reading such sentences, I began to be persuaded that you had correctly evaluated the work that I did.  But then, when I went to your blog I did not run into any lines like the above but rather the opposite.  "Tuba Candar does not so much write the book, as shape what already exists. The writers are the hundreds of friends ... They write his story from his birth to death...." or "I started reading Hrant Dink's biography, put together by Tuba Candar..." and other such lines that made me doubt your intentions.

Her first and I guess foremost beef with me is that I did not give her credit for being the writer of the book, just the compiler. She went on to say that if I had bothered myself with reading the prologue of her book I would have known just how much work had gone into it. Well, I did read the prologue which is what gave me the idea that this was not the kind of biography where the writer takes the front seat.

‘This is not a classic biography,’ she writes in About the Book. ‘There is no omniscient narrator who, after reading a ton of research and investigations and books full of anecdotes, after making inquiries and research into a life, after reading letters and diaries and using every detail that happened to get recorded somehow places herself inside that life and writes, as if she is a first-hand witness, ‘the story of a life’.  And it was a deliberate choice...Hrant Dink was an archive of oral history. As to the voices in the book besides Hrant, I spent three years talking with the owners of those voices one by one and recording what they said. Then I arranged them according to chronology and theme. Connecting them as they moved from one to anther was almost like weaving a piece of lace...But as far as contents, not one word that they didn’t say has been added.’

She seems to feel my failure to praise her enough connects to secret intentions to steal her book. She goes on to say that much of the style I incorporate into this blog, in particular the italics I use and the method of narration, is plagiarism. She says she has serious doubts about my intentions, that what I have translated amounts to a book on its own.

When I first read all this I was, to be honest, heartbroken. I so much wanted to make a connection on an issue I felt very strongly about. I’ve always followed the Armenian issue since before I even came here, and moreover, her book on Hrant had helped me to see just what my Kurdish family here was facing—they don’t want to talk about it so much—it’s too immediate--but these people in Hrant were talking about it. When Hrant Dink wept as the court sentences came down, I thought I caught a glimpse of what Mamoste might be feeling as he sits in prison for being in the wrong political party, charged with betraying the society he wanted to help, a victim of page after page of false and deliberately misinterpreted evidence (all elements very similar not only to the Hrant Dink trial but countless others).  But this, according to Çandar, was another big mistake.

‘And while you are using the English translations on your blog, at first you say ‘Tuba Çandar’s biography of Hrant,’ later you don’t see fit to say anything.’

Not true by the way. I mentioned her every time except for once, on April 1st. She continues,

Let’s say, you jump right from a BDP meeting into my book and by mixing in my text with part of your own story, render it a part of it?....These are all legal issues but there is also a moral dimension that does not stop with stealing my labor. You are stealing Hrant’s life and using it to create your own story. You are forming parallels between your father-in-law and Rakel Dink and her father Siament and rendering them part of your own life. Did you ever wonder how they would feel about you comparing your marriage with theirs? Did you talk with these people and get their approval? Whenever I spoke with them I was terrified of touching their wounds. Are their incomparable lives, so full of pain and suffering story material for you to use and insert yourself into however you please?

This accusation also pained me very much. Every writer must confront this question. Am I just using someone else’s pain for my own benefit? I imagine Çandar herself asked herself this several times and very well should have, because even the best of us can get overenthusiastic about the writing part and forget about the people part. But no matter how much this particular paragraph upset me, it also made me angry. The problem, it seemed, was that I had dared to compare myself with the great Hrant Dink. His family and their pain were untouchable. As much as I admire Hrant Dink, I do not think his and his family’s pain is unique or untouchable, not in this country where political assassinations of minorities, show trials, and media attacks organized secretly by the government have been the norm for decades. I thought that was one of the strengths of the book—it certainly was a source of comfort for me. You’re not alone. Someone else has been through what your family is going through. There are others out there.

I can’t quite figure out what the problem is. Is it that I, a tourist and overfed Westerner dared to compare myself to one of Turkey’s martyrs? One of the ‘superpowers’ who ‘insist on focusing on the jails in other countries?  One of Erdoğan’s ‘secret outside forces’ causing all the problems with our meddling and our encouraging of caesarians? If so then I answer what I did to that blog commenter.  When you take my nearly 60 year old father-in-law out of prison, stop the heartache my wife and her family are suffering, and stop insulting them daily in the press—then I’ll shut up about the unjust prison system here. On a personal level, I have my rights as a reader, as a human being. I had a very confusing time getting engaged and I did not really understand any of the unspoken things happening around me—reading about Rakel’s father and the difficulties they had gave me a clue. Mine and Delal’s story is very different from Rakel and Hrant’s, and was much less of a struggle (I said that explicitly when Iwrote about it, too--link here) but I do know what it’s like to be the wanna be son-in-law coming into a closed society that has been harassed for decades and fearful for its existence. And I imagine that if Rakel Dink is anything like she seems, if her and Hrant’s example served as comfort and inspiration to us, she would be pleased. I do not consider Delal’s and my love as anything less than theirs just because we are not famous, just because we did not suffer in the same way.

