The debate surrounding incommunicado detention in İmralı Prison has gained attention both within Turkey and on the international stage, particularly following the arrest of journalist Merdan Yanardağ for criticising the absolute isolation imposed by the Turkish government, and the resurfacing of past threatening letters sent to Öcalan.
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan has been held in solitary confinement on İmralı Island since his arrest in 1999.
Although there have been intermittent periods in which he was allowed to meet with his family and lawyers, he has been denied any access to both, with all forms of communication strictly controlled by the authorities, and held incommunicado for over two years.
The last contact Öcalan’s lawyers had with him was in August 2019, and his family’s last in-person visit occurred in March 2020.
In December 2010, Öcalan wrote a letter to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), describing his mental and physical conditions during solitary confinement. This letter stands as his sole testimony on the matter.
On my prison life on İmralı Island
When I was still a young boy, an elder in our village regarded for his wisdom observing my behaviour and activities, said something to me that I still remember vividly: “Lo li ciyê xwe rûne, ma di te da cîwa heye?”, which translated means, “sit still, have you mercury in your veins?” I was as energetic as mercury is fluid. The gods of the ancient myths could probably never have thought of a worse punishment for me than tying me to the rocks of İmralı.
In the first days, even I could not fathom how I might be able to endure. I could not imagine how I would be able to get through even one year like this, let alone several. I had this thought which filled me with regret: “How can you hold thousands of people in a tiny room?”
I had no means of communicating with the outside world other than one book, one newspaper, and one magazine at a time, and a radio that only tuned to one station. My whole universe of communication consisted of half-hour visits from my brother every few months, and my weekly visits from the lawyers, though these were frequently curtailed due to “adverse weather conditions”. Naturally I don’t minimise these factors in my communication, but they were not enough to keep me on my feet. My mind and my will were to ensure I remained on my feet and did not deteriorate.
Letters from the people were not given to me, even those of just a few lines. To date I have not received any letters apart from a few exceptions from comrades in the dungeons, which are subjected to stringent censure and heavily redacted, and none at all from outside. Nor have I been able to send any letters.
If it is impossible for most people to tolerate separation from their families or children with no hope of being reunited, how then would I endure such a separation from the will of millions united to the death, never to achieve a reunion?
External conditions, the state, the administration, and the prison itself could have been fit for kings, and it still would not explain how it could be possible to endure the isolation created for me.
One of the most important beliefs modernity has engendered is the persuasion of the individual that s/he can survive without dependence on community. This persuasion is a false narrative. Actually there is no such life, but the acceptance of a manufactured virtual reality is imposed. Any deprivation of this principle expresses a dissolution of ethics. Here, reality and ethics are intertwined.
The absolute slave status of the Kurd – which remains true to this day -definitively prevented me from the dream, “a free life is possible”. I became convinced that: “I have no world where I can live freely.” I have been able to throughly compare an internal prison with an external one here. I have come to realise that captivity in the external prison is the more dangerous for the individual.
It is a great delusion for the Kurd to live believing they are free outside. A life dominated by delusion and lies is one that has suffered treason and loss.
A life without war is a life of massive fraudulence and indignity, and as such, enduring death or prison is in the the nature of the action. It would go against the very purpose of my life to be unable to endure prison conditions. Just as no form of the fight for existence and freedom is avoidable. This is also true for prison, because it too is a requirement of the fight for a free life.