Everything was for a wisp of blue
a little from sky,
a little from the sea
and a little from your heart…
The military coup of 12th September, 1980, started a dark age in Turkey. During this age hundred thousands of people were arrested, tortured and hundreds of people were murdered, executed or lost due to their political thought and activities. In 1990s, this bloody and repressive regime had been going ahead in the same vein. In prisons, there were still hundred thousands of political detainees and prisoners.
Since the beginning of 1990’s, a high security prison project called ‘F-type’ had been developed in order to “make a reform” in Turkish Prisons. In the F-type prisons, which were primarily planned for the political prisoners, the inmates would live in small cells with blind walls and wouldn’t be allowed to socialize with other prisoners. When the government wanted to implement the F-type project in 1996, a hunger strike in the prisons across the country had started. The political prisoners who didn’t want to be locked in cells turned the hunger strike into death fast. A series of events which affected 50.000 people thus started.
The death fasts ended on the 69th day in 1996 summer, when the government decided to postpone the F-type project. But in the course of action 12 people lost their lives and over tens of people became physically and mentally handicapped. The handicapped prisoners, who lost their ability to look after themselves, were permitted to take a break from prison life in subsequent years. Some of them went abroad for their treatment, some of them were excused due to severe health defects, and the others were put in prisons again assuming they recovered.
When the year 2000 came, the government attempted to implement the F-type again. Thereupon the second death fast action started on the 20th of October 2000, only this time it attracted more support accross the country than the first. Unfortunately, the negotiations between the goverment and the prisoners reached a dead end. The prisoners demanding the abolition of the F-type and better treament in prisons declared that they would die without hesitation if their demands were not met. On the other side the government signaled that it had no intention to take a step back. There were protests against the F-type in the streets, while the intellectuals of Turkey were trying to mediate in the negotiations. In December, some families of the prisoners started death fast actions in order to support their relatives. A lot of “death fast houses” were established, first in Küçükarmutlu, a district in İstanbul, and then in the other cities.
After the 50th day of the death fast, the Minister of Justice declared that the F-type project would be postponed again. However 9 days later, on the 19th of December, a sudden operation was commenced at 04.00 am in 20 prisons across Turkey. Throughout the four-day operation, security forces consisting of over 8000 police and military personnel entered into the prisons using firearms, gas bombs and construction machines.
This operation ironically called “Return to Life” resulted in the death of 32 people and over 200 people seriously injured. Around 300 prisoners fasting unto-death have became permanently disabled.
All the people, events and locations in Simurgh are real.
A human rights story…
The actors of the death fast resistances against F-type prisons in 1996 and 2000 tell their stories for the first time in Simurgh.
This film is dedicated to the political prisoners who lost their lives in the death fasts and to their families.
While the families of prisoners were crying out to see their children, over a thousand political prisoners were trasferred to the F-type prisons.
After the operations, the death fasts continued until 2007 both inside and outside of prisons. This is the longest resistance that was started in prisons with the most number of participants so far in the world. Overall 122 people died and more than 500 people became permanently disabled.
Now, the F-type system is still used in the prisons of Turkey.
Refik Ünal, Cafer Gürbüz, Çiğdem Kazan, Hüseyin Muharrem Gündüz, Ali Ekber Akkaya and Delil İldan were very young when imprisoned for their ideals.
Hüseyin was a university student and editor of a socialist journal. When his articles got noticed, he was arrested and more than 20 cases were opened against him. Hüseyin was sentenced to 6 years in prison and fine of 700.000 Turkish Liras.
Çiğdem started working in factories when she was 13 years old. But she was laid off when she demanded insurance. In her teen years, she joined a revolutionary organisation. Later, she was taken into custody in a road search and tortured for days. She didn’t even know that she was pregnant at that time. She gave birth to her baby in prison. Çiğdem was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison.
Cafer’s family took refuge in Germany after their village in Tunceli was burned down. He started working as a laborer there. Meanwhile, he believed that the laborers should fight against the inequalities together. He felt that he could be more effective by working shoulder to shoulder with his countrymen and for that reason he returned to Turkey much against his family’s wishes. After a while, he was arrested due to his activities in an illegal organisation and sentenced to 12.5 years in prison.
Refik was working in a natural gas worksite in Ankara, before he was given 12 years in prison for being a member of an illegal organization.
The families of Delil and Ali Ekber had immigrated from rural areas and hoped to find jobs in İstanbul. While working as laborers, they, too, got arrested for their political actions.
Ali Ekber was sentenced to life imprisonment. Delil was staying in prison for only three months and waiting for his trial to begin.
“Sing me a yodel
having freedom in it…”
Refik, Cafer, Çiğdem, Hüseyin Muharrem, Ali Ekber and Delil took part in the death fast action in order to protest the F-type cell system in 1996. They caught the Wernicke-Korsakoff illness after 69 days on death fast. They now try to cope with speech difficulty, loss of muscle coordination, balance problems, amnesia and hazy consciousness. When the second death fast action begins in 2000, these six former activists come together once more.
