Thirty years ago, after the military coup in Turkey, Dutch-Turkish Zeynep Killi (53) was locked up in the infamous Diyarbakir jail. Because of a change in the constitution the coup plotters can now be prosecuted. Killi took her chance and travelled to Diyarbakir.
ISTANBUL – Whispering among each other the inmates talked about who, if they ever got the opportunity, would get to scratch out the eyes of the highest boss in prison, and who could tear out his heart. That was not hate, says Zeynep Killi, it was ‘horrible hate’. That hate has now, thirty years later, vanished. She doesn’t think anymore of ripping out eyes and heart. But she does think of getting a conviction. Together with 349 other former inmates of the infamous Diyarbakir prison, Zeynep Killi (who came to the Netherlands as a refugee 25 years ago) filed an official complaint against the generals who tortured her.
She must have been a Kurdish activist? Blood on her hands? Took up arms against the state? Nothing like that: Zeynep was 23 and worked as a nurse in the south-eastern province of Mardin. Paid by the state, she travelled to villages to provide medical care. She was married, her husband worked as an architect in Istanbul and they were preparing for the birth of their first child. A normal life.
That is, until the military coup of September 1980. A month later she was arrested, probably because she knew people who were members of the Turkish Communist Party. The Kurdish separatist movement PKK had nothing to do with it, says Killi: ‘I am Kurdish, but I was hardly aware of that at the time. We spoke Turkish at home; I wasn’t involved or interested in politics.’ Besides, the armed Kurdish struggle only started in 1984. The military rulers just arrested thousands of people, leftist and rightist, politically active or not.
She was held in the police station of Diyarbakir for some weeks and was released right before the delivery of her baby. Eight months later the military came to get her again. Killi: ‘I took my son to my parents-in-law, my husband and I were about to flee the country. I ended up in the prison of Diyarbakir.’ One of the most notorious prisons in the world from that time on, till far into the nineteen-nineties.
Soon it turned out Zeynep was pregnant again. Her son was born in prison all skin and bone. She could always keep him close to her. Which also meant that the little boy for three long years had to see what was done to his mother. Being thrown from guard to guard, naked, being raped repeatedly. Spend days in a kennel with a dog that shat all over the place. Being hung by her arms, for hours. Hit with sticks. Cigarettes on her thighs and breasts. In 1984 she was released and fled to the Netherlands.
Iron and stone
Inmates from those days came to Diyarbakir last week to file a class action. Zeynep, who is active in municipality politics in her home town of Voorburg, was amongst them. A huge stack of personal testimonies was handed over to the public prosecutor in Diyarbakir. And a conviction is not impossible: in September a change in the constitution came into force which makes it possible to prosecute the coup generals and their accomplices. ‘Whether all this really leads to a conviction’, says Zeynep, ‘doesn’t even really matter to me. Filing a complaint was a dream, and I have done that now. I’ve been heard, been seen as a human being. That’s a victory. I feel as strong as iron and stone.’