Monday, July 23, 2012

The KCK Trials--the Last Days (continued from previous post)

The lawyers talking to the press in front of the courthouse

I spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.'
Anna Akhmatova
[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]

I kept coming back to this poem during the writing of these entries—and I thought, what would I answer to the woman’s question? What if one of the Kurdish mothers in the courtroom asked me, ‘Who can describe this?’ I’d think, someone can, but not me. My heart’s in it, but my blood is not, and that seems to make a difference in who can get at what this is like.
But then this is not the Stalinist years in Russia, and we are not suffering all that much on a day to day basis. Every afternoon in Silivri, we have been going from the courthouse to the beach or to the coast where there is a nice nargile café. There, we sit on bean bags and smoke grape-mint water pipe and drink tea. This is a summer resort for wealthy Turks. They had a parade on Wednesday, all international, in celebration of the ‘Yogurt Festival’. Texan square dancers marched behind some old Korean men doing a harvest dance, followed up quickly by some Serbian folk dancers. Turkish Pop Stars closed the night.
While we are doing all of these things, whole families sleep in the BDP tents on the ground among the flies and heat and dust (We stay in a comfy apartment with one of Delal’s college buds). The campers have no money for food so they have to eat what the party can provide—usually a pretty decent meal of fresh tomatoes (this area is famous for them) rice, bread, cucumbers, and water melons.
We cook for each other every night in the apartment—I made black bean burritos on Tuesday. Our host made meftune on Wednesday.  Curry another night.
Many of these people have blown all their savings to come across the country from tiny villages in Siirt and Şırnak. And they are the lucky ones who had the cash to blow—others were left behind. Some have relatives in our group of political prisoners with severe heart problems or serious cases of diabetes. No, we are lucky--the petty bourgeoise of the political prisoner relative set.)
On Wednesday, after the Yogurt parade, we repair to the nargile joint.
‘What do you think they think we do after the trial every day?’ my wife’s sister says as she lets out a draught of minty smoke. ‘This almost feels wrong!’
‘Maybe they think we ululate in grief and slap our faces.’
We ululate for effect and laugh.
‘Or beat ourselves with whips and wear hair shirts,’ I add.
The moon rises over the town and makes a splash of milk-white on the water. It’s utterly beautiful. We stay up till late doing imitations of one another.
The thing is—there is an anxiety that underlies everything. It’s like—while watching that moon rise over the glittering town, there’s someone raking their fingernails down the chalkboard. And it has been that way for a year. This is the thing I cannot describe—it’s like that thought on the tip of your tongue that never materializes. It’s why everything you do comes with a slight stomach ache, a last minute hesitation, why your nights are filled with dreams of concentration camps and round ups and jails.
I think this anxiety is all very run of the mill for my in-laws. This kind of anxiety is just part and parcel of life those Kurds who won’t say they’re Turks.
And then there are those that do. We have a young visitor with us this Wednesday night, a family friend still in high school and only 16 years old, come to pay his respects to Mamoste in prison. As we walk the boardwalk around midnight, a concert is blasting the entire town with noise from the portside.
‘I guess we Turks will always love noise,’ he says, or something like it. I don’t quite catch the beginning of this.
‘Well, maybe,’ my wife answers. ‘But just remember, we aren’t the same as all these people. We’re Kurds, not Turks.’
‘Not me,’ he says. ‘I’m a Turk.’
‘How so?’
‘I reject my Kurdishness.  I don’t want it.’
This is not exactly the most socially aware thing to have said to a group of people going to a political show trial every day for a family member imprisoned for fighting for Kurdish rights.
‘But you are Kurdish,’ we protest. ‘You can do what you want with it, but you can’t get rid of it any more than you can get rid of the fact that you were born a male.’
‘No, it’s a choice,’ he insists. ‘I don’t want to be Kurdish. I’m Turkish. That’s how I feel!’
I’d like to tell him that any true hater of Kurds won’t care what he chooses.  They’ll arrest him if they feel like it, or beat him up, or kill him like the guy in the bar in Ankara did when he heard a man singing a Kurdish song.  I remember the eleven year old girl who told me, upon learning my wife was Kurdish, that the only good Kurd is a dead Kurd. The 7th grader who, again, when she found out my wife was Kurdish, told me ‘you should be careful.’ The friend who told me the best thing I could do for Turkey was kill Kurds. ‘It’s just like killing chickens.’ The 8th grader who got angry at me because I said my wife came from the village of Conag. ‘Conag is not a Turkish word,’ he growled. The teacher at school—half American at that—who stopped talking to me because I said that Kurdish and Turkish weren’t the same thing.
