Rozh Ahmad: You spent 11 months and 13 days behind bars simply for being a journalist. How did you first get arrested?
Aydin Yildiz: It was on October 1, 2011, I was in Mersin working as a reporter for Dicle News Agency (DIHA), which is an independent media organisation. The elections were about to get under way and I reported on the pre-election campaigns. It was a normal day, I was walking on the streets with another friend of mine when suddenly the police jumped out on me and arrested me. On the day I was arrested another 41 people had also been arrested in Mersin alone. They took all of us to a police station in Gazi Antep, where we all found out that we had been arrested allegedly for being members of Koma Civaken Kurdistan, (Kurdistan Communities Union or KCK), an outlawed Kurdish organisation in Turkey. I was the only journalist among the arrestees; others included civil society activists, members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and individuals who had nothing to do with politics, but were arrested for alleged links with the KCK. We were then tried and though the trial did not reach a conclusion and the judges did not sentence us, yet the police divided us into groups and we were all sent to different prisons for incarceration. That way, I spent nearly one year behind bars merely for being a journalist.
Q/ When you say you were all tried, do you mean they tried all of you in the same courtroom?
A/ Yes, they tried us just like that although we had dissimilar jobs and we were all of different occupations and ages. Among us were some elderly people aged 70 or so, but all of us were accused of being KCK members. So, they tried all of us at once. No one was sentenced; but we were imprisoned. I was jailed for 11 months and 13 days before being released to wait for yet another trial outside prison. I still have to go to court. The other day I had to attend another hearing, but my lawyers refused saying the whole hearing is unlawful, so we did not go. We are protesting the whole case from outside the courts, because you cannot really defend yourself inside Turkish courts.
Q/How did they treat you at the court you attended, why weren’t you allowed to defend yourself?
A/ The Turkish "legal" system looks at Kurds as ‘"terrorists", they call you "terrorists’" in the courts, so the supposed "legal" system is biased to begin with and they do not recognise Kurds. If that is the perspective of the so-called "legal" system, then what justice can you expect? We talked in Kurdish during the trial, but they told us to shut up angrily and the judge said to us: "there is no such thing as Kurds or the Kurdish language." He told us directly that they do not recognise our language: it is the language of "terrorists" he later added, although that contradicted his previous denial of its existence. They treat you like an enemy: that is how they treat you at the Turkish courts.
Q/ Turkey’s Kurds often claim that being Kurdish is an enough ‘crime’ to get arrested, but was there no other reason for your arrest?
A/ I worked as a journalist for DIHA like I said. It is an independent agency and our crime is that we write about the conflict in the Kurdish southeast. Since independent journalism was established in Kurdistan and the rest of Turkey the Turkish state had done all it could to stop it.
In the 1990’s journalists working for DIHA’s predecessor organisations and publications were killed. Some were assassinated while working as a reporter. Our offices were fire bombed. In 1993, the headquarters of the Ozgur Gundum newspaper was bombed to bits, we lost all of our archives and a journalist who was in the building at the time was killed. The Kurdish and Turkish publications that were independent from the state and the private companies had to change their names continuously, because the state had placed them under a ban, and, whenever they were banned, the staff had to rename them to keep going.
The only crime my colleagues and I have committed in the eye of the state is that we are working for independent media. We say the public, Turkish and Kurdish, have the right to fair and balanced information, especially about the thirty-year-long war in the Kurdish southeast. Kurds and Turks alike are killed because of this war on daily basis. So people have the right to know about why, when, where and how their sons and daughters are killed on both sides. However, the state does not accept that, which is why they arrest journalists reporting about the conflict. And, it was why I was arrested. The court said I shall not continue my journalism, and I said this is my job, but they weren’t having any of that.
I found out in prison that 25 other independent journalists from other media outlets had also been arrested several days prior to my arrest. They too had reported on the PKK-Turkish conflict and were arrested for the same reason. The KCK link is only an excuse the Turkish state uses to arrest anyone who does not work according to the state’s official line on the war in Kurdistan, because this journalism makes the Turkish state’s war propaganda inadequate and useless, thus the state hates it.
Q/ How were you treated inside prison, was there any torture?
