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Human Rights

Mother, get up! You’ve come this far, are you giving up?

Fired through the emergency decree, search warrant, days spent hiding, passing through the River Meric, refugee, and Germany… This is an unusual story of an ordinary family.

SEVİNÇ ÖZARSLAN

The process of July 15 caused trauma to children. Both the prisoners and the refugees who passed through the River Meric experienced different difficulties. They had unforgettable memories and pain.

Children who had to grow up in their small age told each other stories in the European camps instead of fairy tales and gave their parents the strength to stand and resist.
The Yapraklı family’ s story, who passed through the river Meric with their 5 and 7-year-old children was unforgettable.

WE COULD NOT BELIEVE WHEN WE LEARNED THE ACCUSATION ABOUT US

Zeynep Yapraklı: We were an ordinary family living in Zonguldak. I am a housewife. We were married in 2009 with my husband Ahmet Yapraklı. We have two kids. My son Hamza is 7, and our daughter Elif Betul is 5 years old. After 15 July, as if we did the coup attempt, our life changed completely. That evening, we were in our house and having tea together. As usual, my husband had come from work, we had dinner. We didn’t understand what happened at that time.

My husband was working as an inspection officer in Zonguldak Trade Provincial Directorate. At the same time, he was teaching international trade at Zonguldak Karaelmas University. He was an officer for five years and fired after the coup attempt. Zonguldak Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a warrant about him with 3 files.

The accusations were being the member of an armed terrorist organization, attempting to abolish constitutional amendments, counterfeiting official documents, and directing public institutions and organizations! We didn’t know what to do when we saw the claims.

THEY OFFERED BRIBERY, AND I REJECTED

Ahmet Yapraklı: “Bribery incidents are happening in the customs. I was a new officer. It was offered to me, but I did not accept it. A company brought scraps. They said they got car parts which were broken and sturdy. The government did not take tax on the broken stuff, but the others had to be paid tax. We applied a penalty of 160 thousand TL to the company based in Ankara. Two people came from Ankara, “You are an officer, how much is your salary? We will give 70 thousand TL to you,” he said. Of course, I did not accept it.”

Zeynep Yapraklı: “My husband started living away from home for a while after his arrest warrant was issued. Why would he go to jail? He was not guilty. We were meeting each other from time to time, but then it became a nightmare for us.

I couldn’t stay alone with my kids in Zonguldak. Six months later, we went to where he was located. After about two years, it was becoming difficult for both of us to stay in Turkey. We were afraid to go out. In June 2018, we decided to go abroad. We had only one way; the River Meric.

On June 31, 2018, at 09.00 we set off from Ankara to Istanbul. After 6 hours, we met our fellow travelers in Istanbul. There were two other people with us. We didn’t know them, and we didn’t even know their names. We gave smugglers money where we met.

WE WERE ON AN ISLAND INSTEAD OF GREECE

Ahmet Yapraklı: We set off after paying. They left us somewhere in Edirne. The smugglers said they were going to inflate the boat and left. About an hour passed. We were worried. Then they came and said that the pump was broken while the boat was inflating. Then, we started to drive by the river.

There was another car ahead of us. We passed the car, but it kept coming after us. The driver who was worried about the car made a left turn to the opposite direction of the River. The car came back from behind us.

I look at my back. The car was coming. I told to the driver to go fast. Now, the vehicle didn’t come behind us, and after we waited a little while, we got to the border again.

WE DRAGGED ALONG THE RIVER FOR 40 MINUTES

The smuggler said that he had a guide next to the boat, waiting for us to help cross the river. We walked for 5 minutes to the boat. It was easy after that. We were on the boat. We drifted down about three miles down about 40 minutes. Then the guide said he could not get to the shore.

I helped him by holding the branches, and we got to the shore. The guide would leave us there. We argued, and I said that I would not let him go. I called a friend who helped us get to the road. He said;” According to the map, it looks like that they have left you on an island.” The place where we stepped was a very bad,rugged area. Destroyed trees, thorns, mud… It had been raining for a week and it was wet, and water flow was increased. The guide tried to show the way, but he was a novice.

