Istanbul: Prisons for all seasons

"My story does not begin nor end with the virus." You may be imprisoned anywhere you cannot freely exist beyond. In Turkey, prisons have many forms, which are perhaps more apparent now than before; but Cansu's heart and mind are able to fly imprisonment at home in Istanbul, to sit with political prisoners, starving behind bars.


When I first saw Spread Stories, Not The Virus, it got me thinking that I must tell my story. My story does not begin nor end with the virus. It is different from the stories here, a story of hunger, oppression and injustices.


I am writing this story from İstanbul, a city in Turkey. In Turkey, the government did what they always did: put lives in more danger, without any care; but this is only a part of my story.


'I wish to stand by them: a family is still waiting for their son's release due to his health condition. Despite the Coronavirus, they are outside and waiting their son.'

I am not writing this to you from my home, where I am physically located, but from where my thought and heart are located. From the corners of prisons, and from in front of the city of İzmir's Kırıklar Prison. I wish to stand by them: a family is still waiting for their son's release due to his health condition. Despite the Coronavirus, they are outside and waiting for their son. Their son, Mustafa Kocak is just like me, he is one of us. He is 28 years old, on death fast for nearly 270 days. He has welcomed different seasons, in hunger, waiting for justice. He is unjustly sentenced to life-time imprisonment.


Even in the days of Corona, as we all always mention, while the government is telling us to make our own states of emergency, he was again subjected to torture, torture that no one on earth could bear, by those calling themselves doctors, who supposedly dedicate their lives to healing us. They chained him from his neck, arms and legs, physically abused him, did not let him use the toilet, and it continued, so terrible that I am speechless to tell more of it.


'The Prison of Life', a photo from Istanbul, a Creative Commons photo by Arani Banerjee


His only demand is a just retrial, he wants justice. He is not the only one in Turkey asking for justice. Our hunger for justice is shared by many. Even by a music group in Turkey, Grup Yorum, a group with which you can find all the beauties of Turkey's geography, connecting it all, making great music out of it all. (Read more about "the jailed band Turkey can't silence" in this The Guardian article.)


Music of resistance, music that gives voices to those made voiceless by the state. Music made with the forbidden languages of this geography and with is untold history. A music group that gathered thousands of people at their concerts. Yorum did not do their art for profit: they make the music of the untold, make the music of the workers, and the suppressed. They become their voices, and that's why their concerts are banned, and the culture centers they play at have been raided by the police so many times. They still want to be my voice, the voice of the people in Turkey, despite the way the government terrorizes the band.


'I don't know if this is appalling to you, I don't want you to approve of it, but to hear. Hear their stories.'

That's why two of the members are on death fast like Mustafa, after nearly 270 days. Seasons passed by, and by, their concerts are still banned - even the concert that was to be held for solidarity with Yorum. So my heart is located near-by them too, in Sarıyer, where Helin and İbrahim are, members of the Yorum.


Injustices and stories of oppression in Turkey do not end here. Can you imagine lawyers in prison, and on hunger strike? They are only imprisoned because they defend people, and they continue defending them with their hunger. Sometimes the bodies we are stuck with become our only weapon to defend ourselves. I don't know if this is appalling to you, I don't want you to approve of it, but to hear. Hear their stories.


'My life, our life, is in their hands again. As is always the case, we are alive by chance.'

Our home here has never been safe, it has constituted our prison, isolated from people. Our sense of safety resulted from dangers outside. Not because of the virus - before that. Now with the virus, without any trust in the government, seeing workers having to go to their jobs, since otherwise they would end up in hunger and death, home is again prison for me. My life does not fit at home, as the health minister says in Turkey. Thousands of lives do not fit because of you. Because even in time of crisis, the government still thinks of profit and big factory owners but not our lives. My life, our life, is in their hands again. As is always the case, we are alive by chance. Now the thing that I don't know, and that make me suffocated, is how I can take back any control for myself, in these Corona days.


This story was shared by Cansu, who is a student of politics in Istanbul, and a little bit of a dreamer.


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