In Erdoğan’s Turkey with a poem you risk life imprisonment – Eliana Riva


We share with you an article translated from Italian, published by Eliana Riva in Foreign Pages, about the banned book of revolutionary Ayten Ozturk, kidnapped by the Turkish MIT and tortured for 6 months in a black site.

In Erdoğan’s Turkey with a poem you risk life imprisonment
by Eliana Riva – Foreign Pages, 12 May 2023

The islander’s dream in a cell
My island is wooded.
A forest of friendship, of comradeship, of chivalry,
covers my whole island.
The sun of grace illuminates my island twenty-four hours a day.
We islanders know no darkness.
I am an islander, damn cell, islander.
Right. How could you know my island, thousand-year-old, feudal, militaristic cell.
And you, moving and puffing yourself up to look like an ox.
Envious frog monster, do you know my island?
The world is dark, such an island where the sun never sets
Does not exist on earth.
Right, dwarf of darkness, poor wretch?
And you, poet of bats, pitiful Cacomcho?
There is no such island, neither in poems nor in fairy tales.
Such an island is against the nature of things.
Is it not so for you, poet of darkness?
What you say is not against the nature of things, but against the nature of darkness.
The dwarves of darkness, the old shrew, the scoundrels….
They will be exhibited in the zoo of Turkey tomorrow.
by Mahir Çayan

For these words published in her book, for this poem by Mahir Çayan, a Marxist revolutionary who died in 1972, a young Turkish woman has been charged with financing terrorism.

Already facing two life sentences Ayten Öztürk, both confirmed at two levels of judgment, is under house arrest awaiting final sentencing. It is from here, from her home in Istanbul, that she wrote her book ‘Resistance and Victory. In the secret torture centres of fascism’, in which she recounts the kidnapping, the six months of torture, the imprisonment, and the farcical trials.

We have already spoken about her in Pagine Esteri, we went to visit her just three months ago, we collected her testimony, she told us everything she suffered and explained why she does not intend to give up. Whatever the cost.
In Turkey, elections will be held in a few days, on 14th May. President Erdoğan’s party, the Akp, is currently second in the polls, a few percentage points behind Kılıçdaroğlu’s People’s Party of the Republic.

Anything could happen. But Turkey’s road to democracy remains a long one that needs a clear change of direction. Today, Erdoğan’s Turkey is the one that in a raid a few days before the vote arrests 126 people including journalists, lawyers, artists, politicians, members of the left. The charge is always the same for opponents: terrorism.

Ayten Öztürk is also a political opponent and part of a minority, the Alevis, who are discriminated against and persecuted by the conservative president’s government.

In her book ‘Resistance and Victory. In Fascism’s Secret Torture Centres’, Ayten told her story and collated thoughts and reflections on her country, Turkey, its domestic and foreign policy. It is a 313-page self-published book that begins like this:

“Like fairy tales, I start with ‘Once upon a time’… But what I tell in this book is not a fairy tale. It is the truth! I existed and disappeared in an instant. This is the story of a disappearance that lasted six months! The only thing that remains of me is the footage from the camera that filmed me at the Lebanese airport, but the government of Lebanon, which collaborated with the Turkish government, denied everything. And so they allowed months of torture. Who knows under what arrangements they handed me over to the Turkish authorities. So much so that they then tried to erase my voice, my face, my image.

Six months of endurance after being kidnapped from Lebanon, in a secret prison in Ankara, in darkness, thirst, pain and torture! Six months of life I lost! At six months, the baby begins to crawl. It makes its first sounds. His hands grasp objects. In six months they wanted to steal my life, my health, my aspirations.

In six months, they tried to tear me away from myself, my values and my beliefs with all kinds of torture: electricity, electroshock, molestation, attempted rape, abandonment in a coffin, drowning, hangings and beatings. Every part of my body was bruised, swollen and scarred. I lost 25 kilos. 898 scars opened on my body. I was abandoned in a field, in an unrecognisable state.

Why? Because I am a revolutionary… Because I fight for a free, independent, equal and just country… Because I love my country, my people, my comrades…”

Ayten was in Syria when the war broke out. She was trying to reach Greece via a stopover in Beirut. At the airport she was detained and then handed over to the Turkish secret service who took her, eyes and mouth blindfolded, to Ankara. She recounted the torture she endured, the hunger strike, the forced feeding and then the abandonment in a plot of land on which the police faked an accidental discovery. The director of the prison where she was taken refused to admit her: although she had been treated and force-fed by her torturers in recent weeks, her condition remained serious. So she went to hospital, then to prison and finally to house arrest.

She faces two life sentences on senseless charges and is only awaiting the final verdict, that of the Supreme Court. A witness appeared in court accusing her of witnessing the lynching of a man, a paedophile with a criminal record who was attacked by the mob. He did not die. Ayten, says the witness, was there, on the pavement opposite the one where the events were taking place, and did nothing to prevent the beating. Perhaps indeed, the witness stated and then withdrew, she was inciting the crowd. She denies everything. The court thus found her guilty. And then decided on the sentence: life imprisonment.

