Day 1, July 2
The bus to Silivri prison heads into rolling fields of sunflowers. Only a few blossoms have opened — the wide green fields have just splotches of yellow. At the horizon is the Marmara Sea. We round a curve and there are five military transports, and a tank, overflowing with soldiers. As the prison appears over the hill, 18 more troop transports and another tank rise into view. The bus driver tuts, “They’re preparing for war.”
We have been waiting for this day for nine months now. Nine months of prison visits, nine months of anxiously following the government controlled news, nine months since the Turkish state arrested my 60-year-old father-in-law, Kemal Seven, and charged him with terrorism. For nine months, while my wife and her family visited him at the prison, I waited at home because foreigners are not allowed in cases related to “organizations”, and so the grief and anxiety for Delal and her father stayed at home, confined to constant nightmares about being chased by police, thrown in concentration camps, or coming home to find my wife disappeared.
Delal’s father was taken on October 28 at 5 am in a house raid. He wasn’t the only one. All across Istanbul 193 people were arrested because their fingerprints were found at the political academy of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) — a coalition political party opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), made up of a majority of Kurds. Teachers, students, tea servers, visitors — it didn’t matter. They were accused — although it’s still unclear by whom — of working for the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the urban wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The protesters’ flags flutter in front of the courthouse, but the crowd is smaller than expected. A journalist friend tells us that the wheels of protester busses coming from Istanbul were clamped by the police. The main road has been blocked and each car is meticulously inspected by gendarmes. Families have come from all over Turkey, from Mardin, Diyarbakır, Van. The Kurds have put up a tent in the prison parking lot for families who have nowhere else to stay. Carpets spread on the ground serve as beds.
Inside the courtroom, there is a huge crowd pressed up against the barrier that separates the observers’ section from the prisoners’. A line of gendarmes stands between us. The prisoners crowd one side, peeking over each other’s shoulders trying to find relatives and friends among us. Some wave, some call out “hello” in Turkish and Kurdish. There’s no sign of my father-in-law but it’s hard to see, there are so many people. We rush up the stairs to the top row for a better view; me, my wife, and all her sisters. “Do you see him?” They start to shout, “Dad!” Then I catch sight of him at the back of all the others, slowly making his way forward. He hears us and looks up, grinning, then suddenly bounds forward, hops on a chair and waves both his arms in the air. He calls out “Bi xer hatin!” Welcome in Kurmanci (a Kurdish dialect) and I am too overwhelmed to shout back. It has been so long.
“How many of you are here?” he shouts.
We hold up our fingers.
Thirteen. He holds up 13 fingers, 10 and then 3, to show us he’s understood. The judge tries to call the room to order. No more waving. We must all sit down, but there is no stopping this.
Day 2, July 3
There’s a noticeable difference in the sunflower fields, a few rows of yellow now among the green. The soldiers haven’t moved.
Today, the judge kicks us out of the courtroom. Our crime is applauding the prisoners. He wanted to take roll call and handed the microphone to the first suspect sitting at the front.
“State your name.”
The response came in Kurdish, “Nave min Kudrettin Yazbaşı.”
The judge ordered the microphone switched off.
“Let it be put on the record that the suspect answered in a language other than Turkish.”
The defence lawyers, one after the other (there are over 100 of them), launched into spirited defences of the right to trial in one’s mother tongue. They made a formal request for a translator and for the right to testify in Kurdish.
“Have courage,” one lawyer urged. Make this historic decision for Turkey.”
To every request the judge delivered the same answer,
When the prisoners left the courtroom, we felt a tremendous pride. The applause was spontaneous. We rose to our feet as if lifted.
Day 4, July 5
Nearly a third of the fields are blooming now.
Yesterday, the trial was suspended for the prison’s weekly visitations. When we arrive, we have no idea what to expect. Will the judge let us in? Are we barred for good? At the security gate, the lawyers are standing outside the X-Ray machines, grumbling. We assume we’ve all been locked out, but the guards let the observers through. Inside the courtroom, there are only three defence attorneys. When my father-in-law enters the courtroom, he catches sight of us and raises his hands to ask, ‘How many?’
“Five!” we call out — me, his brother Yaşar, my wife, and her two younger sisters. Uncle Yaşar waves but is very gloomy. He’s never accepted his big brother’s imprisonment — he vacillates all day between rage and despair.
The three lawyers present begin to protest, “You are keeping our colleagues from doing their job!”
“They haven’t followed the security rules,” the judge says.
“They say we can’t take in our cell phones. This was never a condition before today. And they’re asking us to put on nametags like the visitors wear. I have never had to wear a nametag in any other courtroom.”
Suddenly, the lawyers flood in, angrily throwing their robes over their shoulders. As soon as they sit down, a line of commandos marches into the courtroom and takes up position in front of them. They are in full body armour and hold riot shields, one hand on their truncheons.
The second part is published tomorrow. The text was edited by Helen Southcott and Ellie Swingewood.