WE GOT IN THE WATER WITH THE CHILDREN

Zeynep Yaprakli (29), Ahmet Yaprakli (34), Hamza (7), and Elif Betul (5) are now trying to hold on to their lives in Germany.

Because the forest was a common area, we could not see ahead of us. We started to discuss and yell at each other. Anyway, I decided to find the road myself. We came to the river, and I realized that we were on a really small island.

My friend led us to the top of the island where the river shrank, but it was difficult to walk. I was opening the road, and my kids and my wife were coming up behind me. The guide was also at the back. I went up a little further and went into the water. I was measuring the depth with the stick in my hand. The water came up somewhere on the chest. Then, I took one or two more steps and went back to the waist level. I took one kid on my shoulder. My wife took the other one on her back. We entered the water together.

OUR DAUGHTER FELL TO THE RIVER

We crossed the water at last. We began to gather and walk. We took another 10-15 steps, and we came back with water again. That was the moment we gave up. My wife begged for me to wait until morning.

I went into the water again with the same tactic. The depth was up to the waist. In the same way, I took the children to our backs and gave the bags to the guide. We had a supply bag. I was holding it for the kids.

We were scared when it became deep suddenly. Children were panicked, and my wife staggered. My daughter, Elif Betül, fell into the water. We caught immediately and landed in a ravaged state. Both my wife and the children were crying. My little kid was screaming that we were going to die there. It was hard. Thanks to Allah. We succeeded at last.”

I WAS ASHAMED WHEN MY SON SAID; “MOTHER, GET UP! YOU’VE COME THIS FAR, ARE YOU GIVING UP?”

Zeynep Yapraklı: “We had passed the second water, but I had no power to survive. I crouched down and started crying. I was a bit confident in a life vest, but I could not walk in the water. My seven-year-old son said, “You can’t give up. You have come this far. Get up, be strong. I feel very bad when you cry.”
We walked for about an hour and we got under the tree. We were close to a village, I guessed. I put nylon under the children and covered them with a blanket that remained dry even though we went into the water. The kids slept until morning.

I FELT THAT I WAS A REFUGEE

Then as soon as we set off, two cars came and picked us up. It was such a long night as if it lasted years. I could say we rested in the supervision.
The Greek police’ s approach was good. They asked whether we were hungry and thirsty. But their way of taking us to the Police Situation was bad. That moment I felt I was a refugee. They put us behind a car with no lights. There were a few small holes on the top of the car for air. the inside of the car was very dirty. When that iron door was closed, we got worse.

I WAS ALSO FIRED. I WAS PROFESSOR

Ahmet Yapraklı: We came under the tree. There was Edirne on the right and Greece on the left. I said we had to walk to the left, but the guide said it was right. He had seen a hut 200 meters ahead. It was at four o’clock.

We started at around 23:00 and ended the trip at 4:00. We were waiting for the sun to rise. There was a station nearby, and we decided to take the train to Thessaloniki. The sun was born. We had a snack. The weather warmed up, we dried the things up a bit.

I thought the guide would be back. He said; “I was also fired. I was a professor at the university. I was surprised. I would drown the man or strangle. I asked why he didn’t tell me. The smuggler had told him, “I told you as a guide or they will not take the boat.”

We went on the road. After 100 meters, the Greek police came. We explained the situation. We said we escaped from the Erdogan regime. They took us to the station and we were in custody. There were 5 beds. Everybody just went to sleep. Sometimes, the police were coming, asking for something. We understood each other difficulty. A few hours later, someone who speaks Turkish came up.

ARE YOU TERRORISTS?

’I came for you,‘ he said. When he saw our station, he began to mock with the slander “terrorist”. He joked; ‘Now, are you terrorists? Did you leave bombs in Turkey.’ Our fingerprints and photos were taken. Due to tiredness, we were like “wanted” in the photos. “You’re going to the camp.” the interpreter said. They took us to the camp 10 minutes away with a closed car.

IT WAS LIKE A ZOMBIE FILM

The car stopped, and we went down. There was a place like the police station. There were fences up to the ceiling. People climbed on the fences and wanted something by handing out. There was cigarette smoke everywhere. It was like a movie scene. I felt like I was watching zombies. I thought we could not get out of there.

