The Jailing of a Hero: Halil Demir’s Tragic Story
Halil Demir had served his nation with distinction and honor. The Turkish government repaid him by branding him a “terrorist” and incarcerating him.
I am the wife of a purged police officer who worked with the Special Forces for 16 years. There is a term in Turkey, which describes us, the people whose lives are affected from job suspensions and firings: “KHK’li”. It means “the one with governmental decree”. I am one of many “KHK’li”. I don’t know where to start telling my story, as I am not used to finding listening ears and hearts, who are willing to listen and embrace it. These days, we are completely excluded from the society. The people who know you before, would act like they do not recognize you when they see you in the streets. They would rather pretend they didn’t see you. Even my father wishes he didn’t have a daughter like me.
My husband, Halil Demir, has been a successful member of special police forces. At the day of the attempted coup, he was called for an operation and he did not come home until 3 days after the coup. That was our usual routine at home because of his profession. He would leave for an operation for an unknown amount of time, and I would be the one who is waiting for him and taking care of the kids. This time right after he came home, we learned that he was suspended from his job with a governmental decree. The decree included around 10,000 government officers who were either fired or suspended from their jobs. In one night, thousands of people and their families were labeled and profiled as “unwanted” and unbelievably, “terrorist”. We didn’t know this was just the beginning of a huge witch hunt that would elevate in the following months.
It was so ironic and tragic that just 3 years before the coup attempt, Halil was awarded by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for his outstanding bravery in protecting Turkish consulate in Mogadishu, Somalia. I vividly remember the day, when I heard about the bombing that took place in Mogadishu. My husband was on duty there and I couldn’t hear from him back after the news. All his friends were calling me, and asking if he was OK. The news said there were casualties after the incident. I couldn’t sleep that night. My daughter was only two weeks old and she couldn’t sleep either. I had the biggest relief of my life when I heard his voice on the phone the next day. We were blessed that he came out safe from such a huge disaster. The Turkish police officer, who was right next to him at the operation was not lucky, he died in Halil’s arms. The award document contained -then minister of foreign affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu-’s signature and it was presented to him by government officials at a big event in Marriott Hotel. It is rather ironic. A person, seen as a hero, was successfully smeared as a traitor in three years in the eyes of his country.
We were living at an apartment complex that was designated for police officers in Corum, a small province in central Turkey. Since my husband was dismissed, we had to move out of the apartment. The police came to investigate the house when we were packing our stuff. They didn’t show any search warrant, but they were police officers and police meant “trust” for us. So, we welcomed them. I served Turkish ravioli and snacks, as we see anyone coming to our house as guests, even if it was police officers who came to detain a family member. They searched the house, and took my husband with them under detention. Yes, my husband left again. I was used to his departures, but this time it was different. I just sat in the middle of the house, which was a mess with all the packing and moving out. I asked myself “What is happening to our lives?”.
I think the children of “KHK’li” are very special, almost supernatural. They are much more resilient and strong than any other kid you would imagine. My 18-year-old son came to the rescue, and we made a plan to pack our remaining things in the house and loaded them in a truck. We started our next adventure to our hometown, Iskenderun. We moved to the basement in my in-law’s house, where my husband’s parents and siblings lived. Our unit doesn’t have any windows, so we do not really see the sun. But my children and I were thankful at least to have a place to live in unlike many who lost their loved ones through arrests as well as their only source of incomes.
All of my four children love their fathers, especially my younger son, Bugrahan. While all these were happening, he was out of town, visiting one of his friends. He came home asking about his father. I was uneasy. For the last week, I went through difficult times, and this was yet another challenge on me. How would I tell him? How would he respond? Even I was having difficult time digesting what had happened, how in the world I will make a 16-year-old understand that they took their father without showing any reason? My elder son again supported me, and in a room with my two teenage sons, who are much more mature and grown up from their peers, we talked and talked. Within the same minute, Bugrahan learned that his father was suspended, then detained by police and eventually fired from his job. I feel like there is another generation growing up with the traumatic experiences of persecuted parents and family members. I genuinely wonder what kind of a future you would expect for a country where most of his young generation are suffering because of the government oppression.
Halil has been in jail in Corum since he was detained. We use every opportunity to see him in open prison visits that occur every two months, although I feel like those visits are designed to make us feel humiliated. They put a big crowd into a small room, where people wait for hours. In most of the visits, there are always cheap excuses like failure in computer security system, to lessen the duration of the visit. After all the harassment and long hours of wait, if everything goes well we are given at most 30 minutes to see Halil. Oh those precious 30 minutes which I always pray for the time not to pass.
Prison conditions are terrible. My husband’s cell was designed to fit 14 people, but he stays there with 44 other inmates. The beds are not sufficient. Most of them are sleeping on the floor by wrapping into the only blankets given by the prison administration. The food is also prepared for 14 people, but shared by all 45 inmates in the cell. Water in the bathroom flows very little. For only two hours a week, they have hot water that they can take shower. Since all the cells are overcrowded, there are always long lines to take a shower at those shower times. He told me that once he tried to clean himself outside under the rain. How can you expect to have a healthy, hygienic place in a cell, which is three times over the capacity? Most of the inmates get sick often. My husband has high blood pressure and he needs frequent doctor checkups. I tried to provide him a blood pressure monitor. I wrote multiple petitions since March and it is still not delivered to my husband. Apparently, health and life quality of inmates didn’t mean anything to the prison administration.
My husband adored his kids and his kids adored him. In one of the visits, he asked my 6-year-old whether she was excited to start kindergarten. He said that he will look forward to her letters when she learns to read and write. No wonder why, she was the first student in class who figured out how to read and write. She made it a personal responsibility for herself after her father’s words. She learned how to read and write in two months after starting school. You would wonder what she has written in her first letter. I couldn’t help my tears run down my face when I read it. I agreed on every word of the letter and felt her pure love for her hero.
Halil was an artist. He was very good at calligraphy. It was his passion. After long days of work, he found refuge and peace in calligraphy to refresh himself. Now, I look at his art pieces and think of him. And I would like to scream at the world: “Have you seen a terrorist who is an artist?”
One year after his arrest, the indictment was finally presented to him. The first trial was on July 22nd. After one year of imprisonment, we finally learned that he was alleged to be a member of a terrorist organization. Because he had a messaging application, which the alleged coup plotters have used, on his phone. I know it is indeed unbelievable, but show me something that is logical in this country. I went to the trial. The defendants were sitting right in front of the judge, and they weren’t allowed to look back at their family members. The judge seemed uninterested in the case, even seemed sleepy a bit. She pretended to listen to the witnesses now and then. The trial was postponed to another date. After the trial, a 7-year-old kid ran to his dad among defendants and wanted to hug him. The officers pushed her aside and prevented her even to touch his dad. Since that day of the trial, this little girl still makes me cry.
I am the wife of a purged Turkish police officer. In 20 years of our marriage, he was always the one who leaves home and I was always the one who is waiting behind. He always came home back to us. Now, he is in jail and I am still waiting for him. And I believe that he will come home and we will re-unite as a family. I am strong, because I never lost hope.
Dursun Kübra DEMİR
This letter was translated by Eva Wise.