Or maybe the problem is that anyone compares themself to Hrant Dink? This is a country where idols are made. Before the AKP, you could not say a word that might even be construed as partly negative about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk without serious repercussions. Now it looks like Erdoğan is trying to set himself up as the same sort of figure—people are arrested and charged and persecuted and fired every day for criticizing him. Does Çandar unwittingly want to make Hrant and the Dink family the same sort of untouchables? I wish the Dinks were unique. I wish there were not seven thousand or more people in jail for their political beliefs, maligned by the press, lied about, blackballed, turned into traitors. I wish their families did not suffer so. All the little no names that no one is signing petitions for--I see this now—of all the thousands arrested in the KCK operations, the only one that gets attention is Buşra Ersanlı. Is her life more valuable because she is known? Ragip Zarakolu was released most likely because of the international outcry.  What about the 7000 without the international outcry? (7 more arrested yesterday by the way—I haven’t checked today, but there’s always someone) Do you have to be Ataturk, or Dink, or a public figure to be worth anything?

Musa Anter--assassinated in September of 1992

Or is the problem that I compare Hrant, the book and the man, to Kurds? She seems particularly taken aback by the BDP meeting (which, by the way, though strongly affiliated with Kurds and Kurdish issues and populated by a majority of Kurds—is actually a coalition party). There may be a reason for this I was not aware of initially.  Back in February, apparently, her husband Çengiz Çandar was on schedule to be arrested in one of the KCK round-ups for a forward he wrote in a book about Abdullah Öcalan. Perhaps me going on and on about Tuba Çandar at the same time as I discussed BDP party meetings freaked her out. I’ve read political indictments here, and it would certainly serve as an acceptable piece of evidence that she was planning on blowing up the Earth with her splittist ideas. Or maybe she herself just doesn’t like Kurds, or at least the ‘bad Kurds’ who refuse to behave properly. She once said, according to family hearsay—I can’t find the quote--that when Rakel first came to Istanbul, her ‘wild look’ somehow made her look Kurdish.  She has said other things that makes me think she disdains Kurds. In an interview on the internet magazine T24 she said this,  (link here in Turkish)

‘I think Hrant was killed for his truthfulness. You can see, there are so many Kurdish intellectuals and politicians, but you will not find a Hrant among them. Hrant wanted a this country to turn into a transparent civilian democracy, both for Turkey and his own people. This is a difficult thing. Kurdish leaders can’t do this. They remain silent about the problems concerning themselves. But Hrant said, ‘I don’t want to talk about the problem of the dead Armenians, but the problems of those that survived.’

Which implies numerous things—that Kurds are not brave enough to speak out. That Kurds cannot speak the truth—Selahattin Demirtaş and Gültan Kışanak (chairmans of the BDP party) immediately come to mind as contemporary contradictions, but the comment insults a number of the Kurds’ butchered and martyred. Of course, there were tons of Kurdish journalists especially in the 90s whose chance to speak out were cut short with murder. The writer and journalist Musa Anter is the first to come to mind—a man called ‘a militant of Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood’ who was assassinated by a former member of the PKK hired by the Turkish secret service.  He spent a large part of his life in and out of jail—once just for writing a poem in Kurdish (Some of his books have been re-banned by the government this year—I tried finding one yesterday and was told it’s now impossible).  Watch the film Press for the story of the Özgür Gündem newspaper whose writers, editors, and distributors were assassinated willy-nilly by government agents or whose assassinations by Hizbollah were officially tolerated and encouraged. Or look up Ahmet Kaya, a singer whose music is still loved by Turk, Kurd and Armenian. Like Hrant Dink, he was hounded by the media as a traitor to Turkey in a government organized campaign to destroy his name—false evidence, doctored photographs, misquotes. What had he done?  Threatened to sing a song in Kurdish. Unlike Hrant, Ahmet Kaya fled the country and died of despair in Paris.

