Ayse Arman, the journalist from Harriet Daily, made an interview with Esra Ozakca, the wife of Semih Ozakca. Published on July 12 and 13, 2017 in Hurriyet, the interview has had widespread public attention concerning the hunger strike of the two public employees, academician Nuriye Gulmen and primary school teacher Semih Ozakca, who were dismissed from their duty via an arbitrary and unjust Decree Law.
It has torn my heart out to make this interview! Very young, idealist persons, teachers. What a pity! What a pity!
It has been taking place in front of the eyes of whole Turkey. “Semih and Nuriye” have been on hunger strike because they were dismissed from their public duty.
It is the 126th day of the hunger strike. Day by day, they are being exhausted, rapidly approaching to death. Their whole muscle systems have already collapsed, they are barely able to walk, their organs are about to burst up…
And all these have been taking place in front of the eyes of all of us.
I have made an interview with Esra Özakça, the wife of Semih Özakça. Both are 28 years old, they had gone a vacation with their tents in Marmaris this time last year. Two young persons who are tied to one another with love. Yet today, they are face to face with death!
Your husband, Semih, has been on hunger strike for 126 days. What is your condition? How is your mental state?
As everyone else, I am very worried about the health conditions of Nuriye and Semih. I can’t help myself, I am afraid. Then, I get angry with myself, I am trying not to get worried, not to bring bad thoughts to my mind. I have my heart in my mouth because it cannot be precisely determined how such a long period of hunger affects the human body. They detained me as well, and released on the previous day. It was our visiting day, I ran up to the the prison, and went to Semih…
What do you do when you see him? He is a man with whom you are in love, who has lost 25 kilos, whose muscle system has broken down… Are you crying?
I am moved to tears, but Semih doesn’t let me cry! He makes jokes for me even under such conditions. He says “Oooo! They have released you! The women’s prison is close to ours. Alas! We would be in the same campus!” , and makes me laugh.
Was it non-contact visit day?
Yes, there was a window between us. The guardians later told me that he came to the door with wheel chair, and then in order not to make me see him with the wheel chair, he stepped down the chair and walked towards me. Of course, he is limping much. The entire body and muscle system of a person, who has eaten nothing for 126 days, are harmed in some ways. He has been experiencing physical collapse. Yet, thanks God, Semih’s morale is so good…
Why did the police detain you?
I have been on hunger strike as well, it was the 45th day. We were at Konur Street, all of a sudden, a group of police appeared in front of us and detained us hastily. I was told that they detained me because of my Twitter messages for Semih. I told them: “He is my husband, I will be with him through thick and thin. I will surely share tweets supporting him.” Then, I was forwarded to the courthouse, and released on the following day…
What is the reason for your hunger strike? Is it to understand what your husband has been experiencing or to protest against what has been done?
It includes both, indeed. Semih was taken into custody on the 75th day of the hunger strike. His file was simply empty, and it was extremely unfair detention. I said “I will be on hunger strike until Semih and Nuriye are released” and began hunger strike on that day. I am still continuing…
How many kilos have you lost?
I had not been on hunger strike before the detainment of Semih, however, I had lost 6-7 kilos during those 75 days. I have lost 8-9 kilos now. 16 kilos in total. Semih has lost 25 kilos…
HE IS BEING EXHAUSTED INSIDE, AND WE ARE OUTSIDE!
What does a woman feel when the man with whom she is in love has been exhausted in prison?
She becomes exhausted outside as well! Outside is not “outside” anymore! I am inside with him, I am wheresoever he is. Semih does not eat, drink; I cannot eat anything either. It is not really easy to watch a part of you heart being exhausted. However, I respect his decision, his will. I have never said anything against. His mother has said, my mother has said, our relatives have said, everyone has said…
Did she tell him to ‘give up!’?
Yes. After all, his life is at stake. They said, ‘My son, give up!’. Yet, it is matter that he is completely right. Therefore, I can only say that I respect…
Well, don’t you say “Here is the life we will have together, give up, come back to life, come back to me”?
