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Umut Özkırımlı
Mar 22 2019

A letter to Yiğit

Yiğit Aksakoğlu, A Turkish civil society activists has been in prison since November over charges of being a member of an organisation that orchestrated the 2013 Gezi protests, the biggest demonstrations against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since he came to power in 2003.

He, along with 15 other suspects, faces life sentence for attempting to overthrow the Turkish government by acting as local extensions of foreign organisations.


Dear Yiğit,

I have been planning to write to you for a while now, but I was finding it difficult. So selfish, right? You are alone there, in a prison cell and we are here outside, too slack to even send a letter. It must have been last week, a Twitter account created by your friends (“Freedom to Yiğit Aksakoğlu”) retweeted one of my tweets. That day, I decided to blow away the cobwebs and sit in front of my computer.

It has been 123 days since you were detained. I talked to Ünzile [Yiğit’s wife] yesterday. “They took him on 16 November and arrested him on 17 November,” she said. So weird – 18 November was my birthday, and the day I visited Luca’s grave for the first time. I had heard that you were detained, along with Turgut Tarhanlı, Betül Tanbay and Yiğit Ekmekçi, among a dozen or so others. I thought they would probably release you after interrogation. They released everybody else, but you. I couldn’t make sense of it then. I still can’t make sense of it today.

Ünzile said you were fine. I mean as good as anyone can be in isolation. It seems you have been spending most of your time in the prison yard, reading lots of books. Apparently, they were letting tax labelled books in, even if they were in other languages. That made happy. She also said you were given three newspapers everyday to read. Cumhuriyet, Hürriyet and Yeni Şafak. Not bad. It could have been Star, Yeni Şafak and Yeni Akit. Then you would be missing out on the aphorisms of the “famous Turkish thinker” Ahmet Hakan and the newest conspiracy theories of nationalist leftists. God forbid!

When I heard that you were allowed to read some newspapers, I got a bit carried away I must admit. “What about internet?” I asked Ünzile. “Oh, not that far,” she replied in a bittersweet tone. I was sure I had made a fool of myself, until she relieved me, saying “I asked the same thing, so don’t feel awkward”. Still, we felt thankful for your conditions. Countless others have been, and are still, denied such things.

I knew of the once-a-week meeting routine from İştar [Gözaydın, Professor of Law and Politics, and a human rights activist who spent several months in prison before being acquitted]. İskender [Savaşır, İştar Gözaydın’s husband, clinical psychologist, publisher and public intellectual] was flying to Izmir every Monday morning to go to Şakran prison. Maybe you’ve heard of it, we lost him too to cancer, a month before Luca. 

I feel distressed again. A lump in the throat, tears in the eyes. O.K., I have to change the subject. I am supposed to distract you, to make you smile a bit, and look at the things I am talking about!

Wait a sec, I know what I am going to talk about. This one is really funny. I have been trying to remember when we first ever met since I decided to write this letter. We were talking with Esra [a common friend] the other day; we both remembered how we met you, but cannot remember when. “My birthday is on May 31, and I think Yiğit’s is on May 28. We had celebrated it together the year we first met. And a month later, I recall vividly, there was the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of her ascension to the throne,” Esra said. “Since the celebrations were in June 2002, we must have met in September-October 2001, at the start of the academic year.”

I also remember that we met at the LSE. You doing your masters degree and I was there as a visiting scholar, organising a series of seminars on Turkey. I had invited Kemal Derviş to the LSE in April or May. He had just been appointed the new economy minister, so it should have been the aftermath of the 2001 economic crisis precipitated by a row between Sezer and Ecevit. I Googled it. The National Security Council meeting where the altercation between the president and prime minister took place was held on February 19, 2001. And Derviş was appointed minister in March 2001. So the dates seem to be correct. Why I am telling you all these things? Because I was able to organise that conference thanks to the help of you and your friends. In fact, the Turkish students at the LSE presented a bouquet to Kemal Derviş at the end of the conference. It means we met some time in May 2002. 

Seventeen years, Yiğit. Time flies, no (as the Spanish would say)? In the meantime, you took up a job at Bilgi University. You started your Ph.D. in the Department of Political Science and International Relations. You wanted to write your dissertation with me, on civil society and nationalism in Turkey. Then you said, “I can’t make a decent living here. I will go abroad for a while”. I didn’t hear from you for a long time. But one day, Ünzile said it was in 2009, I received a wedding invitation from you. I don’t like weddings and funerals. I didn’t attend. And a short for while later, I also left Turkey. And that was it.

The rest … Well, the rest is history. “Life is like billiards” a friend of mine used to say. “Someone, an event or sometimes just time, comes and hits the balls on the table and we all go to different directions”. I think of people I was regularly hanging with out at that time. I went to Sweden, and now I am in Barcelona; Esra is in France, others in Oxford, Brussels. Everybody now has a family, children.

I heard that you have two daughters. Deniz is already seven, it seems, and Leyla is three-years old. I don’t know much about the age of seven, but three is such a sweet age. They are curious about everything, obsessively asking the same questions. It seems Leyla was repeatedly saying, “Don’t let daddy take my sun pillow”. I laughed so much hearing that. And of course she was asking when her daddy would come back every day. Of course I didn’t laugh hearing that. 

Deniz was more aware of things as she is older. Ünzile told me that last Sunday they were watching “Bewitched Nanny McPhee 2” together with her. The movie was set during World War Two and the father was in the army. The children and the mother thought the father was killed. But he returned at the end of the movie with a wounded arm, still in uniform. The children in the movie ran to hug their father. At that moment Deniz started to cry, and said “Please, let’s not watch this movie anymore mamma.”

I know, maybe I shouldn’t have told you this. Maybe Ünzile didn’t mention it not to upset you. But I can’t control myself when it comes to children. Maybe because I know what it is to be a father, what it is to miss someone like hell. And because I am so angry at those who separate children from their parents. How do they dare? On what grounds? 

By the way, I read the so-called indictment. I am not a legal expert, and I thought I shouldn’t comment on it, but the indictment is not a legal document either. And to be honest, I am not sure those who wrote it speak any Turkish at all! It is a 657-page of… 

Forget it. It is not clear why they have arrested you, or what they accuse you of anyway. A few of phone conversations on civil disobedience. But those who wrote the indictment argue that civil disobedience entails violence and terrorist acts! It is like a joke. A bad, ugly one, a joke that deprives people of their freedom.

I am sorry, I wasn’t able to end this letter in a cheerful mood. Faced with the reality of hundreds of babies born in prisons, thousands mothers and fathers who are taken away from their children over claims that they are linked to this or that terrorist organisation, it is difficult to be cheerful.

March 18 was Luca’s birthday. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I decided to write this letter today. I will never meet my boy, nor smell him again, I know. But you should and you will see your daughters again. Not just once a week, not in 10 minute long phone calls. You should be able to hug them, smell them. One day you will actually surprise them. When that day comes, tell Ünzile to put on “Bewithched Nanny McPhee 2” again, and as the movie is about to end, just show up and hug Deniz and Leyla. 

That’s all I can think of for now.

Please take care of yourself, O.K.? For Ünzile, For Deniz and Leyla. The rest will be fine.

 

Umut


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.