I present to you this text called ‘defense’ in the legal jargon, not in order to defend myself against the various allegations, but rather to explain how I have stood up for my dignity, my self, my pursuit of freedom and my relationship with life against the siege that I have been facing for a very long time.
Yes, it is true that ever since the Spice Bazaar conspiracy has enclosed my life, I have been in a defensive position. Now, I will briefly try to explain what it is that I have been defending and how.
Ever since my childhood, I’ve been trying to figure out how a free, ethical, and happy life could be possible. I studied sociology to find answers to these questions, to understand my own self and the society, and to expand my own space of freedom. During my college years, as a part of this endless quest, I tried to create my own path by questioning the relationship between knowledge and power, the ways in which science becomes institutionalized, all that was too sacred to be touched, and the patterns of behavior and language. Since I made a huge effort to find answers to my questions and tackled with each and every word that I learned, I graduated as a valedictorian.
In my defense during the trial dated April 14, 1999, I made a reference to Bourdieu, who departing from Flaubert’s words, “A sociologist will, most certainly, enter and touch upon many lives, will try to understand people who have emotions and experiences that s/he has never experienced,” says, ‘‘I want to enter into many lives. That is, to converse and talk with the people who experience those lives and build connections between subjectivities.’’ I spent my college years that began with this very motivation not in hallways or canteens, but within life itself, always trying. I always tried to touch the untouched and thus, in my own way, light up the darknesses.
I believed that sociologists, just like doctors, should have the ability to treat the wounds of the society. After I completed my research on how transsexuals were being driven out of Ulker Street and turned it into a graduate thesis, I could not just abandon the people whose problems I had shared, saying that “I’ve got what I wanted.” And so, I did not abandon them. I took part in a workshop along with the people I had met through various researches and who had each been affected by a different mechanism of exclusion and isolation. It was called the Street Artists Atelier.
It is horrible to see this atelier being presented as a bomb depot. No, never could a bomb enter our atelier. On the contrary, in that tiny little space we had, we were trying to overcome all kinds of violence, trying, instead, to heal the wounds caused by violence. We must clear the name of this valuable effort, not only for me or for the other people in the atelier, but also for the society. Our atelier, which was slandered with horrible accusations, was, in reality, a place of love.
There, people who had been dumped aside as waste by the society, were collecting useful materials out of waste bins and turning them into pieces of art. As a group of people who, at first, did not know how to stand together and handle the isolation and siege they were facing, we came back to life through art, blossomed, and even began taking roots. In that tiny place where masks, vases made out of mud, plaster statues and paintings were produced, we founded a street theatre. And in a very short time, it came to be invited to perform in many places. Our pieces of art started being exhibited on the streets. We also published a magazine. We named this magazine, which had many writers and distributers, “Guest”. Everybody kept saying: ‘‘Hospitality is dead… TV and city life have killed hospitality.’’ But we managed to have people, who could not make their voices heard, be guests at other people’s homes and, in a way, revive hospitality. Thanks to our strong ties on the streets, we handed out the 3000 copies we had printed in a short time.
Our atelier was very small, but its impact was growing along with its productivity. This atelier with an open door policy, where dozens of people would stop by every day and where homeless transsexuals and children would sometimes take shelter in, was also a place to apply to the atelier and blend in with others. So, whoever was in trouble, they would come and visit us. Those who used to turn aggressive because of the violence and isolation they experienced learned to trust themselves and others in our atelier. There were even some who quitted prostitution and drugs thanks to the power of art and sharing.
And that’s when it all fell apart. Just as we were starting to take root, I suddenly found myself in the middle of this infamous conspiracy and I became its central figure, its leading actor. The Spice Bazaar conspiracy was, first of all, an attack on the garden of love we had built out of mud, on our source of life in the desert. Our atelier, which was located in the middle of Beyoglu and whose doors were always open to everyone, so that people could come and go as they pleased, was labeled a bomb depot and the most active woman in the place was depicted as the bomber. When this happened the hopes of those people in there, who constantly had to deal with trouble anyway, were all shattered. These people, who had been experiencing violence in a daily manner but building together the collective experience of a non-violent form of existence, were forced to fall apart in the face of such an attack on our atelier.
