Kurdish Poet and Writer Meral Şimşek Merits Her Freedom

4 October, 2021
Poet-writer Mer­al Şimşek

Jordan Elgrably

Imag­ine, if you will, being put on tri­al for pub­lish­ing poems and sto­ries extolling the val­ues of human rights and equal­i­ty — or rot­ting in prison as you wait to be tried, but being denied books and news­pa­pers for two years, cut off from the world.

Imag­ine a judge hands down a sen­tence of 15 months in prison for your social media posts that crit­i­cize your government’s poor human rights record. Or imag­ine you live in a coun­try where jour­nal­ists and writ­ers are in hid­ing, in dan­ger of being arrest­ed, tor­tured and mur­dered by the incom­ing gov­ern­ment, as is the case in Afghanistan today.

Those of us liv­ing com­fort­ably in west­ern coun­tries can ignore such harsh real­i­ties else­where, but they exist nonethe­less. NGOs like PEN Inter­na­tion­al, Reporters With­out Bor­ders, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are the guardians of the rights we take for granted.

Poet-writer Mer­al Şimşek, a Kur­dish PEN mem­ber who lives in Diyarbakir, Turkey, will be in court this Tues­day, Octo­ber 5. Accord­ing to PEN, she is fac­ing up to 15 years in prison on the charge of “mem­ber­ship of a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion” and up to sev­en-and-a-half-years on the charge of “mak­ing ter­ror­ist propaganda.” 

In a sep­a­rate case, Şimşek faces an addi­tion­al five years in prison on the charge of  “enter­ing a restrict­ed mil­i­tary area” after she fled to Greece ear­li­er this year and was pushed back to Turkey. The hear­ing will take place on Novem­ber 16.

In an email to me Sun­day, Mer­al Şimşek, who is the moth­er of two sons aged 15 and 17, seemed alarmed at the pos­si­bil­i­ty that she could receive a harsh sen­tence for her cre­ative work. “I was cho­sen as a tar­get just because I am a Kurd speak­ing the truth in this coun­try,” she insists. “I’ve been tor­tured and threat­ened by law enforce­ment before, and I’ve been tar­get­ed once again for expos­ing them — there is no oth­er expla­na­tion for being judged by awards and lit­er­ary works.

“I have no pre­dic­tions about what will hap­pen on Octo­ber 5th, because I’ve been unfair­ly judged for about a year now. I just hope this injus­tice will end and I can return to my nor­mal life.”


by Mer­al Şimşek

Your body is the cool high­lands of my plun­dered country
It’s not blood ooz­ing from your chest
The milky white of your skin suck­les the faith
Ah Ekin, what would bar­bar­ians know?
they don’t know
While their dirty sali­va is flowing
You will be the hope to the light of day
So soft­ly as the deltas of your face stretch
Your sleep­ing eyes stride through tomorrow
Oh Ekin
You are the red gar­den rose of post­poned calendars
Believe, your faith will grow
On the lips of our lit­tle girls
They will speak in unison
O my coun­try, we bless you
Our body is our anger
Let those bar­bar­ians know, shame means giv­ing up
Your naked body is our resistance


Bedenin ki yağ­malan­mış ülkemin serin yaylalarıdır
Göğsün­den sızan kan değildir
İnancı emzirir teninin süt beyazı
Ah Ekin, ne bilsin barbarlar
Bilmez onlar
Kir­li salyaları akarken
Sen umut olur­sun gün ışığına
Yüzünün delta­ları uzanırken öyle usul
Yarını arşın­lar uyuyan gözlerin 
Ah Ekin
Sen ki erte­len­miş takvim­lerin kızıl bahçe gülü
İnan boy vere­cek inancın
Körpe kızlarımızın dudaklarında
Dil­lenecek­ler hep bir ağızdan
Biz kut­sayanız seni ey ülkem
Beden­i­miz öfkemizdir
Bilsin­ler o bar­bar­lar, utanç pes etmektir
Çıplak bedenin direncimizdir

Mer­al Şimşek is present­ly banned from trav­el­ing out­side Turkey, but con­tin­ues to write, adding to her pro­lif­ic body of work avail­able in Turk­ish. “My fifth book will be out soon,” she explained in an email, “a col­lec­tion of my short sto­ries. I also have a work of poet­ry and a nov­el ready to go to press.”

