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Turkey: Our Friend in Prison

Photos by Crista Priscilla.

Our friend Serkan Koc got arrested…

We did not know when it happened. Not sure about the time, about the circumstances… Our interpreter and translator, our friend Levent, wrote to us an email; a very brief one, very simple…

Our universe collapsed, for several brief but substantial seconds, and our shoulders dropped, and we felt pain somewhere deep inside.

Serkan is not just a friend; he is a brave Turkish documentary filmmaker, one of the most prolific in this part of the world.

He made dozens of films about injustice, about imperialism and about the alliance between the West and Turkey, in training the Syrian ‘opposition’ on Turkish territory, particularly around the border city of Hatay.

He tracked the movements of foreign fighters; he went all the way to Syria to follow ‘the opposition’, from ‘refugee camps’ to Syrian cities and battlefields.

demonstrators in Istanbul

Demonstrators in Istanbul.

Serkan works for Ulusal television channel. Ulusal means ‘National’, but it is not some state or ‘official’ media – it is of the true opposition, like its printed sister publication, Aydenlik. In fact, once when Hilary Clinton visited Ankara, rumors went around that she was lobbying openly with the present government to shut down both Aydenlik and Ulusal.

Why?

The answer is simple: both media outlets s strongly stand for patriotic ideals, for social and socialist principles, and for determined anti-imperialist philosophy. For years they have been antagonistically opposed to the Turkish role in destabilizing neighboring Syria, for decades they were opposed to the hosting of NATO military and air force bases. For years they were opposing the savage capitalism that arrived simultaneously with the present administration.

For days and nights, relentlessly, people like Serkan Koc were editing films, being engaged in the highest grade of investigative journalism, fighting for a better Turkey and a better world.

But what was the main irritation caused by Serkan Koc? What outraged the government of Turkey so much?

“Now unfortunately Tayyip Erdogan became our Prime Minister, and he was given a mission by the United States of America”, explained Serkan Koc to Crista and I, when we recently worked on the documentary film, Turkey Between East and West for the Latin American television channel Telesur. We were sitting in Serkan’s office, in the heart of Istanbul. “The objective was ‘the Greater Middle East Project of the United States’, designed to change the borders of the countries in North Africa and the Middle East; and Erdogan was brought to power exactly as that co-chairman of the Greater Middle East project.”

And Serkan continued:

“In order to accomplish that mission he had to do some serious maneuvering; to appear that he is against Israel, and against the United States, because a leader who is on the side of Israel and the US could not accomplish such during his mission in the Middle East. Now the Tayyip Erdogan’s government is finished. Now the Tayyip Erdogan government is going down the hill, from now till the end.”

Naturally, this is not something, not rhetoric that Tayyip Erdogan likes to hear. And his anger, his wrath, his vindictiveness can often be vitriolic.

Now there are already hundreds of patriots; military generals, and Turkish intellectuals in prisons, all over the country. Many of them are detained or waiting for trials, in the notorious high-security Silivri prison, on the European side of Turkey, some 60 kilometers from Istanbul.

Their ‘crime’ is that they have been opposing the close Turkish alliance with NATO and with the United States. Of course there were some other ‘related’ issues, but criticism of NATO and the alliance with the West were the main ‘sins’.

It is not only the ‘red menace’ (writers, journalists and other intellectuals) who are facing steep sentences, but even some of the prominent military leaders, like the 4-star air force general Bilgin Balanli who, as we were told by his daughter Burcu Balanli, was just about to become chief commander of the Turkish Air Force, before being arrested and thrown into a dungeon. Or like Ahmet Yavuz, 2-star Major General, who is now detained in Silivri.

Zeynep Isik, Director of ‘Avcilar Ataturkist Thought’, and a prominent member of the Worker’s Party, explained to us right in front of the Silivri Prison:

“These arrests, these operations… we do not think this is something that Turkey did on its own, there is substantial evidence and proof to back this claim. It is an operation performed by the USA against Turkish intellectuals, and especially against the Turkish Armed Forces.”

Of course, Turkey is now an essential ally of the United States and Europe in the Middle East, alongside Israel and Saudi Arabia. And as such, it is constantly encouraged from ‘outside’ to curb its opposition, to intimidate its dissent. All mass arrests, mass trials and other oppressive actions are meeting very little criticism from the Western mainstream press; a strikingly similar scenario of engagement adopted towards some of the other close allies worldwide, such as Indonesia and Israel.

“Talking about the current government, the repressive government… one has to see it as a government of a rather single leader-type of political organization, with no openness within itself. And the leader is not welcoming any challenges, any criticism; he runs the political party, AKP, in such a way as if it was his own company”, that is according to E. Ahmet Tonak – Professor of Economics, at the Istanbul Bilgi University – who shared his thoughts on and off camera, for our documentary film.

protests Gezi Park

Protests Gezi Park.

The recent battles over Gezi Park which the government attempted to ‘privatize’ and turn into a commercial venue, turned violent. Thousands were injured, hundreds were arrested. It soon became obvious that the fight is not over the small green area in the middle of sprawling city; it is over the political and economic system itself, and over Turkey’s alliance with the West. Many Turkish citizens have already lost trust in representative democracy, as was explained to us by Professor E. Ahmet Tonak and by many others.

“With the Gezi Park protests we saw that there is very big social unrest in our society”, said Osman Erbil – TGB Assistant Director General (Workers Party), who was detained the same day as our friend Serkan Koc. “And one of the reasons for this social unrest is that the AKP government’s policies are prohibiting freedoms and and are cooperating with imperialism. The purpose for all this – to make sure that Turkey will not develop its own independent course.”

Silivri prison

Silivri prison.

And yet society has been rebelling. It has risen, and went to the barricades. People, young and old, battled with riot police.

Some died and others were injured, and there are those who have disappeared.

When we worked on our documentary, Crista was often exclaiming: “How come they dare, while Indonesian people don’t?”

And to answer her rhetorical question, one has to recall the words of Noam Chomsky, who, when speaking about Turkey in a dialogue he and I conducted last year at the MIT (a dialogue that will be soon published as a book and released as a film), smiled broadly and declared: “Turkish intellectuals are unique! I don’t know any others like them, anywhere in the world.”

Chomsky spoke about defiance, about courage and about public disobedience.

There was also something more in the air around Gezi Park, even as the toxic smoke of tear gas was slowly moving towards the sky: there was hope and optimism, a clear sign that the people of Turkey, so many of them, still believe that if one fights for better world, if one is courageous and determined, the better world is possible.

Serkan Koc fought courageously for many years, for decades. Both he and his wife Beste fought, so did hundreds of others, thousands of others, and now millions.

I don’t know what happened to him after the arrest. Some say he was released after two days. I hope he was. He is our friend. A man we respect. We do not speak the same language, and when Crista and I worked with him in Istanbul, we had to use an interpreter.

Taksim Square - police before action

Taksim Square – police before action.

But judging from the way he was working and from the determination that was radiating from him, we were certain that Serkan was giving his best, his life, for improving the world through his relentless work. We felt inspired by him, as so many people in their country were.

Serkan should be free. And he should never be arrested again. And Turkey should be free, and never again subjugated under a vicious imperialist dependency.

And then, who knows, one day maybe, we would come back to this marvelous city, to Istanbul, and call it home, instead of braving the hard streams of liquid coming from the barrels of water cannons, instead of choking on the poisonous tear gas.

We would come, but only if our friend Serkan is free!

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His critically acclaimed political revolutionary novel Point of No Return is now re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear” (Pluto). He just completed feature documentary “Rwanda Gambit” about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website.

Crista Priscilla is an Indonesian filmmaker and writer.

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