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Torture at Diyarbakır prison as narrated by witnesses

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/20/2009 12:00:00 AM | Vercihan Ziflioğlu

Çayan Demirel has turned the events that occurred at Diyarbakır Prison No.5 during and after the 1980 military coup into a documentary based on eye-witness accounts. DTP chairman Ahmet Türk is a former inmate of the prison

Director Çayan Demirel has turned the events that occurred at Diyarbakır Prison No.5 during and after the 1980 military coup into a documentary based on eye-witness accounts.

Many politicians, artists, journalists and academics in Turkey were put on trial and then sent to prison during and after the coup. The torture they were subjected to in the prisons has been slowly revealed over the years.

Diyarbakır Prison No.5 holds the most significant place among these prisons. Many famous Turkish and Kurdish politicians and artists were detained there, including Ahmet Türk, the current chairman of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP.

Kurdish researcher and documentary filmmaker Demirel, who was born in Dersim, now called Tunceli, in eastern Anatolia, decided to contribute to revealing the torture that was carried out in the prison. He made a documentary called “Diyarbakır No.5,” which focuses on Kurdish prisoners, based on eye-witness accounts. The film was named Best Documentary at the last Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in October.

[HH] Prison was ‘laboratory’ for Kurds

Demirel contacted the guards who were in charge of Diyarbakır No.5 at the time and tracked down the prisoners while making his award-winning documentary. With a team of volunteers, he found the martial prosecutors from the era and interviewed other military figures.

The filmmaker called the prison a “laboratory,” especially for Kurdish prisoners. He told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review: “In light of what prisoners told us, we see that thousands of kinds of torture were experienced in the prison. The conclusion I get from what we were told is that fascism reached its peak.”

Demirel said Kurdish people who did not know Turkish were forced to learn 50 Turkish marches in three days. According to witnesses’ statements, he said: “Prisoners who couldn’t learn 50 marches were exposed to various torture. The Turkification policy was at its peak in the prison.”

[HH] A secret revealed in the dining hall

After gaining special permission from prison authorities, Demirel filmed shots inside the prison. Relying on the testimonies of 80 prisoners, he explored each part they described.

“Witnesses’ accounts were so impressive that I felt like I knew each corner of the prison, inch by inch. Witnesses told me that nationalist slogans were written on the walls by prison officials,” he said. “I saw a Turkey map drawn on the ceiling only in the tailor section; apart from that, there was no trace of the past. It was because the prison had been restored and its walls painted.”

Demirel said, however, that he came across one more writing exactly like witnesses said. “As the dining hall was a humid place, paint fell off and the writing became clear,” he said.

The director has put forward the idea that the prison should be turned into a museum. “Turning such a torture place into a museum would mean that we would face up to our past,” he said.

Demirel’s documentary will be screened at many national and international festivals in the coming months.

[HH] Dersim documentary still on trial

“Diyarbakır No.5” is not the first documentary Demirel has made. In all his films, he reveals the political and diplomatic events Kurdish people have been exposed to.

One of his previous movies is a documentary about "Dersim events" in 1938. That year the military intervened in a local uprising in an area dominated mostly by Alevis and Kurds, leaving thousands dead. In the 2006 film, Demirel used witnesses’ narrations to document the Dersim events, which have recently been debated among politicians.

The Ministry of Culture’s inspection board did not give permission for the documentary to be screened, leading Demirel to file a lawsuit against the ministry. The trial is still ongoing.

“A process called the Kurdish initiative is on the table, but I am not persuaded because our memories are still constricted by red lines. Going beyond these lines is still dangerous in Turkey,” he said.

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