I just closed a book of short stories titled Dawn by Selahattin Demirtaş, who has imprisoned in a maximum-security prison in Edirne by the Turkish state since November 2016. Demirtaş was a co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). As a human rights lawyer, Demirtaş “helped transform the HDP into a more inclusive party with an emphasis on progressive values, feminism, and LGBTQ rights.” He even ran for president of Turkey from behind bars, coming in third.
I am shaken by the stories and am still processing what I have read. Having participated in a number of activities at Raindrop Tulsa and having become friends with Turkish people now living in the US, I was aware of the atrocities and the imprisonments, which have affected families of my friends here and in Turkey.
While Dawn is a work of fiction, the stories portray the difficulties of daily life of ordinary people in Turkey. The stories are not all sad, but each is tinged with sadness and some are infused with horror. Yet, readers also feel a sense of hope through the human desire to overcome difficulties and injustice. Demirtaş wrote the stories from his prison cell.
A review in Booklist says of the stories in Dawn that they are “visceral tales that expose unfathomable darkness with an unshowy, fable-like straightforwardness as the book nonetheless subtly arcs toward hope… Already a publishing sensation with 200,000 copies sold in Turkey alone, Demirtas’ empathic collection shines the light that its title promises.”
I read the first two stories and slammed the book shut, thinking I could not read further after reading “Seher,” about a trusting, naïve young woman who is raped by men in her workplace and then killed by her father and brother to save the family’s honor. A day later, I returned to the book and continued reading because I was haunted by what would be next.
Demirtaş wrote “I’m in Prison. But My Party Still Scored Big in Turkey’s Elections” for The Washington Post in April 2019. Here is an important excerpt from that article:
“Thousands of members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who should currently be participating in politics — including me— are in prison on political grounds. The security forces continue to harass and obstruct those members of our party who remain free. Many of us have been criminalized and deemed ‘terrorists’ by government officials. And yet my party, which I co-chaired for many years, still showed its strength in these latest elections.” Read the entire article at this link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/04/19/im-prison-my-party-still-scored-big-turkeys-elections/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.62449c9aa7cd.
Dawn is published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint.