The daily Yeni Yaşam interviewed Figen Yüksekdağ, imprisoned former co-chairperson of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), through an exchange of written questions and answers that went in and out of Kandıra Prison in Turkey’s western province of Kocaeli.
Yüksekdağ has been imprisoned since 3 November 2016 and tried on charges including “leadership of a terror organisation” and “propaganda of terror.” She is also accused, alongside former HDP co-chairperson Selahattin Demirtaş and other prominent HDP officials, of inciting events that ended up with multiple fatalities and injuries in October 2014, when there was a call by the HDP to protest against the Turkish government’s policy of isolating the Kurdish resistance against the Islamic States’s assault on Kobanî, a city in North-East Syria. During the protests, 46 people, most of whom were associated with the HDP, were killed and more than 600 people were wounded.
Yüksekdağ was also one of the architects of the great election success in 2015 which made the HDP the third largest political party in Turkey’s national assembly, with more than 13% of the general vote.
How are you spending your time in prison?
We’re surrounded by a state of total isolation. It’s been the political prisoners who have been subjected to the worst kind of physical and political isolation in these times of fascist administration, which exploited the pandemic for their own ends. We’re trying to have a productive, healthy and dynamic life by getting what we can out of the existing conditions.
The severe isolation for nearly two years can lead to completely new health problems in the small, limited space of the F-type prison. So, a very important part of our lives is struggling to keep ourselves healthy. I’m regularly doing physical exercise and yoga; trying to live as healthily as possible. I’m also regularly reading and writing. Sometimes, it gets more intense and sometimes slows down a bit because of court sessions and political operations. (…)
We’re not been able to talk with any friends for the past one and a half years, not even allowed to chat when we’re exercising. But still, even in the F-type prison, we improvise methods of contact, find ways to have our voices heard. Creating the opportunity to call out to one another is actually one constant activity in our daily lives. (…) Our only contact with the world is through visits by lawyers and family, which have been restricted due to the pandemic.
We can talk with our lawyers only behind glass and there are interventions when we try to exchange documents. Our families can make only non-contact visits. (…) As a result of the recent legislation on the execution of prison sentences, which actually targets exclusively the political prisoners, the prisons have turned into prisoner-of-war camps. So we have to put up a constant struggle for our humanity.
Where is Turkey headed to? What’s the picture you see from the prison?
The coalition government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is now in the final phase of corruption. They are trying to go on using completely illegitimate means. The state organisation has totally turned into a federation of the mafia, sects and racketeers. They’ve managed to keep their seats by creating a fear and paranoia of a “divided country,” by planting seeds of hatred and war between the peoples, and by provoking people against us, while they split the country for their benefit, building up crime cartels. (…)
Nowadays, people learn about how the policies of violence relating to the ‘Kurdish question’ have turned the state into a crime organisation, through the words of a crime syndicate boss [Sedat Peker] linked to the government. We are now faced with a crime organisation which exceeds by far that of the 1990s, regarding the social impact of war, injustice, racketeering, political tyranny and conflicts between governing factions. (…)
What do you think is expected from the discussions on dissolving the HDP?
The coalition government desperately expects to win the next election and stay in power through dissolving the HDP or politically paralysing it. What’s in question is actually not only the fate of HDP but also the present and future of the peoples of Turkey.
The case regarding the dissolution of the HDP, proceeded along with the “Kobanî trial,” constitutes the battering ram of the coalition’s operation of winning yet another election through force and deceit. Everyone, especially the coalition of opposition parties, will be serving to support the absolute power of the government if they remain silent on the dissolution case. (…)
There is a hunger strike in prisons against the solitary confinement imposed on Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Do you have a message for the strikers?
It has been observed many times in the past that the political crisis in Turkey gets worse with the policy of isolation in Imrali Prison. Both the government and the opposition have their hands in this crisis.
The absolute and inhuman isolation of Öcalan leads to an increasing inability to govern and even to fractures within the coalition. (…) The isolation, inhuman treatment and the deadlock over the Kurdish question cannot be expected to be addressed in such a political situation.
The democratic forces who adhere to the principles of peace, justice and solidarity must form a countering political will and voice. (…) The hunger strikes are the results of this tendency. Yet, such a crucial responsibility cannot be permitted to rest only on the shoulders of the prisoners. In fact, the isolation in İmralı is much more of a problem for those living outside, whose spaces of rights and liberties have gradually been turned into an unnamed prison.
Do you have a message for the people?
We may be passing through long, dark times, but only those who are not afraid of the dark, who keeps the lights within themselves, can come out of it. I call on everyone to protect their lights, to always remember the source of that light.