Monday, May 27, 2013

Crazy's on the Rise!

Don't Stab the Kissers!

There is a strange wind blowing in Turkey these days--someone write in and tell me I'm being paranoid. Last week in Ankara, a subway announcement chastised a couple they'd caught kissing on their security cameras. The disembodied voice demanded the 'act in accordance with moral rules.' A kissing protest was held this past Saturday on location--as couples kissed a small group of young men (what is wrong with young men?) chanted Allahu Akbar! in a very threatening manner. Apparently one of the kissers was even stabbed! One wonders what in the world these guys were doing at a kissing protest? Couldn't they find something a little more meaty? See here.

Like the drunks. To 'save the children', the government has passed some new laws regarding alcohol and cigarettes. No longer will stores be able to sell alcohol after 10:00PM. Advertisements are illegal and any mention of alcohol in movies, TV shows or media is forbidden. One part of the law, targeting cigarettes, prohibits 'separation of one piece from a whole packet'--in other words, you can't sell individual cigarettes to people, but it apparently applies equally to alcohol which, according to some, means you could prohibit the sale of individual drinks in bars and restaurants. To protest, I went up to my local tekel (convenience store) and bought a beer--Efes's new 'Unfiltered'. A funny looking man was in front of me--a bit chubby, in a Mormon style shirt and tie, with a hair combed straight down on all sides. He seemed very nervous, glancing around and paying with a trembling hand. I thought he might be mentally handicapped--but the tekel owner told me different.

'He's so nervous about being caught drinking! He insisted I put it in two black plastic bags so that no one would know he had bought alcohol--he wanted to make sure you couldn't see through it. But then a plastic bag means you've just bought alcohol so everyone knows anyway!' He then put my beer in a black plastic bag. I had never really thought about it before--why in the world does my beer have to be in a special bag? I'm friends with the tekel owner and asked him how the new law will affect him. 'This is our livelihood,' he said in frustration. 'They've raised taxes so many times in the past year and now this! And here these people have started coming in wanting two plastic bags because they are afraid of their neighbors!'

Another significant addition to all this is the government's sentencing of Sevan Nişanyan for blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed. Nişanyan, as an Armenian, already has a strike against him--two if you count all he has said against the Kemalists as well. Now the third was his line in a column where he was defining the term 'hate speech' not as something you thought insulted you but as something that threatened a minority group's physical safety. Therefore, attacking an entrenched majority groups beliefs, while perhaps insulting, was not hate speech. And then he gave an example, saying, "mocking an Arab leader who centuries ago claimed to have contacted God and made political, financial and sexual benefits out of this is not a crime of hatred." This prompted an AKP politician, Mahmut Macid to say that he thinks 'all atheists' whom he calls 'raped people' should be destroyed.

And this is a guy who makes policy.

And this is after Fazıl Say, the famous classical pianist was prosecuted on similar charges.

And though it is not directly related to religious fanaticism, I can't help but think of my father-in-law's trial which resumed today. The 2 year visitation band, the sham evidence, the kangaroo court--all run by what is most likely a Fethullah Gulenist prosecutor and judge. I was not able to go this week (I will go next) but my wife tells me they actually gave testimony in Kurdish today--something utterly radical and unprecedented. What can it mean though--when in every other respect tolerance is eroded and rights are taken away and the noose gets tighter?

Religious fanaticism? Dictatorship? What's down the road?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Punished for being punished--My Father-in-Law sentenced to isolation.

So this week brings me to the current ‘Peace Process’ between the government and the Kurds. I have written nothing here about it because I am not qualified. I don’t have time to follow all the sources that would be required to make any intelligent observations. To sum up what I and everyone else know: Abdullah Ocalan has negotiated a deal where the PKK withdraw from the borders of Turkey in return for—well, we’re still not sure. There is vague talk of rights and constitutional reform. At Ocalan’s recommendation, a committee of ‘Wise People’ has been appointed to tour the country and research the issue. A long awaited ‘Fourth Judicial Reform’ has been passed which, in the words of Amnesty International, makes cosmetic changes ‘to minimize criticism but leave most restrictions on freedom in place.’

