Went to see the film ‘Prison Nr. 5: 1980-1984’ today. It was playing at the film festival here at WOCMES in Barcelona. An emotional and sobering 97 minutes into the hell that was the Military Prison of Diyarbakır.
The film by Çayan Demirel (2009) weaves together personal narratives of the men and women who were former inmates (including Ahmet Türk) with black and white footage from the early 1980s, scenes of snow-covered mountains, and drawings by Zülfükar Tak. Tak was also a prisoner at Nr. 5. He was arrested in 1980 and during his time in the prison, he sketched a series of drawings that represent the horrors of the abuse and torture that occurred there. The drawings were smuggled out.
After the military coup of 12 September 1980 in Turkey, thousands of Kurdish political activists were arrested and put in the Military Prison of Diyarbakır. The Turkish military authorities called the prison a ‘military school’ where the prisoners were in ‘training’ to be ‘proper Turks.’ It was a sadistic policy of Turkification that included beatings, rape, and being hosed down with ice-cold water if prisoners did not memorise Turkish songs or repeat nationalistic phrases in Turkish. Prisoners who only knew Kurdish were not exempt. Prisoners were forced to eat faeces, rats, and vomit, often simply for the amusement of the Turkish guards.
Thirty-two of the prisoners died during those four years. Hundreds were maimed. Thousands were forever changed by the brutality endured there. Some of them, no longer able to withstand the conditions, took their own lives. Many of the prisoners staged protests, setting fires or going on death strikes.
It is a hard film to watch, but it is a film you must watch. If you really want to begin to understand even some of the suffering the Kurds have endured in Turkey, start with Prison Nr. 5.
The film was named the winner of the best documentary prize at this year’s Ankara International Film Festival.
Note: for more on this subject, see .pdf download:
Welat Zeydanlıoğlu, “Torture and Turkification in the Diyarbakır Military Prison” in Rights, Citizenship & Torture: Perspectives on Evil, Law and the State, Welat Zeydanlıoğlu and John T. Parry (eds), Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2009, pp. 73-92.