‘You’ve been brainwashed,’ We tell our denying teen.  Of course, it’s true. He has had 12 years of nationalist schooling feeding him this mentality. He’s had classes in Ataturk’s thought and National Security where’s he learned about internal enemies (his own people) and the imperative of the unity of the nation. He’s recited every day of his school life the school-kid oath that ends ‘Happy is he who calls himself a Turk.’ Everywhere he turns, on the news, in the music he listens to, the magazines he reads, is the same message. 
‘No, it’s you who’ve been brainwashed,’ he retorts. ‘You don’t have to be Kurds either, but you buy into it. I don’t have to.’
There’s the rub.  I imagine that, at 16, the idea of ‘being Kurdish’ would give anyone pause in Turkey. I imagine that as you are coming out of high school, you stand at a fork in the road.  To the right, are fairly normal, fun filled days of going to concerts with friends, drinking beer by the water, trying to feel up girls, getting sentimental over rock songs, playing video games, reckless road trips, part time jobs and midnight swims in the Bosphorous.  On the left is what he’s seen today—a people always feeling victimized, camping out in shabby tents in front of a courthouse that’s arrested hundreds of their family members, political battles that go nowhere, people shouting at demonstrations and then getting tear gassed, guerilla war, anchormen calling you a splittist and a terrorist, exile from poor villages to ghettos in the city.  What teen looking for a normal life would deliberately walk down the left fork? I remember a quote from an interview somewhere.  ‘What do you do for a living?,’ was the question. ‘I’m a Kurd for a living,’ came the answer. ’If I hadn’t been a Kurd, maybe I would have been an engineer instead.’ In some cases, identity subsumes everything.
I listen to his arguments and make the silent promise never to send my children to school here. I think of a Kurdish girl I met in Nashville.  She was about 17 and running the register at her father’s store.  I asked her where her family was from.
‘Sırnak,’ she answered.
‘Oh we have an aunt there,’ I told her.
‘You live in Turkey?’
‘I went to Istanbul once. Fun city. There was some girl there, though. I remember telling her my dad was from there and that I was Kurdish. She said, ‘but Kurds are just a myth,’ and I was like, yeah okay, whatever. Who needs you…’
I want to produce a kid who can say breezily, ‘I was like, whatever. Who needs you?’
It reminds me of a story—a friend of a friend. Her grandmother was Lakota and grew up on the Lakota Reservation when it was definitely not cool to be native—brought up in white schools, assimilated. To this day, in her seventies or eighties she will not admit to being Indian. Her granddaughter—the friend of a friend—turned down a scholarship because she knew it would hurt her grandmother to hear the word ‘Sioux’ spoken out loud, even if it did mean money for college.
For the first half of the day, there is more droning through the indictment. At the lunch break, I see that little nine year old girl again. She’s wearing a red tank top and white shorts. She’s very chubby and manages to push past up security and stand at the railing of the lawyers section where she starts to blow kisses to the two women I assume are her grandmother and mother—one is much older than the other and wears a headscarf patterned with red and purple flowers. Both look alike. The little girl’s  fat ankles squeeze out of the white straps of her shoes.
We lunch in the BDP’s tent—it’s hot and full of flies. They buzz around the red slices of water melon. Our meal is had communally on the floor—a sandwich of peppers and kaşar cheese, chicken and rice, fresh tomatoes. It is very dusty today—clouds of dust roll in from parking lot on hard gusts of wind. The sound of power drills and hammers fills the air. There’s construction going on at the prison.  On TV the night before, an academic discussed the Assistant Prime Minister’s announcement that 196 new prisons would be built by 2017. 
‘This is way more than necessary to relieve overcrowding,’ he’d said. ‘It seems the government is clearly anticipating thousands of new prisoners, but who?’
After lunch, Judge Ali announces that he will now hear statements from the suspects and lawyers—‘talep’ he calls them, which means requestbut in the legal sense , is better translated as ‘plea’. ‘But only for those willing to give their pleas in Turkish,’ he adds. This is the day before the announcement of who will be released.
A husky woman with short hair stands. The mike is passed.  She explains in Turkish that she never really joined all the meetings that she was accused of joining in the indictment—and that the ones she did join were half-hearted and few and far between. There’s a collective intake of breath. They’re giving in. They’re breaking ranks. 