A transvestite who came to visit me when I was in prison told me, “A dream can only survive this much. Ours lasted way too long. I kept saying that something would go wrong. I kept saying that this was too good to be true, that life could not possibly go this well. But this was way beyond my expectations. I’ve gone through a lot. I thought that I’d gotten used to anything and everything, but I can’t remember anything that affected me as much as this has. They contaminated our most spotless and cleanest thing. It is as if they killed our baby. What a terrible life! Even if you do good, they manage to contaminate it. You can’t run away, you can’t escape. I got really scared.”
The living and working conditions of this transvestite friend of mine were on the verge of death. She could have been killed with the stroke of a knife, in the middle of the night, on the E5 highway or somewhere else, and she would have been left there. Yet, despite this risk, my transvestite friends never left me alone. Was it only them? The street children, who had always been the most active workers in the Street Artists Atelier, persistently came to court, right from the very first trial. This was not at all easy for them. These kids, who are murdered by unknown killers on a continuous basis, run away most of all from the police just like transvestites do. Still, they came to be my witnesses in a case in which the police authorities themselves were accusing me. They said, "Our elder sister Pınar would not even let us bring thinner in there”. I kept sending them messages telling them not to come to court; because I was afraid that they would be punished for this. But they just wouldn’t listen to me. Actually, they weren’t only defending me, but their own atelier as well. They did everything they possibly could to prevent the love we created in the atelier from being contaminated.
Our love wasn’t contaminated, but our atelier fell apart.
I keep thinking of what the Spice Bazaar conspiracy damaged the most. My most beautiful years, or my future? First of all, this conspiracy cost my mother’s life. Secondly, it shattered the Street Artists Atelier into so many pieces that it is not possible to repair it any more…
How about what happened from my perspective?
I learned that this is the rule of the game. If you try to say the password out loud, you are declared guilty. Moreover, you aren’t blamed for saying the password out loud, but instead you are held guilty for something you’ve spent your whole life standing and fighting against. For instance, if you are a nun, you are accused of prostitution. If you’re somebody who has devoted their life to keeping Islamic values alive, they stigmatize you as an alcohol or drug dealer. Or, as an anti-militarist, you are accused of being a bomber. And this is done in such a criminal way that you are forced to defend yourself. So, just as you are approaching a certain point of focus, step by step, you are forced to start dealing with yourself. Accusations follow one another and they keep repeating themselves… Even though these accusations are merely allegations, the mud that has been thrown on you leaves its mark, and everyone who looks at you remembers those charges. From now on, it is impossible for you to carry on with your old identity. You aren’t charged with a thought crime, no. Neither are you declared to be a ‘peace criminal’. The war-mongering organization ‘terrorizes’ you, makes you into a terrorist, and introduces you to millions with this new identity.
I also got caught up in the rules of this game. Indeed, I was expecting that I’d get in trouble and possibly be brought to your presence because of the research I’ve been doing, and I took this risk willingly. But I could have never guessed that I would fall into the midst of such a terrible, inhumane conspiracy.
When I was taken under custody, the first thing they wanted to learn was the names of all the people I interviewed during my research. I refused to give in to their demands, saying that I’d been researching people who have been driven into crime for years, and that I’d never given any of their information to the police before. In the meanwhile, they were examining my research. Then, all of a sudden, my research disappeared and was transformed into a bomb. They claimed that I’d helped militants and hid their bombs while conducting my research. And so, they transformed an anti-militarist research into a bomb. They intensified the torture, saying that they had found explosives on me as well as in the atelier, which they thought was my ‘workplace’. It is very hard for one to talk about the torture they have been put through. But, I guess I am obliged to mention it here: If you just think of how you feel even when your hand gets cut or your ankle is twisted, you may start to understand what one experiences under torture. I have been subjected to very intense and unbearable torture. My arm was dislocated because I was kept in a Palestinian hanging and they put it back in place in a very awful way. I was almost always deprived of sleep. The way they tortured my brain, shouting out stuff like, “We’ll make a sponge out of it,” was no different from the “shock treatment” that insane people receive in mental hospitals. It may seem like a story out of a fiction novel that a woman who has extensively focused on the issue of Sanity and Madness herself is subjected to ‘shock’, but it really is a very hard thing to endure in reality. The greatest of all tortures was their threatening me with torturing the street children and the transvestites and exposing them in the media if I didn’t do as they asked. And so, in order to be free of them and continue my struggle under healthier conditions as soon as possible, and, most of all, to prevent anybody around me from being harmed, I signed a testimony. This testimony was one that was to my own