The Karabudas

Losing two dear friends, two brilliant colleagues in less than a year is the height of grief, especially if you had a friendship that started in 1967 and got stronger during your shared struggles over the course of 50 years in Istanbul, Paris, Stockholm, and Albisola.

The first time our Ant Dergisi (Oath Magazine, a socialist publication) was hit by the U.S.-backed militarism of the late 1960s, I got the opportunity to know Barbro and Güneş Karabuda personally, and we have followed their international journalistic success for years since then.

It was April 1967. Following a secret agreement with the Pentagon, the U.S. Army placed nuclear weapons along the eastern parts of Turkey’s border near the Soviet Union. We published a story about it in Ant Dergisi.

When Defence Chief General Cemal Tural saw the news, he ordered the military court prosecutor to put me on trial for treason and accused Ant Dergisi of being Turkey’s Communist propaganda mouthpiece.

On May 17, 1967, I was about to be tried. When I arrived at the Selimiye Barracks, escorted by my attorney Müşir Kaya Canpolat, I was greeted by Yaşar Kemal, Hüseyin Baş, and Güneş (all writers for Ant), who had come to stand by my side. Canpolat snapped our photo at the barracks door.

Two months later on July 21, it was the other way around. This time it was the Karabudas sitting in the witness chair. They were under arrest, accused of spreading Kurdish propaganda, for a book they had written 10 years earlier, Fırat'ın Doğusunda (East of the Euphrates).

The cowering Turkish media was mum about the case. To protest this scandal, we took a photo of Barbro, pregnant with Fonsy at the time, reclining on the floor at the prosecutor’s door while awaiting questioning.

The Karabudas watched the 1968 Paris protests closely, and they made a documentary about it with the support of artist Abidin Dino. They put on its first showing for a group of student revolutionary leaders at our flat on Kazancı Yokuşu Street in Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

Only passing through Istanbul for short holidays, the Karabudas travelled across three continents ceaselessly reporting on anti-fascist activism and national liberation movements.

Ant Dergisi published their articles, which were not given any space or even mentioned by the Turkish press. On June 10, 1969, when Ant published as its cover story an article about the Communist Purge in Indonesia, it was a major event, especially as Turkey was entering its own period of bloodshed amid clashes with Islamist movements, like the events on Bloody Sunday.

After massive workers’ protests on June 15–16, 1970, you could hear the footsteps of the approaching coup.

In those days, Güneş and Barbro were always preoccupied with the many lawsuits about their articles in Ant; we met up at the Russian-owned Rejans Restaurant in Beyoğlu. At our table was Swedish journalist Peter Curman, who was doing a story on Turkey, and the Swedish ambassador.

Peter Curman, horrified at the lawsuits against me, had published his interview with me in the Swedish press. The ambassador must have been quite moved by our conversations that night because he said, “If anything happens here like in Greece, a coup or whatever, don’t even stop to think and just come straight to our embassy. We will protect you.”

During the days of martial law that followed the March 12, 1971 coup, our magazine was shut down; when the call came for us to “Surrender!” we had to leave the country, but the ambassador who had promised us safety had left Turkey, and we didn’t know his replacement.

After leaving Turkey on fake passports, we went to Europe to help organise a democratic resistance against the junta, and the Karabudas were among the first good friends we contacted.

We were first able to reach them from Belgium. When we arrived in Paris, Barbro was there, ready scold us:

“How long have you been wandering around Europe? Why on earth didn’t you come straight here as soon as you left Turkey?”

In those days of May, the Karabudas were getting ready for another big move. After returning to Stockholm for a short time to make preparations, they were going on a long trip to Chile, under the government of Salvador Allende at that time, to write a story for Swedish television.

Despite all the work-related bustle, their hearts were still pounding for the resistance in Turkey. They introduced us to a lot of journalists, artists, political figures, and even the Paris representatives of resistance and liberation movements in other countries. The Karabudas thought they would be able to support us and our struggle.

