Sunday, July 8, 2012


For day 1, see the previous post

Day 2

We begin every day with the following procedure—surrender your ID’s and cell phones to the security officers. They hand you a badge that goes around your neck that says ‘OBSERVER’,  and you pass through an airport X-Ray machine for a quick frisk. When the court opens, there is a huge rush into the courtroom—people pushing and shoving in the usual chaotic Turkey manner. The prisoners are on the other side of a barrier scanning us for friends and loved ones. A line of young gendarmes stands in front of us. Another line stands in front of them. A frantic waving begins—everyone is calling to each other across the heads of the soldiers.  ‘Hello! I miss you!  How are you! Do you need anything?!’ We stand in the center and wave our hands above our heads, Delal and her sisters shouting ‘Dad!’, me shouting ‘Mamoste!’ until Mamoste himself appears, blowing kisses and waves. He always asks the same thing (usuing hand gestures).  How many of you have come?  ‘Çar!’ we shout today. ‘Four!’ He is always happier when there is more.

There are three judges in the courtroom—a  head judge and two assistants. When they arrive, the head judge demands that everyone sit down and the waving stop, but this doesn’t happen right away. People cannot contain their excitement at seeing each other again. I am taken aback by the variety in the crowd of prisoners.  There is a family friend, a silver haired old lady from Karakoçan—Zekiya, who looks at the crowd of observers in smiling wonder. There’s a skinny kid with long hair and a Rock-N-Roll t-shirt, he can’t be more than 18. There’s 60 year old Mamoste with his bifocals—trying to adjust them so that he can see us better. There’s a chubby, big bosomed woman with her hands folded on her chest looking like a  fretting Italian grandmother. There’s a thin old man in a suit way too big for him, a butchy looking young woman in a frumpy shirt and jeans, a white haired old man with a bushy moustache that covers his mouth. Everyone on our side is shouting names. ‘Mom! Dad! Brother! Grandma!’

‘Sit!’ the judge demands. ‘I said sit!  Sit!’ He has a high-pitched hysterical voice. ‘Typical nationalist speech patterns,’ Delal quips under her breath. We both are able to manage competent imitations by the end of the week.

As soon as the judge calls the courtroom to order (everyone is still sneaking surreptitious waves), the defense lawyers lodge a formal complaint. Today, a few of their colleagues have been stopped at security because they don’t have badges marked ‘lawyer’.

‘This is ridiculous,’ one young lawyer says. ‘We all have i.d. cards that marks us as lawyers and members of the bar. I’ve never had to pick up a badge before entering a courtroom!’

As he says this, we hear shouting from security. ‘This is an outrage!  I’m a lawyer! This is unprecedented.’ Several people around us rush to see what’s happening. An old man waves his fist toward the judge and shouts, ‘What is the meaning of this?! What are you trying to pull?’

The judge orders the courtroom cleared.  Gendarmes rush in and form a wall of soldiers between us and the prisoners. Their hands are on their billy clubs, their riot shields raised. As the prisoners file out, we applaud.

‘What do we do?’ one woman shouted. ‘If we leave, they won’t let us back in!’

One of the lawyers comes over to us, trying to calm everyone down.

‘You all need to come out with us. Go have some tea or something until the break is over.’

‘No! Don’t go!!’ a man shouts. ‘It’s a trick!’

He sits down firmly with his hands folded across his chest. Several families follow suit. We heed the lawyers advice and go out to the cafeteria for tea—we’re sitting by the window. Outside we can see the news crews and soldiers. A group of camouflaged gendarmes is stopping cars for searches. Suddenly a woman comes running in, screaming at the top of her lungs.

‘Are you happy now! That’s right! Drink your tea! They’ve just barred us from the courtroom!’

We rush out into the hall.  About 5 commando soldiers guard each door of the courtoom—again, riot shields up and hands on their billy clubs. A line of eight soldiers has formed a wall at the X-Ray machine. No one is getting through. Delal’s sister had gone outside for some fresh air and now wasn’t being allowed back to us. We try to talk to her through the X-Ray machine. The screaming woman continues to wail, ‘Are you happy now?  See what you’ve done?’

