Friday, April 25, 2014

Kemal Seven--Free At Last--Free At Last, Thank the State Almighty, Free at Last

Yesterday, at around 4:30, Delal and I were sitting in the Simit Saray having tea. We just wanted out of the house. I was pouring over my 8th graders’ writing exams when she got a call and stepped outside. I was still busily ticking off grammar mistakes when she came back in, her tears full of tears.

‘They’re letting my father go! They’re letting them all go!’
A bad photo maybe--but we were all cut off guard. This is post release

Within minutes, we had organized a bus to drive us to Silivri. There were three car loads of us going, just for my father-in-law alone. Who knew how many would come for all the others. None of us could quite accept what was happening. ‘If this isn’t real,’ I kept saying in my head. ‘If this is some trick, if they take it back at the last minute...’ We’d been assured by the lawyers that everything would go smoothly, but how could we trust anyone at this point? There were still the internal sentences for staging protests inside the prison last year. Delal’s dad had three months to go. Would they use that as an excuse to keep them in?

On my blog about my first visit to Silivri prison, I wrote a lot about the sunflowers. It was in June, and the fields were in full bloom. I couldn’t get over how beautiful the landscape was, like a Van Gogh painting when what was happening within it was so awful—the pastoral farmland against the fury of the State, the tanks, the troops, the police. On April 24th, yesterday afternoon, the fields were a patchwork of fresh green shoots with squares of wildflowers bright in the distance against the white mirror of the Marmara Sea. The road was empty of everything but the occasional pair of headlights coming at us from the West, out of the setting sun. Let this be the last time we see this road, I prayed, the last time I have to think about this place.

We arrived at dusk. A bonfire had been built. Hundreds of people were milling around the prison entrance. Music blasted from a car radio—Siwan Perver. Some people were singing, others dancing the govend. The air was charged with celebration and victory. It was cold—the air damp and windy. Silivri always seemed to be cold.

The first van appeared around 9 and we immediately swarmed the prison gates, overwhelming the guards who stood around baffled. Everyone was cheering and ululating. Eight people stepped out, bleary eyed, to a burst of hugs and kisses and applause. But my father in law was not one of them. About half an hour later another van with three people came out. And still he did not appear.

There was a lot of paperwork, we were assured. They had to get their belongings organized and all the forms filled out in duplicate and triplicate. And as an hour passed, and then two, rumors started to float around. Three people were going to be kept inside. No one was exactly sure why. They were accused in a separate case, someone said. But really? Was it something else? Was it this internal sentencing we’d been fretting about? Had we come all this way for nothing? To be so close after two and half years of gritting our teeth.

And then at around 11:15PM, after 4 hours of vigil, the final van came out.

‘I see Dad!’ Delal cried, and we surged forth with everyone pushing behind us in a great wave of joy (that nearly crushed me). We couldn’t get to him at first. All the old prisoners had come out as well, all the ones who had been released in the months before and they were the first to bombard him with hugs and kisses and questions. Delal and I hung back. As she said, it seemed to be enough now just to see him. It wasn’t a trick. It wasn’t a lie. We watched as he went through all the family members. His brother nearly fainted and couldn’t seem to steady himself. Delal’s sisters threw themselves around his neck and wouldn’t let go. Dozens of friends stood grabbed him from all directions. And finally it was just me. I was the only member of the family who had not been allowed on visitations because I was a foreigner. I wondered how I would feel, what I would do when this moment came. I felt the tears come and then I hugged him and didn’t let go.

‘Bi xer hati, mamoste,’ I said, in the Kurmanci I knew he would want to hear. And then I tried the phrase I had practiced in the van on the way over, ‘Bi derketina te gelek keyfxweş bum’ (I’m so glad you are out!) but he was already being swept away by someone else.

Someone was shooting off fireworks—bursts of color lit up the sky over the prison gate. Bits of ash drifted down onto our heads. We gathered his things, bags and boxes of books and clothes, and then we did something we thought we might never do again—we took him home.

I do not want to downplay the feeling of celebration—we are overjoyed. But he was only released on bond (tahliye)—all two hundred and something people in our case are still on trial with the threat of heavy sentences hanging over their heads. And there are hundreds around the country in the same case who haven’t been released at all. As people keep saying, we are happy but not grateful. The government is only freeing people it never should have imprisoned in the first place—people who still face a possible future conviction. The government and it’s Cemaat allies took us to negative 1000 and have brought us back to negative 10—still less than where we started. What is there to feel grateful for?

When this whole nightmare started, it was October 28th, 2011. We had gone to Galatasaray for a commemoration for the death of Komitas Vartapet—an Armenian composer who lost his mind during the Genocide. And now the nightmare ends on April 24th, the date that marks the start of that same Genocide. There’s some sort of Karmic connection here, some link between the stories of the Turkish State’s two most tormented minorities. I can’t stop thinking about a statement author Karin Karakaşlı made about how first they took the intellectuals in Istanbul to destroy the leadership, to cut off the heads of a people. That has been the whole purpose of the KCK trials from the beginning. We have been lucky enough to get ours back.

From a poem of Komitas


Take a lantern

Keep it bright

As the light source of your mind

Again and again take the inexhaustible fire

As the hopeful cord

Of your heart


They are back (at least until the trial resumes in July)—the bright lanterns they took away in the dark hours of the early morning three years ago. And so is a little of my faltering belief that sometimes right can win. That the might of the State cannot stamp out the fire forever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Holding you and your loved ones in my heart, praying this all comes right.