Day 5, July 6
The court is reading the official indictment — over 2,400 pages. It begins with a history of the KCK, which is followed by recordings of phone conversations and the testimonies of anonymous informers. “I took a class at the BDP’s Academy,” one says, “I saw pictures on the wall of old people that I think were terrorists.” One of the pictures the informer “thinks” was a terrorist was of silver-haired Musa Anter, a Kurdish journalist assassinated by state-hired thugs in the ’90s. The lawyers occasionally stand and request the judge throw out the indictment on the grounds that all of the evidence is speculation, but is answer is always the same, “Rejected.”
During the break, I drink tea outside with one of my father-in-law’s supporters. He’s talking with an older man in a baseball cap about cobras. “You remember how the snakes back home used to be so scared of people? Well this year there are over 45 cases of snakebites in Karakoçan’s hospitals. A couple of years ago, the Turkish army brought cobras into our mountains to drive us out. The snakes couldn’t take our winters, though, so they brought in this new kind.”
This sounds like paranoia — but to many people here, it seems clear the government has secret plans for the Kurds. Once you’ve accepted that’s true, what are the limits? On Monday, a representative from the PEN foundation found that her car had been robbed and all files relating to the KCK case stolen. An envelope containing 4,000 euros had been left alone. How did this robbery, she asked, take place with a line of gendarmes guarding the parking lot?
Day 7, July 10
My father-in-law asks how many have come and we hold 10 fingers. He is elated. Today, we have cousins here and another American friend from California.
The breaks are when all the absurdity and inhumanity of this witch hunt crystallizes in the faces and voices of the families and friends calling to each other over the heads of the heavily armed gendarmes. The 200 prisoners crowd the back row of their section — a wall of faces from all walks of life. There’s a young college girl who lays her fingers on the railing and smiles at her sister next to me. She is somewhat chubby with frizzy brown hair and luminous white skin. Next to her is an old woman in a flowered scarf. Someone in the audience pushes a little girl forward, right to the edge of the lawyer’s section. The little girl waves her hand excitedly and calls out “Grandma!” and the old woman blows kisses. There’s an old man wearing a suit too big for him, and a big-bosomed woman who looks like she belongs in a pizza commercial playing an Italian grandmother. Then there’s family friend Zekiye Ayik, a 60 year old woman with long silver hair and big dark eyes that can hardly see. We shout her name and wave. She turns towards our voices, uncertain, blindly searching the seats.
“She doesn’t know we’re here,” my wife says. “She can’t see who we are.”
Day 9, July 12
The ride to the prison today was breathtakingly gorgeous, bright gold hills in every direction. The fields are almost in full bloom.
The court’s last day before summer recess is tomorrow and the Turkish government has announced that a new judicial code has been passed. There is talk that some of the prisoners might be released under the new law, so when the judge asks if any of the suspects wish to make a formal request in Turkish, several people break ranks.
Erdoğan Baysan requests release on bond. He says he only joined the BDP at a friend’s recommendation and didn’t regularly attend the meetings. İdil Aydinoğlu says she never really attended the meetings the indictment claims she did. Büşra Önder said that while she was involved with the BDP at first, she wasn’t very active because one of her aunts got cancer. Kemal Karagöz says he was more involved in his work at the Alevi foundation than with the BDP. He’s an Alevi first and foremost. They all request release.
They seem to be begging. It’s like they’ve accepted that being a member of an opposition party is a crime.
Only Professor Büşra Ersanlı stands firm. She speaks in a voice shaking with emotion. “I became a member of the BDP because of a desire to make a contribution to an opposition movement that offered a solution. I feel ashamed of the word ‘request’. I don’t ‘request’, I demand my acquittal!”
Day 10, July 13
We arrive an hour early. A crowd rages in front of the security gate, confronted by two walls of soldiers in full riot gear. Tanks sit nearby.
“There are no visitor passes today,” the commander tells us. “They’ve all been claimed by other families.”
“You’re lying!” a woman shouts. “There’s no one in the lobby! We can see it from here.”
Abruptly, we are let through. As it turns out, there are over a hundred visitor passes available, but the crowd is wild with fear now that they will be cut off at any moment. They climb over each other to get a pass.
We’ve only got four passes today, but 13 family members. We take turns, going in shifts four at a time, making sure there are different faces for my father-in-law to see at each break. Some larger families share one pass. Some have none. The crowd stays outside all day in a face-off with the gendarmes at the gate — both groups roasting in the 35 degree sun. There is no shelter at the BDP tents — they’re already full.
The air is electric with talk of release. No one believes it will happen, but everyone hopes. The court recesses at noon. Their decision will be announced at 3:30 pm, but no observers will be allowed. At first, they herd us all outside the prison gates, then suddenly decide to let only the women in, then an hour later, everyone. We wait nervously. A newscast appears announcing a government plan to build 196 new prisons by 2017 — a professor brings forth data to show that this is far more than necessary to alleviate the overcrowding problem. “The government clearly anticipates thousands upon thousands of new prisoners.”
“He means us,” a man besides me says.
Suddenly, reporters burst out of the courtroom, knocking aside the soldiers at the door. All the families rush to the courtroom. “They’ve released 16 people!” a woman shouts. Soldiers close ranks around the doors. “Who is it? Who went free?” The little girl I saw blowing kisses to her grandmother is sobbing hysterically as the adults around her burst into embraces. I hear frantic whispers of “Professor Büşra is free!” Three of the people who broke ranks yesterday to plead in Turkish were also released. My father-in-law was not.
His brothers and sisters — our aunts and uncles — burst into tears.
The ride home is strange — never have the sunflower fields been more breathtakingly beautiful. They are in full bloom now. A rolling sea of gold meeting, at the horizon, the cobalt blue of the real sea. Our waiting begins again, and the arrests continue — outside of Istanbul it is estimated over 11,000 other suspects languish in prison in the KCK case, and the number is ever-growing.
We published the first part yesterday. The text was edited by Helen Southcott and Ellie Swingewood.