The Norwegian Authors Union 2021 Freedom of Expression Prize has been awarded to İlhan Sami Çomak and Ahmet Altan. The prizes were announced on the 27 March in a ceremony held in Oslo, Norway.
Kurdish poet İlhan Sami Çomak has been incarcerated for 28 years. His representative İpek Özel received Çomak’s award.
Çomak has been writing poems in Turkish and in Kurdish while serving his sentence. He was arrested when he was a student at Istanbul University in 1994, and subjected to torture for 18 days.
Although there was no concrete evidence in his case, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2000.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in 2006 that Çomak had not had a fair trial. Only in 2013 was his request for retrial accepted, but he was denied release during that time.
Ahmet Altan was released in April 2021 after having been incarcerated for five years over speculations about his alleged involvement in criminal offences.
As Altan is still banned from travelling abroad, it was his brother Mehmet Altan who attended the ceremony in Oslo to receive the award in his name.
Addresses by Çomak and Altan were read out at the ceremony.
“As the day that I will get out of prison approaches, I wish to accelerate the days and the months, and to be able to just pass through to the next, and the next, until ‘now’ dries up and I finally reach life, which I describe as freedom and future. But that doesn’t happen. I am sentenced to ‘now’ like everybody else. Even so I have persistent desires and feelings. The horses within me are continuously blowing air into my lungs to ready run out onto the plain of life.
I have always been in disagreement with time, because it leaves me breathless in its constant collaboration with space, the solid walls and iron doors, turning things sour within me.
Even so, I have never given up in my effort to write poems with my limitless passion and commitment to life, my imagination, my talent and my ambition to work, which shakes the walls and extends time, even if just a little.
I want everyone to know that I feel great honour and a sense of responsibility as I receive this award…
Now the horses within me are stronger and faster. It is so difficult to stop them!”
“You honour me today with this award. I am even happier because I am sharing it with a valuable poet who has suffered a lot. I have to say that he deserves this award more than I do.
Everyone here knows that to write is to walk alone in the woods and to find your own path which has always remained untouched, silent and wild, no matter how many people have passed through. I’d like to dedicate my life to the adventure of literature which is pure, wild and full of pains and pleasures. Unfortunately this has not always been possible.”