Should the high judiciary fail to change, Kurds will stay on the mountain

With his writings on unsolved murders believed to have been committed by illegitimate »»
With his writings on unsolved murders believed to have been committed by illegitimate units in the Turkish military, Diyarbakır Prison, notorious for the torture and maltreatment of its inmates, and an eventual confrontation with these atrocious crimes to come to terms with the darker parts of Turkey’s history, Orhan Miroğlu has accomplished a tremendous task.The columnist for the Taraf daily has focused on these subjects since 2004, and in his new book “Ölümden Kalıma” (From Death to Survival) he publishes his letters from prison.

The writer has difficulty talking about those days and cannot hold back tears when it comes to the subject -- and the main, most important concept that he focuses on is “normalization.” Miroğlu favors a positive vote on the constitutional amendment package that goes to a public referendum next weekend, saying: “If the structure of the HSYK does not change, then the Kurds will remain on the mountains. And the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State will be the places where the plans to leave the Kurds on the mountains will be made.”

Sunday’s Zaman spoke with Miroğlu in-depth about Diyarbakır Prison -- one of the main places where post Sept. 12, 1980 coup atrocities and crimes against humanity took place -- and the potential ramifications of the upcoming referendum vote.

Asked why he delayed publishing the letters for a full 27 years, Miroğlu said that, in a sense, it was something like saving the best for last. “It was something like that. The period [that we are currently experiencing] is one in which a confrontation is taking place with regard to Diyarbakır Prison. And for me, the prison is also an important location in terms of memory. I haven’t been able to be saved from that place. And so I have a desire to share what’s in my memory as well as whatever is in the palms of my hands -- and I want to see the effects that this sharing has.”

Beyond that, Miroğlu acknowledges that there is a personal therapeutic value in sharing the letters with the public. “As someone who has experienced a set of things, when you share these things that you know with others, you are saved from a degree of the pain caused by those experiences. This country hasn’t been saved from a number of disasters because pain and tears are not shared. We always believed this: Certain political programs will develop, and these will save us from this damnation and these conflicts. But it doesn’t actually work like that. We can only create a mutual feeling when we share pain and experiences,” he asserts.

With difficulty, Miroğlu began to share some of the specifics of his prison experience. He notes firstly that all the inmates who spent time at the prison had varied experiences. “There were 40 wards, and in every ward there were different, creative experiments in torture being conducted. There was a flat-out competition amongst the guards with regard to this topic. The guards were rewarded when they discovered a new torture method. For the first two years, people were continually shuffled between Diyarbakır Prison and the military hospital, with the dead completely ravaged by the torture.

‘Human honor will overcome torture’

A marginal improvement in living conditions at the prison, however, allowed for a small reprieve: letter writing. “The letters [in my book] were written in [that period]. If only we had been able to record the experiences of ‘81-’83 like a journal. When we wrote these, the reality of Diyarbakır Prison had come to an end. We were all experiencing the shock and trauma of that. But the sharing of that emotion needed some time to be shared.”

Miroğlu described how, by the time they began writing, inmates at Diyarbakır Prison had already resigned themselves to death. “The main factor that changed the situation at Diyarbakır was actually our decisive stance. We memorized 60 marches. From five in the morning to five in the evening we were on our feet … in our wards, receiving military training. That place was one where, in response to all the torture, people set themselves on fire, went on hunger strikes and committed suicide. After the uprising of ‘83, most of these military rules were abolished. We transitioned into a more civilian prison lifestyle. The Sept. 5 uprising at the prison was a renaissance in this prison’s history,” he said.

“On that day, Sept. 5, we had a [court] hearing. Upon our return, just as I was at the gate, I heard the slogan, ‘Human honor will overcome torture.’ This slogan was ringing throughout the entire prison. Everywhere we went, we marched military-style, swinging our knees up to our chests. Our guard, Kara, called me. When I began marching over, he told me to take ‘vile steps’ -- that’s what walking like a human was called, vile steps. There had been two or three years where I didn’t walk like a human being. This created an incredible emotion inside me -- everything got mixed up in that moment. He turned to me and said, ‘Orhan. You’ve been through a lot here, but we were just following orders, I want you to know that.’ It was as if he had also awoken from sleep. He had this look on his face as if to say, ‘What have we done to these people?’” he explained.

The referendum is of critical importance to both Turks and Kurds

Miroğlu is among those who support a positive vote in the referendum, while acknowledging simultaneously that the constitutional amendment package is insufficient. “The 26-article amendment package is very important, and it concerns the entire public in Turkey,” he said, rejecting claims that the package should not be of concern to Kurds. He notes that recently uncovered voice recordings betray the fact that influential figures are concocting plans and trying to figure out things like how they can take advantage of Öcalan and manipulate the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

“[These forces] say that if the constitutional amendments pass, their own influence will come to an end. So be it! If it doesn’t end, then the Kurds will remain on the mountains. There will always be plans on the agenda to try and keep the Kurds there, and the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State will become the authorities that dish out these plans. On the day that Kurdish youth begin coming down from the mountains, the lights of the General Staff, Supreme Court of Appeals and Council of State will stay on until morning. For all of their work is established upon this conflict,” Miroğlu said.

He says that should the amendment package pass, it will lead to a “softening” with regard to the Kurdish problem. “Everyone will be encouraged to have a seat and re-evaluate their political ideas and program. This includes the PKK. If a new constitution, democratic autonomy, a federation or even independence is going to be discussed, then it will be in this softened atmosphere that we find the opportunity to speak of these things. I think that this softening will determine the decisions that the PKK will make from now on. I believe that its inaction [cease-fire] decision will not end on Sept. 20,” he asserted.

He further said that ahead of Sept. 20, steps could be taken to ease people’s consciences and support a continuation of the cessation in hostilities -- steps like an apology for Diyarbakır Prison and declaring that the location will become a museum. “There is a need for gestures on both sides to ensure an atmosphere of piece. It’s not a necessity to sit down at a table to make such gestures,” he said.

Finally, when asked about the responsibilities that fall upon the BDP and PKK in this process, he said that they could send signals that indicate they value the pain that the other side has suffered. “We must get to know and discover one another. I want to go and share things with listeners in Yozgat and Çorum. If someone from Trabzon were to come here right now, it would be very good for them to share their feelings with people in Diyarbakır. People have forgotten one another. We live together but to what extent have we been able to protect our feelings of sympathy?”