No, I have never said this, I cannot. Because it would mean to demand another life from him. It would be disrespect to his will, his life stance, his decisions. Semih cannot live without the ideal which he believes in and struggles for. And this man is completely right! He is saying “we have been dismissed from our jobs unjustly, give us our jobs back!”. And he is undertaking this not only for himself, but for all the people who have been subjected to injustice. I think he has been undertaking an incredibly honorable action…
SEMIH IS MY FRIEND, MY HUSBAND, MY BELOVED, MY EVERYTING!
When and how did you meet?
Semih was MY classmate from the school, we were at the same class in the Department of Primary School Teaching at Sinop University. We went to the university together until the 3rd grade.
What kind of a love is that you have?
Great love, there is no description for it, that is it! I said in my legal defence, “That I stand behind my husband cannot be questioned! I will be with and behind him even if he is put under the soil!” Our love is thus and so…
Which feature have you felt in love with Semih?
There are so many that I cannot say a particular one. Semih is marvelously merciful, warmhearted, egalitarian, righteous, compassionate, fair. My husband is human. He is a man who has the most beautiful smile. When he looks at someone’s eyes, your face welcomes sun. He is calm, patient, peaceful. He is the exact opposite of who I am, indeed. Yet, we are complete each other incredibly. I am in existence with him, I am the one with him. We have so many in common! Semih is my friend, my husband, my beloved, my everything. Before of all, we are two great friends, we have survived many hardships, had many difficulties…
We are both teachers. Yet, when we graduated, we could not be appointed. We went back to our hometowns. I worked as a substitute teacher in Aydın, he worked for many places in Eskişehir. Then, he went into the military service. I was appointed, and then he was appointed. We were separated from each other up once again because he was appointed to another city. We remain separate for three years, but our love always continued, we never broke away. We might have seen each other for only ten days in the course of those years…
How were you getting communicated?
We resemble old-time people. Our case was nostalgic, we were exchanging letters. Yet, of course we were using other communication devices too. We are also exchanging letters now. However, Semih cannot right nowadays because his arm muscles do not let him to write…
Where was he appointed after the military service?
He was appointed to Erzurum, and I was to Mardin…
NURIYE AND SEMIH ARE ON HUNGER STRIKE FOR 126 DAYS
You were two ‘Calıkusu’?
Yes, we were both primary school teacher. I was a teacher at a village. We are both children of families who are not well-off. We have struggled much in the life. We have succeed to have what we have with our fight with tooth and nail. Above all, Semih had lost his father, his grandpa has raised him. He is a great teacher, who reads a lot, who loves children a lot…
How did you marry then?
I went to Ondokuz Mayis University to visit him. We visited Ani Ruins together, he asked for my hand there. I felt on top of the world! I hugged him so tightly that he could not breath. I told him that I would be with him till the end of time, that I would always hug him.
How old were you?
We are 28 years old now, and we were 25 back then.
So, what happened?
We got married, but we remained separate for 6 months when we were married. We could not get spouse-related appointment in one way or another. When we ultimately came together, the regulations concerning the personal rights of public servants began to be changed. The education system experienced sudden changes. We are young, idealist teachers trying to do their best in their work, however, we have always encountered with hardship. After all, Semih managed to come to Mardin with spouse-related appointment. I was a teacher at a village school, he was in the district center. However, we could be together only for 1.5 year, and then this incident has happened…
WE ARE ON HUNGER STRIKE NOT FOR DEATH, BUT FOR THE CORRECTION OF THE INJUSTICE!
How are the prison conditions?
When Nuriye and Semih went into prison, a committee met with them and told them “We will make medical intervention when you lose your consciousness!”. In response, they refused the doctors assigned by the prison administration, and said “We have our own doctors from THE Ankara Chamber of Medicine, we demand their medical supervision!” However, the Ministry of Justice did not give permission for this.
What about the conditions now?
Their drinks are prepared by themselves or by the friends from the same ward. The Chamber of Medicine repeatedly file an application for the medical supervision, which is persistently get rejected. Their lawyers visit them on daily basis both to control their health conditions and to learn whether they have any complaints. We are directing their questions to doctors here. This is not a health way for medical supervision, but for the moment there is no doctor control.
Well, who is prescribing them to take ‘this amount of salt, this amount of sugar and this vitamin’?
