Gul Aslan, a journalist with Selam, a weekly Islamic newsmagazine in Turkey, was released from jail on August 20, 1999. She had been held since May 1996, accused of being a member of an Islamic organization. At the time of her arrest, she was just 21 years old and the mother of a six-month-old daughter. This interview was published in the September 26 - October 2, 1999, issue of Selam. [Translation provided by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), London, which is continuing to work for other Turkish prisoners - see website www.ihrc.org.]
Gul Aslan: I was arrested in May 1996, five months after my husband Tamar Aslan was. I had gone to visit him when they arrested me. They tried to get information from me that they had failed to get from Tamar. They prepared a testimony for me in which every sentence began with the words “I, as an Islamic organisation member... “ After all this distortion of the truth, I was arrested as an illegal organisation member. First they sent me to the Bayrampasa Jail. After spending 2 days there I was sent to Buca jail. I then spent three months in Usak jail. Then I was sent to Bandirma where my husband is jailed. I was there for three years.
I was questioned in the Anti-Terror Team Department for 12 days. I was alone. Even though I was prepared psychologically for that in the beginning I was still stressed. After my husband was arrested, I expected that I would be, too. So I tried to be calm. After 12 days facing every type of bad thing and psychological atrocity you can imagine what state I was in. When I was there, I was with a leftist girl in the same cell. Her arm was broken while she was being tortured. She needed help even when she needed to go to the toilet. And I helped her and we had a closer dialogue. That was a pretty different experience for me. I have learnt how to give my shoulder to somebody else looking at the world from a very different view. It was a solid experience for me. In the Muslim community, there is an idea that “Muslim women must keep away from active struggle.” I was alone in the jail, but now I am stronger than I was. After the 28 February process, the Muslim woman has proved herself.*
Society has labelled women feeble minded - “I am a woman and therefore I am weak.” I have heard many woman say that “I was very active before I got married. And now it is very difficult for me to go a short distance.” This has been put in the mind of Muslim woman. But after the 28 February process, Muslim woman has proved herself. The ones who defend this stereotype must see the jailed woman.
Three years and three months... I can’t say that it was completely bad or good. It does not matter where you are but it matters how you perceive where you are. The environment can be negative...You have got to know when it is impossible to change the place that you have been, then you can think of how the conditions could be made better. But I believe humans have a flexible character. When I was in the Usak jail, I thought that I would see my daughter after two months. In the beginning I could not accept it but then I got used to it. The conditions depend on how you perceive them, negative or positive.
The need to talk. There was no close friend of mine who shared my belief. There was nobody with whom I could share my ideas.
In the beginning we were given an hour in a week then two and half hours in a week. At last it was increased to one day, but this does not mean that we were meeting. We were just seeing each other’s faces through the iron bars.
She was living with her grandmother. I could see her once in two or three weeks. When she came to the prison I took her to my cell, and we had breakfast together. I tried to make something together with her. Indeed my daughter doesn’t know me as a mother. She has been staying with her grandmother for three and a half years. She knows her as a mother. She also knows that I am her mother, but I am the one who can only be seen once in two or three weeks. Her grandmother is permanently with her day and night. So the child sees the one closer to herself who is always by her side. When I was back she did not say “Mama came back!” But this is only to be expected. I believe that it will be all right.
It is an unknown environment which makes you stressed. From my point of view, I had already got myself prepared psychologically as I thought, “My husband has been arrested and I will be too.” But it is a very different environment from what you can imagine. It takes time to understand it and get used to it. If somebody says that, they did not feel like an outsider when they were in jail, you can be sure that it is not true. People feel themselves to be like strangers when they move to another city.
It depends a lot on your own efforts. If one strives to do something good in a difficult environment then Allah will help one in what one wants to do . But when there is no effort to do something then it does not matter what the conditions are. It’s the same in or out of the jail.
It began about when I was just in. My trial was going on and everything from the political scene was reflected in the courts. I don’t know how much you felt it outside but as a captive who goes to the court once a month, I felt it.
At first I did not believe it, because I had been inside for three and a half years. I had not prepared myself for it so as not to have my dreams broken. I was surprised. I had to get my things ready. I sat in front of them and I looked at them for a while. When I was released, I learnt that we have lost one of our relations in the earthquake. So I am neither happy nor sad.
He was happy, of course. Also I have another friend in prison who was very happy when she heard that I had been released.
[In jail] I was alone with my character and identity. There I had to struggle against everything alone. Now I feel more mature. What I have experienced is not in my name only but in the name of all Muslim women. Neither those who personally knew me, nor those who read my articles, especially those suffering the headscarf ban, left me alone. In their letters they wrote that “we are inspired when we see you.” When I received that, I was very happy. I realised that I could help them even when I was in jail and they were outside. That is why I have never said, “I wish I had never been jailed.”
I was persecuted by the law, and now for wearing a headscarf. I love my school. I have chosen my department consciously. But now there is an another problem - instead of captivity preventing my return to my school, it is the so-called “headscarf problem.” Now I am one of the mistreated, whom I wrote about when I was in jail.
I will do what I have to do. This is matter of identity in Turkey. Some think that if we took off our hijab the oppression would end. But we have to understand the logic behind all of this. Their [the Kemalist rulers’] aim is to eradicate Islam.
It is a novel called ‘The Wall That Tears Us Apart’. I hope it will be published in two weeks. I began and finished it inside jail. It is about a very short but intensive period in jail. I think it could give a different perspective to life in prisons.
I’m not going to make a quick decision. I will go on writing in the paper [Selam]... [Beyond that] I haven’t decided yet, but I will do whatever my capacity allows me to do.
* On February 28, 1997, while the ‘Islamist’ Necmettin Erbakan was prime minister, Turkey’s generals declared war on the country’s Islamic movement through an 18-point plan imposed by the National Security Council. This included curbs on Islamic education and social activities, the exclusion of ‘Islamists’ from government jobs, sanctions against ‘pro-Islamic’ businesses, and crackdowns on Islamic newspapers, organizations and student groups. Above all, it led to the persecution of Muslimahs wearing hijab. The crackdown, and popular resistance to it, are continuing. - Editor.
Muslimedia: October 16-31, 1999