Turkey will soon vote on whether to hand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan what he’s campaigned for since he won the presidency a year and a half ago: a constitutional amendment to consolidate power in the president, completing his grip on the country. One of his most controversial moves to silence opposition has been his imprisonment of the co-chairs of the rising left-wing opposition party, the HDP, or People’s Democratic Party.
Selahattin Demirtas, the public figure and co-chair of the party, has been in jail for four months and was sentenced earlier this week to five months in prison, after facing a sentence of up to 142 years. The charges were for working with an official terrorist organization — the Kurdish Worker’s Party, known as the PKK guerilla — and for "publicly inciting hatred and hostility.”
As he sat in jail, Demirtas penned a short story inspired by the violence in southeast Turkey, where a majority of Kurds live and where violence has escalated since the PKK cease-fire with the state ended in the summer of 2015, shortly after the HDP ended the ruling party’s majority rule.
PEN International and Guernica Magazine co-published his short story, titled “Aleppo Mince,” on Wednesday.
The introduction to the piece points out that considering the upcoming vote on Turkey’s presidential system, “Demirtas’ silencing appears to have been all the more premeditated.”
The story — whose title is inspired by a kebab dish — is set in Hatay, a Turkish city with a diverse population including Kurds and Arabs that is “so close to Aleppo that, if they (the inhabitants) paid close enough attention, they’d be able to hear the explosions with their own ears.”
Uncertain 2017 For Kurds and Turkey
Demirtas describes life in “ the Middle East as usual,” where an explosion is considered “ordinary” by audiences abroad and “not even worth reading about.”
While celebrating the culinary richness of the province, which now settles a large portion of Syrian refugees, Demirtas meditates on how war has changed locals’ perceptions of violence and death.
“I wonder if in reality death is altogether commonplace, normal, and we are the ones who exaggerated it, made it into something extraordinary,” he writes.
The author and politician was previously a human rights activist and lawyer and has become the public face of the Kurdish movement abroad.
PEN International, famous for its literary awards and prison writing program, sets out to be “at the intersection of literature and human rights,” according to its website.