What comes down to us ordinary folks is a hope that we know is naive, but since we are so desperate for it, we cling to it anyway--like a life raft with a hole in it on a hurricane whipped sea. Then when something happens to confirm our naivete, it is crushing all the more because we allowed ourselves to be tricked again. Hope! There is so much talk of hope in the papers and on TV. This is it, they say. This is the end of all the long guerilla war and century of oppression. Then why last Monday, April 29th, did we get a call from my wife’s father explaining that, after a secret trial, the men and women who had gone on hunger strike last Fall were going to be punished?

91 former hunger strikers, some barely recovered from 67 days of no food, were sentenced on charges of insubordination. When the first waves of hunger strikers were being taken away to isolation cells, their fellow prisoners pounded their fists on the walls and doors, and generally put up a fight. The article on says 'they are being punished for ‘participating in the strike, protesting being handcuffed, and resistance to strip searches.’ My father-in-law has been sentenced to 12 days of confinement to a cell, 5 months of no communication, and 17 months of no visitations. I had to reread that sentence several times before I was sure I understood it. Surely I was missing a comma or some nuance of Turkish. It could not possible be a year and half! 17 MONTHS! And all appeals have been rejected. 17 MONTHS!

I cannot exaggerate what this is going to do to my family—my wife, her sisters, her aunts and uncles and grandfather live for Wednesday when they can go to Silivri and visit the man that has been taken away from them. Our whole week often revolves around that one day. We don’t speak of his imprisonment much anymore, but it is the 800 pound gorilla that is always in every room. The sense of injustice is something I can literally taste in my mouth. This acidic, nasty taste.  I woke up today with tears in my eyes—rage and sorrow and worry for my wife all rolled into one ugly emotion. The last visitation—and last in every sense of the word—did not go well. Delal’s dad is having kidney trouble apparently, his health is not so good. And now there is to be 5 months of silence with that in our minds.

This day reminds me of the day that we first learned he had been arrested. The process was the same. Delal was acting odd. I knew something was wrong but she couldn’t say. A strange, awkward silence followed us like a ghost. Then the full weight of the terrible news. The day he was arrested she told me we would be late to meet our friends for a concert. I pressed for a reason. She said we had to go to Aksaray. Why? No answer. After a lot of prodding, she told me we had to go to the security bureau at Aksaray. And finally I learned he had been taken. This time, she told me that her sister Hilal had talked to her dad on the phone. The hunger strikers were going to be punished. There would be a month of no visitations. She was strangely moody for a few days. She smiled, but it was like a light had gone out in her eyes, and then this morning I read in the paper that the isolation is to last 17 months.

The latest shocking bit of news allows me to step outside of the situation and look back at the past year and a half. We have been like rocks, you see, a wall of stone against the raging Lodos winds that rush at Istanbul from the Marmara Sea. We do not show the day to day wear and tear of the waves crashing in on us—no crying, no depression or woe-is-us moaning and groaning—but when you look at these same rocks as they were a year and a half ago and compare them with today, you see how much has been worn away and you wonder how much longer they can hold out against the storm before everything falls apart.

The list of prisoners with the most severe punishment is as follows:

Celalettin Delibaş 18 months with no visitations, 4 months prohibition from all social functions.

Kemal Seven—17 months with no visitations, 5 months ban on communications, 12 days of confinement to his cell.

Tuncer Özdoğan, 12 months with no visitations, 5 months ban on communication, 12 days confinement to his cell and 1 month prohibition from all social functions.

Hüsnü Çetin 14 months with no visitations. 20 days discipline. 4 months ban on communication.

Ahmet Yılmaz 24 months with no visitation, 6 months ban on communication, 25 days confinement to his cell.