A man named Erdoğan Baysan rises and the mike passes to him. ‘I joined the BDP at a friend’s recommendation,’ he says. ‘But I never really attended many of the meetings.’ A frizzy haired student named İdil Aydınoğlu says that she was part of the women’s auxillary of the BDP but didn’t really attend the meetings.’ A young college girl named Büşra Önder says that she joined the BDP, yes, but couldn’t really keep up with the meetings with all her school work and her aunt getting cancer. She was Tunisian by heritage anyway. Kemal Karagöz says he was not so much a member of the BDP as he was the leader of the Alevi Association. He is Alevi first and foremost. (This is significant because it is a classic escape of many Zaza Alevis—we are not Kurds, we are Alevis) Another man, barely able to speak Turkish at all, says in a heavily Kurdish accent, ‘I would like to ask for release. Thank you.’ One by one, like dominoes. One or two, like Pervin Tunbul, feel the need to stand and make a kind of protest. ‘I don’t wish to defend myself like this,’ Tunbul says, but their voices are drowned in the pleas for release. And the odd thing is, they defend themselves by distancing themselves not from the KCK but from BDP—a legal political party in Parliament.  They have, subconsciously perhaps, accepted the court’s judgment that being part of the opposition is a crime. I can’t judge (goes the classic phrase before a withering judgement)—I have never spent 9 months in prison, what do I know? But I feel embarrassed for these people and sad—that they have been brought to this, begging for the freedom after doing nothing to deserve losing it. 
Then Büşra Ersanlı stands up. 
Her voice is quivering with emotion—rage, sorrow, despair?  It’s hard to tell. She speaks about her academic record, her years of fighting for peace and equality—her absolute insistence on discussion and dialogue and non-violence.
‘I became a member of the BDP because of a desire to make a contribution to an opposition movement that offered a solution. I don’t regret that now. I feel ashamed of the word ‘request’. I don’t ‘request’, I demand my acquittal!’
I want to stand up and applaud (but that will get us kicked out of course). The silence that follows is ominous. A lawyer stands up and says, ‘The ones who can speak Turkish have a voice. What about the more than one hundred people who cannot? I again make the request that the other defendants be allowed to make their statements in Kurdish.’
‘Request denied,’ says Judge Ali.
And so over 100 people are silenced.
The last day of the trial before the summer recess. The day they make the announcements about who is released and who is not. We expect a huge crowd—over ten people are coming from our family alone, and there are 205 prisoners—so we set out at 8:00. The bus turns from the coastal road into the Silivri sunflower fields and I notice that absolutely every plant is in full bloom, a rolling sea of gold all the way down to the real sea. It is unbelievably gorgeous, and so strange that these plants have followed the progress of the trial so precisely—almost no blooms the first day, hitting full flower only on the last. 
The tanks are back, and the 21 troop transports.
We arrive over an hour early at the courthouse gate and find it already swarming with people.  At the gate itself are three lines of gendarmes in full riot gear and regular prison guards with Kalishnikovs.  More soldiers line the fence. They have blocked the doors to the building before, but never the gate.
‘There are no more visitor passes,’ the officer in charge tells us.
‘Liar!’ screams an old woman. ‘You’re lying!’
‘There’s no one in the building!’ says a portly mom.  ‘We can see that it’s empty from here!’
‘I’m sorry,’ says the commander again. ‘But each of the people inside has taken between ten and fifteen passes for members of their families, and there’s none left.’
‘Then make them give them back!’ a woman in a headscarf protests. ‘There should be a limit to how many each family can bring in! We all want a chance. We came all the way from Hakkari! Over 24 hours on the bus and we used all our money to come here. Are you telling us we should just go home!?’
The soldiers look tense. They tighten up their wall and raise their riot shields. They are fully armed with Turkey’s favorite weapons against its citizens—pepper gas and billy clubs. More people come pouring down from the BDP tents.
‘What’s going on here?’ they shout.
‘They’re lying to us! They say there are no more visitors’ passes!’
An aside here—my wife’s family often talks about random strip searches when they visit the prison, of harsh interrogations and harassment when there was nothing of the sort the previous time.  They say this is all the State’s efforts at psychological intimidation. I thought that maybe they were being a little paranoid, that maybe it was true that these random searches were, as the soldiers explained, part of the prison routine. I believed the commander when he said there were no more visitor badges because the few people we saw inside had commandeered them all.
I was naïve. For in the next second, the soldiers parted and we rushed the security desk to find over one hundred visitor passes unclaimed.
‘There are only a few,’ the officer distributing them shouted. ‘So each family can only have one! No more taking a dozen!’
So they were still sticking by that story. And this produced a mad rush of people pushing and shoving and trampling each other—who knew when they would run out or when the soldiers would decide to stop handing them out. After the madness and everyone had gotten their badge, there were still plenty left and any stragglers could pick up as many as they liked.
What the hell was all of this about? Why did they deliberately lie about something that didn’t really matter at all? And then change their minds? The ubiquitous Turkish disorder or something else?
Inside there were frisks and strip searches. I was checked more thoroughly than I ever had been—in fact, until today most of the security had been calling me ‘Enişte’ (meaning ‘Man married into the family’) and waving me through with nothing more than a ‘Good Morning.’
