Turkey has so many political prisoners (there are currently up to 70,000 students in jail) that human rights exhaustion can be felt when reporting on the country. However, recently, a new campaign has been gaining ground to draw attention to one of the country's oldest political prisoners, the Kurdish poet İlhan Sami Çomak.
A political prisoner with more time in prison
Çomak has been in prison in Turkey for 26 years – four more than Nâzım Hikmet, one of Turkey's most famous poets served. He was born in 1973, and was arrested while studying Geography at Istanbul University in 1994. According to a recent letter published in The Guardian:
He was charged with starting a forest fire and of being associated with the banned Kurdistan Workers' party, charges he denied and to which he confessed only under torture.
He was accused of having started a forest fire and of being associated with the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, charges that he denied and that he only confessed under torture.
Nurcan Baysal, a journalist from the city of Diyarbakır (known as Amed in Kurdish), told Global Voices that Çomak was convicted by a State Security Court (Devlet Güvenlik Mahkemeleri in Turkish), presided over by a military judge, when he was tried in 1994. During the Turkish state's conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the 1990s, these military courts tried cases of people considered to be a threat to national security, and generally issued harsh prison terms.
His life sentence was approved again in 2013, and again in 2016, which means he should be released in 2024. When asked by the court about his defense, he replied: “I am not going to say anything because you are not fair. “
The Çomak case is being defended by Norwegian PEN, who organized an activity to publicize the case at London's Poetry Cafe in February 2020. After this, a letter was written to the British newspaper The Guardian, while the British writer -Hungarian George Szirtes published an article in The Guardian about the Çomak case.
Norwegian PEN's Caroline Stockford spoke to Global Voices, said she is currently translating Çomak's poetry, and hopes to find an English publisher. Meanwhile, Norwegian PEN is also planning a campaign in Norway with a public activity scheduled for the middle of the year.
Stockford also hopes to meet with the Turkish ambassador to Norway to discuss the case and obtain an expert legal opinion on the matter to present to the Turkish Constitutional Court. In a statement, Stockford commented on the case:
Ilhan is innocent. He is the forgotten case, a mild man who collects bird feathers and writes the poetry of nature, the outside world, of folk traditions and of the suffering of those other unjustly imprisoned men he has come into contact with over 27 years. We ask the Foreign Ministers not only of the UK but of Europe as a whole to intercede on his behalf, to raise his unjust case and demand the freedom of İlhan Çomak.
Ilhan is innocent. It is the forgotten case, a gentle man who collects bird feathers and writes poetry from nature, from the outside world, from popular traditions and from the suffering of those other unjustly imprisoned men with whom he has been in contact for more than 27 years. We call on foreign ministers not only from the United Kingdom but from all over Europe to intercede for him, to raise his unfair case and demand the release of İlhan Çomak.
A message from prison
Global Voices also spoke to İpek Özel, who regularly visits Çomak in prison. He said Çomak wants the outside world to know that he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He said he has not been given the opportunity for a fair trial, even after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his conviction was illegal. Add:
There was no military judge at the court this second time but the mentality of the military court and judge was there. They didn't listen to him, to his lawyers and to the witnesses at all. It was such a lousy court, that even the prosecutor was watching a webpage selling watches on his computer during the trials openly. We, in the observer seats saw that.
There was no military judge in court this second time, but there was the mentality of the military court and the judge. They did not listen to him at all, his lawyers or witnesses. It was such a bad court that even the prosecutor was openly viewing a watch sales website on his computer during the trials. In the observer seats we saw it.
Özel added that Çomak would also like people to read his poetry, share it with others, and in doing so help him raise his voice while in prison.
His poetry only talks about love and innocence and life with all its beauty, so he thinks that if he is read, liked and understood as a poet, then his voice will be pass through all the boundaries and prison walls, and he will be unstoppable . This will free him, even though his body is still kept in a prison. His verse, thoughts, feelings, ideology will be independent. If you would like to write to Ilhan in prison, his address is as follows: İlhan Çomak, Silivri L Tipi Cezaevi, F9 Alt Silivri Istanbul, Turkey.
His poetry only talks about love and innocence and life with all its beauty, so he thinks that if they read it, they love him and they understand him as a poet, his voice will cross all the limits and walls of the prison, and it will be unstoppable. This will free him, even if his body is still in prison. Their verses, thoughts, feelings and ideology will be independent. If you wish to write to Ilhan in prison, his address is: İlhan Çomak, Silivri L Tipi Cezaevi, F9 Alt Silivri Istanbul, Turkey.
In his poem “Life is to see the flight of a butterfly”, Çomak says to the reader: “No cage can contain the colors of my heart.” Through his poetry, he argues that the strength of his imagination is greater than the power of the Turkish state to keep him in prison. He says in his own words about his life and his hopes:
The contentment of my childhood years and my imagination was enough to ensure that I lived my whole life in happiness. When that peace was lost, the happiness too was taken with it. The only thing I have left now is the power of my imagination… I have many reasons, of course, for writing poetry. However, I should like to emphasize most strongly that I am in search of the life that was stolen from me; I am seeking my lost happiness and contentment. I was a lovely child. I really miss and love the little child that I was. That is why I write poetry. For him.
The satisfaction of my childhood years and my imagination were enough to ensure that I lived my whole life in happiness. When that peace was lost, happiness was also gone. The only thing I have left now is the power of my imagination… I have many reasons, of course, to write poetry. However, I would like to emphasize that I am looking for the life that was stolen from me; I am looking for my lost happiness and satisfaction. I was a charming boy. I really miss and love the little boy I was. So I write poetry. For him.