Sunday, March 4, 2012

Prison Lectures: Professors honor their students at Bakirkoy Women's Prison

Yesterday (Saturday, March 3), the small square in front of the gate of the Bakırköy Women's Prison in Istanbul was transformed into an open air lecture hall where more than hundred people met despite the rain (which miraculously stopped right before the lecture) and the cold weather (barely above freezing) in order to attend the inaugural Prison Lectures, organized by the Initiative of Solidarity with Students in Prison (Tutuklu Öğrencilerle Dayanışma İnisiyatifi, TÖDİ) and supported by GIT Turkiye and Don't touch my student! campaign (Öğrencime Dokunma! Kampanyası).

The event started with an introduction by Zeynep Kıvılcım, an assistant professor of international relations at Istanbul University. Dr. Kıvılcım read a list of names belonging to the faculty and female college students held at Bakırköy Women's Prison, starting with Büşra Ersanlı, professor of international relations at Marmara University. Many of these people are subjected to pre-trial detention or are held there during their ongoing trials, based on the assumption that they are dangerous suspects who are linked with terrorist activities. To this day, the evidence found about such students and faculty is limited with books, a lecture on women and gender studies, a flag, some CDs, some journals, or a haircut.

Both of the lecturers focused on women and gender studies, in order to acknowledge the women who are at the Bakırköy Women's Prison and also to honor International Women's Day, coming up on March 8. The first lecturer was Nükhet Sirman, professor of sociology at Boğaziçi University. Sirman gave a lecture on the social construction of gender categories. She was followed by Ayten Alkan, associate professor of public administration at Istanbul University, who gave a historical overview of women's struggles for equality and the recognition of their rights, both globally and in Turkey.

In addition to the students from various universities in Istanbul, the lecture audience included four members of parliament: Melda Onur (Istanbul), Sezgin Tanrıkulu (Istanbul), and Veli Ağbaba (Malatya) from the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP), which is the second largest party of Turkey, and Levent Tüzel (Istanbul), an independent.

There was another "senior" student in the audience, Mrs. Emine Küçükbumin, the mother of Deniz Küçükbumin, a college student at Istanbul University, majoring in History -- until three months ago, when he was arrested, for his alleged affiliation with a terrorist organization, supposedly called the Revolutionary Headquarters, or Devrimci Karargah. Mrs. Küçükbumin says that while leftist Kurdish students are arrested for their alleged affiliation with KCK (Koma Civaken Kurdistan, Union of Communities in Kurdistan), leftist Turkish students are detained in the context of the Revolutionary Headquarters case. In none of the cases involving students that she is aware of is there any evidence beyond books, posters, CDs, flags, journals, letters, and encyclopedias. She visits her son every week in the Tekirdağ F-Type Prison where her son shares a cell with two others. Until he was arrested, she says, he had not known the other alleged members of the "Revolutionary Headquarters" but a sense of solidarity arising from a shared destiny developed among them rather quickly. Mrs. Küçükbumin has to wake up at 5 AM on the days when she visits her son because Tekirdağ is quite far from Istanbul, and if she does not get there on the specified time, she cannot see her son for another week. Her son's girl friend, Şeyma Özcan, was also arrested, the only known piece of evidence against her being a taped phone conversation in which she talked about an internship at a journal -- an idea that she later did not even follow up on. Şeyma is a second year student at Boğaziçi University, majoring in History. She is held at the Bakırköy Women's Prison in front of which the inaugural Prison Lectures were held yesterday.

Mrs. Küçükbumin feels especially sorry for the poorer students whose families cannot support them while in prison. Those who can afford it can have a small refrigerator, a small TV, and a kettle in their cells. But if you cannot afford it, the administration does not even let such properties belonging to departing inmates to pass to others; they confiscate them and place them in a depot. She is also concerned about the parents of these students who have to go through a lot of trouble to reach the prison in Tekirdağ which is out on the countryside in Turkish Thrace. She says when these parents go out after a visit, they have to wait for a bus, sometimes for an hour, out in the cold with no enclosed space to protect them from the elements. So whenever she goes there with her husband in their van, they pick up as many parents as they can on the way back.

Among other things, Mrs. Küçükbumin is trying to establish a network of parents. In order to raise awareness about their plight, she is hand-making small white-dove shaped pins with a touch of blue on them. Her last victory was to pass through the security at the prison with one of these pins on her collar. "I wore a blue and white striped shirt; since the blue and white on the pin blended with my shirt, they could not recognize it. The sensor kept beeping but they could not figure out why. I was so happy to be able to show the pin to my son," she said while she let GIT - North America take a photograph of her pin.

At the end of the lectures, the audience wrote cards for the women students held at Bakırköy Women's Prison and elsewhere, including Aysel Diler, Benay Can, Büşra Beste, Derya Göregen, Esra Sekman, Fatma Dikmen, Hasret Dayan, İdil Aydınoğlu, Leyla Akyıldız, Meltem Yıldırım, Meltem Yağmur Bolkır, Songül Sıcakyüz, Şeyma Özcan, Şilan Dörtyama, Tuğba Kahraman, Hatice Dilek, Rojda Bilen, Selver İspir, Şeyma Güzel, Emine Akman ve Dilan Sonsuz.
For media coverage of this event in Turkish, see Doğan News Agency and Bianet; you could also watch a short video on YouTube.