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Our hearts remain in prison again this new year

“OK,” I say to the children, “We are all overwhelmed in these corona days. Let’s decorate the house, the new year is coming. Down with the corona and with 2020. Let’s enter 2021 with hope. Come on, let’s make popcorn.”

While I make the popcorn, I think of my dear friend Osman Kavala, who remains in prison.

I think back to an afternoon when a few human rights defenders had gathered. Whose turn was it to host us that day? “It’s me,” said Şeyhmus. “I’ll even buy you coffee.” Şeyhmus Gökalp, member of the Turkish Medical Association’s honorary board, is now in prison.

I know a walk would do me good. I go outside to get some air. I pick up pace as Leonarda Cohen sings – “Dance with me…” It’s cold outside, but the sun is shining, and I enjoy the birds on trees. I look at the beautiful sky.

I think of novelist Ahmet Altan’s second book written in prison, where he said he would never see the sky without prison walls. The very sky devastates me.

I walk through Diyarbakır’s Bağlar district. Gentrification will begin here soon. I walk up to the building that used to host Kardelen Women’s Centre. I think back to the early 2000s, and the enthusiastic inauguration of Kardelen – literally translates to English as “snow piercer,” refers to the flower snowdrop.

After the opening, we grab a bite in a corner with the then-mayor of Diyarbakır, Gültan Kışanak, and Çağlar, a young employee of the centre. We look at the endless row of coffeehouses that have put their tables on the sidewalk, making it harder for women to walk down that street. “We will change this male-dominated mentality,” Kışanak says proudly. Çağlar is also hopeful for the future.

Both Kışanak and Çağlar Demirel are now in prison.

What should I cook tonight? I open a jar of canned vegetables I prepared with my loving mother. I’ll sauté them, and make some rice on the side.

“Mum, should we put out pickles too?” asks my son. Let’s do it. My pickles have been good this year. I open the lid and I pop one in my mouth.

Nedim wrote in a letter that he liked pickles. Journalist Nedim Türfent and dozens more are in prison.

I go to Diyarbakır’s Sur district. I go in and out of the streets of my hometown, which get stranger every day. Ruins on one street, upscale cafés on the next. A Starbucks a few yards from abject poverty and hunger.

Along the Hevsel Gardens a nice walking path has been put up. I find myself thinking about whose dream that was. “There will be days when we will walk along the Tigris,” says Selçuk.

Selçuk Mızraklı, elected co-mayor of Diyarbakır, will not be able to see his beloved hometown for 9 years, 4 months and 15 days, he is in prison.

With the coronavirus… I feel like I’ve been home for years. The feeling of being trapped and its friend despair surround me. I feel like I haven’t been able to breathe for a long time. I make coffee and go out to the yard. I look at the sky, the stars. I remember my childhood, us sleeping on the roof under the stars, how much hope we had.

Meanwhile, the former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş whispers something from his prison cell.

“When you lose hope, look up at the sky, the stars are still there.”

May 2021 bring good health, but also bring back our loved ones. Let it bring freedom to thousands of people who are imprisoned unlawfully. Let this new year bring us hope, and hope for my hometown that has been destroyed.

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