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“Fear not! This crimson flag rippling in these dawns will never fade,”
The rather off-key bawling of the Turkish national anthem by the assembled children in the playground of the school next door woke me suddenly. Monday morning, 8.45. Usually I sleep through the song with earplugs to wake later in my own time, but the battery in my clock dead, I had decided to use the school’s start-the-week flag-honouring ceremony as my morning clarion call. As the children began their energetic patriotic chanting I got up and put the kettle on. I had to be in court at 10.30 to answer a charge which could result in 2 years imprisonment.
After breafast and ablutions I started getting my act together, wondering why I always seem to leave things until the last minute. I phoned the British Consulate to inform them I was going to court that day. The contact I wanted to speak to wasn’t there, but the duty consular told me he’d pass on the news. He hadn’t heard about my case. I told him that I was about to appear in court for the third time on a charge of insulting Turkish Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan for two years ago publicly showing a collage picture representing him as a pet dog of America.
As I was about to leave I decided to take some photocopies of my more ‘artistic’ collages for possible use in my defence. I also added a ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare’ just in case they locked me up again. I nearly went mad with nothing to read during my last ten day sojourn in police custody.
On the way to the courthouse (only a five minute walk), I had another idea, and popped into a grocery store selling newspapers. “Any comics?” I asked the bearded old proprieter. “Caricatures no!” he stated rather vehemently, but at another shop a couple of streets away I found plenty comics on display. The front cover of the latest ‘Girgir‘ showed the cartoon caricature of a very sick-looking Erdogan with a scarf tied round his mouth like a bandit, a reference to his party lifting the ban on headscarves at universities, and some of his recorded comments which seem to suggest that he is bent on introducing Islamic Sharia law into Turkey, using democracy as a tool.
Arriving on time at the courthouse I found that my usual lawyer was on another case elsewhere, his place taken by a young woman barrister, equally qualified. We sat outside in the corridor with police and prisoners and waited our turn in one of the little courtrooms. A man and woman arrived and introduced themselves as journalists for the Sabah newspaper. I showed them the ‘artistic’ collages I’d brought along to let the judge see that my art doesn’t soley consist of lampooning politicians. But I’d added one picture, made in 2002 in the countdown to the attack on Iraq, showing Tony Blair as Geoge Bush’s dog, to show that Erdogan was not the only politician I had depicted as a canine. We looked at the front cover of the Girgir comic and I asked if it was insulting to the Prime Minister? If so, where did it end? I leafed through a few pages which showed him featured in several other very cheeky cartoons.
Our case was called and the lawyer and I went into the little room. The usher told me to remove my skull cap and we stood before the judge. He asked what the case was, and the lawyer explained. After shuffling through some files, the judge grumbled rather petulantly that the Dean’s Office of Fine Arts at Mimar Sinan University whom he had called as a witness to give his opinion on my offending collage had informed the court in reply that there were not any faculty members who could act as an expert on collage art. The named witness had not turned up for the trial. The usher was instructed to open the door and call for him just in case, but there was no reply. Therefore, the judge announced, the case would be adjourned again until October 25th, when a faculty member from Marmara Univ. will be called and sworn in and asked to give his opinion as to:
(a) whether the work is a collage or not, and
(b) what would be the perceived thought of a person with an average intelligence who looks at this work.
The hearing was over. The usher opened the door for us to leave and the judge bent his head over files for the next case. I called for his attention and, displaying a couple, asked if some of my ‘artistic’ collages might be not be used as evidence in my defence, but he said they were irrelevant. Only the ones of Erdogan were in question.
Outside the courthouse, while sharing telephone numbers with the Sabah journalists some little flyers for the 2012 World Strike fluttered out of my notebook. One journalist helped me pick them up and I told him to keep one. He looked at it and put it in his pocket. I shook hands and said goodbye. They said they would try to come to the next trial in October, seven months away.
The journalists took some pictures of me in front of the building holding up the old collage featuring Tony Blair as Bush’s pet dog. How ironic it seemed that only two years before I had been arrested on that exact spot for showing Tayyip Erdogan in the same role! And how strange to think that when I made this particular collage the invasion of Iraq had not yet happened, and there still seemed a chance of stopping it. And now the country has been under American occupation for five years, and of the three characters featured in the picture, Saddam is dead, Bush is still President, and ex prime minister Blair, a newly baptised Catholic, is meddling elsewhere.
I have seven months’ grace until my next court hearing, but time has a way of slipping by without you noticing. Time moves on, and it can bring surprises. Nothing could bring Saddam Hussein back to life, but who knows?, perhaps in another five years time we may see Masters George Walker Bush and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair in the dock, facing trial for their roles in the bloody war they helped to create, and their responsibility for inflicting death, injury and misery upon millions of innocent human beings.
MICHAEL DICKINSON, whose artwork graces the covers of Dime’s Worth of Difference, Serpents in the Garden and Grand Theft Pentagon, lives in Istanbul. He can be contacted via his website http://yabanji.tripod.com/ or at: firstname.lastname@example.org