Today I went to a letters-to-political-prisoners writing event.
In the years leading up to 2015, with the cease-fire between the Turkish government and the PKK, and some liberalization of Kurdish political activities, the Kurdish, progressive Democratic Regions Party (DBP) was created. It is the sister party to the lefty HDP, the latter which operates at the national level. The DBP managed to elect dozens and dozens of Kurdish co-mayors (they always run with a man and a woman as running mates and govern as co-mayors when elected) in many belediyesis (municipalities) of the South East, along with like-minded candidates from other minority groups (Alevis, Christians, etc). They also managed to get governors elected in some provinces. The end of the ceasefire in 2015 and the failed coup of 2016 signalled the end of political liberalization. Erdogan's government imprisoned most of the DBP mayors, along with Kurdish governors, replacing them with Ankara-friendly appointees under the emergency powers enacted in the post-coup period. Today most of these elected officials are still sitting in prison, facing falsified charges of either terrorism, incitment of terrorism, spreading of terrorism propaganda, etc, or having being condemned of these.
Leyla Güven is one of those political prisoners. 82 days ago now, when she appeared in court, having warned no one, she declared that she was engaging into an indefinite hunger strike to demand for the end of the total isolation Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK and of the Kurdish freedom movement, detained at Imrali prison island. Güven has been joined by many of her co-prisoners in this hunger strike, and some people internationally have also engaged in solidarity hunger strikes. Here in Toronto, Yusuf Iba is in the 15th day of his solidarity hunger strike.
At day 68 of Güven's strike, Öcalan was allowed to be visited by his brother. This was a great victory for the strike, since no one had seen Apo since the failed coup, and some even suspected that he was dead. But he is now back to being totally isolated, unable to receive any visitors, whether his family, his lawyers or others. So Güven continues her strike. This week she was released from prison, as the state weakly pleaded that it had all the evidence it needed to continue pursuing its criminal case against her. Clearly, they don't want Güven to die in detention, but she carries on in this struggle from home.
So today I went to write letters to many of the political prisoners who are part of Güven's cohort. The Turkish state doesn't allow any correspondance that isn't in Turkish, so I had to write my letters in English, and then a comrade translated the letter for me. I just wrote short postcard-length letters for now, since I know it takes a long time to translate anything and I wanted to get something out quickly. F. wrote a much longer and wide-ranging letter. A heval suggested that she send her letter to Öcalan himself instead of the other prisoners, a light-hearted reference to Apo's long-winded style.
Prof. Shahrzad shared a copy of Wall+Paper, an artist book by Évelyne Leblanc-Roberge. The project consists of the artist writing to prisoners to ask them to describe either the place where they are detained, or the place they would like to be in, or something else, and she would try to come up with pictures to illustrate what they describe. It works fairly well. Some of the takes are sweet, some are thoughtful, some are pretty funny. It's inspiring me to start a zine following a similar theme. I always have zine projects that I don't bring to fruition, but we'll see. I've seen a few prisoners' correspondance zines before and I connected with them a fair bit. I took a copy of the lists of prisoners to write to. We'll see what happens.
(Out of the blue, I got a text from a Kurdish friend who cut us out last year. Maybe a good sign?)
Afterwards, we went for dinner with the Kurdish hevals. It was nice. It's always joyful to hang out with them.
It was a good day. I want more days like this.