With about fourteen family members there that day and only four visitor passes, we were on rotations.  Four in to wave at the breaks and then four out so that a new group could come in and wave at the next break. I was with the first team in.
The previous day, the trial had ended with the lawyers making their pleas for the clients. Only three had been able to speak. The last one asked the judge for an hour’s extension.
‘Your honor, we request to continue until six o’clock today. There are two hundred and five suspects and we think at least five minutes for each one would be fair.’
In the Ergenekon trial going on just down the road, the judge had extended proceedings to 7:00 for the same reason just the other day.
Judge Ali, despite the precedent, despite the fact that he had been over half an hour late that morning, refused. And so now, this morning, we witnessed the absurd sight of over one hundred lawyers trying to speed-read their pleas before the noon deadline. I could understand nothing they said. They sounded like auctioneers. They are out of breath when they finished. I would have laughed if the consequences had not been so dire, but then, the end of this play had long been written—of that I was becoming more and more convinced. It’s not paranoia anymore, but a common sense observation.
After thirty minutes, my turn is through and I file out and hand my pass to an aunt. The rest of the day is spent waiting outside the gate in the sun. It’s over 90 degrees outside and windy. More than a hundred people squat in the dirt or in the middle of the road. The BDP’s tents are already full—there’s no shelter there.
Around 11:30, the commander abruptly announces that all women can go inside, visitor pass or no, and so they flood the courtroom—no seats, no place to stand even. The crowd pours out the doors and down the steps. The cafeteria, entrance hall, and restaurant are teeming with people waiting. We men hang outside the gate.  So the women are there at noon when the judge announces a break (again refusing extra time to finish the legal pleas).
‘The court will convene again at 3:30 or 4:00,’ he says, ‘Without any observers.’
Apparently (the girls tell me) when court adjourned and the suspects started to file out, the audience had once again burst into applause. This was their slap on the hand.
The heat was unbearable. I went with an uncle to a van parked outside the tents where we could at least sit in the shade. A pretty young woman jumped in with us, holding a cell phone.
‘Can I use your van to make a call?’ she asked after sitting down.
‘I’m from the IMC news team. I just need to call in an update on the story.’
It turns out that the IMC news channel has a few journalists among the suspects as well.
‘The government doesn’t like us very much,’ the woman explains. No wonder—they’re the best news channel in the country.
Eventually, Delal sends for me with a visitor’s pass (It’s my turn again) and I go to the courthouse and find her in a cafeteria packed with people. There’s nowhere to sit and barely anywhere to stand. People have been taking off their visitor cards, passing them through the fence to those without them, and then repeating the process until the whole place was crammed fuller than before.
3:30 came and went without any sign from Judge Ali. Delal and I decided to go out for some fresh air. We were crossing through the hall when suddenly the doors to the courtroom burst open and reporters leapt through the crowd and ran through the security check (knocking over tables) to get to their news vans. The crowd thronged toward the doors to see what was going on.
‘They’ve been released!’ Someone shouts.
The whole room erupts into an excited panic. Who’s been released?  I catch sight of that little chubby girl from the day before. She’s sobbing and holding onto a woman’s waist as if she might sink. Other  people are collapsing into their chairs, overcome with tears. Some are hugging each other.
16 people have been released on bond including Büşra Ersanlı, Zekiye Ayık (the old woman I spoke about in an earlier blog) and several of the people who had broken ranks yesterday and made pleas in Turkish. And though Mamoste was on trial for the same crime as Büşra Ersanlı, he was not among those let go.  We had not expected him to be. But still many of the family were crushed.  Clearly, some of us had hoped.
The trial will continue on October 1st. At first they told us that all the prisoners would be moved back to their original prisons—in our case, Kandıra—but now it looks like they’re staying in Silivri till the trial resumes. New security measures have been put into place that we’ve never had to deal with before—more harassment--the prisoners are being searched before every visit, and so far they’ve boycotted these visits in protest.  This week the trial of the KCK lawyers began in Istanbul--the lawyers of many of the people at Mamoste’s trial—in fact, many of the defense team went straight to their own case from the Silivri courthouse. They’re defending themselves. Meanwhile Erdoğan’s government continues to arrest people in the KCK case.  An academic on TV the other night estimated that over 11,000 people were now in jail and more on the way.
As for us, we are taking a break from all this. My next entry will hopefully have nothing to do with politics and will be something about music and travel in the Appalachians.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 6-7 The KCK Show Trials

