Natural born killers

Secretary of State Haig speaks to the press af...
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The next speaker we filmed was Coskun Kirca, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He had a cat, a pug dog, and a tasteful old house. He was extremely gracious, and I was sitting back on the couch eating some lovely food his wife made us when the cannon went off. After peeling my head off the ceiling, which caused them much merriment, he told me that someone in the next apartment got a heart attack and died from hearing the cannon, which was fired in the square facing his apartment. The cannon signalled sundown, the end of the Ramazan day, and time for the religious to break their fast.

We filmed Mehmet Ali Birand, a columnist for the newspaper Sabah. He wore a bright red sweater, which was difficult to film under fluorescent lighting. Birand was very happy to talk about the US involvement in the Turkish coups, especially the 1980 one, when Alexander Haig said, “Our boys in Ankara have done it!” Many Americans don’t realize that there are intricate forces at work collaborating to inspire events in outher countries – instead, they often say that a country just “turns Islamic” or “fascist.” Birand rued the clampdown on Islamic speech today, comparing it to the prohibition on socialist speech in the 80’s; of course, the speech which is not permitted is that which worries the administration at the time. He was loquacious, and the interview went well; the hardest part was getting into the Sabah media complex. We had to show IDs, get filmed, give blood, and pass through metal detector after metal detector in order to be able to see him. I thought that it was a little paranoid to protect some newspaper columnists.

That was a callow thought, as was proven to us in our very next interview. We filmed Ferit Ilsever, the publisher of the communist Aydinlik newspaper, located in the same building as the Ataturk Thoughts Society. Getting into the building was more paranoia: we had to walk through an alleyway on whose entire length video cameras were trained. I made faces into the cameras. We got inside the building, did the interview, went home, and turned on the news; right after we left, the Ankara branch of the same Ataturk Thoughts Society was blown to smithereens by a bomb, probably by a religious extremist. The metal detectors suddenly seemed appropriate.

But what a pleasure it was to film the Demir husband-and-wife team of extremists! This adorable middle-aged couple of former Dev Sol members had kidnapped and killed the Israeli Istanbul Consulate head, received the death penalty, served 8 years, and now live in a tiny little 6th floor apartment in the overdeveloped and ugly Yildiz area. Metehan and Baris were nervous as always, but the only thing that frightened me was their shabby elevator; I walked up the six flights to their apartment.

Once inside, I was shocked at how poor they were. It was quite a contrast to right-wing publisher Nazli Ilicak’s Gatsby pleasure palace with fancy cars, pool, and a Bosphorus view (her son, in the Refah party before he escaped to America for corruption and fraud, published Terciman, a conservative paper.) I realized that there’s no money in not being a professor or businessman or politician. Their prime earning years were spent on death row, they probably didn’t graduate college, and I think they got by by translating books. They told us stories about how they met each other at a protest; the kidnapping and how they got caught; how the army razed socialist communes near Trabzon in the 1970’s; how they spent time in jail and acted as mothers to children growing up in prison; and how the army armed the fascists against them as a pretext for the 1980 coup. They shared their distaste for the American government’s promoting terrorism abroad to support its foreign policy, but they share a great affinity with American blacks and anti-war protesters. They gave their thoughts about free speech: “They won’t let us protest America’s bombing of Iraq, and won’t allow protest of anything except Italy for not extraditing Apo! [leader of the PKK]”

We were there for over four hours. We asked them if they had any archival photos, and Necmi told his wife, “Tevfik, break out the family album!” And they opened a nice album of photos, which they let us film, and narrated them for the camera: here’s us getting sentenced to death, here’s us in jail, etc. I was amazed at how softspoken they were, how kind, how articulate, how intellectual, how dedicated, how committed to leading an activist life, even if that meant being poor, well into middle age. Tevfik brought out raki for us to drink and offered us mezes (appetizers). She pitched us a screenplay idea she had for a fiction film about a boy who grew up in jail with his mother, a murderer, but I thought that their own lives were far more interesting. After eight years apart in jail, they remain married and have worked together as activists for 30 years – a real love story!

We had to leave when they had to leave, to meet their new party head at the airport. They’ve started a new hard-left party after their old one had been closed down. They were planning a rally in a few days and didn’t think that they’d be allowed to gather. They’re still working hard, remaining active, risking arrest. I asked them if they still believe in violence for their cause. They said that they’re not against violence per se, but that they’re too old to participate directly themselves. Tevfik complained that when she was young, the Dev Sol wouldn’t let her take any real action because she was “just a woman.” Ah, those sexist socialists… We left the Demirs, convinced that they were the real deal; they’d been tortured, been imprisoned, killed and would get killed. Their ideas and methods may be objectionable, but it was obvious that they did what they did thinking it was the good of the country.

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