Ms. Emine A. spent a long time in Çorum Prison and described the hardships that mothers encounter with their babies: “In the crowded wards in prison, the toddlers learned to cry in silence as they were constantly silenced.”
The most crucial problem in Turkish prisons is the detained children with their mothers whose number has increased rapidly in the last three years.
After the controversial July 15 coup attempt, thousands of women, mostly teachers and public employees, were arrested. These include a significant number of pregnant women and toddlers.
Nowadays, Çorum Prison is the new address for a new tragedy. Although it is winter, the heating systems are not on in Çorum Prison. Ms. Emine A., who was released after being detained for a long time, told about her experience about the prison: “Children are condemned to illness in winter.”
Staying in the ward with 15 other people, she said, “There were three babies when I was in prison. The other two babies came time to time to their mothers. Little Hamza has been with me for a week. His mother sent me a message that the heaters in the prison weren’t on and little Hamza could be sick if we send Hamza to her. But the kid was insisting on seeing his mother with his unstoppable tears. I have to send him to his mother tomorrow.”
They learn how to cry in silence
Ms. Emine A. explained about the psychological state of Hamza, who entered the prison at the age of 7 months only, as: “The toddler is continually crying or holding himself silently. Tears are pouring silently. He doesn’t cry out loud, because other prisoners wanted him to keep quiet so that there wouldn’t cause constant noise as he stayed in the same room with other 15 people in prison. Just say ‘mum,’ and he cries quietly, no word he utters while he cries.”
Hamza Bıçakçı, the youngest son of Gülende and Erdal Bıçakçı, entered Çorum Prison with his mother when he was seven months old. He turned 2,5 years in prison. With three children, the couple was detained since March 2018. Elderly grandparents take care of the other children, Zeynep (7) and Numan (10), in Kahramanmaraş. Corum city is 9 hours away from Kahramanmaraş city by bus. Zeynep and Numan, along with one of the grandparents, have to pay more than the minimum wage of salary if they visit their parents every week.
“I am diabetic, no drugs were given to me for 25 days”
Ms. Emine A. stated that she has diabetes and was not given her medication while in prison. She also highlighted that “I was in prison for three months. There’s psychological pressure. I got sick there. They’re forcefully taking you to the doctor. My hands got numb. The doctor said I needed emergency surgery. I replied that I can’t have surgery here, under these circumstances. I added I’ll have my surgery after I am released. The doctor suggested me to give an apparatus, but I’ve waited a month for it, and still, I did not get it. I’m a diabetic, and they didn’t give me my medicine for 25 days. What can I say more!?”
On the other hand, HDP MP and human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu announced on his social media account two days ago that he had contacted to the prison authorities regarding the solution of the problem and said: “There were complaints that the heating system was out of order in Corum Prison. I communicated with the authorities. They said the repair of two boilers will be completed tonight. I hope the problem ends without delay.”
Jailed cadet’s mother stands up against oppression, conquers fear
Melek Çetinkaya is the mother of a jailed 19 years-old former cadet. A campaign led by her broke the spell cast by the Erdogan regime’s reign of terror. She gets detained by police whenever she steps outside her home. However, she has no intention to remain silent.
Lives of millions in Turkey turned upside down on July 15, 2016, with the coup attempt Erdogan labeled as “a gift from God.”
Cadets, many 18-19 years of age, were among those arrested on the night of the coup bid. Çetinkaya’s 19 years old son was one of those students.
Her mom kept telling during post-coup trails that former cadets, including her son, did not involve in any illegal activities on the coup night and highlighted that they were taken to different locations at the behest of their superiors, without touching any weapon. And forensic reports confirmed her claims.
Lawyers of the Presidency were present in the courtroom when 256 former cadets were sentenced to life in prison. Çetinkaya’s son, Furkan, was one of them receiving a sentence of life imprisonment.
Melek Çetinkaya tried hard to have her voice heard on social media. She has taken her struggle a step further by staging protests in favor of jailed cadets in Ankara’s crowded streets.
Her fight also brought other mothers together. Cadets’ mothers got detained whenever they cried out for the plight of cadets sentenced to life in prison.
Çetinkaya has been taking to the streets for three months to draw public attention, and she was taken into police custody for hours in each attempt.
Çetinkaya, trying to reach out to the public through her Youtube channel, has announced her plan to start a “March for Justice” from Ankara to Istanbul.
She said she would hold the March for Justice for cadets sentenced to life in prison, jailed pregnant women, children in prison, and dismissed public servants.
March for Justice, which kicked off on January 19 in Ankara’s Guven Park, met a police intervention which saw the arrest of Çetinkaya along with 66 people.
Police encircled Guven Park and surrounded the protestors. It was a clear message saying that police would not allow a march of 450 km between Ankara and Istanbul.
Çetinkaya was detained right after stepping out of the metro, before making to Guven Park where the march would start.
“I am an aggrieved mom. You gave life sentences to 19 years-old cadets. We have been silent for three and a half years, but you will no longer be able to silence us. Justice will be served in this country,” Çetinkaya said while being dragged away by police.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was among the protestors when police waded in to disperse the group. Gergerlioglu confirmed the police intervention on his twitter account, saying, “Police violently suppressed Çetinkaya’s march for justice.” He also noted that the police physically assaulted him along with other protestors.
Police held Çetinkaya in detention for hours before releasing her late in the evening. And she was detained each day when she attempted to attend the march. Police went even further by apprehending Çetinkaya right after she left her home on January 21.