On the evening of June 9, in Güneş’s faithful old Volvo, we set off from Paris to Stockholm like a little nomad family. Güneş was at the wheel with Barbro at his side, and İnci and I were in the back with Ayperi and her two little siblings. Suitcases, packages, and tightly stuffed bags were in the trunk, on top of the car, and jammed under the seats. The exhaust pipe almost scraped the ground under all that weight. That’s why, in the town of Sittensen in Germany, the police detained us until we unloaded most of our luggage from the car and sent it on a train to Stockholm.

When we arrived in Stockholm, the Karabudas got us set up in a little flat that doubled as a photography studio in the Gärdet neighbourhood. It was there, with their help, that we made our first anti-junta picture placards to post all over the city.

The Karabudas went to Chile after staying in Stockholm for a while, where they remained for two years. They mostly covered Allende and his left-wing ruling party, but they also formed close relationships with the country’s intellectuals and artists, whom they also wrote about.

We stayed in Berlin for a while, and then when Deniz Gezmiş (a student revolutionary leader) was executed in Turkey in May 1972, we went to Paris to form the Democratic Resistance Movement.

When the Karabudas returned to Sweden, we were in Paris preparing the File on Turkey, to be presented to the European Council and international human rights organisations. The book’s photographic offset pages were printed in Sweden, and the Karabudas took it upon themselves to get them to Paris.

Güneş packed the printed pages into a few suitcases, and he came from Stockholm to Paris like a nonchalant tourist. We waited for him impatiently at Paris’s Le Bourget Airport. Because we were illegal and didn’t want to look like we were in cahoots, we lurked in a corner and watched events from afar.

After getting off the plane, Güneş headed towards passport control. Our beloved Güneş was so nervous about his mission, he was smoking one cigarette after another. And then it happened. In baggage control, when the French police found the overly heavy suitcases were filled with printed pages, they confiscated all of the bags.

Fortunately, they let Güneş go after establishing his identity, but we were only able to get our printed pages back the next day after renowned human rights attorney Lafue Verone intervened on our behalf.

A couple weeks later, File on Turkey was bound, and we sent it off to all of our target organisations and people. Because of that book, in 1973, the removal of junta regime-controlled Turkey from the European Council came to the agenda.

Turhan Feyzioğlu, the head of the Turkish delegation, went to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to ask them to take measures against İnci and I for our illegal activities in Europe.

Piet Dankert, the future President of the European Parliament had been watching and supporting the resistance, and the Karabudas had introduced us to Thomas Hammarberg, the future General Secretary of Amnesty International. Based on their testimony, we were granted asylum in Holland and given travel documents. In this way, were saved from having to travel on fake passports.

That summer, the Karabudas were in the Italian town of Albisola shooting a documentary about Cuba’s famous artist Wilfredo Lam.

Barbro said: “Look, for two years you’ve been working illegally without a break. Now you’re legal. Come to Albisola and get some rest.”

In Albisola, we were often together with the Chilean Communist Party’s militant youth, who were there on holiday. While the big topic of the day in Turkey was resistance against martial law, the Chileans were all wondering what Europe would do if a fascist coup took place in Chile.

A couple of days after returning to Sweden, on September 11, 1973, Barbro called us in tears:

“They murdered the old man!”

Yes, the terrible possibility we had been discussing for months came true. American-backed soldiers had staged a coup, Allende had been killed, and mass arrests had begun.

Just as they had opened their arms to us two-and-a-half years earlier, the Karabudas started rescuing their Chilean friends. For the ones they could save, they worked to provide them with the means to stay in Europe.

The four of us got old with a vengeance, and the health problems that age brings have never been far from us.

Until the middle of last year, our calls between Brussels and Stockholm were quite frequent. Barbro was in a great deal of pain from her illness, and on October 7, 2017, death became a salvation for our full-of-life friend.

After that, another treacherous illness prevented Güneş from even talking with his friends on the phone. This year, on August 24, death also became a salvation for our big-hearted friend.

We will always miss them.

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