“Wounds are so deep and painful in these countries that in order to clean those wounds you have to use your pen like a scalpel”, Ahmet Altan
“Wounds are so deep and painful in these countries that in order to clean those wounds you have to use your pen like a scalpel. We are forced to go outside literature and write directly political pieces. Writing becomes engulfed by politics.”
(Ahmet Altan, Times Literary Supplement)
These are the things they took away.
Your ability to kiss the woman you love,
to embrace your kids,
to meet with friends.
They took away
your freedom to walk the streets
they took away the room
you wrote in,
(with your hands moving in the air
in search of “harmony”)
the machine you wrote with,
the library you reached for.
you can no longer listen
to a violin concerto
nor go on a trip nor browse in a bookstore
or even buy bread
from a bakery
gaze on the sea or on an orange tree
or smell the scent of flowers,
the grass, the rain
of this sad earth,
this one here!
They took all these away,
this Turkish president we see on TV
(and his helpless scheming cronies).
These are the simple things
you told us they took away:
you would not be able to go to a movie theater
nor eat eggs with sausage
nor drink a glass of wine.
You would not be able to go to a restaurant
and order fish.
You would not be able to watch the sunrise.
nor call anyone on the phone
and no one would be able to call you on the phone.
You would not be able to open a door by yourself,
you said, and lastly and certainly
you would never again wake up
in a room with curtains
like this one here, so far away.
For all these, instead
they gave you
a life-long room in a prison 4 metres long,
a prison magazine to read
along with some “novels, history books, essays,
indictments, court files and shop receipts”.
Now, I can’t imagine what the food is like
or the cook who cooks it
there in Silivri Prison (Silivri Ceza İnfaz Kurumları Kampüsü)
just outside Istanbul, where the tourists drink their coffee,
Siliviri Penitentiary – the biggest jail in Europe.
I can’t imagine so many things,
like how I might find you in the crowd there
with 10,904 other inmates –
none of them the president’s friends,
or family, no doubt
“There is a single criterion that determines “guilt’’
and “innocence’’ in Turkey today.
If you are an Erdoğan advocate, whatever you do
you are innocent; go shoot a man if you will.
If you oppose Erdoğan, whatever you do
you are guilty…”
so you said
– even if I walked all 9 blocks
searched each of the 61 units
looking among these nameless countless inmates,
nor would I know which gate to enter
(or leave) by
which of the three
the one for defendants, the detained, the convicts,
or the one for personnel, lawyers and visitors
(the third one for everything else, they say)
and last of all
in this other prison called history
we all share
i can’t imagine
how your beautiful country
the country of Nazim Hikmet –
Nazim who said so beautifully in 1955,
in this, his ‘Last Letter to my Son’ after his
long 1,648 km journey from Tbilisi to Moscow:
is one sweet
And its people,
Its real people
are hardworking, serious, and brave
but frightfully poor.
Its people are long suffering.
But it will turn out good...”
– continues to breathe
or how its sun still shines
or how children are born
or old people continue to die
with so many decent people like you
locked up in these desperate cells
where they cannot kiss the one they love,
embrace their kids,
nor meet with friends.
This Turkey now
only for prisoners
and the ghosts of the dead.
Brave ghost now, prisoner Ahmet,
…of the living too.
22 March 2019 – 22 April 2019
Ahmet Hüsrev Altan, the Turkish writer and journalist, was rearrested on 12 November, 2019, just a week after his release from prison over alleged links to the failed 2016 coup. He had earlier been serving an aggravated life sentence in prison for the bizarre charges of “sending subliminal messages to coup conspirators” (via a TV interview) on the eve of the July 2016 failed coup in Turkey.
Ahmet Altan released his memoir of his arrest and detention in March 2019: I Will Never See the World Again. In reality, his arrest at dawn, like that of his own father 45 years previously, is a result of his courageous criticism of the now-oppressive Erdoğan-AKP regime in Turkey as well his outspoken defense of the rights of Kurds, Armenians and ‘Free Speech’.
I Will Never See the World Again (essay), Ahmet Altan
The Justice of Stupidity, Ahmet Altan, Silivri, 12-16 February 2018, https://ahvalnews.com/crime/ahmet-altan-makes-court-defence-text
“The weapons don’t scare them but the pen does.
Because the pen reaches a place where the weapons cannot – the conscience of society.
Nothing horrifies the government as much as the conscience of society, because they know they have done things, which would tear that conscience into pieces and make it bleed.
They are scared as hell their wide network of corruption and bribery will be revealed.
That is why they try to confine each and every pen, each and every voice that can reach the conscience of society by making them hostage to a comatose judiciary.”
(Ahmet Altan makes court defence – text)
Ahmet Altan cezaevi kapısında konuştu / Ahmet Altan speaking at the gate of the prison (September 22, 2016) (“fair-use”)
Ahmet Altan, January 25, 2012, BY, Kokkalis Program, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kokkalis/6778013612/in/album-72157629439505129/