|Dear esteemed members of PEN, dear guests,
It is with love and affection that I remember Duyga Asena upon this occasion in her honor, and to you I send my own greetings and love from Bakırköy Prison.
I very much wish I could be with you in person, looking at your faces and into your eyes as I speak and listen. For I am of the opinion that these times require tremendous effort on our part if we are to clearly express our thoughts and feelings and the stance we take, and to sincerely explain ourselves and genuinely understand the person across from us. In my case, the communication will have to be one-sided, and for that I apologize. It is always possible for you to overcome this one-sidedness and to give me the chance to listen too; I would be more than happy to do so.
First I must thank you for this meaningful award. Duygu Asena was a woman who bravely defended her beliefs, who spoke out candidly about her priorities, who lived what she believed, and never backed down in her struggle to break certain taboos. She was a feminist who advocated for women’s right to ‘be’ themselves, for human rights, and for the right to freedom of thought and expression. I view this award as a meaningful act of defiance in the face of the injustice and audacious disregard for the law that has resulted in the imprisonment of myself along with over 200 fellow members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), 34 of which are women. For the case brought against us, the result of an ongoing political en masse hunt-down which completely disregards the freedom to practice politics, the freedoms of thought and speech, and the freedom to organize, which constricts democratic political space, and which, by targeting the BDP, aims to render the party ineffective and thus disempower the people, is not a case of a few ‘innocents’ who happened to get mixed up with a gang of criminals. This case is, through and through, a massacre of law, democracy, and freedom.
According to the case indictment, the Platform of Peace Initiatives, which consists of various smaller peace initiatives started by artists, women, anti-war activists, conscientious objectors, anti-militarists, and intellectuals, is a ‘subsidiary organ of a terrorist organization’; so too is the Democratic City Council established by dozens of parties, political journal publishers and their followers, vocational chambers, non-governmental organizations, environmental and urban movements, unions, organizations, grassroots movements, and neighborhood- and identity-based movements. This trial is based upon an indictment that claims peace is something that can only be arrived at by two states. According to the same indictment, the belief that the state should engage in peace talks with the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan, or even ‘maintaining that the PKK is not a terror organization’, is evidence of PKK membership. According to this indictment, reading, conducting research, or trying to come up with different proposals for ways to end the conflict are evidence that one is a member of the PKK. Efforts to secure the release of terminally ill prisoners, writing letters to prisoners, and visiting prisoners are evidence of PKK membership. Efforts to ensure women’s participation in politics and to make sure they have a say in party decisions is a crime. Maintaining the injustice of court verdicts, wanting for military operations to stop, and mourning the dead are crimes. People are being deemed guilty of belonging to the PKK based upon their thoughts and the words and concepts that they use. The 2,401-page indictment is full of hundreds of examples showing this to be the case.
In the indictment, it is blatantly proclaimed that insistence upon the right to defend oneself in the mother tongue does not derive from any human necessity, and this has been affirmed by the courts. The fact that this right has not been recognized has reached its natural culmination in the refusal to allow even those friends of ours with whom we have difficulty communicating in Turkish, to have an interpreter present in court for their testimony. In the courtroom, the defendant will of course speak in the language in which he or she best expresses him- or herself; this is a matter of the very livelihood of the defendant. And who knows better than the defendant which language he or she would best use? There is only one explanation for the denial of this very basic reality, the refusal to recognize this very basic right, and the misery that so many people are made to endure in the prisons for this reason: language is being used as a means to dominate and tyrannize.
We are people engaged in the world of writing and poetry; we live, eat, and breath language. We could write books about the importance of language in a person’s life, the sources from which each language feeds, how it develops, the death of languages and the reasons therefore, and what it means for posterity. Only we know the torment we endure in our quest to find the best words to express a feeling, a thought, the dream delivered on the wings of a bird, a scent, hope and desperation, love and pain. Only we know how we draw that information, that intuition, and into which depths of our souls and memories, stories and memories of our childhood we must plunge to retrieve them; that much we should know.
Only a person whose mother tongue has been banned can know just how vital her connection with the mother tongue is, only she can feel this in her heart; only she, and we. We most of all know that banning education in the mother tongue and use of the mother tongue in public space, that is, constriction of the space in which the language is functional, means the obliteration of a people, an identity, and a culture, and the murder of a language. We most of all can make it possible for those who do not suffer from this plight to understand and to feel what it means. One must realize that such a fundamental injustice is nothing less than dynamite placed beneath the foundation of peace and the harmony.
We know that languages are the memories of nature and humanity, and that obliterating a language is a crime, a crime against humanity which means obliterating a piece of the family of humanity, a crime which cannot be undone. Whether we realize it or not, we possess the knowledge that the pain and victimhood of a people or peoples whose memory is under attack and in danger of being erased, renders us all victims, that the voices which are lost as a result mean our own impoverishment as well. And all of this knowledge brings with it responsibility: the responsibility to take the steps rendered necessary by this knowledge.