We decide to wait inside just in case. There is another break at 3:00—maybe we’ll be let back in then, but no. Several of the lawyers decide to protest and refuse to enter the courtroom, too. But the trial continues without us—no lawyers or observers. The judge has a speaker start reading the indictment, but there’s a surprise.  More than 2300 pages have been ‘summarized’ to 130. A few lawyers who have gone in to make sure nothing illegal happens protest once more—if you can cut nearly 2000 pages of accusations without blinking an eye then you are admitting that the accusations were worthless in the first place. Or else, you’re suggesting that the results of this trial have nothing to do with process or accusations or defense—that all of this is just a show with a predetermined results.  Many of the suspects are illiterate—they have a right to know, in full, what they have been accused of. They demand the indictment be read in full. The judge refuses them and these last few laywers walk out.

Meanwhile, outside, the observers are trying to figure out what happened. Which rules did we break?  What were the rules in the first place?  Does this mean we are out for good?  Some start to panic. 

The day before, we had been walking to an uncle’s van to get out of the sun while we waited out the lunch break. As we were passing the main parking lot, Delal noticed a foreign woman who had been in the court room rushing among the cars, looking distraught. We found out later that she was the representative for PEN, Writers in Prison. PEN was here because so many of the prisoners were writers and journalists. Her car had been robbed (the only car of the dozens in the lot targeted). It had been a professional job, no windows broken, nothing disturbed, but all their files on the KCK case had been taken along with their computer. A envelope with 4000 euros in cash had been left untouched. ‘We started asking ourselves if we’d been followed’ she told reporters.  (See here)With a troop of commandos not more than 15 meters away, how in the world did someone manage to rob her car? And why hers? And why take the files only and not the money?  Or…Why cut 2000 pages from an indictment if you take the trial and your accusations seriously at all?

Day 3

Wednesday, the court was in recess because it was Open Visit day for Silivri Penitentiary. Delal and I woke up early. We had been told by the prison officials the previous week that if we got special permission from the prosecutor, I could visit, too  (Despite being a dirty foreigner)  We went down to the Ministry of Justice and collected all the necessary copies of passports and marriage certificates and IDs.  Then, we were given a form.  There was a blank for ‘type of crime’.  Delal asked the official what she should write, explaining her dad is indicted in the KCK case, but not convicted.

‘You didn’t mention that before,’ came the answer. ‘If it had been an ordinary crime (like rape or murder) your husband could visit, no problem, but in political cases like this, permission must come from the Minister of Justice in Ankara.’

Another dead end.

I went to the prison anyway. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people crowding every check point, pushing through the gates like cattle fleeing a fire. The prison officials were completely overwhelmed. ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before,’ one of them said. Families had traveled all the way from Şırnak and Şiirt on the Iraqi border to visit their relatives—aunts, uncles, children, grandmothers, children, grandchildren.

I waited outside the tall prison walls while the family visited Mamoste. I scribbled graffitti on the concrete—‘Jeff the Foreigner Made It This Far!’ and ‘An Azadi’. There was a pair of boys who had found the gardeners water hose and were hynotically watering the little weed-filled rose garden in front of the prison gate. Once in a while they tried to squirt someone. Amidst all this waiting, I chatted with some men from Bingöl.

‘There are 45 cases of deadly snake bite this month alone in Karakoçan,’ one of them explains. ‘A doctor friend of mine told me. There never used to be any. We had no poisonous snakes in Bingöl.’

‘Where did they come from?’ I asked.

‘The army. The Turks released cobras at first, but the snakes couldn’t survive our winters. So then they switched species. I don’t know what’s out there at the moment, but they’re aggressive. In the old days, snakes would run away at the sound of footsteps, but now they charge people.’

‘Tell him about the catepillars,’ another man says.

‘They found a type of catepillar that makes a moth that devours our crops. They dropped them from airplanes all over our fields and they destroyed everything we had planted.’

All of this sounds like paranoia to me, but then again, I understand where it comes from. When you’ve endured so many injuries, and never allowed to talk about it, when the media is filled with obvious half truths and outright lies, when evidence is made up in trials and no one says a word, then any crazy story of persecution sounds plausible.  And who knows? There’s such a sense of aggression from the Turkish side, you almost want to believe they are capable of flooding the country with cobras to kill a few guerillas.  This will prove how crazy they are. And this mentality leads to people claiming outrageous things or taking stands in odd ways.

