Last week, I moved to a new house in Diyarbakir. My apartment block has a common garden, and when I came home at night after a solidarity concert for Roboski (it’s been more than 900 days now that the truth about the murder of 34 people hasn’t come out) I was invited to sit with a group of my neighbours. We chatted, they introduced themselves. They pointed out in which houses they were living, and all told me that whatever problem I had, I could knock on their door and they would help me.
The next day, one of the women knocked on my door.
‘Can we talk?’ she said. I invited her in. ‘Or did I wake you up?’ ‘No’, I said, ‘I was awake already, I was working’. She sat down in my comfortable black chair, and started to cry. ‘You are a journalist, right?’ she asked. I said yes.
Then she told me her younger brother, Mustafa Perisan, now 42 years old, was in jail. ‘He went to the mountains as a young man’, she said. ‘Then, in 1993, the PKK started its first ceasefire. He came down from the mountains. He went to our village, in Lice district. He walked through the woods and then came to a road. It was raining. A taxi driver passed and offered him a ride. He refused, he was fine walking in the rain, but the taxi driver insisted. ‘Come on, it’s pouring, let me drive you!’ So he got in the car. The taxi driver delivered him straight to the first army post.’
I gave her some water and apologized for not being able to offer her tea, since I hadn’t bought any yet. I gave her napkins to dry her tears. ‘How is he doing now?’ I asked. ‘It’s been 21 years and his morale is broken. He lost most of his teeth and hair. He is jailed in Kocaeli, so we cannot visit him very often. I go once a year, our mother goes once a year. We try to arrange a visit for him every month.’ ‘How many years of prison time did he get?’, I asked. ‘Life’.
River of tears
She cried, but she was trying everything to hold back her tears. Her emotions were clogging up her throat, her words could hardly pass. I thought that maybe it would be good if she didn’t restrain her emotions and just cried her eyes out. Maybe it would be a relief. But no, it would be too much. It would become a river of tears impossible to control.
‘We have lived through difficult times’, she said, adding stories of other family members who died as guerillas, and her son, in his early twenties, having psychological problems after being beaten up by security forces. She has lived, and is still living, in difficult times. ‘Mustafa needs to get amnesty’, she managed to say. ‘Something needs to be done.’
This same week, many (alleged coup plan) Balyoz suspects were released because their trials had been unfair and needed to be held again. ‘We can call this a general amnesty’, I read in a tweet that somebody sent.
I couldn’t object more to the term ‘general amnesty’ for the Balyoz case. The Balyoz suspects got released because that is judicially the right thing to do. Their trials were unfair, the evidence had been hampered with, and in that case, in any legal system that makes sense, the verdicts are not valid. Release is technically a purely judicial matter. And that the trials were unfair and part of the evidence was fabricated doesn’t necessarily mean the suspects were not guilty. That remains to be seen in a new trial.
Weapons against the state
A general amnesty is something else. An amnesty is what you get when you are guilty of something, but you are excused. It is what Turkey is working towards as long as the peace process is continuing. A general amnesty must be arranged for the people who committed a crime, more specifically who took up weapons against the state. It would mean that it is acknowledged that they had reason to do that. That there was no other way to fight the injustices done against Kurds than by violence, because the democratic way to change Turkey was hermetically closed. It would mean that the state acknowledged that what was done to Kurds (and to other non-Turks or to non-Muslims for that matter) was wrong, and had been wrong from the very beginning in 1923. That the ones taking up arms were right, and need to be excused.
Mustafa Perisan, and hundreds of men and women like him, would be free again. His sister would be able to hug her brother and welcome him home. An amnesty would not be enough, but how can you ever repair the injustice done to a man like him, and to the hundreds like him rotting away in Turkish prison cells, far away from their families? Would the peace being reached raise their morale again, or are they broken forever?