This state of affairs begs the question: how to explain the fact that we who are so closely engaged with language, have failed to stand up and join our voices with those who have been demanding education in the mother tongue for ten years, and the right to defend oneself in court in the mother tongue for three and a half years?
I’m looking at our court case, a travesty of justice, democracy, and freedom, at the increasingly commonplace infringements against human rights and how those infringements are rendered legitimate, at how social outbreaks like the massacres in Antep and Afyon are made to disappear from the media and the government’s agenda, as if by the wave of a magic wand, with the help of a few days’ worth of poisonous propaganda, at the utter lack of effort to identify and punish the culprits responsible for the Uludere massacre, at the deaths of gravely ill prisoners as they pass from our midst one by one, at the hunger strikes which have been happening for a month now, in which presently 400 prisoners in 40 prisons are participating, their numbers ever growing, at the members of the BDP being thrown into prison, including children and the elderly, by the dozens, their numbers having swelled to over ten thousand. I look at the those on hunger strike who, upon the orders of the Minister of Justice, have been placed in solitary confinement in the Silivri No. 2 L-Type Prison and thus forced into a death fast. Why, I ask, why is it that those circles whom we know to be democratic, have failed to react, to take serious action aimed at achieving results? How is that we fail to react to police attacks on every demonstration with an ease and determination matching their own? How can the people of this country be so willing to live with this injustice and tyranny? How is the willingness to live this lie reproduced?
The hate-filled, unlawful politics and warmongering that saturate our case is a perpetuation of the same language that has been used for so long, a polarizing language of warmongering in which the state claims that its actions are in the name of ‘security’ in the ‘war against terror’, a language which the state has successfully rendered as the dominant discourse. This case is a striking expression of the extremes to which the state is capable of going, feeding upon the mentality which defines the state of conflict/war that has been happening in our country in various degrees of intensity for decades as a terror issue, and which claims that there is in Turkey not a Kurdish issue but a terror issue. And it for precisely this reason, that is, because it is not a singular/incidental case, because it is a part of the approach of the mainstream, which dominates all official levels of government, whether of the ruling party or the opposition, that it is especially troubling. Categorizing stances on the issues and even lives themselves solely within the framework of the ‘war on terror’, according to whether or not a particular action represents a ‘weakness’ in the face of terror, whether or not it will beneficial for ‘terrorists’, and whether or not the person in question has ever given voice to similar opinions on any topic, this indictment clearly illustrates the aforementioned mentality, a mentality that comprises the greatest threat to peace, friendship, democracy, and freedom in Turkey and the greatest obstacle to efforts to resolve the issue. In fact, we might say that this is true not only for Turkey, but for the entire world.
This case should worry not only us and our families, Kurds and members of the BDP, but everyone who still believes that another world is possible, who exalts the values of equality, democracy, freedom, and justice, and who envisions a peaceful world in which women are free, in which there is no tyranny of one gender over the other, which is respectful of humans and nature, and which embraces diversity.
In one of his essays, Eduardo Galeano writes that, ‘in the schools in Uruguay, we were taught that the country had been relieved of the native problem in the previous century thanks to the generals who had destroyed Jon Charrus and his ilk’. That is precisely what I mean by a security-centered approach; the same approach espoused by the Prime Minister when he refers to giving precedence to citizens’ security, not an approach which gives priority to myriad other concerns along with that of ensuring citizens’ security. Trying to solve this ‘democracy problem’ which has arisen from what we call the ‘Kurdish problem’ but which is essentially the failure to grant Constitutional protection and thus meet the Kurdish people’s demands for equality, democracy, and freedom, and the rejection of the Kurds’ right to ‘exist’, by exterminating those who demand those rights: that is a security-centered policy or solution.
But there is an alternative to this: a peace-centered resolution; an approach that first and foremast strives to identify and rectify the injustices and inequalities that lead to conflict and crisis.
When problems reach an apparently unsurpassable impasse, and when deadlock reigns, or appears to, I believe that we must put aside all manner of prejudices, stereotypes, cliché words and thoughts, and review the issues thoroughly once more; that we must make serious efforts requiring genuine labor, to listen, read, understand, and hear, without categorizing, labeling, or ostracizing, saying that this is so-and-so’s idea. Every word which is obstructed or limited in its expression and therefore fails to be conveyed or heard, every actor whose participation in this pool is obstructed, limits the possibility of an immediate, satisfying resolution. It is at precisely this point that we must defend freedom of thought and expression with no ‘buts’. And not only writers, artists, and academics, but everybody. The common citizen’s freedom of expression is not any less valuable than that of any other person.
That is precisely the reason why the security-focused approach to resolution and the ‘anti-terror’ paradigm comprise the greatest obstruction on the path to peace, resolution, and democratization. We are not allowed to discuss and debate our thoughts and suggestions. Ours is a monologue, in which it is forbidden to speak in favor, but perfectly acceptable to oppose.