A Belgian philosopher, Lieven De Cautier, working for the World Tribunal on Iraq has been at the trial every day this week as an observer. Ayşe Berktay, a colleague of theirs and a translator who also worked for the Tribunal, is one of the prisoners here. While we mostly stay inside the courthouse during breaks because it is so hot outside, De Gautier frequently goes in and out talking to various people outside and at the BDP’s tents. Apparently, tired of the security check every time he reentered the courtroom--‘They know me by now. I’m a philosopher, not a terrorist!’—he decided to protest by stripping down in his underwear in the hallway. He says he’ll do this every time they demand he go through security.

On the one hand, the excessive security around the court is absurd. On the other, I think you would have to go through some kind of X-ray machine anywhere in the world to get into a courtroom—and I doubt you could just say ‘Hey, you remember me, right?’ in order to get out of it. Plus, the guys at the door who have to stand there eight hours a day looking a screen and running their hands over our pockets are not really the problem. It’s the commando troops that lurk in every window, doorway, and empty space.
On the bright side, the visit apparently went well--security was more relaxed, the schedule was more relaxed and the family got to spend nearly 2 hours with Mamoste. Afterwards, we went to the tents of the BDP for a lunch of watermelon, bread, tomatoes, and stuffed grape leaves. The tents have been set up in the prison's parking lot. Contingents of supporters are staying here the full length of the trial--they sleep on carpets and cushions and spend their night singing, dancing the halay, having political discussions.
After everything is over, we go home and crash.  All of us sleep well into the afternoon and awake only when night falls--three days in and it's already utterly exhausting.  At night, we wake up and go out on the town for dinner--finding a place that serves Urfa style food. On the way out, we find an injured kitten--his foot looked broken, and the girls decided to save his life. We hit the streets on a quest for a vet. I named the kitten Mr. Prime Minister. Mr. Prime Minister got very restless being dragged around the city and finally, realizing that no one would be open at night, the girls took Mr. Prime Minister home, postponing the hunt for a doctor till morning. To his credit, Mr. Prime Minister did not pee on the floor at all despite being shut up in the house with us all night. It felt good to a do a little good deed amongst this Orwellian nightmare.


Anonymous said...

I was in Karer, near Bingol a few years ago and the villagers talked about something called "the Tatur", which turned out to be a toxic caterpillar. When I heard about this, I thought it was just paranoia. They said that helicopters had been seen dropping things into the trees. When I got to the village and saw the forest, it had been eaten and was dying. Getting closer, I saw so many grotesque pods hanging from the leaves, like something out of the movie Alien. What was worse, was that these caterpillars caused an allergic reaction for some people-- me in particular. Coming into contact with just a bit of dust from the forest where these things were made me break out in a rash worse than anything I have ever experienced. It lasted for three weeks, burning and itching red welts on my face, neck and chest. Other people said they had trouble breathing. The point being of course, to keep people, ie. guerillas and anyone who might bring them support, out of the forrest, -- but also to make life uninhabitable, to destroy the trees that give cover, etc. I'd found that episode to be one of the more bizarre and creepy experiences I'd had in Turkey. Your discussions with the people from Bingol ring true. It's the kind of thing you have to see with your own eyes to believe.

Anonymous said...

This account of the monkey trials here in Turkey needs to be read by more people around the world. It's such an embarrassment. It reveals a childlike stupidity and temper tantrum.

Jeff Gibbs said...

I'd be interested in hearing more about the catepillars--they had mentioned this too. Do you know anything more?

Exiled said...

The caterpillars were called "The Tatur". I have a picture of them. After I returned to the states I did a bit of research on "toxic caterpillars" and found accounts of them exactly as I experienced them. Here is a website about a caterpillar in Portugal which is EXACTLY what I saw and experienced:

Here's a quote from the above website: The defence mechanism of these processional caterpillars is their hairs. They are covered in microscopic hairs, and if disturbed, will release them into the air, so if you are near them, these very small hairs can touch you, If they do, you will within 20 seconds begin to scratch as red blotches begin to appear, the more you scratch, the more it will spread over your body. Swelling will follow in about 90 seconds, if the hairs are breathed in, you do not have long to reach medical help. The swelling caused by these hairs will block your wind pipe, that's how dogs and cats have suffocated to death after sniffing the caterpillars."

After what I saw, and your accounts, I'm positive the Turkish Gov. is using a kind of biological warfare on the villages. After all, there are vast areas where they burn forests, both with chemicals and fires-- so this isn't so far fetched.

Jeff Gibbs said...

I found some references to it in some Bingöl newspapers--I don't know, I've seen enough of what the Turkish government does to its Kurdish citizens that the catepillars really aren't necessary, but it is not out of the question.