30 Years in a Cage: A Letter from the Political Prisoner Hüseyin Bilge
Hüseyin Bilge has been a political prisoner of the Turkish state since 1992. At the age of 23, he was imprisoned with a group of about 20 students after the"Çetinkaya Store" had been burned down. In this personal account from prison to the outside world, he writes about the mental changes caused by imprisonment, the importance of cohesion inside, and the prison in our minds that harms us more than being physically imprisoned.
It's not easy to write down a 30-year life behind four walls. Well, at least it wasn't for me. So I didn't think I could do it well, but I still tried to do it wholeheartedly. Those who know us a little know that "I" is either absent or not very desirable in our way of expressing ourselves. It is not an accepted style among us. Instead of "my" attitude, "my" resistance, we use collective terms such as "our" attitude, "our" resistance and so on. But since I prefer to formulate and share my own thoughts and experiences in this letter, rather than other moments or those of other friends, I will of course use the "first person style".
Behind the four walls hides an ancient reality of this country
Everyone has their own thoughts about what they fear or know about what happens behind four walls and how things are done there. But in fact, behind the four walls hides an ancient reality of this country. You are treated like a foreigner in your own country, and in a way that is inevitable. That's the way it was yesterday and that's the way it is today. If you can't own your own house, you probably won't be able to tomorrow. It is obvious what the enemy seeks to achieve with its prisons. Simply put, they were established as a means to reform, revive and chastise. However, for the resistance forces, the prisons are much more important. Therefore, the history and legacy of all that has happened in prisons is evident. It would not be an exaggeration to say that prisons are a treasure for those who know how to honestly benefit from this legacy.
From this legacy, the foundation of which was laid with Mazlum, Kemal and the Xeyri, every new inmate still benefits today just like they did in the past. Therefore, I believe it is an understatement to simply express our gratitude to them.
The warmth of the community
I was captured on January 07, 1992. After weeks of detention, torture and ill-treatment, we were sent to prison. I still can't get this moment out of my mind. After a huge corridor and large cells, the door to a kind of exile opens in front of us. As soon as we enter the wing, the banner "Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan" [PKK - Kurdistan Workers' Party] hangs from one end to the other, in yellow on a red background. When you come to this place from the torture chambers, you feel a sense of security, the "warmth of home". Especially when your friends, the warmth of Heval's, sincere greetings and hugs, the feeling of belonging to them here fills your heart.
I think one of the reasons why you can stand it here is not to separate yourself, but to see and feel as "a member of this family"... That's why it's important to be able to share your pride and do hard work together.
The never ending last year
I went to prison when I was 23 years old. We were studying at the university at the time. In fact, we had no past as guerrilla fighters, militants and so on. Our case was about the burned down "Çetinkaya Store." I think most of us were students. At that time, there were about twenty friends in Bayrampaşa Sağmalcılar Prison, but we were also sent there and so we ended up being twice that number. I wonder if that was deliberate. I don't know if it was due to ignorance or a a mistake.
It is known that "amnesty" is never excluded in prisons, especially for the non-political prisoners. Even if this is not the case in our country, at the beginning they say "you have nothing, you will all get out". Then they say "after a few hearings" and finally you get the "punishment" and a new chapter begins. This time they say "nothing will happen, in a few years we will all be out".
Then for some reason every year becomes the "last year" and the "we'll be out soon" sentiment is spread. But for some reason that final year doesn't end or come. I can say that I lived like that for about a decade. Then I gradually realized and felt the reality clearer. Undoubtedly, this was an end point. There is simply no such thing as a "last year."
Those who have a reason to live endure every how
In other words, you understand while you live and you live the more you understand. In short, there is a direct relationship between the level of meaning and the ability to live the prison properly. In my opinion, the most important thing that keeps people alive is the depth and weight of their understanding of what is worth giving one's life for. After all, we are in a transient world. In this "two-door inn," we all experience a certain temporariness, a being-a-guest. For what then should this life be sacrificed? In this respect, the country, its people, at least gives one the feeling of being sacrificed for the sake of liberation, it gives people a very strong will to resist and strength. Of course, honor and happiness as well. After all, it is said that those who have a reason to live endure every how. When this depth of thought develops in you, even death does not bother you.
The inner cage
But it's not just about staying alive physically. After all, a person can somehow survives almost anything. What matters is how long you can hold on to what you believe in. Will you be able to come out peacefully and with your head held high when you leave detention tomorrow in the face of what you've lost? I think that is the main problem. Just like going to this country, wearing this dress or that jersey does not make a person successful, just being in prison for 30 years does not make a person good or perfect. Being "good" at this is entirely up to you. Honesty, awareness, willpower are not the main determinants in this regard. In fact, in my opinion, staying between four walls for years is not a situation that makes you bored and restless, or even more, destroys you. The actual restless and boring things we experience "inside". In other words, the place, the cage, the treatments of tomorrow, the walls and so on are not only boring, but they disturb the peace when they come from "inside".
In other words, the essence of the matter and the peace and happiness of a person are hidden in the dungeon within us. Once you let this dungeon into your mind and heart, you yourself will be the one who is living most in this cage the most. On the other hand, we are not a flower that blooms on the walls and sometimes on the floor. Unfortunately, our 'left-wing infantile disorders' in this regard are not small. Sometimes we go at each other, build walls between us and draw wire fences. Sometimes we prick each other like thorns. That's what we call the real dungeon, that's when it starts. In other words, it's not our dungeons that are the walls of tomorrow, but our "thorns" that we sink into each other. I told you, inheritance is very important. In this regard, I would say that those who follow the motto "Write 'guilty' on my grave" (by M. Xeyri Heval ) and "I love my life so much that I am ready to die for it" (Kemal Pir) will choose the right path for life in prisons.
Advice for the inside
Humility, self-sacrifice, sincerity and simplicity.... I myself have never looked up, I have always dreamed of being a good lover of a country and people, because it has always been enough for me to master this test with a pure, unsullied heart and head held high, "leaving a pleasant sound under the dome of heaven." I don't know exactly, but I suspect that this very feeling gives the human the strength to resist, as well as peace.
Nazım has a poem with nice advice for the "inside." In it, he says:
"... So ten years, fifteen years inside
more in the field
It is not impenetrable, it is passable.
It is enough if it does not darken
the jewel under the left breast"
Yes, we can be cut off from our country, our society, our loved ones and locked in a cage behind four walls. But it's not about physical walls, closeness or distance. If you bring down the dungeon but lock up your brain and heart, you are already trapped. But if you do not allow the dungeon to enter your brain and heart, and your heart does not darken, I say that the passing years will not "darken" you, but only make you mature.
This article was first published in the May/June 2022 edition of the Kurdistan Report.