We went inside; high walled place, dark, no light. I was stunned when someone said welcome. “I’m Ahmet, I’m Turkish,” he said. He showed me and my wife a bunk bed. We chose the bunk closest to the door. My wife was going to start crying with fear. This time, a woman said welcome.

WE FORGOT THE HORRIBLE NIGHT IN 10 MINUTES

There were completely Turks in the ward. The reason of all for escaping was the same as ours. They had been there for 3 days. We greeted and hugged. Our morale was fulfilled. We started the conversation. they ordered coffee in the canteen hour. I forgot everything about the horrible night in 10 minutes. I met my beloved friends after 2 years. My wife got well.

In the evening, my wife and the children slept early. We talked with friends until late hours. The bunk beds were covered with cloth and cardboard. Every family created their privacy. There was a prayer rug at the top of a bunk, and people prayed in order. There was something like a flashlight that was used while going to the WC. In the morning they said everyone would leave during that day. I was glad to hear it and thanked Allah.

THE BATHROOM QUEUE IN THE UN CAMP

They took us to the United Nations camp. There were the washing machine, the bathroom, and the clean sheets. They said we would stay together for a maximum of 10 people. They put us to the container with three families, a few singles and 6 Afghans. Afghans said ’Welcome to Turks’.

They did not give new sheets to our rooms. In one of the containers, there were bunk beds in a container, but in the other one, there was not. We sent the women to the bunk bed, and we started to clean dirty sponge and blankets to sleep.

In our container, there was no bath, but it was on the women’s side. Firstly, children and women took a shower. Then they emptied that container, we went in line and bathed.
On the second day, they gave a donut and juice at breakfast. In lunch and dinner, there were boiled potatoes and bread. Tomatoes, cucumbers and the cheese made us so happy. At first, the children did not eat, but then they could not resist. Less food, less talk, less sleep. We returned to the circumcision that we forgot. Even children didn’t waste anymore, kept them and then ate.

WATER HEATING IN MILK BOX TO BREW TEA

Only our tea was missing. We couldn’t drink on the first night. Things like kettle were forbidden. On the second day, we met some of our needs from Afghans. I saw them drinking tea in their room. I asked where they got it. They said it was easy.

One liter of milk was delivered for children in the morning. Their boxes were covered with foil. They boiled the water in the boxes. Every day between 16.00-17.00, a small car came to the camp to sell tea, cigarettes, cola, water, etc. They got tea from there for us. After dinner each evening, they began to brew us tea.

New families came to our container. We combined all the beds and slept 15 people in 9 beds. After lunch, our tea was ready with biscuits and kernel. We prayed and gathered together to chat. Everyone was happy, women were good, and children found friends. the environment was great.

I MET WITH MY FRIEND WHO I HAD NOT SEEN FOR TWO YEARS

I met with my friend I hadn’t seen for two years in the UN camp. At 10 meters, we chatted through the wires. I said I would send them tea. He could not believe, but they were very happy. Afghans had made two iron resistors by wire. That was how we delivered the handmade kettle to them. And they had tea.

We left the camp that evening. They took us until Alexandroupolis. We came to Athens by plane. We found a guest house with 3 rooms. Clean bed, bed linen, TV, internet, bathroom, and my family… It was the best moment of five days. I pray to Allah to let everyone who is in trouble immediately free. After 8 attempts, we came to Germany. On October 24, 2018, Zeynep and the children passed. I passed on November 4, 2018.

We are staying in the houses given by the municipality. We’re looking for a kindergarten for my daughter. Our son started school. Everyone here likes to go to the riverside. We stay as far away as possible because our memories come alive. Those who lost their lives in the River Meric come to our minds.

CHILDREN WOKE UP SCREAMING WE WERE SINKING

Zeynep Yapraklı: Children sometimes say that they miss their grandmother. We say they will come to visit us. They say they shouldn’t come through Meric. When I say they will fly, they ask why we passed through Meric.

I thought the kids were not affected at all. But they are so deeply touched that they remember Meric when they see every wooded area. However, they will not want to return to Turkey in order not to pass through Meric again. We came here from Greece in our 8th attempts, which affected the children so much. When they set us up at the airport, they questioned us why they didn’t like us and want Turks.

