Sometimes the books we come across are the ones we can’t get out of our heads. This has happened to me with Can Dündar’s most recent book “We Are Arrested”. One evening when I was exhausted, I went from work straight to one of my favorite bookshops where this book was on display. I bought it, started reading it immediately (so much for being exhausted) and even now, several weeks later it is still uppermost on my mind.
The blurb says:
Following the dramatic events of July 2016, the global spotlight has fallen on Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. International observers fear the attempted coup has given Erdogan, already known for his attacks on press freedom, an excuse to further suppress all opposition.
In November 2015, Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the national Cumhuriyet newspaper, was arrested on charges of espionage, helping a terrorist organisation, trying to topple the government and revealing state secrets. His transgression? Publishing photographic evidence of a highly illegal covert arms shipment by the Turkish secret service to radical Islamist organisations fighting government forces in Syria – a crime that was in the government’s interest to conceal, and a journalist’s duty to expose.
Arraigned by the President himself, who called for Dündar to receive two life sentences, he was held in solitary confinement in Turkey’s Silivri Prison for three months while awaiting trial.
We Are Arrested is Dündar’s enthralling account of the newspaper’s decision to publish and the events that unfolded as a result – including would-be suicide bombings, assassination attempts and fierce attacks from pro-government media – as well as the time he served behind bars for defending the public’s right to know.
I had been aware of the court case of Can Dündar and in general of his works as the editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. I was also aware of the fact that the Turkish government imprisons more and more journalists, and that it tries to/censors all media. One thing I had never considered was that those thousands of detained people must be in factual prisons. Like Europe’s largest prison in Silivri, 80 km away from Istanbul, where 11,000 people are arrested at the same time. And it really shames me that I never thought about this – because I lived in Istanbul for 5 years; because I read the news every day; because I was actively involved in the Gezi Park protests, but didn’t use my brains to understand the situation in more detail.
“We Are Arrested” namely tells Can Dündar’s story: how he researched the truth, published a piece of news that attacked the government, and ended up in prison for this. Although he only did his job as a great journalist, he fell victim to the corrupt Turkish government, which detains people contrary to all laws. Thus, the book consists of 37 chapters or single essays, letters, diary entries that Dündar wrote while he had to stay in Silivri Prison. He tells of his family, of his colleagues and friends, of the Turkish society and politics, of the court proceedings. All this draws not only a picture of his life in prison, but also of the critical state the Turkish Republic is in nowadays.
Although I read the English translation, I like Dündar’s style of writing. It is elaborate, but at the same time diverting. He uses many ellipses as well as quotes from many different Turkish writers. There are several pictures included, and chapter 21 consists of a kind of poem written and drawn in the shape of the circle a prisoner walks. I am surprised how optimistic Dündar writes despite being in prison where for the first few weeks he is held incommunicado and despite knowing how much the president himself wishes him to be convicted.
To me Dündar’s “We Are Arrested” is a must read in 2017. You can buy it here*.
By the way, Can Dündar lives in exile in Germany right now, but his wife can’t exit Turkey because authorities have seized her passport. Only last month Dündar together with Turkish-Armenian journalist Hayko Bağdat founded the online magazine Özgürüz (We are free): https://ozguruz.org (both in German and Turkish). Turkey has blocked the website.
* contains an affiliate link