Or maybe her English simply was not good enough to properly read the tone and intent of my blog and she filled in the gaps with paranoia. So many people here over estimate their English.

Maybe it’s just a perfect storm, a fruit cake mix of all of the above.

But I had not thought all this through after getting her first email—I just felt chastened for having used her material without permission and so I wrote a letter of apology. I felt extremely bad about what had happened. I never meant any harm and would immediately erase the translations. I still hold your work in the highest respect and certainly didn’t mean to imply you had not done any work. Etc. etc.

Her first response to the apology was clearly not to me. It said simply, ‘What are we going to do with these two retards?’ (The other retard being the friend who put me in touch with her). ‘Reading this, I was so enraged I couldn’t even laugh!’ (She wrote geri geri zekalı—and misspelled it in her rage—which the Zargan dictionary translates as ‘stupid’ or ‘retarded’ though it literally means ‘Backward intellect’. The repeated ‘geri’ must be like saying ‘super retard’).This was followed by an email in English that said this, ‘Your so-called intentions are irrelevant, since what you've done in your blog for months, proves the opposite.’  There follows a repeat in English all the things she had written in Turkish (which led me to think this is all some weird English hang up) and finally a threat of legal action if I did not publically apologize. I no longer felt all that contrite, but indignant and angry and a bit afraid in an odd way, because it felt like I had somehow struck up a conversation with a crazy person and now would never get rid of them.

I found the statement ‘Your so-called intentions are irrelevant’ odd, given that she wrote a book because she was inspired by a man who defended the intentions behind a sentence he wrote that was taken out of context by the press.  Intentions didn’t matter to the court, intentions don’t matter to her.  I would think intentions were paramount—but then of course she saw conspiracy and plotting and whatever else behind all my reassuring words (of course, to be logical, why in the world would I have notified her if I had intended on stealing her work?) Equally odd was her desire to file suit against a man who only wanted to help her. This threat of legal action was also ironic, it seemed, coming from someone who had involved herself so intimately with a man who had been ruined by legal actions. But I suppose it was all justified in her mind because she was right, she had discovered my evil intent, my true self hiding behind the words—all of which sounds agonizingly familiar if you have read any statement on official dealings with Hrant, Armenians, Kurds, or the imaginary ‘internal enemies’ that Erdoğan feels is encouraging abortions and caesarians.

In any case, I will restate here.  I apologize for using Çandar’s material without asking, but the to-do made about it was way beyond what it deserved. It was just some guy’s private blog in the end, and if anything, it would have helped her name and the name of her book get out there.  Still, her reaction to that is totally her business. However the rest seems rather demented—all that misplaced rage, a storm of insulting emails, legal threats.  She would have been only a little less logical writing the same things to a street cat.  It all seems a distilled example of all the paranoia, sense of persecution, and ego that can be so endemic here. I’m still baffled and a bit bereaved. I still think her book is a brilliant achievement. It took a lot of work and she did it incredibly well—maybe it’s just best not to ask too many questions about the creator of any piece of art.  It can taint the whole thing. The work stands apart from them and is not sullied by anything they do...hopefully.

One last thing—the reason for the title. For me, the biggest shock was that I reached out to someone who I thought should be an ally, and found an enemy.  Anyone who had dared to spend three years writing about an assassinated Armenian in Turkey, who, inadvertently or not, had discussed the genocide, who would put themselves in that kind of risk—had to be sympathetic to the mass arrests of Turkey’s other maligned minority. There’s so few people here you can talk openly with. And yet she went, to put it bluntly, nuts. I am not convinced Tuba Çandar has anything against Kurds—she was going to write the biography of Mehmet Uzun (the famous exiled Kurdish writer) before he abruptly died after returning to Diyarbakır. That’s impressive. She was even quoted in the Hurriyet as saying ‘He was a warrior who fought for his identity and culture by writing all the time.’ And yet, she made such a point of me lumping her in the same entry as the Kurdish BDP. It is like hearing a trusted and beloved family member suddenly tell a ‘nigger’ joke—there’s this punch-in-the-gut disgust and a profound disappointment. 