A/ There was no physical torture, that must be clearly stated. But there was psychological torture. Well, being in prison for crimes you haven’t committed is serious psychological torture in itself. Moreover, they stopped us from contacting our families and friends. They blocked our correspondence, restricted our connections and you could not contact anybody outside, this was a psychological pressure they used against us. Also, we were 13 people in one small room; we all lived in one small room and in that way they tried to make life difficult for us even inside the prison. But the most disgraceful punishment of all was when they put us in solitary confinement, for having shouted out slogans and the like.
For instance, on Newroz (Kurdish New Year on March 21st) we celebrated and shouted slogans. For that gesture of solidarity they put each of us in solitary confinement and that was very bad. I mean if you are restricted in your own room and you cannot leave to visit the outside world, how bad would that be? So, imagine being imprisoned and then forced into a solitary confinement in that prison? I suppose it is unimaginable unless you have gone through it yourself. But yes, it is something that can haunt you for quite a while even after being released.
Q/ You’re renowned for having reported from inside prison while you were a prisoner, how did that happen?
A/ The Kurdish liberation movement in Turkey brought about a unique paradigm for prison struggle. Although it is often the case that once you are put in prison then your struggle is ended - the whole world sees it like that - the Kurdish movement has changed that paradigm. The struggle has to continue even inside prisons and I wanted to practice that approach. The state arrested me and the court asked me to stop my job. But in defiance, I continued working as a journalist from inside prison. My job had to be done anyway because the Turkish mainstream media, those belonging to the state and those privately owned by companies, were publishing false information about prison life for political prisoners due to their own political and economic interests. Thus, I did what had to be done to get the truth out there for the public.
Q/ What were your news reports about? Could your reports help in your release?
A/ No, they weren’t written with the intention to help my release. I reported about life inside prison, the situation and how we were treated inside there. Also, I sent my agency quotes from the political prisoners who were there with me, which were then used by the editors for their news reports. I continued working to show that nothing will stop me from being a journalist unless they were going to kill me. And, every time I worked it kept my morale high and helped me to keep going and continue with the resistance. My job had to be done because the Turkish state media on one hand and the privately owned media on the other, to protect their own interests, had distorted what was happening inside these prisons. So, I felt the need to report about what was happening in opposition to what was being published in the mainstream Turkish media about political prisoners and Kurdish prisoners arrested on alleged KCK links.
Q/ Now the Turkish-Kurdish peace talks are under way and the PKK has begun to withdraw from Turkish soil, do you have hope for Kurdish prisoners and your colleagues still in prison?
A/ We must always have hope no matter what happens. I always have hope. When the secret talks, ( known as Oslo talks) between the PKK and the Turkish state failed in Norway in 2010, Kurdish activists, journalists, elderly and children were arrested en masse across Turkey’s Kurdistan. Now the Kurdish population does not trust the Turkish state nor the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to bring about peace in Turkey and Kurdistan. That is why, in order for the Kurds to believe the Turkish state, they must first release all the political prisoners. Also, the so-called "anti-terrorism" law that defines Kurds as ‘terrorists’ must be removed, so that the mentality of the Turkish public changes too toward the Kurds.
The state has now understood that the Kurds will not give up no matter what, and, given that the Kurdish liberation movement is doing all it can to make peace and for the people of Turkey to live side by side in a democratic republic, one can see that a peaceful solution may be found soon enough to end this war and tragedy haunting Turkey and Kurdistan for the last three decades. But again, it is now in the hands of the government because the Kurdish people have shown themselves committed to make a long-lasting peace. So, we wait to see what the state and the government of AKP can do for peace. Although I have my doubts as a journalist, but I am always hopeful that victory is possible if only because truth and freedom will always win.
Q/ What did you take away from the prison you left?
A/ I read a lot and carried out a lot of research during those 11 months in prison, which otherwise I wouldn’t have had the time to do. I thoroughly studied the Kurdish question; democratic con-federalism and how an alternative system to modern capitalism is possible if the people keep up the struggle to create that alternative. The experience has also given me the will to continue no matter what. I believed more in myself when I overcame the psychological torture and I believed more in the democratic will of the Kurdish nation, especially when with all the other prisoners, we celebrated our Kurdish New Year despite the psychological torture, pressure and the restrictions each of us had to face at the hands of those running the prison. Resistance kept our morale high when we were persistent regarding our principles and defending the right of one of the most oppressed nations in the world, the Kurds.