The Pen and the Sword with Asli Erdoğan

Asli Erdoğan, renowned Turkish novelist imprisoned for more than four months following the summer 2016 coup attempt, addresses the 10th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On repression in Turkey before and after the coup:

“I still have burn marks from the acid used by the police in the 2013 protests.”

“The situation [today] gets more and more grave as the silence of the international community deepens.”

On torture political detainees:

“There are many reports of physical torture.”

On August 2016 arrest:

“My apartment was busted by 60 policemen, half of them by security forces, totally masked…”

 “They didn’t even let me dress – I was in shorts, meanwhile, which added to the irony of this fully dressed man in the summer heat. Then I was taken to the police station in a cage basically with three other women in the summer heat.”

“I was arrested by a judge almost half my age because 2500 judges were in jail by this time.”

On political charges against:

“I am the first member of an advisory board of a Turkish newspaper to be arrested in Turkey.”

“I am accused under Article 302, the heaviest article in Turkey – destruction of the unity of the state. I am the only female writer in Turkish history that could get the death sentence, if they bring the death penalty back.”

“I am still facing this theater trial.”

Full Remarks

Hello, good morning.

I am Asli Erdoğan from Istanbul. I am currently in exile in Frankfurt. I’m only a writer – of basically literature – an author of nine books translated to 19 languages with over 24 prizes.

I tell this because this actually tells more about Turkey than me. It’s not to boast of my career. I’ve worked only for 5 years as a columnist in total only 5 years. 3 years in a newspaper, radical leftist, but still mainstream, paper back in the 90s – the good old days – and I touched as a literary writer on issues like the story of the victim, let’s say, let’s not say issues, the story of the victim whoever that victim is: the prisoner, raped woman, the gay, the gay soldier, and I tried to develop a theory of anti violence. What is violence and how can it be avoided in a system that is actually built on violence on power.

And surely in three years I was fired from the paper. My literary crown was taken away, given to another writer who could carry it better. And in fact I was a subject of a social lynch in fact a social rape campaign.

Then came the millennium and the democratization period of Turkey. Everything was so great, we were quickly democratizing except that there were some some murders like hunting and Armenian journalists. A good friend of mine was murdered in the streets of Istanbul in 2007. Still the case is continuing,  clearly state-related. And nobody really wanted to wake up in Europe. In 2008 when I mentioned a very dangerous change in anti-terror law in Europe to a European audience,  they almost accused me – no, they did accuse me – of lying.

There was only one person arrested from that new law at the time I was speaking and by the time she was freed in eight years there were 8,000 arrested. But still many people wanted to believe the full democratization of Turkey.

In 2013 the Gezi uprising opened some question marks because you had to watch the police violence on us which I still have the burn marks from the acid the police used on civilians. But still. And, in 2016 we had this so-called coup attempt. I was coincidentally in Turkey. One month later my apartment was busted by 50 policemen, half of them from security forces, totally masked and they were so big in their vests they could hardly enter into the apartment. Automatic guns. And ransacked all my writing for 30 years and didn’t even let me dress I was in shorts meanwhile which added to the irony of this fully dressed man in the summer heat. And then taken to a police station – in a cage basically – with three other women for 48 hours. But it was actually very good,  luxury VIP treatment for Turkish standards. The police were very gentle and respectful to me.

At that time it was only one month after the coup, attempted coup, and already there were 40,000 arrests. When I was arrested in two days there was a big room like that people sitting on the ground. There were no more enough handcuffs so their were hands were tied in an assembly line. Every minute someone was arrested.

They were all soldiers, hundreds, thousands maybe, and I was arrested by a judge almost half my age because 2,500 judges were in jail at that time so they had to recreate those new people who could hardly – sorry to say – speak even Turkish. The prosecutor was quite apologetic and made for sure that I understand I am arrested from the orders from the very top.

So what was I arrested for? I was on the advisory board of a little newspaper. It is a pro-Kurdish newspaper, it has many cases against it but it is perfectly legal. It pays its tax every month. And the advisory board was – we were invited five years ago, totally symbolic names. A literary writer, a linguist – seventy years old she was in jail with me – an ecologist, a publisher who was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in the year 2012, a feminist journalist and one parliamentarian from HDP, the pro-Kurdish party. This was the symbolic board and all those five years there were hundreds of cases against the newspaper but none of it was reflected to us because press law is very clear for all published material either the author or if it’s anonymous the editor-in-chief is responsible. No advisor had ever been arrested in Turkey before me. I’m the first. I mean, I advise I don’t execute. The name is very clear. It was completely against law.

And what was I accused with? 302. The heaviest article in the Turkish court, destruction of the unity of the state, which is what a Jalan is sentenced from and it was death sentence until 1999. So in fact I am the only female literary writer in history who was more or less asked a death sentence. The death sentence might come back any moment in Turkey then that will be the sentence they are asking for me. And for five of us – the ecologist, the linguist, who is average age is 72 – the publisher, and you know why not the HDP parliamentarian they didn’t even open charges against.

It was such a Kafkaesque case, if it is not an insult to Kafka. And ours was the only out of this five to be arrested, me and the seventy year old linguist, we were in the same prison. Two weeks later again another Kafkaesque indictments became a joke on the papers of renowned turkish novelist and very important columns are Ahmet Altan was accused of giving subliminal messages on TV. Just because one day before the court the coup attempt he was on TV and criticized the government. They said you are giving subliminal messages to promote the coup attempt. Unlike me he was not released in the first court hearing. Two days ago he was sentenced for aggravated life sentence. He will spend the rest of his life in a cell, along with five other people.

I’m just telling you two stories out of tens of thousands. The real numbers are very high when I was arrested it was already 40,000, back in her August 2016. And it never went below 1,000 per week. The number 55,000 is a big lie. The real number is around hundred, two hundred fifty-thousand. You can look at the number of statistics they have to publish each week – numbers of arrests and releases. The prisons are by far over full. 280,000 it was 170,000  before the coup attempt. And there were many releases of common criminals so they could make room for us. There are many reports of physical torture.

By the way these numbers – hundreds of hundred thousand hundred fifty thousand – they sounds small to you, I know. But when the Second World War started in the whole concentration camp there were 40,000 people. I compared Turkey to concentration camp because, only on one basis, that we were arrested not by a judge but by orders of authorities that we never know. That is the difference between a jail and a concentration camp. A judge judge sends you to jail. Police or SS or SA or whatever high-up that you don’t mention sends you to a camp, even if it’s a five-star hotel it’s a concentration camp.

I’m still facing the this so-called theater trial on 6th of March and I don’t know maybe for being an advisor to a totally legal paper. By the way, none of the journalists were arrested and the paper is still published, even with our name, so I could read it in prison in fact it’s so legal I could read in print the paper in prison on 6th of March.

I would like you to have a look at these numbers and why does for example Pan International say we have never said face a situation like this in our entire history – which includes the Nazi regime and the Stalin era. No journalists and writers were arrested at such mass quantities like today’s Turkey.

I think I’m out of time – and not only right through journalists, parliamentarians or in-jail mayors there are doctors taken under custody, lawyers and thousands and thousands of students and people who who have no big names or no important professions.

So the situation is very grave and it gets more and more grave as the silence of the international community deepens.

Thank you very much.

10th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, February 19, 2018

Speakers and Participants

Asli Erdoğan

Turkish novelist, political prisoner who was released in December 2016


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