Atticus would have been flummaxed

July 9th and 10th (previous days are in earlier entries)

I think I am getting a taste of what it must have been like to sit in a courtroom in the Old South. The overwhelming sense of unfairness, the verdict a foregone conclusion because of race, the whole weight of a century’s old benighted system that just won’t die. The evidence laughable to anyone looking in from the outside.

From Thursday afternoon onward, the 2400 page KCK indictment is read aloud. And I mean that in the passive—no one particularly important (like the prosecutor who wrote it) reads the indictment. The court pulled in two TV anchormen to take turns at the mammoth text—they go until they give out, voices hoarse, at which point the other takes up the task. It’s sometimes comical—like when they read through the phone conversations in their sports announcers’ voices, playing both parts at the same time with the same dry monotone. Most people snooze or knit or read a book—the woman down the aisle from me is engrossed in the Turkish version of the latest Stephanie Meiers novel.

But occasionally one of the defense lawyers, our would-be Atticus Finches, stands up to lodge formal objections against the nature of the indictment itself.  Essentially, their argument is this:  It violates all known and acceptable criteria for evidence and consists mostly of hearsay, speculation, and anonymous accusations.

Here are some examples of the problems:

Number 1: It’s often gibberish—passages cited as evidence of terrorist activity are so filled with parenthetical (Incomprehensible)s that they are nonsense.  For instance….

‘(Incomprehensible) Now, after the woman’s natural community was brought down...(incomprehensible) and while there the issue at hand was the destruction of woman, society, and nature, I think that we need to consider that, together with these things, and actually, I mean, in fact, the correct place…(incomprehensible) in other words, it’s not just the fall of woman, the basis of it is also the whole fall of society and nature.’

Number 2: The wild guesses of informants are often taken as fact. Here’s this tidbit from Delil Botan Kahraman who is describing his first visit to the BDP academy in Ümraniye and his first encounter with Mamoste, Kemal Seven.

‘The rooms used for academic purposes at the building were normal. There were several photographs on the bulletin boards. Though I didn’t know these people personally, I guessed that they were members of a terrorist group, because they wore the sort of clothes that terrorists wear.’

One of these photographs he’s referring to is of Musa Anter, the Kurdish journalist murdered by the Turkish government in the 90s. I have no idea what he means by ‘terrorist clothes’ unless it is the traditional Kurdish shalvar and keffiyeh.  The absurd thing is that this statement is taken at face value. Imagine being dragged into court because your neighbor thought that you had pictures of people with the kind of clothes rapists wear, and that this was considered hard evidence.

Number 3:  Guilt by association? This term is not even accurate. Guilt by virtue of being present in the room while the accusations are read aloud is the correct description.  Pages 69 through 167 of the indictment are devoted to a play-by-play of the foundation of the KCK and its evolution through time and includes the organizations charter article by article. No names of the suspects appear in any of this. Then from page 168 to 186, the indictment lists internet sites that they believe have terrorist propaganda—again with not one suspect’s name appearing anywhere.  The justification for 127 pages of dry history lesson is this (from page 186)

‘The sites under discussion can be summarized as follows—they made propaganda for the PKK and it’s leader Abdullah Öcalan, they praised splittists and divisive terrorist activities, and by abetting the spread of detailed news of their activities to the masses and the public and of publishing the notes of the contents of Öcalan’s meetings with his lawyers as instructions for the organization, presented the convict Abdullah Öcalan as someone to be addressed as a head of state. By using the model of Democratic Confederalism to compromise the unitary structure of Turkey, they aim to break off parts of the countries East and Southeast and subsume it into a structure known as Kurdistan. This data is not the civil initiative of the KCK and DTK but merely a different extension of a terrorist organization and the details and matters presented within the scope of this indictment are not assertions but facts.’

I like that bit at the end—almost like a protesting child anticipating that no one is going to believe his wild story. ‘It’s not just assertions but facts! I swear!’ As if just saying so makes that the case—an argument you would expect from a ten year old but not a court of law.