There is no such person, they are deciding themselves. They are behaving on the basis of the experience of previous 120 days. For instance, when they take too much salt, they say “My edema is excessive, so I should reduce the salt level.” There are so limited choices for them. As I say, we try to inform the doctors about their complaints, but these are the things that doctors cannot decide without actual medical examination. Therefore, they provide general prescriptions.
How their organs have been negatively affected so far?
There is a severe myolysis, especially the muscles of Nuriye. Semih has many complaints about his neck. And they both have excessive pains in the kidney. Their kidneys have most probably been affected too much from the situation. However, we are unable to learn the scale and stage of the damage to their health. Both are walking by handling.
It is a very serious matter to lose 25 kilos…
Yes. We can hug each other during open visits. Semih told me in the last open visit “You have been emaciated, you are all skin and bone.” I replied “Look, who is speaking!” We are warmhearted even in our most difficult times. However, we are quite different from ourselves in our old photos. And what is more, we were a couple with full of life, who likes eating too much. We liked a lot to prepare something together, set a meal table. On the day before, we talked about our holiday in Marmaris that we had last year together. We had gone to a tent camp, it was so beautiful. We talked about those days…
Well, God forbid, when they lose their consciousness, and the prison administration says ‘We will drip-feed’, what will happen then?
Yes, they have been thinking of this as well. And the legal regulations provides this opportunity in Turkey. There are international conventions rejecting this, but Turkey had defined such a regulation for prisons. That said, this is beside the point for the moment, Semih’s memory is sound. He is reading a lot. He has the most complaints with the restrictions on the number of books. This is valid for Nuriye as well.
How often are the families able to visit?
We are able to see Semih on every Mondays.
I am unable to bring myself to say, but when does a person comes to the point of no return?
There is no precise point! It changes from person to person. It depends on the health condition and genetic structure of the person. However, our friends have entered a really difficult process…
What is your response to those people saying “So what? If they do not want to die, let them eat”?
In fact, we have learnt not to react to everything! Nuriye and Semih have been saying “We do not want to die, we are standing upon our rights. We have undertaken this to ensure our demand be met.”
For you, what is the way to put an end to this situation?
Of course, to fulfill their rightful demands as soon as possible! There is no demand that cannot be met. Two teachers demand their jobs back. Can you imagine a demand that is more simple, more modest than this?
What do say with regard to the charge of [terrorist] organization membership?
Look, you need to provide proofs for such an accusation. They have charged me with the same thing. They said I had shared twitter messages for my husband; of course I would do that. Nuriye and Semih have been charged with the same things. They gave a interview to a journalist, etc. There is no concrete evidence. However, this is the condition of Turkey nowadays. Thousands of people have been jailed without any concrete evidence! Have we used the name of an organization, utilized the discourse of an organization for 250 days of resistance? What have we done? We have only said “We demand our jobs back!”. You can be subjected to the accusation of organization membership even when you are walking in the street. They have declared everybody as members of organization with the Decree Laws.
What dreams had you had about future?
We were waiting for our re-appointment to Eskişehir. We are so happy couple, we were dreaming about happy, beautiful days…
To give up teaching…
We got this job after so much labour. Neither of us are from wealth families. We experienced the process of preparation for the public personnel selection examination. We have undertaken our jobs under harsh conditions for years. I undertook teaching with love, and Semih did too. Why have we been dismissed from our jobs without our consent? That is, it is really difficult to accept this. And on the other hand, there is no opportunity to get another job. The people dismissed by the Decree Laws have been reduced to “social deads”.
What do you mean?
That is to say, you are asked to provide your print-out from the Social Security Institution when you apply for a job at another place. It says on this document that “this person was dismissed from public duty with this Decree Law”. The employer either employs you with courage, or most frequently, s/he does not take you on. You are then being reduced to “social dead”. There are many stories of suicide among the people dismissed from Decree Laws…
 Calikusu literally means scrub bird. It is also the name of 1922 novel by the renowned Turkish novelist Resat Nuri Guntekin. This famous novel is based on the story of an idealist young woman teacher, Feride, who represents the enlightened subject struggling for educating Anatolian peasants in line with the ideals of the newly emerging Republic. We do believe that Ayse Arman’s comparison is barely valid as the struggle of Semih, Nuriye and Esra (and other subjects of Yuksel resistance) involves in a fundamental critique in praxis with regard to these kinds of projects as well.