The thing I remember most is the atmosphere in the court room. Not angry, not frustrated, but, amazingly enough, relaxed. Even though we are talking about one of the big show trials in Turkish history.
At the beginning of this month a series of hearings started in the case against dozens of prominent Kurdish politicians, mayors, local government employees and activists, one of them being BDP MP Selma Irmak. The case has been dragging on for years and an end doesn’t seem to be in sight, despite the fact that there are now several hearings a week, which is rather uncommon in the Turkish judicial system. It’s about the so called KCK trials, named after the Kurdish umbrella organisation with which the suspects allegedly have ties. The PKK is also tied to the KCK, just as many Kurdish groups and organisations are. So if you are politically active as a Kurd, you can’t escape having ‘ties with terrorism’. Result: a few thousand non-violent Kurds are locked up. Some for about three years so far, sometimes without charges being brought against them. For many of the accused it’s not the first time they have been jailed because of their activities.
Low steel fence
The cases are not being handled individually, as should be in a criminal case. Some fifteen women and sixty men are being tried simultaniously. They are seated right across from the judges, the men separate from the women. The prosecutor and the lawyers sit on either side. The accused are surrounded by young gendarmes, most probably conscript soldiers. Then there is a low steel fence, behind it the public gallery, with press and family members and friends of the suspects.
Before the hearing starts, there is busy communication going on between the suspects and their family and friends. The families can visit their relatives in prison, but others cannot. The accused gather behind the gendarmes to wave to their family and friends and they try to make themselves heard to exchange news and words of support.
When the hearing started, the suspects talked among themselves. They were sitting turned around on their chairs, the men were talking to the women as if there were no gendarmes between them, some men slept with their head on the shoulders of men sitting next to them.
What the judge said didn’t seem to interest them the tiniest little bit, which is not very surprising when you know what he had to say. He was reading the evidence aloud, which was plainly hilarious and sometimes people were actually laughing – but in the end, it was of course sad and ridiculous. It concerned (sometimes illegally purchased) transcripts of phone calls about in general absolutely nothing. So imagine a judge reading aloud with his most boring voice things like: ‘Hallo how are you, fine thank you how are you, are you coming tonight, yes I’ll be there but I might be late, are the others coming too, do we need anything else apart from the forms, no I don’t think so, well I’ll see you tonight then, take care of yourself, you too.’ For hours and hours.
The reading of the non-evidence was interrupted when a question was asked to the suspect. Then it became a little bit quieter in the court room. The suspect answered in Kurdish, as is common in this case. The judge doesn’t allow that and turns off the accused’s microphone. The court stenographer notes something like ‘suspects uses unknown language’, the suspect continues talking in Kurdish without mike, after which the lawyer takes over in Turkish.
Something interesting can be said about the fact that the suspects can’t defend themselves in Kurdish. According to Turkish law, a suspect has permission to defend himself in his mother tongue, and for many suspects in this case that’s Kurdish. Some people think it’s justified that the judge in this case doesn’t allow the suspects to use Kurdish, because they are supposedly misusing the law on language, because they all speak fluent Turkish. Might not sound illogical, but it is anyway. The KCK trials are being held for the sole reason of silencing the Kurdish political movement. And then the suspects have to be flexible and talk in Turkish? No, of course they also behave politically and try to insist on their right to defend themselves in Kurdish.
Of course there were a few breaks, but this theatre went on all day, and will continue for weeks to come, if not months or years. Also during the breaks there was busy communication and also laughter going on between the accused and the visitors. Via one of the family members I got in touch with Selma Irmak, who from a distance thanked me for being there. I asked with gestures and by nearly shouting how she was doing, and she gestured ‘all right’. I hope she understood my ‘kendine iyi bak’, ‘take care of yourself’.
“Relaxed” is, when I think of it, not the word for the atmosphere in the court room. Okay, there was laughing, there was talking and waving, some people were sleeping, but it seems to me that was mainly caused by a deep sense of powerlessness. The defendants, their families and friends and the lawyers have no influence whatsoever on the court case they find themselves in. In such a situation you can get angry, you can be flabbergasted or play a grim game with guards, judges or prosecutors, but in the end that’s not going to help you in any way. It’s indeed better to use your energy wisely to get through through this judicial suppression.