We share with you the translation of article by Eliana Riva published in daily communist newspaper il Manifesto in Italy. She had the opportunity to meet Ayten Öztürk and will produce very valuable work in near future to tell the story of Ayten.
By Eliana Riva, ISTANBUL
TURKEY. 13 years in a cell and torture and the risk of two life sentences. The story of the Turkish Alevi Öztürk: ‘I will fight until the secret centres are closed. As soon as I entered, they put me naked in a cell. I immediately went on hunger strike. They asked me what I wanted. My freedom!, I answered”
“I am Ayten Öztürk, I am 49 years old, I spent 13 and a half years of my life in prison. I was tortured for six months. I have been under house arrest for two years and risk being sentenced to two life sentences.”
Ayten is gentle and insecure, as shy as she is affectionate. She welcomes us into her home with the emotion of one who finds distant sisters, with the gratitude of one who is looking after a special guest long overdue. And with her to receive us is the whole neighbourhood, that of Armutlu, not far from the heart of Istanbul. The Alevi community living there is extremely close-knit. Here it often happens that the police raid homes with guns drawn.
There are not a few cases in which these raids end in tragedy, as Aysel Dogan, mother of Dilek Dogan, who was murdered in cold blood at the age of 25 during a search in 2015, tells us.
AYTEN ASKS US with anxiety and apprehension when the time will come for our long interview. She will have to tell more about the kidnapping, the imprisonment, the torture. Especially the torture. She is certain that the judicial fierceness against her is due to her complaints. “Why don’t you withdraw your claim of having been tortured? You have already suffered enough.” “Systematic torture is an expression of the political system, fighting it means fighting this system of abuse and oppression.”
“I have suffered a lot, maybe I will suffer even more but I want people to know about the secret centres and what they do to people in there. I was the first woman to denounce. But not the only one, others did it after me. My fight will continue until the secret centres are closed and the executioners are judged’. She was in Beirut when she was kidnapped and taken to Istanbul by the Turkish secret service. Kidnapped, because officially this police operation never existed and during those six months she simply disappeared.
Originally from Antioch, she was living in Syria and on the 8th of March 2018 she tried to reach Greece via Lebanon. She was handed over to Turkish agents after the detention, who pushed her onto a plane and brought her back to Turkey. Her friends did not know where she was. They did not know for the next six months, while she was detained and tortured with unconscionable brutality.
“As soon as I entered the secret centre they immediately stripped me naked and put me in a cell. We already know everything they told me, but we want to hear it from you, tell us! I immediately went on hunger strike. They asked me what I wanted, My freedom! I answered, Then you must speak, they demanded, Then I don’t want anything, I said. They gave me electric shock, naked and blindfolded. They used an electric gun on me, I didn’t control my body and when my mouth opened by involuntary reflex, they forced soup down my throat’.
AYTEN She is a revolutionary, an anti-fascist. What she, like other Turkish revolutionaries, demands is democracy, recognition of minorities, release of political prisoners, an end to torture, respect for human rights, condemnation of police brutality, and fair prosecutions for officers who have killed or tortured.
Revolutionary movements are part of the history and the very fabric of Turkey. So is the repression and violence of the means used to crush them. Arbitrary detention and torture are among them, as confirmed again in 2020 by the Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Cpt) and in 2017 by the UN Special Rapporteur.
Turkey is the country where 120 prisoners died of hunger strikes in seven years, from 2000 to 2007. In 2020, the deaths in prison, also from hunger strikes, of three members of the music group Grup Yorum and the lawyer Ebru Timtik caused a sensation.
“After three months of torture and hunger strike I became ill. They stopped the violence and treated me and force-fed me with a tube. I felt better. But I soon realised with horror that feeling better was a sentence: they took me to the brink of exhaustion and then cured me only to be able to start again without risking my death’.
Anti-terrorism laws, which allow the arrest and detention not only of political opponents but also of lawyers defending them, human rights activists, artists, singers, intellectuals, are still widely used. As is the charge of attempting to ‘overthrow the government’, of which Ayten is accused and for which she faces one of two life sentences.
The indictment revolves around the statement of a secret witness. Also central to the second indictment is the role of a secret witness who testified that he saw Ayten Öztürk witness, i.e. watch from a pavement without taking part, a lynching attempt. The victim of the lynching did not die and did not press charges, she denies having been present, yet she faces a life sentence.
“They subjected me several times to baton raping, they tried to rape me in every way, they left me naked on the ground and rushed at me, touching me everywhere with brutality, with their hands and with objects, humiliating me with insults and abuses. The torture that made me suffer most of all was the electric shock they gave me through plates slipped under my nails. I would faint every time, they would take me to the bathroom and put my head under water. Then they used the gun again: with the water the pain was multiplied’.
After the six months of torture, Ayten was again treated by her torturers and then abandoned in a field, where the police faked a random discovery a few hours later. Taken to prison, her cellmates counted 898 scars on her body. After three and a half years in prison, she was released on 10 June 2021 under house arrest, where she remains today, awaiting final judgement.