Rare Istanbul Exhibit Highlights and Condemns Torture

One of the pieces on exhibit

ISTANBUL (Hürriyet Daily News)—Letters from prisoners, video footage, newspaper clippings and reconstructions of painful historical events are among the materials that have been used by artists to explore human-rights violations, torture and unsolved murders in Turkey.

Reaching back to the Ottoman era and the Republic period and up to the present day, the 130 Turkish artists participating in “Ateşin Düştüğü Yer” (Where Fire Has Struck) aim to raise social awareness about often-hidden incidents for the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, or TİHV.

The show features people who were exposed to a wide range of torture and pressure, said Erdem Kosova, the art consultant for the exhibition, which opened late last week at Depo in Istanbul’s Tophane neighborhood. “In this way, we show the core of trauma. We bring the hidden truths to society’s agenda with this exhibition.” he said.

“Applications to [the TİHV], which we publish in annual reports, show that torture still continues in our country,” TİHV Chair Şebnem Korur Fincancı told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “Violent torture methods were applied in the past, but today there is [more] psychological violence. More importantly, people’s houses are raided and they are imprisoned by force without any interrogation.”

According to Fincancı, the foundation has received 12,000 applications over the past 20 years. “That means 12,000 people are trying to hold on to life with traumas [in their past],” he said. “These people have been exposed to heavy torture and joined hunger strikes.”

Most of the letters displayed in the exhibition were written by Kurdish prisoners, whose names at the bottom of the letters have been hidden for their safety. The text of the letters has been translated into English for foreign visitors. The common theme is that Kurdish publications and the Kurdish language are forbidden in prisons.

Some letters were sent by prisoners who were refused treatment for terminal illnesses and appealed to the foundation for help.

“We do our best to provide opportunity of treatment for victims of torture,” said TİHV Istanbul branch chair Hürriyet Şener, adding that most applications were from the Istanbul and Diyarbakır branches of the Ankara-based organization. Its five total offices also include ones in the Aegean province of İzmir and the southern province of Adana.

Applications to all TİHV branches are documented annually with details including the applicant’s age, gender, birthplace and the torture methods used against them, Şener said. “Let’s say that we, as the foundation, succeeded in treating physical torture; I [still] want to ask how we would treat the [greater] effects of this torture on people,” the Istanbul branch chair added. “We should not forget that torture affects not only the victims but also their environment and relatives.”

The idea to open the exhibition at Depo came from Şener, but there was a problem with the budget – there was no support for the project. Artists were recruited through the Internet, Kosova said, adding that the organizers did not expect much response since they did not have any budget. “If Depo had not opened its doors to us, it would have been impossible to organize this exhibition,” he said. “Our number of contributing artists snowballed to 130.”

The exhibition will run at Depo until April 22, after which it will tour Anatolia and other countries during the year. The TİHV has also prepared a Turkish-English catalogue for its 20th anniversary.

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