This is essentially like me sitting you in a courtroom and reading an entry from a murderer’s diary and then saying you were the murderer because I read it with you present.

Number 4-the informants

Only when you reach the government’s hand-picked informants do you start seeing the names of any actual suspects, and while I can only speculate, some of the language of these ordinary people sounds too much like legalese for them to be word by word transcriptions (and in light of the Balyoz case, I simply assume them to be made up). Informants describe colleagues as ‘şahıs’, a police term for ‘individual’ or ‘personage’, for example.

Here’s a little sampling rendered in English:

First Witness Haydar’s statement given (21.04.2010)

For a long time I have worked in the terrorist organization, the PKK/KONGRA-GEL, as the person responsible for the DYG township and implemented its operations at various levels of the BDP organization. In particular, I wish to explain what I know in regard to the operations and activities in Istanbul by the KCK during the period I implemented these operations and activities.

Number 5 Another problem is the complete lack of objectivity—a presumed given in a court of law.

On page 72, when it’s trying to explain the bewildering number of acronyms (KKK, PKK, KCK, KONGRA-GEL) the indictment says,

‘The terrorist operations perpetrated by the terrorist organization the PKK for more than 30 years has hit dead ends from time to time and they have sought a way out. One of these methods is name changed by which they strive to hide their ugly face with camouflage.’

Number 6--And then there’s the good old fashioned circumstantial evidence (itself based on an informant’s questionable testimony) Where supporting the party of someone present in the same area as suspicious items that you have no idea how got there is considered admissible evidence of your terrorist activities.  Here is the first ‘Action’ described by informant Erkan Yanıt,


On 24.05.2009 at 17:00, in Çağlayan Square, in Şisli, in an outdoor meeting of the DTP (predecessor to the BDP) called ‘Don’t Silence the DTP, Silence the Guns!’, in a clump of bushes to the right of the number 9 security check point, were found 20 flag staffs, 2 posters of Öcalan, 1 flag of a so-called terrorist organization, one flag belonging to the youth group of a so-called terrorist organization, 5 small knitting needles, 10 switch blades, 1 exacto knife, and one screw driver. It was not determined who left these items. Certain leaders of the Esenler branch of the DTP were announced…The DTP representative Sebahat Tuncel also joined.

No one knows how those items got there (hell, the police might have planted them!) but the future BDP parliamentarian Sebahat Tuncel was in the vicinity and they suspects in the courtroom support the BDP so they must be terrorists!

Back to inconsistency in tone and content.  Erkan Yanıt’s testimony, for example, starts off rather ordinarily, a young man explaining how his family came to Istanbul and got caught up in the activities of the BDP’s predecessor, the DTP.

“My older brother is Erol Yanıt and we came together from our fillage in Mardin to work in Istanbul. In the Mimar Sinan neighborhood of Esenler I took up residence and after working in a textile factory in Bayrampaşa for 1.5 years, I took a job at the Tadım Köfte restaurant.’’

He goes on to give very detailed accounts of appointments to the field by ‘the terrorist organization’ and despite being an uneducated villager from Mardin, continues later in a diction and tone that sound suspiciously like the prosecutor himself (from page 551)--“They organized the distribution of the so-called flag which symbolizes the Confederalism of the PKK/KONGRA GEL terrorist organization and the posters of Abdullah Öcalan. These posters and so-called flags came to this personage and other young personages from the youth of the DYG received materials from this personage.’

That phrase ‘so-called’ is a favorite of the Turkish government when describing almost anything they don’t like and not the day to day language of a waiter from a village in Mardin.

The defense team objected, and to all of the objections, the prosecutor, through his conduit Judge Ali answered with the same ‘Reddedildi’. (Rejected) (We hear this phrase so much that several of us in the audience develop quite good imitations of the squeaky Judge Ali delivering it).