We were impressed in the first days that we experienced. The children did not sleep for days. They woke up screaming we were sinking. We also woke up with fear. It was difficult for us.
Zeynep Yaprakli (29), Ahmet Yaprakli (34), Hamza (7), and Elif Betul (5) are now trying to hold on to their lives in Germany.

Human Rights

Arrested two months into her marriage, got cancer in prison – tumor grew rapidly due to delayed treatment

Betul Aygun (28), a Turkish national in prison diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks ago, will have surgery tomorrow. As it took 6 months for the test results to come up, Aygun’s tumor grew and surgery has become imminent.

BOLD – Turkish Prisons continue to be “torture centers” for the sick detainees imprisoned due to the crackdown in Turkey. Betul Aygun (28) went to a hospital in April 2019, and the physicians diagnosed her with breast cancer three weeks ago. The tumor in Aygun’s body, due to the lack of treatment during a six months wait for the test results, grew quickly in a month.

“A guard had her by the arm and brought her to me”

“My wife had gallbladder surgery a year ago. Nobody had informed us of this surgery. I found out when I went to the penitentiary for the visiting day, which was four days after the surgery. A guard had her by the arm [she was not able to walk alone] and brought her to see me,” Abdurrahman Aygün, the husband of Betül Aygün, stated.

He went on by saying, “She went to hospital six months ago. The doctor asked for a biopsy and we found out the result three weeks ago.”

Facing a burdensome, paperwork-heavy process as a result of being imprisoned, Mr. Aygün explained that she had to follow the due process in the hospital even when she was in a dire state, and the preparation of the required documents took longer and longer.

Hospitalized for surgery, Betül’s petitions to be released from prison fell on deaf ears.

“We do not know the exact stage of the disease”

Abdurrahman Aygün said that the arduous journeys Betül had to endure with the prisoner transport vehicle worn her out.

“When my wife came from the hospital, she couldn’t recover herself, she couldn’t eat, she was exhausted, she wasn’t even able to talk. She was ruined due to the long ride,” said Aygün.

“When she went to receive her test results, she got car sick. She became very ill again and was taken back to the hospital. She is going to have an ultrasound scan, scheduled for the 1st of November. Her doctor told me that the bulk had grown faster than usual in the last month,” Betül’s husband went on.

“The stress and other environmental factors often induce these abnormalities. We do not know the exact stage of the disease, it needs to be checked frequently. I can’t get the reports from the hospital, because she’s imprisoned,” Aygün pointed out.

She got married three days before the July 2016 putsch-bid

Graduated from the Department of Geography in 2010, Betül got arrested on October 12, 2016. Aygun was sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison over her alleged ties to the Gulen movement. A higher court reduced the sentence to seven and a half years. The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the latter ruling about a year ago. Betul Aygun, who got married on July 12, 2016, was arrested while her marriage was just two-month old.

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Human Rights

Arrested when she was married for two months, got canser in the prison an the tumor grew rapidly because of delayed treatment

The sick-prisoner Mrs. Betul Aygun, who was diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks ago, will have an operation tomorrow. Waiting for the biopsy results for 6 months, Aygun’s tumor grew rapidly within 1 month and was decided for surgery.

BOLD – Prisons continue to be “torture houses” for the sick arrestee. Betul Aygun (28), who was referred to Odemis State Hospital and biopsied in April 2019, was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 weeks ago. The tumor in Aygün, who was held for 6 months for the test results, grew rapidly in 1 month.

PRISON OFFICER TOOK HER ARM AND BROUGHT

Abdurrahman Aygun, the husband of Betul Aygun, stated that “My wife had a gallbladder surgery a year ago. We have not been informed of this surgery anyway. I found out it when I went to the non-contact visit four days after the surgery. The guard entered her arm and brought her to the non-contact visit. She went to Odemis State Hospital 5 or 6 months ago. The doctor asked for a biopsy and we found out the result three weeks ago.

