I drew the pictures of freedom in the cell, with a brush made-of my own hair: Turkish teacher

She created brushes made of her own hair to draw pictures, behind bars, in a cell, full of women and some children.

“Despite the difficulties in prison I tried to draw the picture of freedom” she recalls those dark days.

Eda, a teacher who spent time in prison, just like thousands of women have been a target of a mass crackdown in Turkey, following the July 2016 coup attempt.

She has been an inspiration to many imprisoned women across Turkey with her artistry talent.

Helping imprisoned women hold onto life through the art of calligraphy, Eda taught the women how to improve their condition.

Speaking to a Turkish news portal, MedyaBold, Eda touched on her experience in prison where she was serving time after she was accused and sentenced for working closely with the Gulen Movement which is deemed as a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government.

After 19 years of teaching, she was left unemployed, handcuffed and thrown into prison.

Eda and some other Turkish asylum seekers in Oslo are practicing calligraphy exercises. (Photo: Medyabold)

“I was handcuffed in front of my kids”

Eda, a nickname, didn’t want to share her real name due to fear that her relatives back in Turkey may be harmed by authorities, taught mathematics at a private institution affiliated with Gulen Movement in Antalya for nineteen years. She claims that her school had become government’s target as of 2014.

“Every day we were working while under constant inspection,” Eda said.

Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, like many others, Eda was, too, accused of being a member of a “terrorist organisation” and was arrested. During her arrest, her husband Uğur was not in the house and thus he was able to escape from the Police.

Eda said she could not forget the moment the police arrived at her apartment early in the morning. She was then handcuffed in front of her three children: “That day the police searched every part of the house. In fact, my older son was going to school, I saw him being searched by policemen. It saddened me deeply to see my child being treated like that. When the police were taking me to the police station, my daughter, son, mother and the security staff of our building were in tears.”

Eda, her husband Mr. Ugur and two of their kids live in a refugee camp in Oslo, Norway. (Photo: Medyabold)

Eda lives in Norway with her husband and two children

She was not taken to the police station but rather to an old factory outside the city, Eda says. She was told there was no space at the police station.

Eda claims she was psychologically tortured: “They brought me to the dining hall of the factory. It was divided with police barriers. In two of the 10 wards were women. I learned they brought eighty people during the morning operation. We were 100 people including people who were accused of other crimes. The people who stayed before us slept on the cold concrete-ground. They brought a carpet before we got there, which we slept on.”

About thirty women were sharing a single toilet in poor hygienic conditions, according to Eda. She said, “they were also meant to report the time and our names to the male police waiting at the door when we were using the toilets.”

In the old factory, women waiting to be taken to the courthouse had made a rosary by knotting the ropes at the edges of the blankets, but they were quickly barred from doing so, Eda claims.

In her words, prisoners were constantly monitored with cameras and their rosaries taken away. During her nine days in detention, Eda was not allowed to contact her family and lawyer.

Subsequently, Eda and 15 other women were taken to the courthouse.

“We were taken to the courtroom, where I felt an indescribable sadness when I saw my mother, my father, and a colleague. They were in a bad condition. I was arrested on the grounds that I worked as a teacher at a certain institution, that the school where my children went was also linked to the Gulen Movement, that I used Bank Asya and Bylock as a phone software,” she said.

Eda describes her experience as follows:

“After getting off the car, we were lined up side by side. We were body-searched along with our belongings. These searches really hurt human dignity. When I entered the ward, I saw my bed and I can never forget it. It was next to the garbage bucket and it was dirty, stained, cigarettes were extinguished on it, and it seemed like someone left excrement on it. The guard then started looking for bed linen. When he couldn’t find clean linen, he pushed the dirty linen with his foot towards me. I could not come to terms with what I witnessed considering the shocks I had experienced. I had to lie down for a while because there was no empty bunk bed in the ward so I had to sleep on the floor for a while.”

There was a friend who was an academic at a university. She was an advanced English speaker and started teaching us English. Then this began to spread and everyone began to share with their friends whatever they knew.