Maybe it’s nothing to do with Kurds (though she might tell herself the ones in jail or all PKK and therefore okay to hate) I suppose it might be just partly paranoia, partly ego, and partly a fight over her ownership of a martyr. And yet, and yet. There’s that phrase associated with Kurds, ‘No friends but the mountains.’ This is the first time I’ve ever had my hand bitten by someone who should be an ally--but for my in-laws, it’s a commonplace occurrence.  The people that hate you, hate you. The people that should like you, hate you. Where to go? Who to turn to? In her book, Blood and Belief, Aliza Marcus discusses the Kurds disillusionment with Turkey’s leftist movements—who promised the usual blend of equality and brotherhood and justice. She quotes Kemal Burkay as saying, ‘The Turkish left was heavily influenced by Turkish ideology and could not openly come up with a Kurdish solution.’ They, too, were in the end nationalists. The right wing Turks preach of Muslim Brotherhood—but they, too, are ultimately nationalist when it comes to Kurdish identity.  There are at times, it seems, no friends but the mountains.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mamoste Update--No Friends But the Mountains means....? PART 1

Outside Antakya
   (This is a two parter--I'm told that these folks reading blogs can't handle longer things and it would be a bit disjointed anyway. I will explain some the apology blog I posted recently--a bit here and in the second part which I will hopefully post next week)
         We were on vacation in Antakya, walking through the old market when we got the phonecall.  ‘15 people were just released with Ragıp Zarakolu. Was your dad one of them?’ How would we know? We ran to the nearest internet cafe and surfed the news channels. No one was saying any name but ‘Zarakolu’. Then finally prints the list of people released with the famous Nobel Prize nominated publisher, and Kemal Seven was not one of them. The disappointment was like something invisible sitting on my chest. I can’t imagine what Delal felt.

                Outside, we returned to the old bazaar and walked mostly in silence. We found a courtyard garden filled with teahouses. In the middle was an old sycamore tree surrounded by a fence. Exotic birds (peacocks and a rainbow feathered parrot like bird I could not place) pranced behind the wire and a little boy about two years old was struggling to explain them to us—though we couldn’t understand a word. Delal smiled down at him and nodded at each toddler sentence.

                ‘It’s a positive sign for us, too,’ she said at last.

                One piece of good news was that Mamoste’s cellmate, Muhsin, was released. He had been in and out of the hospital ever since he was incarcerated and reportedly his heart was operating at less than 20% of it’s capacity. (Most of the men thrown into prison after the October 2011 round-up are nearing or in their 60s—despite their supposedly training work for a guerilla army). Thank God for small mercies. But the release—with no real justification or rationale—begged the question. Either the government was deliberately releasing fifteen men they thought were terrorists (can you imagine such a thing anywhere else?) or else, they had known they were innocent all along.

                The newspapers said this, ‘They have been released by the specially authorized courts in light of the time already served and the probability that the criteria for prosecuting them will be changed.’


                Now even that positive sign looks grim—the lawyers say they’re not that hopeful.  (How could they be?  With thousands in jail, each one is handling upwards of a hundred clients) A few weeks before our vacation, the indictment was released. Over 2000 pages of surveillance, phone calls and lectures given in bugged rooms. To our utter horror, Mamoste’s name appears in 700 of those pages. Everything he does is suspicious apparently, and they seem to especially targeting him, placing his crimes on the same level as the more famous, and Turkish, prisoner Professor Buşra Ersanlı.

But this is a pattern followed in every other political show trial in Turkey—an indictment filled with surveillance, specially authorized prosecutors, round ups without warrants or bail, made up evidence. I can’t even keep up with the political trials any more—there’s the Ergenekon trial against the Kemalists, the Balyoz trial against the militarists, the KCK trials against the Kurds, the match fixing trial against Fenerbahçe (a trial which seemed trivial at first but is growing in scope and reach with each passing day.)  There are waves of arrests for the trial of the February 28th (1997) coup leaders as well as for the September 12th (1980) ones—these last two would be a good thing if the previous four trials were not full of faked evidence, coerced testimonies, forgeries, and violations of all manner of due process of law. If there were not newspaper firings every week of reporters who speak out against the trials.

                Turkey seems to be going mad these days.  This week there is a raging debate on abortion as the government prepares to force through a law completely banning it—last week the word ‘abortion’ wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow (see here). The government created the debate all within a few days.  This issue has never been a central issue for Turkey like it has in the states. Even strict Muslim law doesn’t believe a fetus has a soul till the fourth month of pregnancy so not even they put up much of a fuss—but this week it fills the TV channels, newspapers and websites. The government manufactured a controversy and now is passing a law in answer to it. ‘Raped woman must have their babies,’ a (male) AKP parliamentarian said tonight. ‘To not do so would be murder. The state will look after it.’