Encountering a very restricted paperwork process as a result of being imprisoned, Mr. Aygun explained that she had to go through many procedures when she went to the hospital even in her critical situation and the preparation of the documents always took longer time. Betül Aygün, who was referred from Odemis State Hospital to Katip Celebi Training and Research Hospital in Izmir for surgery, still did not have an eviction decision despite writing a petition to the prison prosecutor to explain her situation.

WE DON’T KNOW WHAT STAGE HER ILLNESS IS

Abdurrahman Aygün said that his wife was worn out due to the difficult journeys she made with the prisoner transport vehicle consisting of cells:

When my wife came from the hospital, she couldn’t recover herself, she couldn’t eat, she was exhausted, she wasn’t able to talk even. She’s ruined for 5 hours journey. When she went to receive her test results, she had motion sickness incidence, became very sick again and was taken to the hospital back. She’s going to have another ultrasound, and it is scheduled for November 1. When I went to visit her last week, her doctor told me that the mass grew faster than normal in a month. These are always caused by stress and the environment. We do not know exactly what stage of the disease, it needs to be monitored frequently. I met the prison prosecutor. I can’t get the reports from the hospital, because she’s convicted.”

SHE WAS MARRIED 3 DAYS BEFORE 15 JULY

Graduated from Çanakkale 18 Mart University, Department of Geography in 2010, Betul Aygun was arrested on 12 October 2016 in Çanakkale and three months later she was transferred to Odemis M Type Prison. Aygun was sentenced to 12.5 years imprisonment by the Canakkale Assize Court for alleged membership of the organization. The Court of Appeal reduced her sentence to 7.5 years. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence about a year ago. Betul Aygun, who got married on 12 July 2016, was arrested while she was married for just two months.

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Human Rights

Had to hide my two-month-old in a suitcase to cross the border – Doctor Rana

Having experienced the inhumane treatment with her two months baby under the detainment, Doctor Rana decided to flee the country to abroad, in order to do so, she had to hide her baby in suitcase.

BOLD – Rana, a medical doctor and a mother, was detained during the crackdown that ensued after the July 2016 coup bid. She told about the horrible moments she had to undergo to the rights group Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST).

The young doctor had to put her baby in a suitcase and set out on a difficult journey to escape persecution. She and her family’s ordeal after the putsch are narrated in a book titled “The Baby in the Suitcase” published by the AST.

During the post-coup purge, the genocidal acts committed by the Erdogan regime forced the victims to flee Turkey. Emergency decrees issued by Erdogan enforced such draconian measures people who are accused of being Gulenists couldn’t even work legally and therefore had been sentenced to civil death.

Their passports confiscated by authorities, the victims of the crackdown weren’t able to use legal ways to flee the country. Many of them drowned crossing the Evros river, which forms the border between Turkey and the European Union.

Dr. Rana is one of those victims who had nothing but two options; face the persecution or live in exile. She decided to flee the country after facing the inhumane treatment in her detention. While crossing the border, she had to hide her baby in a suitcase.

Rana and her husband were on vacation on the day of the coup bid. After the bid was quashed, Erdogan administration began purging people who had alleged ties to the Gulen movement, whom he accuses of orchestrating the coup. Rana’s husband lost his job during this purge. In the following days, police detained her and forced her to become an informant.

“Because I had not breastfed my baby for a long time, it gave me excruciating pain and I had to express my breast milk into the sink of the custody room. I cried saying ‘at least give me a napkin’ but nobody came to help,” said Rana while explaining the ordeal.

Being released after a lengthy detainment, Rana decided to leave the country. She and her husband went through many hardships. Smugglers asked her to put her baby into a suitcase. “Neither I nor my husband wanted to put our two months old baby son into the suitcase,” told Rana and carried on with saying, “I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t even bear the sight.”

Their dreams stripped away, two young doctors stepped into freedom in such condition.

Staying in Georgia for a short period, the couple traveled to the US and from there they went to Canada. Following long stays in refugee settlements, they are trying to build a new life there.

“We experienced merciless treatment from the Anatolian people that we once saw as divinely wise and benevolent,” said Rana and went on with expressing her wishes, “ I hope and pray that we are destined to have a good life here.”

The PDF format of the “The Baby in the Suitcase” book is available on the Advocates of Silenced Turkey website.

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