I believe it critical that we question this ‘anti-terror’ and ‘terror problem’ paradigm which is based upon a binary of those who are right and good versus those who are evil and therefore must be eliminated as quickly as possible for the welfare of all, because from the moment you approach the issue within the framework of ‘terror’ and ‘terror issue’, the entire axis shifts completely. Thus do we come to define the issue not as one that requires fixing, beginning with the very root of the problem, but rather as a menace that simply must be eliminated. Anyone who approaches the problem differently, who speaks out against the existing approach and speaks out against injustice, immediately falls within the ranks of those practicing ‘terror’. And so it becomes possible to criminalize them.
The election threshold, education in the mother tongue, punishment of security officers guilty of torture and rape, dam construction, inhumane prison conditions, release of ill prisoners, empowerment of local government administration, whether or not to enter Syria, the subpoenaing of Hakan Fidan, all of this is discussed within the same anti-terror framework, evaluated according to whether or not it will weaken the ‘war against terror’. The widespread silence in the face of such blatant infringement upon the right to freedom of thought and expression and refusal to deal with the issue by means of political channels is in large part a consequence of the perception of what is necessary and valid, a perception deliberately manufactured within the framework of anti-terrorism.
The minister unjustly accused of impertinence actually expresses the situation very succinctly, for he essential explains the policy being implemented. ‘The terror organization has another offshoot. There is such a thing as psychological terror, academic terror. There’s a backyard that feeds terror (…) through painting … writing poetry … writing newspaper articles…’ The Prime Minister is quick to set straight the press and anyone who criticizes the KCK trials. He says that those who are critical don’t know what it is they are defending, that they don’t know what the KCK is, that they are not aware of the danger faced; and as soon as he says this, the number of questioning voices decreases. Rather than opposing the logic of the case, the absurdity of the charges, assumptions, and the fact that the case is based upon a presumed ability to read the intentions of the actors involved, we limit ourselves to vouching for those we know, and vouching that we are certain they are not members of an ‘armed terrorist group’. We are unable to speak up ask: what kind of an armed organization is this anyway, with no guns, no terrorist acts? Those who know me and who know Büşra Hoca and Ragıp Zarakolu vouch for us. And so our entire objective becomes that of rescuing the few people we know from these trains bound for Auschwitz. Yet what we really need to do is to stop these trains altogether. These trains are full of people exercising their right to ‘be’ different, to think differently, act differently, propose different solutions. And the path that those trains are on is nothing less than a massacre of ‘the Other’—an Other-icide. If we just stop and think about it, we’ll see that actually, all of us are on that same train.
In the women’s struggle, we speak not of one group raising the consciousness of another, but of learning from one another and achieving a greater consciousness together; we speak not of standing beside the victims, but of our common victimhood. To me, this stance vis-à-vis life itself is extremely important. Violence against women, the murder, harassment, and rape of women, is not something that happens to certain women only. It happens to all of us as a result of the patriarchal mentality, with its passion for domination, love for itself and its power, and infatuation with tyranny, a mentality that insults and enslaves, with complete disrespect for women, whom it considers sub-human. We consider that violence an attack against all of us.
I believe that it is necessary to assume this same stance not only when it comes to women’s issues, but when it comes to all issues. It is only by standing up for the basic rights and freedoms of everyone from all walks of life, by standing up for peace and for the freedoms of thought, expression, and action for all, and standing up against the imprisonment of voices, words, and language that we can defeat the dominance of lies and militarization which impairs minds, dims consciences, and pulls wool over the eyes of all as it stokes the fires of enmity and polarization. The only way to counter this is, first and foremost, by repudiating and subverting the categorization of one side, the state, which is good and just, and whose every action is deemed right and necessary, no matter what it does, versus the ‘bad guys’, thought to be subhuman, whose words are not worth hearing, whose language is not worth speaking or understanding, whose human rights are not worth protecting, whose problems are not worth listening to, whose beliefs are not worthy of respect, those who are not worthy of living, and whose deaths are not worthy of mourning.
I hope that some benefit can be derived from this damned case, this unfathomable and ridiculous torment. I hope that the fact that there are some of us on trial who are not Kurdish, and who do not fit the image of the Kurdish militant as ‘boogeyman’, ‘subhuman’, ‘terrorist’, ‘monster’, ‘bloodthirsty’ etc. etc. an image which has been created in the minds of people not only by the existing AKP government but by decades of state tradition, will result in the toppling of prejudices and stereotypes and the questioning of just what kind of injustice the Kurds, those ‘naturally born suspects’, who have been struggling with the same problems for decades, face. I hope that this ‘fate’ we are sharing, albeit only in small part, with the Kurds will help to make others aware of the importance of listening to what the Kurds themselves have to say, to their problems, demands, and suggestions; of the importance of bending ear to this not inconsiderable portion of the population, certainly too considerable to be ignored, which states loudly and clearly that it imagines another, better future.
It is with these feelings that I convey my greetings, and call upon you to listen to the voices coming from the prisons, and add your own voice to them.
In the hope that we will be together in days of freedom which we create all together, with love and respect…
Ayşe Berktay Hacımirzaoğlu