The same happened with education reform—within a very short time last month the need for education reform was raised, a plan was suggested by the AKP and then forced through into law—and no there was no debate or gradual introduction of change. It all happens immediately—a complete restructuring of the school system.  Now my school is scrambling now to find contractors to tear down the necessary old buildings and put up the new ones. We have no idea what the new curriculum will look like and may not it until the day before school starts next year. All done so the AKP could introduce two new elective classes into the school system—the Kuran and the Life of Mohammed.  Now the word ‘elective’ is deceptive—yes, you may choose to take these courses. But you MUST take an elective, and in the bulk of public schools they simply won’t have the resources to offer anything but what the state provides—which means most every student will be taking the life of Mohammed or The Kuran.

What else? Characters on TV shows are being forced to marry because it ‘offends the government’.  One of our favorite shows, ‘A Woman and A Man’ featured an unmarried couple, Zeynep and Ozan, that live together—it was quite witty. Zeynep’s insistence on a wedding and her man’s (Ozan’s) fear of it has been a running joke for years—now thanks to the government, Zeynep gets her wish.  It’s not the first TV program with characters forcibly married by the government—a crime show called Behzat C had the privelege of being first.

Turkish Airlines went on strike two days ago to protest a proposed law that would take away their right to strike.  Within a day, the government forced through the law and over 300 people were fired.

The government announced yesterday that they will take the only green area anywhere near us—Çamlıca where my mom, Delal, and I had tea last year—and turn it into a giant mosque that was visible from all around the city. It never came up as to whether it would look good—just that it would be big. A phallic symbol for the AKP, I suppose.

I don’t know how to explain how frightening this is to friends overseas.  The government sticks its fingers in whatever it wants and within a day, they can irrevocably alter everything from an old TV program to a country’s school structure. If there is a law within their way, they change it. If a reporter writes anything negative about what they’re doing, they have him fired. Can you imagine Obama or any other head of state forcing the characters on Friends to marry and then having the reporter of a newspaper in, say, Cleveland, fired and blackballed for writing a column saying it was silly?

Worst for us—the position on the Kurds is worsening. Arrests continue weekly (28 more today). The ruling party, the AKP, has recently made an alliance with the fascist party, the MHP--(see here though the site was blocked the last time I tried) They say they now agree on the Kurdish issue.  The massacre of 34 teenagers in the town of Uludere by the army, said the prime minister, was fine because they were probably working for terrorists or allies of terrorists anyway. A case has been opened—as of today—to ‘investigate’ the last of the BDP members of parliament—including our rep here in Kadıköy, Sabahat Tüncel. They’ve arrested the intellectuals, the journalists, the writers, and minor politicians—now it’s time to cut off the head. Leyla Zana--the woman jailed in the 90s for speaking Kurdish in Parliament was once again sentenced for free expression--10 years in prison for speeches she made urging talks between the government and the PKK (this equals supporting terrorism). It seems like an all out political attack on Kurds again--and the BBC article I plucked that last link from is of course obligated to remind us--after the bit about Zana's rights being violated--that the PKK is a terrorist group recognized by the US.  I am sick of seeing that phrase in every single article about the grotesque rights violations now inflicted en masse upon thousands of people here. It's insulting. No friends but the mountains indeed.
That is a phrase the Kurds are known by--and though I find campaigns in support of Professor Ersanlı among the general public here--the less famous thousands of Kurds also in prison get far less attention--almost as if their arrest is justified. (The PKK is a terrorist organization recognized by the...)
The case that was swallowed my father-in-law is if anything, getting larger, the mouth set to gobble and devour absolutely everyone that opposes it. As our trial approaches I am filled with this growing sense of dread.

Our trial is coming up on July 2 and will take place in Silivri—most likely it will just involve them reading out loud the 2500 page indictment before they take their summer recess. Everyone here is looking toward this trial with a terrible knot of anxiety and probably a whole host of suppressed feelings. It could ruin the lives of so many people—not just those of the prisoners but their families and friends. I learned a bit of what awaits us from the book Hrant but have been chastised for feeling that way by the author herself—which I will write about in the 2nd installment of this piece.....

I get so angry sometimes--I go out on the balcony feeling so much rage.  And that's probably just a fraction of what Delal and my inlaws feel. There is this tendency among me and my foreign friends to always make excuses, 'Well, you know, this happens in America, too' as if to make up for all the stupid and prejudiced comments we here from other westerners around us--but you know, it doesn't.  This doesn't happen in the US or in any civilized country. And I guess I will soon have to eat my own words when I told Kemalists friends here back in 2008 that I thought their fear of a religious dictatorship coming to Turkey was paranoid.