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İlhan Çomak: Not to destroy the ants’ nest

“After all these years, I do not have a proper answer for such a question of what justice is. Because everything is so volatile and hopeless. Wherever a person hurts, that’s where the life is. Justice; is not being judged for long, justice; is that the law applies to all, justice; is not to be unjustly imprisoned, and justice; is not to be forgotten…”

These words belong to İlhan Çomak, a poet who has been in prison for 27 years.

İlhan Çomak’s book, ‘Not to destroy the ant nest’, which has recently published by İletişim Publishing, tells us about the poet’s childhood, the process that led him to be a poet, 27 years of seeking justice and hope. It flows like water, but leaves a bitter taste when finished.

I think most of us know the story of İlhan Çomak. In 1994, he was taken into custody at the age of 21, while he was a student at the Geography Department of the Faculty of Literature of Istanbul University. He was arrested and charged with starting a forest fire in İstanbul and being associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

He was subjected to intense torture, and then he was falsely tried on the basis of the reports drawn up with torture. But no evidence was ever brought to prove the charges. The only “proof” was his confession under torture. Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in 2007 that İlhan did not receive a fair trial and that the trial should be held again, this did not change the result. The trial continued for 27 years and he received three life sentences.

“As the great poet İlhan Berk said in one of his poems: “I come to where I begin”. I am where I have to begin. This is the third time in 27 years that I am receiving a life sentence. Courts and judges changed, but they never touched the verdict! I’m going back and forth and I’m getting life sentences!”

While İlhan received his repeated life sentences, he clings to remembering and embracing poems.

“Throughout the poetry, I am looking for what I have lost,” he says. Again, in his own words, he is the master of surviving in every sense.

I can say that I got to know the İlhan outside of İlhan Çomak, the poet, who has been in prison for 27 years, through this book. I travelled with İlhan to his childhood in Bingöl, I played with İlhan, his brothers and nephews in that big room. I felt that loving, big house and the kiss of İlhan’s grandmother right next to me.

I felt peace in that house, İlhan. I walked to the mountains, to Bozo, to Notirvan. I climbed that willow tree with you, tried to go under the rainbow. My own childhood came to my mind, and I laughed at the fact that you, stuck to the stove, burned your hips, and walked around naked for months, just like my sister. Then I met the state!

“My first childhood came to an end when I started school, that is, my encounter with the state. I grew up, after meeting the state.”

Then, while I was reading the book, I stopped and thought about your last free day, İlhan. I thought again and again. I went to Istanbul on Aug. 26, 2014 with you. I walked for a long time on Istiklal Street in Taksim. Then I got tired and sat in Gezi Park. We talked, then it rained. We took shelter in the outer garden wall of Dolmabahçe Palace. We got on the ferry from Beşiktaş and went home. At 11 p.m., the doorbell rang, it was the police. That’s how the last free day ended.

İlhan tells in such a simple language that he hugs all his memories tightly. I collect pebbles with him and take shelter in the greenery. Then the prison days come, an endless time:

“Here, time is to be consumed. As such, it appears as an object rather than a condition of existence. The general time is skipped in many cases. Another cycle and a world of concepts is in effect, which is based on months, years, or even a “lifetime” of uncertainty, and ultimately dominated by hope and silence, and more often by disappointment. Time is there to be consumed, not to be lived! This is what is expected or in many cases what is happening.

“I want to occupy a place in time with poetry. Poetry is not the only component of my identity, but it is actually the most beautiful, the most important building block I want to embrace. Surprised, but more delighted, I concede that in these narrow times, poetry is the untainted face of man, the sole 89 ways to establish a direct and honest contact with reality.”

İlhan uses memories against death, trying to remember and explain.

He is not ground-breaking, neither is he fatalistic. He builds his life in prison with poetry. Although he doesn’t have much of a future vision, of course he wants his freedom. İlhan, who is too good natured to destroy an ants’ nest, wants to seek what he has lost in this life.

Unfortunately, today, the ants’ nests are easily destroyed all over the country, İlhan. You have to get out, not only for yourself, but also to protect the nests.