The witness, on the other hand, who was identified as one of the perpetrators of the beating, received a significant sentence discount for his statement.
Another witness said he saw her in the office of a human rights association: the Association for Rights and Freedoms is legal in Turkey and the office is open and accessible to all. The court found her guilty of attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced her to life imprisonment.

Two life sentences, therefore, confirmed in two degrees of trial. All after denouncing torture. Despite this, she continued to speak out and denounce the judicial harassment, the injustices she is suffering, as did her lawyers.
In the first days of May, the police, who often burst into Ayten’s home, especially at dawn, officially for searches and various checks, questioned her. About her book, about Mahir Çayan’s poetry, about what she wrote about Palestine. A photograph Ayten posted on social media was included as evidence in the investigation file. All copies of the book were confiscated and the sale was banned.

An investigation was opened against Öztürk for ‘propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation’. Çayan’s poem was considered propaganda for the People’s Liberation Front Party of Turkey, the organisation that Çayan himself founded with others in 1970. The organisation was banned. As evidence in support of the accusation, the photograph mentioned earlier was used: Ayten is in her house and pictures hang on the wall behind her. Among others are photos of Helin Bölek and Ibrahim Gökçek. They were two musicians, members of the band Grup Yorum, the famous folk group accused of supporting terrorism. One of their songs is about Çayan. A few days before his death, Gökçek wrote:

“I have always been a musician, and now I find myself being a terrorist. They caught me being a guitarist, and they used my statements by making me an instrument. We were a band that performed in front of a million people, we became wanted terrorists”.

Helin Bölek and İbrahim Gökçek both died on hunger strike after being arrested, again on charges of supporting terrorism. In four years, from 2016 to 2020, 1.6 million people were accused of terrorism in Turkey[1].

According to the Turkish police, however, not only does Ayten support the People’s Liberation Party, she also finances it through the proceeds of the sale of the book. Another accusation made from her book is that of ‘insincerity’. Or rather, she is accused of blaming her country (her government, actually) for being insincere.

In her deposition as part of the investigation conducted by the Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Bureau of the Istanbul Prosecutor General’s Office, Öztürk was also questioned about her assessments of Palestine.

The police report refers to a specific passage within the book, in which Ayten expresses her own assessment of relations between Turkey and the Palestinian people. The report says ‘[in the book it is stated] that our country was not sincere when it claimed to defend the Palestinian people and that what happened in Davos was a deception’.

The World Economic Forum was held in the Swiss town of Davos in 2009. Erdoğan was present and on 29th January took part in a confrontation with the then Israeli President Shimon Peres. He was very upset with the moderator’s handling of the event, who allowed Peres to speak for 25 minutes. 12 were reserved for Erdoğan. When the meeting should have already ended, the Turkish president kept asking the moderator to give him “one minute” (that is why the event is also remembered as “one minute”), took the floor and bluntly accused the Israeli president of being a murderer: “…you President Peres, you have a very strong tone of voice and I believe it is because you feel guilty. You kill people, I remember the children you killed on the beach, I remember two former premiers of your country who said they felt very happy when they entered Palestine on tanks […]. I find it very sad because there are many people there who are being killed’.

When he finished his statement he left, saying he would never return to Davos. In his country he was welcomed as a hero, with Turkish and Palestinian flags flying together. As can be imagined, even in the Occupied Palestinian Territories the rhetorical clash between the two had a big echo. Hopes dawned among Palestinians scattered across the Middle East that he, Erdoğan, could be the strong figure who would defend them from Israel and the West. Even in the refugee camps, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived since the Nakba, since 1948, this confidence sprouted timidly.

Ayten was in Syria when the Davos confrontation took place and lived the life of the Yarmouk refugee camp, one of the largest and most populous camps in the Middle East, which was to meet a sad fate, occupied by ISIS during the years of the Syrian war. In her book, she recalls the camp thus:

“This neighbourhood, inhabited by young people sitting idly in internet cafes and on street corners, by unemployed grown men sitting in front of doorways smoking and drinking tea and coffee all day, and by women in headscarves walking by with shopping bags in their hands, reeks of poverty from beginning to end. So much so that I compared it to the slums of Istanbul. Unfortunately, when these poor, big-hearted people welcomed us, they were intoxicated by the Turkish deceptions of ‘one minute’ and ‘Davos’. Few knew that those things were meant to have a positive effect on the people of the Middle East so that they could realise their own plans there. Being on the side of the Palestinian people means being against Zionist Israel and arch-enemy America. But the military, political and commercial ties Turkey has with both Israel and the United States were enough to expose this deception”.

These words, thoughts and testimonies, written in a self-published book printed in August 2022, could be the final piece in a picture of oppression and violence that takes away the voice of the victim and magnifies the executioner, a spider with a thousand legs that crawls comfortably on the slimy, flaccid walls of a justice system that simply does not exist in Turkey.

“The real crime is not to tell but to torture,” Ayten told us. “There is nothing in the book that could be considered a crime. But I am still waiting for an investigation into the torturers.”

Link to the origin of the article in Italian:

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