Kurdish writer Nurcan Baysal responds to a letter from Nedim Türfent
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I met Nedim on Twitter during the 2015-16 Kurdish curfews. He was passing news from Hakkari Yüksekova, or Gever, a Kurdish city that was under military curfew for months. The last curfew there was between 13 March and 30 May 2016. In these 79 days, 5,000 houses were destroyed, 20,000 people became homeless, and more than 100 people died – one of whom was my children’s babysitter, Dilan.
At the beginning of May 2016, I received a message from Nedim, telling me that he feared the special operation teams would kill him. I shared this information – that Nedim Türfent, a local journalist, was receiving death threats. Nedim was detained on 12 May 2016.
I hadn’t heard from Nedim for a year. Like many Kurdish journalists, he was forgotten behind the bars. A year after his arrest, in May 2017, I received a letter from him. He asked for my help in telling his story. He told me that he was alone in a tiny cell, his only company the mice and insects. There were no radios or newspapers in his cell – nothing to read, other than the writing on the cleaning products that kept him going. He longed for a voice, for a face.
After reading his letter, I was ashamed. With our daily struggle taking its toll, I too had forgotten Nedim in that tiny cell. A day later, I wrote an article about his situation on T24, a Turkish daily internet newspaper. Journalists began to call me and, on 14 June 2017, a group decided to go to Yüksekova and participate Nedim’s first trial. With this, his situation reached a national and international public, and organisations began to take on his case.
2017 was very difficult for me. Many of my friends left the country; court cases were opened against me because of my journalism; I lost loved ones during the war. I was depressed, and traumatised, and couldn’t see hope for the future. It was during those days that I received a package from Yüksekova. When I opened it, I found a bottle of honey – of famous Yüksekova honey – with no name, no details of a sender, just a handwritten message: thank you.
I called the cargo service, and they eventually gave me the phone number of the sender. When I rang it, I reached a honeyseller from a company called Bereket Bal, who told me that a man had visited him, given him my address, and asked him to send me the best honey he had. I put a photo of the bottle of honey on my social media accounts, saying: To those who sent me this wonderful honey, I don’t know who you are, or what I did for you, but thank you – you gave hope to me. I’ve never found the sender. The nearest I came was a private message, from a Twitter user with a fake name, who said: We are a family.
Before too long, Nedim and I were regularly writing letters to each other. He misses reading, so in each letter he tells me the books he wants to read, and I try to find them for him.
In February 2018, the media reported that books including mine and Ahmet Altan’s were prohibited in Turkish prisons. I learnt that the Van prison administration had withheld copies of these from Nedim, because they were ‘a threat to the indivisible unity of the Turkish State’. The book of mine in question tells the story of the Yazidis, particularly that of the Yazidi women and their suffering at the hands of Islamic State. I still don’t know how this book could possibly be a threat to the indivisible unity of the Turkish state.
Letter-writing and book deliveries are harder with COVID-19 – a situation with dire impact on Turkey’s prisons. But I still talk every week with Nedim’s family and his sister Şehristan. His health is good, I understand, but the state is using the pandemic as an excuse – as it has in many ways – to limit visiting days at prisons. His family hasn’t seen Nedim for a long time, and though they speak to him by phone every Wednesday, it is only for ten minutes.
After a very hard day, on a hot evening in Diyarbakir, whilst writing this piece and thinking about Nedim, the doorbell rings. It is the postman – the first letter since the start of the pandemic. The letter, of course, is from Nedim.
On the first page, there is a photo of trees. Finding this picture, sourcing the glue, and pasting it onto the letter must have been hard in prison. But he did it. He has given me hope again.
I can’t reply directly to Nedim, but if I could speak with him I would ask him if he had sent that bottle of honey or not. I would say to him:
I hope to meet you on free days, and have breakfast with wonderful Yüksekova honey, among the trees. We are a family.
Nurcan Baysal is a Kurdish Human rights defender, journalist and writer, reporting from inside the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, from the city of Diyarbakir. She is one of the founders of Diyarbakır Political and Social Research Institute and the Platform to Save Women Kidnapped by ISIS. She is the author of O Gün (That Day), Ezidiler: 73. Ferman (Ezidis: 73rd Decree), O SESLER (THOSE VOICES) and co-author of Kürdistan’da Sivil Toplum (Civil Society in Kurdistan).
She was awarded the Brave Women Journalists Award by the Italian Women Journalists Association in 2017, named 2018 Global Laureate for Human Rights Defenders at Risk by Front Line Defenders, and won the DW Freedom of Speech Award in 2020.
She currently faces a number of criminal prosecutions in relation to her work.