The arts and painting teacher became an inspiration for her to overcome difficulties:

“The art teacher would teach us how to paint. But there was no paint, brush, and pen. We asked the prison administration, but the response was negative. That friend of ours dissolved coffee and got the colour brown, put strawberries in the water, and then got red and pink, and by brewing rose hip tea she obtained another colour. She cut a piece of her hair, broke the tip of a toothbrush, heated it up and mounted the hair on the toothbrush and thus taught painting to those who wanted to learn. We made beautiful paintings with these materials. We drew a picture of freedom.”

Eda had learned calligraphy before she entered prison. After being inspired by the art teacher, Eda started teaching the art of calligraphy to her friends.

“Materials are almost impossible to get. We requested a calligraphy pen, but it was not possible. It was a luxury in prison. We could put two ballpoint pens together, and we could write by placing two coffee sticks from the bottom up. But there was no tape. We finally were able to do calligraphy by using the sticker labels on the cookie boxes. I wrote down the names of my children’s friends. There were those who asked me to teach me. We opened a calligraphy course and 20 people completed their calligraphy education there.

“A woman in custody who was constantly crying

One of our friends was feeling very bad psychologically and she was constantly crying. Then I started to teach calligraphy to this friend. After a while, my friend’s psychology began to improve. She wasn’t getting stressed anymore. She had four or five notebooks filled with calligraphy. She could paint at the same time. Sometimes she would come in the morning, she would say, ‘You know, I’ve done calligraphy all night and made this.’

Eda was told letters were forbidden during their imprisonment, but she overcame this ban with art:

‘When the notebooks ran out, we started doing calligraphy on t-shirts. That week one of our friends was going to send her clothes to her family. In one single season, we had the right to change clothes only two or three times. We then started writing letters on t-shirts using calligraphy. We wrote using such a calligraphy style that anyone who doesn’t understand calligraphy would ever notice it. We wrote an emotional letter to our parents.

Eda was released conditionally at her first hearing after nine months of imprisonment. After her release, it was difficult to tell her inmate friends about the decision, because “I loved each and every one of them very much, we had established friendships.’

In her last hearing in 2018, Eda was told she was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for being a member of a “terrorist organisation.”

“After the developments in Turkey post- July 15, after I spent time in prison, my son’s accident and the absence of my husband, fear of being arrested again became intense. I forgot to laugh, to sleep, and I couldn’t sleep for days. My little boy came and said, “mom, you used to laugh.” He grabbed my hand and pulled my lips back so I could laugh. We then started to plan for going abroad. We had to cross the Evros (Meric) River to Greece. After I decided to pass, I made a promise to my son: If we can cross to the other side of Meric I will laugh after that.”

After she decided to go to Greece with her husband Mr. Ugur  (who was wanted by the police also with the same accusations) and her two children, Eda was not afraid to die but to be caught during their journey:

Eda and her husband Mr. Ugur in a refugee camp in Oslo, Norway. (Photo: Medyabold)

“We decided to cross into Greece through illegal means in order to gain our freedom and live humanely. I can never forget Meric(Evros River) and the sky at that moment. Because I was free now, I could breathe. I left my older son behind. As I was passing through Meriç, I  thought I was going to die. Was I scared of afraid of dying, or being caught? This experience left indelible marks on me. I was more scared of getting caught.”

After a month in Athens, Eda and her family arrived in Norway, where she lives at a refugee camp in Oslo:

“After landing at the airport in Norway, I felt very peaceful and safe. Especially the good facilities provided to our children and the kindness of the teachers in the school, and the friendly attitude of the people on the street made me very hopeful.”

Eda continued to do calligraphy in the refugee camp in Oslo. Now she is teaching calligraphy to other asylum seekers she works with.

She has eight students among the asylum-seekers: “We wrote ‘God Jul’ (‘Merry Christmas’) using calligraphy and turned these into gifts for all the children’s teachers in the camp, the people we met, and some people working in the camp. These gifts both made them happy and attracted their attention. I was also very happy to see that the same calligraphy which had become a beam of hope for people in prison, became a bridge of heart between Norwegians and Norwegian refugees.”

Since the July 15 coup attempt, over 150 thousand people were fired, sacked and dismissed from their jobs, and around 100 thousand people have been arrested in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s post-coup crackdown on dissidents. The AK Party government has further revoked over 100 thousand passports inside Turkey.

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