disadvantage only, claiming that I’d helped the people I had been researching on; and its absurdity was so obvious that I knew it would appear so. I vaguely remember being brought to prison, being taken to the prosecutor; but that overwhelming feeling of ‘once I escape from their clutches’ is still fresh is my mind. Because the complete nonsense of the charges being pressed on me were as clear as daylight, I was totally confident that everything would come out into the open. The art atelier was not my workplace. It was impossible for a bomb to be there. Besides, in a short period of time it was revealed that the explosives that had allegedly been found there, had previously been possesed by the police. But the conspirators were stubborn. A month after I was put in prison, while I was busy thinking that ‘I’d soon be released’, I suddenly saw myself on TV. The scenario was developing and I had become its leading actor. Apparently, the explosion in the Spice Bazaar was caused by a bomb, and that bomb had been planted by Pınar. I remember feeling as if I were suspended in a complete vacuum as I watched myself on the screen. Then, allegation followed allegation, and many accusations piled on top off each other. With testimonies taken from various people, many crimes, such as a mafia murder which happened while I was in jail, other explosions, etc. were tried to be blamed on me. These people who signed testimonies against their wills due to torture, explained in court how they had been pressured. But this did not prevent me from having to face a completely tangled chain of accusations. The most pitiful part of the scenario, however, was the tragedy of the confessors. We all watched what became of these people throughout the case. I believe they are the greatest victims of this whole process.
It pained me to watch the destruction of my research. But, what is worst is that such as punishment of an attitude that had only tried to heal festering wounds in the society also became a threat against any kind of diagnosis and treatment that was yet to come. Through me, a warning signal was given to all men and women who were in search of an independent stance. Fingers were wagged at sociologists, social scientists, and activists. And I was chosen as the symbol.
So then, how did I resist? How did I defend myself?
The officers taking me to prison kept insisting that I would soon commit suicide and that my mother would die. After I was trapped inside those four walls, I gave much thought to what this meant. Afterwards, all the events that followed made the intention behind those words quite clear. However, at that time both my mother and I hung on to life, dearly. I had been dragged deep into so many allegations, so many criminal cases that if I ever delved into these I would surely drown. So I did not. In the first court hearing I said, “If the explosion in the Spice Bazaar was caused by a bomb this is a crime against humanity, but the charges I have faced are also a crime against humanity.” Thus, I refused all the allegations and tried to continue with my work, even though I was in prison. I managed to live without falling under the psychological pressure of the court case and related issues.
I do not know how one can possibly explain what staying in the women’s ward for two and half years is like. I remember confronting myself many times; having my needs and what I wanted to do becoming all the more clear; experiencing a mental and emotional confusion along with a clarification and simplification.
I transformed the 2,5 years I had in prison into a gain. Even though I was not able to bring much of what I wrote in there outside and don’t even know what became of them, writing helped me accumulate and made me stronger. I know of the misery that many philosophers and thinkers went through in the past. Sometimes, one has to be damned for telling the truth. And, for the sake of truth, one can take this risk. The esteemed Court will remember that, in the first hearings, I identified myself with the women who were burned alive as witches during the Middle Ages. However, it is a very horrible thing for a person who is against violence and who has given her life to the struggle against violence, militarism and all wars to be presented to the society as the perpetrator of a massacre. Worst of all, I suddenly became a media figure. Constantly having to explain oneself destroys one’s freedom, genuineness and one’s relationship with truth. Unfortunately, this kind of a destruction did take place in my case…
After getting out of prison I did not start playing the ‘good girl’ out of a guilty conscience. I did not allow this case to affect my life. As soon as I was released, at the very gates of the prison, I announced that I would continue my struggle for peace. If my tiny effort for peace had been punished in such a manner, I had to amplify and magnify this effort and make it bigger – above all, out of self-respect. The direction I took in life was shaped by the pursuits I had been following before this conspiracy happened to me. This time, they came at me with direct and indirect threats. When the complete nonsense of all the accusations they made about me was revealed in your presence, their passion for somehow convicting me still continued. Their placing of the false news in the newspaper Milliyet into my file is the final example of this. However, in the very same newspaper a quite extensive piece had been written revealing the falsity of the above-mentioned news, in which even the executive editor apologized for not having noticed this. You know how these kinds of news are prepared much better than I do. The fact that this news article, which even the administration of the newspaper realized was wrong and apologized for, was quickly put into my file makes this conspiracy, being continued with immense incompetency, quite evident.