Old friends meet at the grave of İdil Erkmen, who lost her life in the action four years ago (the first woman prisoner died fasting unto death in the world). Afterwards, they and their families spend the subsequent week all together. They recall the memories of the past and try to support the ongoing resistance at the same time.
Meanwhile, a critical point was reached in the death fasts. On the 18th of December, six friends visit a group of resistants who started fasting unto-death in Küçükarmutlu. There they meet Şenay Hanoğlu, Zehra Kulaksız, Gülsüman Dönmez (who were to die a couple of months later) and their friends. The meeting gives an impression as if we were in a time tunnel; on one side, former resistants who joined the first action and deeply wounded as a result of it, and on the other side the new resistants who throw themselves into the front even though they know that they would either die or become disabled.
The next day after this visit, the “Return to Life” operation was launched in the prisons. Six friends watch the news regarding the operation and make comments on the events. Demoralized because of the develepments, they throw themselves into the streets of İstanbul and speak up against this massacre. The horror of massacre leads an outbreak among the families of prisoners.
After the operation,10 years pass… Cafer, Ali Ekber and Çiğdem now live abroad, while Hüseyin Muharrem, Refik and Delil are still in İstanbul. The views of the city indicate that a lot of things have changed during the years past. But the wounds of the past are still waiting to be cured for the film’s characters.
Simurgh covers a 14-year period
Simurgh documents a series of dramatic events surrounding the prisons in the recent history of Turkey and follows the development of the events in real-time and with real-persons. Connecting the past to the present, the film offers a chance to witness the cause & effects of the prisoners’ resistance as well.
In the film, the death fast resistants explain their reactions against the cell system, which is devastating to a prisoner’s psychology, sometimes to a point of suicide, and is contradictory to the human rights. Consequently, the government uses force to stop the death fast and to implement the F-type prison project.
Raising questions about the human rights violations in prisons, director Ruhi Karadağ tries to bring light to the dark areas of a painful 14-year period we have been through in Simurgh.
Production of the film
The preproduction of the film started in the November of 2000 while the death fasts had still continued. Six actors were selected amongst 60 participants of the 1996 death fast and brought together. Refik, Cafer, Çiğdem, Hüseyin Muharrem, Ali Ekber and Delil were struggling with amnesia due to their Wernicke Korsakoff illnesses. Though they ar closed friend in prison, they were able to remember each other only in time. Former resistants and their families spend their time together through the shootings of the film.
The scenario of the film was developed in collaboration with the actors who were going to play themselves. The daily shooting programs were determined according to the psychological and health conditions of the actors. The most difficult part of the shootings was due to the actors’ failing short term memory. They were frequently forgetting where they were or what they were going to do. Nevertheless they worked devotedly to express themselves. The families contribute to the film by sharing what they have been through as well.
In the beginning of 2001, however, the operations regarding the death fasts created more stress and the censorship policies on this issue caused a pause in filming. The actors also went different ways shortly after the operation “Return to Life”. The director Ruhi Karadağ continued documenting the events surrounding the death fasts and the street protests during the subsequent years.
Karadağ decided to gather all the footage together when the death fast action ended in 2007. He found the actors again and visited them in their current addresses in İstanbul, Germany, France and Switzerland. After the last shootings in the four countries in 2010, the post-production of the film was completed in the beginning of 2011.,
Actual footage from inside the prisons revealed for the first time
In Simurgh, some previously unreleased footage (some of them shot by the prisoners themselves) are included. These actual footage from inside the prisons shows the “death fast wards” during the different stages of the 1996 and 2000 actions.
Moreover, some footage shot by the security forces during the operations “Return to Life” are revealed in Simurgh for the first time.
The film also shows Şenay Hanoğlu, Zehra Kulaksız and Gülsüman Dönmez before they die in the “death fast house” in Küçükarmutlu and the conversion of this house into a police watchhouse after the operations held in Küçükarmutlu.
The music of the film is from the award-winning musicians
The original scores of Simurgh was prepared by Nail Yurtsever, who is the composers of the recent hit TV series’ themes in Turkey and Engin Arslan and Cem Tuncer. Yurtsever, Arslan and Tuncer also won the “Best Original Score” awards with their compositions in both Altın Koza and International İstanbul Film Festivals in 2009. In Simurg, an original song by Cengiz Özkan is also used.
Refik Ünal: He was born in 1967. In 1994, he was detained for being a member of an illegal organisation. In 1996, he participated in the “indefinite death fast” in Bayrampaşa Prison. Athough his health deteriorated dramatically in the 30th days, he continued the death fast together with other participants. He caught Wernicke Korsakoff illness after the resistance. He was released on probation due to his health problems in 1999. The case against him was abated due to lapse of time in 2006. He currently lives in İstanbul on his own.
