For twenty-nine years, a poet has his birthday in prison. Ilhan Sami Çomak, who was incarcerated in 1994, had an open visitation on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday. His attorney brought messages from people around the world to the Kurdish poet who is now the longest-serving political prisoner in Turkey.
2023 offers new horizons to the poet, winner of the prestigious Sennur Sezer poetry prize. A collection of his poems translated into English was released literally from prison on March 4th in London. The book called “Separated from the Sun” and edited by Caroline Stockford has a beautiful cover by Nazh Ongan. Ongan that captures the poetry of Ilhan with a human body shape resembling Ilhan’s posture, casual, humble, and resilient. The shape is a vessel for birds. Birds are an important part of Ilhan’s poetry even though he can’t see them, but he relies on his childhood memory to praise them.
The other good news is that the court approved Ilhan’s petition to add Sami to his legal name. It’s a custom for his people to add the name of a brother or close relative who has died. Ilhan is adding the name of his brother: Sami. Referring to his brother as Keke, Ilhan says in an interview granted to Pressenza, “[a]fter losing Keke, I chose to live for him as well. A life of two is mine. We’re mixed up, I’m Keke, and he’s breathing! For me to emphasize, my taking his name is beyond symbolic, an effort to sustain it with absolute love and devotion. I’m hearing! I listen to and hear Keke and his wishes!”
Ilhan Sami Çomak has always maintained his innocence. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2007 that Ilhan’s confession was obtained under torture. To read more about Ilhan Sami Çomak, click #Freethepoet
Below you can read the letter that Ilhan wrote to all of us from his prison cell.
March 8th, 2023
Silivri, Heavy Security Prison, İstanbul
Today I know for sure that there is a certain limit to how we deal with pain. The scars of pain never go away completely. Instead, we reposition ourselves in a place that envisages living by creating an area of consensus that can carry the wounds inflicted on our soul. Also, against the light and volatile nature of joy, pain descends upon us like an authority that permanently dictates and monopolizes our lives; and this is the nature of pain.
Today is my birthday. I am not happy; I am far from joy and closer to pain than ever before. It is a great, insurmountable pain that cannot be passed over in silence, that shatters the soul and shakes the existence to its foundations; yet this unbearable pain reminds us of the honor of being human in solidarity.
In the earthquake that took place in Kahramanmaraş on February 6, the sky inside me collapsed along with the houses and buildings destroyed there, and I am not happy.
Dear friends, we were in front of the TV for days, watching after that disaster took thousands of people from us. If tears are to be accepted as a form of solidarity, I will definitely not fail to my kind. I know how to cry. I cried for those who died. The screams of those left behind and my despair at my inability to do anything afflicted my soul. Crying was good because it made us more human, and I cried.
I had a hearing on February 10th. The court application I made to officially add Sami, which I inherited from my deceased brother and which I have been using in practice for years, would finally be officially added to my name before the court.
I was excited. I would finally take Sami’s name legally, and we would be completely one. The judge informed me that my request was accepted. However, at that moment, I realized that I was not actually as happy as I should have been with this court order, which was supposed to mean a rebirth for me.
When the hearing was over, I left the room where I was connected to the court from the prison by Zoom. I came near the guard sitting at the table waiting to take me back to my cell. I was seeing him for the first time. He was quiet and thoughtful. He looked at me and asked with genuine interest, “How are you? It looks like you’re sad. Did you get a punishment?” I explained the reason for the trial and told him that the reason for my sadness was the earthquake. At that moment, he directed his gaze to me more carefully. He was young, probably about the same age as my detention.
He spoke, I listened. His words began to be accompanied by his tears. He had lost twelve of his relatives in the earthquake, many of whom were still under the rubble. All his pain, the deep pain of all his losses, leapt from that young person into my heart and eyes; I cried with him. I hugged him as I would hug a relative, in a very unusual way for a high-security prison. We consoled each other. He gave me a tissue to wipe my tears. At that moment, we did not exist as a prisoner and a guard, but only as two people united by pain. We were stripped of all our other identities. We were human, we were only human.
Considering that we felt the same sad sense of unity and the urgent need to connect with all people during the pandemic period, it should not be wrong to say that all major traumas are an opportunity to stop and question ourselves and make a fresh start for humanity.
Pain should be a warning to us about the importance of preserving our humanity. What matters is how we accept and what we do with these disasters and tragedies that happen to us. It would be magnificent if only we could remember the enduring beauty of being human and the empowerment of solidarity without going through such destructive tests. This is the only way to defeat evil.
Today is my birthday. I was born, but living is a heavy burden.
However, despite all the difficulties, your presence in my life is very important, and I am really happy that our paths somehow crossed. You, each of you, and the generous solidarity you have shown to me lighten the burden of my life.
And I would like to thank you all for that.
İlhan Sami Çomak