Letter from Turkish author Ipek Çalişlar

Turkish author, Ipek Çalişlar, writes about her friend, the detained academic and writer Büşra Ersanlı

In 1972, I met Büşra (Ersanlı) in prison. Both of us were arrested by the junta while we were opposing the military coup. We were part of a leftist Maoist organization at the time. However, we neither handled a gun nor threw a stone at anyone. Besides distributing leaflets describing our positions and ideas, we did not have anything else to be accused of. I came from the ’68 generation, and at the time, I had just finished college and was working at TRT (Turkish Radio Television) as a correspondent. Büşra, on the other hand, was studying at the most prestigious university of the time.

We were placed in two prison dorms with 60 other women from our organization. It was a trying time. Most of us were tortured when we were under arrest and saw prison as a safer place to be. We were staying in a military prison and, according to their rules, were considered military personnel. We all were accused of forming an organization in order to demolish the established system.

Her imprisonment, as well as mine, was the result of a widespread arrest spree by the military junta. All of us were released in 1974 thanks to a general amnesty, and we continued to live our lives as free citizens. The law that was the main reason for our two and a half year imprisonment was lifted from the books twenty years ago.

The Büşra I knew from our prison days was a young woman with a strong personality. She wouldn’t follow the pointless orders of the organization [to which we belonged] and never held back her criticism of it. Our organization insisted on a strict hierarchical discipline where even our skirt lengths were regulated. When the orders of the organization, written in tiny letters on onion skin paper, were smuggled into the prison by visitors, an edginess used to spread within the dorm. Orders coming through the chain of command never worked for Büşra. I remember that Büşra and I resisted our organization’s “No Smoking” order. We felt like we were released from prison and free when we hid inside the makeshift wardrobe and smoked our cigarettes.

Probably the most, and maybe only, positive aspect of our organization was the distance it was able to place between us and violence. When I look back, the organization’s policy of distancing itself from violence was probably the main reason for my sympathy for this movement. I believe that Büşra’s reason for participation in the organization was this same attribute.

The years have passed, and I persisted in becoming a writer and journalist; whereas Büşra became an academician. Although we don’t see each other very often, our relationship has remained strong. In the past few years, I have started to get interested in history and really admired Büşra’s book, “Political Power and History”. Her research was a valuable study that provided an alternative explanation of official history.

In the 2000s, our paths crossed once again, this time in a women’s organization. The main purpose of this organization was to achieve an equal representation of women in politics. Both of us offered our years of experience to it. We were pleased to work together and we contributed to the increase of women’s participation in parliament from 4.5% to 14%. During this endeavour, we reaped the benefits of Büşra’s ideas and thoughts.

Büşra, influenced by the passion and vigor of the youth movement in the Southeast of Turkey, decided to support the political party that represented the Kurdish movement in parliament. In order to achieve peace and end the violence, she never hesitated to show courage. The government’s ever changing Kurdish policies couldn’t cope with the violence, which was on the rise. Right at this point, the judiciary stepped in and started to detain people who supported the Kurdish political movement. They were accused of being members of a “terrorist” organization.

Unfortunately, this “war on terror” reached all the way to Büşra. The old court files on the dusty shelves waiting to be destroyed were reopened, and Büşra’s old trials were used as justification for her new trials. It seems totally absurd to me to claim that Büşra, who rejected violence in her 20s and is now in her 60s, is part of a “terrorist” organization. But to my dismay, Büşra has been in jail since October 29, 2011. The defamation campaign organized by the media, which surprised everybody who knows her, is based on lies.

We are expecting her to be indicted soon, and it is reported that a 22-year prison sentence will be requested for her. While Büşra has rejected violence as a mean to resolve issues throughout her life, it is an absurd claim by the state’s justice system that she participated in an organization which takes its power from violence.

For more information on the case and how to take action read here