Now if you sat through all that about the indictment, here is a more human switch—the only time the courtroom came to life during this monotonous reading was at the breaks when the prisoners filed in and out. This was the time when I saw the tragedy of all this most clearly—that wall of hopeful faces that rushed to the back row of the suspects’ section searching our faces for friends and loved ones. There was a big bosomed woman with a short haircut; she looked like she belonged in a commercial for frozen pizza playing an Italian grandma. There was the frizzy haired girl student and the skinny old man who wore a sky-blue suit way too big for him. There was Mamoste himself, sixty years old and adjusting his bifocals so as to see us better, and then the mother daughter team who blew kisses at a nine year old chubby girl to my left who kept calling out ‘Grandma! Grandma!’. There was the skinny waif of a boy in a rock and roll T-shirt and the moustachioed Kurd who spoke no Turkish and understood nothing of what was going on. There was Ragip Zarakolu, who looked like a bushy haired guru from an Ashram and the old lady with her hair pulled back in a tight bun, and the elegant professor Büşra Ersanlı.  Everyone called out ‘Hello!’  ‘How is everything at home?’ ‘Are you coming tomorrow?’  For me, the most compelling of all was the face of family friend Zekiye Ayık, a woman with long silver hair and big brown eyes who wore an elegant brown scarf loosely over the back of her head. She has been in and out of the hospital for heart trouble. She had trouble seeing, and though we called her name over and over, she could not quite make out who was in that crowd waving at her. ‘We get our morale from your visits,’ Mamoste had said. ‘When we see you in the audience supporting us, we know that everything has not been in vain.’ And yet Zekiye could not see who was in the audience supporting her. Her slightly bewildered smile as she waved first too far to the right of us, then too far to the left haunts me. This is the face of a terrorist for the Turkish government.

This is the witch hunt, this is the justice system in the South before the Civil Rights movement. 

While the reading of the indictment slowly progressed (100 pages a day on average—meaning at least 20 more days to go), some events on the outside promised to affect things on the inside. The first was the announcement by the Turkish government of changes in the judicial code. One change abolished the special authority courts, one of which we were attending.  (Replacing them with Regional Courts in the South East with Special Authority to Handle Terrorist Cases—the difference?  Who knows?) This had the absurd effect of making us present at something that technically didn’t exist.  At one point, a lawyer lodged a protest, saying, ‘We don’t even know if you will exist next week.  Even if you make a judgment, what authority can it possibly have?’

A second provision was a limit on the time that someone can remain in jail without trial and the declaration of ‘making propaganda’ as an ‘unjailable offense’.  Suspects in the Ergenekon trial quickly applied for release in light of the new codes, and our lawyers followed suit. Judge Ali announced a decision would be reached on Friday.  The result of all this was that we guessed some people might be released on Friday.  Tahliye.

(Now here’s another language lesson—the word tahliye is listed as ‘release’ in most dictionaries but it only means released on bond. Anyone who is tahliye-ed still stands trial. A full pardon is a beraat.)

Another important development regarded the professor, Büşra Ersanlı. I have tried to stay away from Professor Ersanlı if only because she is the most famous of the group and the media seems to cover only her and Ragip Zarakolu, as if their release would mean the end of the injustices. But Prof. Ersanlı gave a very moving interview in the Radikal—in which she described her despair and her lost hope in the justice system of Turkey and the future of democracy here. She sounded absolutely crushed. Inexplicably, the Foreign Minister Davutoğlu made a public statement saying that he did not believe Ersanlı was a terrorist (of course he had to say so--he had appointed her to her position at the University) but added that the courts were independent of the government and he could not intervene. (What the hell? Since when?) Announcements like this are not accidents in Turkey—everyone felt that Professor Ersanlı would be released one way of the other. Telling if she were as her crimes match Mamoste’s. If she were released, he should be too.

Which brings me to my final subject—the prosecutor himself. While Judge Ali hung out all his laundry on a personal site, prosecutor Adnan Çimen keeps his cards close. I could find absolutely nothing on him on the internet except that he authored the KCK indictment (probably more directly than anyone knows) and that he had once prosecuted cases against ‘Al Qaida and other right wing movements’. There was a curious tidbit relating to a bodyguard scandal, in which the state removed one body guard from his two person entourage and also took away the privilege of his armored car—he was reduced to using a service bus.  Everyone was speculating on what this meant. Had he lost favor with those in power. Were they showing him the big stick under the robes (a Turkish idiom not a phallic reference)? I find myself wondering as well. Does this mean I’ve become a local now that I seek the hidden meaning behind everything?

The fields of sunflowers this last week of the trial are blooming fiercely. What was just two blossoms is now wide stripes of yellow. Utterly beautiful.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The KCK Trial of Mamoste--Day 4 and 5

(Sorry for the delay--it's been a frantic two weeks, Days 1-3 are in previous posts for those just joining in)
Boy selling water at the courthouse---it is HOT

Day 4, July 12th

We woke early and arrived at the courthouse wondering if we would even be allowed in after being kicked out on Tuesday.  To our surprise, we were waved through all the security checks without the usual searches while some thirty or so defense lawyers were stopped at the X-Ray machines. There were soldiers everywhere. Once we passed through the X-Ray, we were met by a wall of commandos who glared as we gathered our things from the plastic tubs. They did nothing to stop us, and apparently were there for effect. They were there every day from then on until the end.

