Gultekin Avcı: ‘I do not believe that, even years later, justice or democracy will arrive in this country’

Avcı, who asserts that democracy and justice are unlikely to come to Turkey even years from now, has spent much of his time in prison reading. Interestingly, Avci recounts that once while he was a prosecutor he even locked himself in a cell to better understand prison psychology. Yet he thinks that even that drastic step was far from enough to really understand what it is like. Waiting now from a signal from the president in Ankara as to whether or not he will be released, Avci asserts that Turkish society continues to be in search of a master and a boss of some sort.

Avci also explains that journalists in prison are generally isolated from one another to prevent friendships from developing behind bars and he calls on people in the outside world not to forget the journalists currently behind bars in Turkey.

Here is the interview with Avcı:

How long have you been in prison now? Do you count the time in terms of days, weeks or months?

I’ve been behind bars for three months now. But there’s never anything definite about periods of imprisonment; they are usually vague processes and they have a tendency to stretch on. These days, I no longer know the day of the month anymore since really every day just resembles the one before it. Sometimes I ask the lawyers, sometimes the guards, what day it is. The rising sun seems to bring with it just 24 more hours we need to get though. It means nothing else at this point.

How do you spend your days?

I spend around seven to eight hours a day reading, sometimes more. Sometimes I read until the morning. If it were possible, I’d never lift my head from the pages of my book. With the books I read, the terrible feeling these prison walls gives me is reduced. At around 10 a.m. bread is handed out. Between 12 and 1 p.m., lunch is served. At around 8 a.m., the guards come in and yell that they are taking a count. All they need to do is see you in your bed alive and then they leave. This whole scene plays out again in the evening. Sometimes they shake your bed to see if you’re dead or just sleeping.

What are the physical conditions of prison like? Food, drink, sleep, bathroom needs, etc.

The food is sometimes edible, other times not. Actually, one’s ability to really taste things dies here. It seems like you just swallow stuff; your only goal is staying alive. … There is a water limit of 50 liters per week. As for the cells, they are two floors with a small table and chair and a TV downstairs. And a kitchen counter. Upstairs is your bed and your metal cabinet. Seven to eight steps by five to six steps in size, the cell is made of metal and cement. And with bars on the windows, of course.

Do you make friendships in prison?

Hidayet Karaca and Mehmet Baransu are in another block. All the journalists [here] are in one-person cells. On one side, I’ve got Judge Suleyman Karacol, and on the other side there’s Cevheri Guven, Murat Capan, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul. That’s how the A-1 corridor is. But to keep us from forming friendships and communicating, we’re pretty severely isolated from one another. You can’t really get together and talk out your troubles with anyone. There’s really only one way to talk a bit and that is by talking through the sewage tunnel that runs under our cement yard. You place your mouth almost touching it and then try to find an angle that works. In another words, by yelling into that system you could maybe get your voice to the other cells. But of course, there is the terrible smell, which balances out the desire to have a small conversation with someone. Other than this, you can also stick a letter into a plastic bottle and throw it over the fence into the next cell. Actually, that’s how I got some information about life in prison that I thought might help Can Dundar in his cell. It took me a full week to learn that journalist Cevheri Guven was in the cell next to me.

What about watching TV or reading the newspaper?

You can buy standard TVs in the canteen for TL 560. And newspapers we do get regularly now. You can actually have a monthly paper request.

What about communication with the outside world?

Not allowed, unless you want to talk to your lawyer. You can meet with family members once a week in closed visits and once a month for open visits [when there is no barrier between the visitor and the prisoner]. You can use the phone 10 minutes a week. And then, of course, there are letters.

Can you ever have visitors other than your family?

Other than your family, you can meet with three people every week for a total of one hour.

Are there things you didn’t realize before that you understand now? Anything about life or this country, any observations?

Well, it’s pretty clear what’s become of this country and its values. You can see this everywhere. Though I worked as a prosecutor for years, I had never really grasped the imprisoned state of mind. But actually, when I was a prosecutor, I locked myself into a cell to understand this state. I told the police and gendarmerie to go away and not come back for a few hours. I wanted to understand the psychology of imprisonment. But this doesn’t go beyond teaching you what it means to physically not be able to leave. After all, in here, we are waiting from orders from the palace in Ankara so that we can leave. And then there is this No. 9 F-type prison. Turkey’s highest-security, most discipline-oriented prison. Prisoners from the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases are not held here; they are over at the L-type prison, which has better conditions.

In this way, I guess I understand now the terrible pain of those locked up for crimes of which they are innocent. And for so many of these innocent people, heavier prison terms are being sought than even Ozgecan’s murderers [referring to the recent brutal rape and murder of a young woman] are facing. All so that certain people can cover their own crimes. I’ve never seen such rage in my life.

What do you miss the most?

Oh, my family and friends. My handsome son, İsmail; my silken-haired Kezban Sureyya and my Asaf, who still smells like a baby.

What do you not miss?

I don’t miss the mountains, the birds, the sea; what I miss is people. But there are fewer and fewer people.

Are you writing your memories down?

More than memories, I’m writing how I feel: the mixed emotions, the sense of what it is to be a prisoner. I think it might get published later, we’ll see.

And are you following politics? Or do you feel a sense of just wanting to give up?

I’m definitely not following things in politics the way I used to before I came here. I don’t feel the desire to get caught up in all that enmity. Here, I read thousands of pages, I think about things, and I miss things. I don’t think that true justice and democracy will come to this country, not even after years. There might be freedom for some, but not press freedom. And for some there will be delirium. Discrimination against some journalists in the media, but not those faithful to [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. We have no media freedom that accepts journalism for its true meaning, rather than being based on whether it is accepting or rejecting the ideas being put forward. There is no real intelligentsia in Turkey. Rather than walking before the crowds, the intellectuals here are caught in the swamp of trying to find where they’ll be most comfortable. We’re talking about people who whore themselves with their pens. People who try to pass themselves off as intellectuals.

As for this society, it is still not a civil society. The spirit of a civil society is not present in any more than 30 percent of our people. I still see out there a society busy trying to find a master for itself. Most people are in pursuit, not freedom, but of a power that will silence opposition, all for the sake of their own miserable little interests. There is a societal neurosis in Turkey that goes well beyond the AKP; it probably surprises even the AKP. I don’t think we’ll likely ever see a democracy of the standard you’d find in the West.

Are there moments when you think you’ve been forgotten?

I see that those who have a conscience and who are faithful certainly have not forgotten us in here. But never mind; let them forget me, but not people like Hidayet Karaca, Mehmet Baransu, Cevheri Guven, Murat Capan, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul. Let those who rose up against fascism with their pens not be forgotten.

What have you been reading?

I’ve definitely read more than 100 books since coming here. Mostly philosophy and literature. … I’ve had the chance to re-read some things I read when I was younger. I go from one book to another without taking a break. Sometimes I stare at the walls to think. Sometimes I look up at the sky.

Is there any message you’d like to give to those in the outside world?

We are at a critical point in the Turkish Republic in terms of the struggle for democracy and justice and the freedom of the press. People should not forget that history will forget neither those taking critical roles, nor those who sat back to watch. You are either just watching, or you are acting, taking a role. Everyone needs to decide what they are doing. I can only hope that somehow our tomorrow will be a utopia of freedom and democracy.