Anti-Terror Police took the stage this time. Çetinkaya was taken to Ankara’s Counter-Terrorism department. She had to endure waiting for hours while facing the wall and with her hands cuffed.
Police mocked her height and questioned her about how she learned to use social media. They did not provide her with a bed or mattress, and she had to sleep on the concrete ground.
Some people recorded videos on metros and buses to raise awareness about Çetinkaya’s situation. Those who recorded videos became the target of Erdogan’s fanatics.
Understanding shifts in Turkey through Yamanlar College
Erdoğan Regime shut down nearly 1400 foundations, associations, and schools belonging to the Gülen Movement. Yamanlar College was one of the most emblematic ones. The college was the first college founded in the years when the movement was founded.
Starting to serve in the education field in 1982, the school preferred the modern education system. Cleric Mr. Gülen said to his followers that education is the fundamental problem of Turkey, and instead of building mosques or religious vocational high schools, they shall open modern schools.
Yamanlar College, the first school, established within this scope, became Turkey’s one of the most successful private schools. Afterward, the Gülen Movement founded 21 universities and nearly 1400 private schools in Turkey.
Erdogan accused the Gulen Movement in 2013 after the corruption operation targeted Erdogan’s four ministers and his son Bilal. These operations, known as the 17/25 December Corruption Operation, were closed with the dismissal of police and prosecutors.
Erdogan immediately sent the officers to the foundation schools belonged to the Gülen Movement to impose a fine, some of the schools were cut off the water, and some of the schools’ gardens were destroyed by constructing new roads.
The repression continued, and Erdogan started to confiscate the school administration. The complete confiscation of schools and the cessation of education took place after the controversial coup attempt on 15 July 2016.
Seizing all the power in his hands after the coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan declared the State of Emergency and started the presidential system. Meantime, all the foundation schools owned by the Gülen Movement were closed down.
The Erdogan regime has transformed most of these schools into religious vocational high schools (Imam Hatip in Turkish), where teachers mostly teach Salafi beliefs. The Gülen Movement’s first school Yamanlar College was one of them.
An event held during the first days of 2020 has launched a new debate in Turkey over Yamanlar College’s transformation.
The Sıla Foundation organized a conference on Shariah in the premises of Yamanlar used in the past as a sports hall and theater. İhsan Şenocak, one of the speakers at the Sıla Foundation’s meeting, wanted a declaration war against Israel and called the government officials, “You walk towards Tel Aviv, we’ll come after you.” These words received great support from the hall.
One of the significant issues discussed in the meeting was covering the picture of the Republic of Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk in the hall.
People wearing turban and robes in the hall and the speeches made were on the axis of the change after the school, which had modern education in the past, was taken away from the Gülen Movement.
The education system in Turkey experienced significant changes in recent years. The Erdogan regime opened thousands of new religious vocational high schools, or the existing schools were turned into religious vocational high schools. Families complain about this, but the number of schools that provide modern education is decreasing day by day.
Pregnant behind bars with a two-year-old kid
Elif Aydın, 31, is one of the educators arrested in Turkey over the past three years. She was two-months pregnant when she was sent to prison in the western province of Gebze on May 25, 2018. She also had two kids, 6 and 3 years old at that time.
She couldn’t leave behind her younger child, Musab; thus, she brought him along to prison. They did not provide a separate bed for her son in the eight-person ward. The pregnant woman stayed by sharing the same bed with his son in prison for months.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) ‘s deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist, has been fighting for her release from prison.
Turkish law forbids the arrest of pregnant women; however, this ban has not been applied for suspects from the Gulen movement and of Kurdish origin.
Gergerlioğlu filed a complaint on July 1, 2018, with the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) against the judge and prosecutor who gave the arrest decision for Elif Aydın. A response from HSYK to his complaint came 1.5 years later. They have not investigated it so far.
“By this decision, HSYK has become an accomplice to this crime,” Gergerlioğlu said.
Elif Aydın, on the other hand, is trying to be the voice of other arrested pregnant women by revealing what she had been through.
Aydın: “I fell downstairs twice”
“I was the director of a private student residence. That was the only accusation leveled against me. My husband had stayed in prison for a year over links to the Gulen movement. They arrested me nine months after he was released from jail. I left my older child behind and took Musab in prison with me. And I was pregnant with my third child. We all three were trying to sleep in the same bed.
“I fell downstairs twice and was taken to the hospital. My kid, Musab, also fell downstairs several times, and his face and eyes got hurt. The ward was an eight-person ward, but there were times also where nine people had been staying in our ward. The prison is tough for a woman with a child. It was summer, fortunately, when I was jailed, so we could spend most of our time in the yard. When it became colder, we had to stay inside.”
“There was no hygiene in prison. Musab’s eyes caught an infection. He hit his head on the bunk beds many times. He fell off the bunk bed, and he hurt his head and mouth. I was pregnant and was seeing all these (Musab had been through) so, I grew depressed.
“Many pregnant women were arrested like me. And, this is still going on. There are no special arrangements or facilities in place for pregnant women and children in prison. Life is quite hard in prison.”
Thousands of educators arrested
Erdogan’s regime mainly targeted well-educated people. About 1,400 Gulen-affiliated schools, kindergartens, student residences, and universities were shut down. Thirty thousand teachers were dismissed, and their licenses were revoked. Thousands of teachers were arrested.