There were only three defense lawyers inside the courtroom.  When the suspects filed in, Mamoste asked ‘How many today?’ and we held up five fingers. His brother had joined us—though he sat distraught through the whole proceedings as if watching a funeral.

As soon as the judge entered, one of the lawyers stood and began making a spirited protest.

‘Our colleagues have been locked out of the courtroom because they refuse to surrender their cell phones!’

 ‘All the visitors must follow the rules!’ the judge replied tartly.

‘We are not visitors! We are the defense team. We require cell phones to perform our jobs, as you well know. They are also demanding , again, that we wear name tags. I have never had to wear a name tag in any other courtroom before!’

The arguing went back and forth. The observers were getting restless—this was insane, but at the same time, no one wanted to be kicked out like we were on Tuesday.

‘The security chief takes care of these matters!’ the judge shrieked. ‘Why won’t you drop this matter? I don’t understand it!’

‘You are the presiding judge here!’ the lawyer quipped back.  ‘You control the proceedings of this courtroom, or don’t you?’

Suddenly, the lawyers came into the courtroom angrily pulling on their judicial robes.  As soon as they took their seats, a line of commandos marched in and took positions between the lawyers and the suspects. As they had done with us on Tuesday, they raised their riot shields and put their hands on their truncheons.

There were titters of laughter in the audience of observers. The judge was clearly flexing his muscles for everyone. (Although I put it much more crudely,and I think, more accurately when I whispered under my breath to my wife that Judge Ali Açlık  had basically taken his dick out of his pants and waved it around in front of the laywers) Was this seriously how an official of the court behaved?   

I’d like to take a moment to reflect on Judge Ali Alçık. He is a small, pear-shaped man with a balding pate. He is dwarfed by the enormous judicial bench at which he sits with two assistant judges. His high, whiny voice makes him sound like one of my younger students yelling at me in the classroom after he’s gotten into trouble. ‘But it’s not fair!’ He radiates such a sense of powerlessness. Okay admittedly I don’t particular want to find anything positive in his character, of course, but this impression of ineffectuality is not a mere product of my antipathy--it never leaves me throughout the whole trial, no matter how much military muscle he flexes. It’s like he is completely unsure of how much power he actually has and therefore feels the need to demonstrate it with force whenever he feels challenged—then quickly withdraws in case he’s gone too far.  I compared him to a student earlier—that’s not accurate really. He is more like one of those weak-willed teachers that can’t control his class and so constantly shouts hysterically at them and delivering absurdly harsh punishments to make up for his lack of real authority. My impression is--he is a conduit for whatever is coming down from above, but unclear about what they want. The refusal to admit testimony in Kurdish, to strike down anonymous hearsay as evidence, to accomodate the defense in any way, is a petty show of bureaucratic power typical of middle managers. 

Come to find out, unfortunately for us, Judge Alçık was a stand-in judge in the Balyoz case (see here), and is the subject of a few formal complaints by defense lawyers who say that he witheld critical evidence from the defense team in that political show trial. Some CD’s found in the ‘terrorists’ briefcase and cited as evidence were never handed over to the defense to investigate because they contained ‘sensitive information’. Copies were eventually given but with the crucial images that they needed to evaluate in the first place, erased. And how about the person who evaluated the complaints against him?  Why, Judge Ali Alçık of course.

I found a Facebook- like page (here) that belongs to him in which he waxes romantic about his favorite hobbies—photography, reading, and, get this, surfing the net. Other faves include 4 X 4’s, cats, and classical music. He even kept a blog back in 2007 which he mostly used to put up a few of his favorite poems.  His favorite writers include Mehmet Aksoy—the author of the national anthem and Necip Fazıl. Fazıl was a nationalist writer who proposed (after rejecting his early Kemalism) the idea of Islam as a replacement ideology for capitalism and communism. He denounced all of his earlier writings (his Republican phase) as contrary to Sharia and published a journal called Büyük Doğu that introduced Islam as a political movement in opposition to those of the west. (see here, from page 203). Not surprisingly, he these are the same two authors listed among F. Gülen's cherished influences on his website (here).

No wonder, I suppose, that he is Alçın’s favorite and that Alçın works for the AKP (or the Gulenists, who can tell?)

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.