Cafer Gürbüz: He was born in 1966. He was arrested for his political activities in 1994. In 1996, he participated in the “indefinite death fast” in Bayrampaşa Prison. He was released on probation due to Wernicke Korsakoff illness in 1999. However, when the Forensic Medicine Institution claimed that he was recovered, an arrestment warrant was issued. Cafer thereupon fled abroad for the second time. The arrestment warrant was cancelled after the intervention of The European Human Rights Court. He lives in Germany with his family now.
Delil İldan: He was born in 1974. After being arrested for his political activities, he started fasting unto-death before his trial even began in 1996. In 1999, he was released on probation due to Wernicke Korsakoff illness. Due to his illness, his investigation can not be completed and the case opened against him 14 years ago is still pending. Delil now lives in istanbul with his family.
Çiğdem Kazan: She was born in 1967. She was arrested in 1995 due to her political activities. She gave birth to her baby in prison. She participated in the “indefinite death fast” in 1996. She caught Wernicke Korsakoff illness after the resistance and was released on probation in 1999. She went abroad for her treatment in 2001. Currently, she lives in Switzerland with her husband and son. If she returns to Turkey, she may be imprisoned again.
Ali Ekber Akkaya: He was born in 1968. He was arrested for his political activities in 1994. In 1996, he participated in the “indefinite death fast” in Bayrampaşa Prison. In 1999, he was released on probation due to Wernicke Korsakoff illness. In 2004, he was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. He, thereupon, took refuge first in Greece, then in France. He currently lives in France with his mother. If he returns to Turkey, he may be imprisoned again.
Hüseyin Muharrem Gündüz: He was born in 1970. In 1994, he was arrested while he was the editor of the Kurtuluş Journal. He participated in the “indefinite death fast” in Bayrampaşa Prison in 1996. Then, he was released on probation. He was excused by the court, because of the law changes in 1997. He now lives in Istanbul.
Ayçe İdil Erkmen: She was born in 1970. She took roles in many art projects while studying in İstanbul University. In 1994, she was arrested for her political activities. In 1996, she participated in the “indefinite death fast” just before completing her sentence. She died on the 68th day ot the resistance. İdil, nicknamed “mitralyöz”, is the first woman prisoner died on the death fast in the world.
Gülsüman Duman Dönmez: She was born in 1964. Gülsüman Dönmez, mother of one child, joined the death fast resistance in Küçükarmutlu in order to support her brother and relatives. She lost her life on the 147th day of the death fast.
Şenay Hanoğlu: She was born in 1966. Şenay Hanoğlu, mother of two children, joined the death fast resistance in Küçükarmutlu in order to support her husband Yücel Hanoğlu and her relatives. She lost her life on the 160th day of the death fast.
Zehra Kulaksız: She was born in 1978. While she was studying in Istanbul University together with her sister Canan Kulaksız, also a university student, she joined the death fast resistance in Küçükarmutlu in order to support her uncles and relatives in prison. Canan Kulaksız lost her life on the 137th day and Zehra Kulaksız on the 221th day.
Ruhi Karadag was born in Pazarcik (Turkey) in 1966. He graduated from Hacettepe
University, Geological Engineering Department. His first photographs and articles were
published in Nokta and Aktüel magazines. He worked for various newspapers, and after that started to work as a television journalist in 1994 and directed many TV programs and documentaries.
Karadag has been documenting Turkey’s last 30 years of political and socio-economic past verbally and visually particularly focusing on human rights, the Kurdish question, rights and social movements, state violence and massacres.
In 2005, he established his own film company. He accomplished his masterpiece ‘’ Simurgh ‘’ in 2013 which started to shoot in 2000. He is currently working as a director and producer.
2013 – ‘’ Simurg ‘’ (Simurgh)
2011 – ‘’ Senaxwan ‘’ ( The Follower)
2004 – ‘’ Bizim Çocuklar ‘’ (My Gang)
2000 – ‘’ Gayrimuayyen‘’ (Indefinite)
1998 – ‘’ Gölge Oyunu ‘’ (Shadow Game)
1998 – ‘‘ Bir Şey Yapmalı ‘’ (Do Something)
2015 – ‘’ Yaralı Yonca ‘’ (Broken Clover)
‘’ Anatolian Woman ‘’ – 1994, Cologne.
‘’ Musa Anter and Murdered Journalists ‘’ – 1993, Istanbul.
‘’ Child Workers ‘’ – 1991, Ankara.
SIMURGH Film – 31th Istanbul Fim Festival, ‘’Human Rights in Cinema’’ Competitor Council of Europe Film Award (FACE), 2013.
SIMURGH Film – 12th International Izmir Film Festival Jury’s Special Award, 2013.
SIMURGH Film – 2th International Film Festival SIYAD( Cinema Writers Association) Best Film Award, 2013.
SIMURGH Film – 18th International Adana Golden Ball Film Festival Adana Audience Award, 2012.
SHADOW GAME Documentary – Sedat Simavi Awards, Best Film Award in Television Category, 1998.