Accord­ing to PEN, Mer­al Şimşek is the prize-win­ning author of three poet­ry books – Mül­te­ci Düşler (Refugee Dreams), Ateşe Bulut Yağdıran (Clouds on Fire) and İnc­ir Karası (Black Fig). Her nov­el Nar Leke­si (Pome­gran­ate Stain), pub­lished in 2017, tells the sto­ry of Şimşek’s fam­i­ly and sheds light on the plight of Kur­dish peo­ple in Turkey in the 1990s. She became a mem­ber of Kur­dish PEN in June 2020. She also works as an edi­tor and fre­quent­ly pub­lish­es poems and articles.

Kur­dis­tan + 100 is pub­lished by Com­ma Press in their series of sci­ence fic­tion antholo­gies imag­in­ing future coun­tries (Iraq, Palestine).

On Decem­ber 9, 2020, anti-ter­ror police detained Mer­al Şimşek in Malatya province, East­ern Turkey. She was released the fol­low­ing day pend­ing tri­al and placed under a trav­el ban. In Jan­u­ary 2021, the Malatya 2nd High Crim­i­nal Court for­mal­ly charged her with “mem­ber­ship of a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion” under Arti­cle 314/2 of Turkey’s Penal Code, and “mak­ing ter­ror­ist propaganda”under Arti­cle 7/2 of Anti-Ter­ror Law No. 3713. The indict­ment notably men­tions Şimşek’s short sto­ry Arzela, fea­tured in the anthol­o­gy Kur­dis­tan + 100 from Com­ma Press, in which twelve con­tem­po­rary Kur­dish writ­ers imag­ine a coun­try they could call their own by the year 2046. The anthol­o­gy was award­ed a flag­ship PEN Trans­lates Awards from Eng­lish PEN in 2021.

Kurds com­prise the world’s largest eth­nic group, an esti­mat­ed 40 mil­lion peo­ple, who remain with­out their own coun­try, liv­ing pre­dom­i­nant­ly in Turkey, Iran, Syr­ia and Iraq. As the edi­tors of Kur­dis­tan + 100, Orso­la Casagrande and Mustafa Gun­dog­du note, “Through­out the 20th cen­tu­ry (and so far in the 21st), the Kurds have been betrayed, sup­pressed, stripped of their basic rights (from cit­i­zen­ship to the free­dom to speak their own lan­guage) and had their polit­i­cal aspi­ra­tions crushed at every turn.”

You can help PEN Int’l protest Turkey’s case against Mer­al Şimşek here, demand­ing an end to gov­ern­ment persecution.

I Was a Woman

By Mer­al Şimşek

My anger start­ed in the pages of the Torah
I’ve fall­en in layers
from the vers­es of the Bible
I blew the Quran
In the ques­tion of my childhood
The braid of my hair was dri­ven from Jerusalem to the Kaaba
My chil­dren were shot at the foot of my sadness
In a dif­fer­ent col­or every century
From your reli­gions to your gods
Cru­ci­fied the white of my milk
I’m blessed in the sum of the misconceptions
I was shot while being blessed
my smile was stoned to death
How­ev­er, in the invo­ca­tion of my fin­gers, with an undat­ed creation
The tal­is­man of exis­tence has incarnated
I died with what I created
I was a woman
I was multitude
I was not


Tevrat’ın say­faların­da başladı öfkem
Katre katre döküldüm
İnc­il’in tümcelerinden 
Kur’an’ı üfledim 
Ta çocuk­luğu­mun sorgusunda
Kudüs’ten Kâbe’ye sürüldü saçlarımın örgüsü
Hüznümün etek­lerinde vurul­du çocuklarım
Her yüzyıl­da baş­ka bir renkte 
Din­leriniz­den tanrılarınıza
Çar­mıha ger­il­di sütümün beyazı
Kut­sandım yanıl­gılar toplamında 
Kut­sanırken vuruldum
Recmedil­di gülüşüm
Oysa par­mak­larımın zikrinde tar­ih­siz bir yaratımla
Gövde bul­du var oluşun tılsımı
Var ettiğim­le öldüm

Trans­lat­ed by Burhan Sözmez, PEN International

In Turkey, in addi­tion to sup­port­ing free­dom for Mer­al Şimşek and writer-lawyer Nur­can Kaya, PEN Inter­na­tion­al is active­ly cam­paign­ing on behalf of impris­oned writer and oppo­si­tion politi­cian Sela­hat­tin Demir­taş, pub­lish­er and human rights defend­er Osman Kavala, and reporter and poet Ned­im Tür­fent. PEN will issue new statements/calls to action on behalf of all three in the com­ing days.

PEN Inter­na­tion­al is active across the Mid­dle East as well as Europe, Africa, Asia and the Amer­i­c­as. See their list of active cas­es here.


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