However, despite all this, I still did not give in to the Spice Bazaar conspiracy. My secret was love. First of all my family always stood by me, with boundless trust and effort. My father, with his tobacco pipe always in his hand, worked like a detective from the very first day. I can guess that the distress that surgeons having to operate on their own daughters experience also weighed upon him, but never once did he show any sign of this. I always felt his his hand on my shoulder, comforting me and supporting me. My mother was a classic woman of the Republican era and that is the very reason why what happened to me hit her very hard. Since they had already been tapping our phone wires, they knew about my mother’s health condition and that’s why they’d told me she would die soon. In spite of her serious heart disease she never gave up shielding her daughter against this dreadful assault. She went from door to door, acting as a bridge between the society and her daughter in jail. Nevertheless, her heart condition took the better of her, and she died right after I was released. Still, she was not in sorrow when she left us, but rather had a feeling that justice had finally been dealt, because she did not hear the latest comment in the case. On the other hand, my sister who was a qualified business manager changed her whole life for me. As soon as she heard about the accusation concerning the Spice Bazaar, she came to see me in prison and told me, “I will take part in your judicial struggle. I will be your advocate”. And she really gave up her job, in which she was considerably successful; she retook the university entrance exam, studied law, graduated and became my advocate. The power of love gives one the strength to resist, even against the most severe difficulties one can imagine. I was able to keep up this resistance, most of all thanks to my family. But was it only my family that stood by me? My father was never left alone during his judicial struggle. The lawyers who had been defending me for seven years, struggled against this conspiracy with great self-devotion and kept my belief in the judicial system alive. On top of this, I have always felt a protective web surrounding me, formed first and foremost by my women friends, and everyone else supporting me. The solidarity I witnessed was so amazing that my belief in humanity always remained alive. Even my teachers wrote their opinions about me to the court. After the last trial, thousands of people including very important artists and thinkers in Turkey made declarations like, “We are witnesses of that Pınar Selek is against violence”.
I hereby express my gratitude for my family, my lawyers, my friends, women, and for all the honest people that helped me get through these past eight years.
I protected myself; defended my existence against the siege and damnation that threatened me. This conspiracy did not weaken me, but, with regards to our country, it did serve a history repeating itself. The research that was taken from me was one that, despite all its imperfection, seeked ways, perspectives with which to analyse our problems, other than those which are through politics of national security. Being wrong or right is another issue. Yet if a phenomenon is real, what is important is to describe this reality in depth. This statement should never be forgotten: “If everything had been totally clear, there would be no need for science”. What seems to be the simple fall of an apple at first sight refers to many realities from the root of the tree to the wind and the earth when approached from a scientific point of view. We must handle the atmosphere of violence which we have been living in for the past 20 years in a similar fashion. In order to overcome problems, one must first of all understand them; and in order to understand, one must research and explore. I believe that we can heal and recover, even with the slightest effort, provided that it is well-intentioned. But still we are not able to end this. Still, we merely stand by and watch as the water gets dirtier by the minute, as we are slowly deprived of air until we are suffocated.
The events that took place on the 6th and 7th of September are still fresh on our minds… Then, communists were blamed; everywhere around the country communists were arrested. Even Aziz Nesin was arrested because of this. It was later understood during the courts held on Yassıada that this brutality had been organized by the political powers of the time. Furthermore, it was revealed that the one who laid the bomb was Oktay Engin, a member of the National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MİT). But then what happened? The leftists were silenced for a certain time period and they were forced to defend themselves.
Each and every time this is what has happened. Opposing groups have constantly been stigmatized, charged with groundless accusations so that they wouldn’t hold responsible. They have always been forced to explain, account for something, defend themselves. Just as Orhan Veli wrote:
“You talk about hunger
Then, you’re a communist
It’s you, then, who burnt down all the buildings
The ones in Istanbul, you
And the ones in Ankara, you
Oh what a swine are you…”
With my best regards,
Translated by: Begüm Acar, Derya Bayraktaroğlu, Feride Eralp, Yelda Şahin Akıllı.
Edited by : Emek Ergun, Feride Eralp.