Photojournalist Ahmet Sel has published the stories of 42 of his friends who were imprisoned in a book. The book is accompanied by an exhibit, that continues until the end of December at Depo.
Turkish photojournalist, Ahmet Sel, renowned for his works on documentary photography, has published the stories of 42 of his friends who were imprisoned following the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup along with their photographs in a new memoir titled “Davutpaşa Orta Üç” (Davutpaşa Mid 3).
An exhibition with the same name, hosted by Tütün Deposu (Tobacco Depot) in Istanbul’s Tophane district from Nov. 23 and Dec. 23, will feature the book’s photography, drawing attention to the torture and suffering experienced by prisoners in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup.
“My 42 friends served their prison sentence in the same ward. I wanted to do something about myself. Even though I managed to go abroad [at the time], I still shared the same fate as my friends,” Sel said regarding his inspiration to organize the exhibition in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News.
“One of those friends, Fahrettin Arslan, said we experienced the coup in three different ways: those imprisoned and exposed to torture, those continuing their struggle within the groups they belong to, and those who fled abroad,” Sel said.
Aslan said those who were imprisoned as he was were the ones who managed to survive the post-coup years in the best way, because they were imprisoned and able to carry on with their lives after being released.
“However, I was forbidden to enter this country for 26 years. When I returned, I was like an alien in my hometown, even though I knew its language, customs and traditions,” said Sel. “My 42 friends were exposed to severe tortures in the Davutpaşa barracks. And many of them were not yet in their twenties then,” Sel said.
According to Sel, those imprisoned in the Mid 3 were able to find strength through friendships in the face of torture and hardship. “They resisted in the same ward for years. They said they experienced the greatest friendships in this ward and Davutpaşa was like a kind of school for them,” Sel said. When asked about the meaning of “Mid 3,” Sel explained that the Davutpaşa barracks was a three-storey building with many wards. Sel’s friends lived in the middle ward, which is called Davutpaşa Mid 3.
Sel’s memoir was released recently by Aras Publishing.
Place of torture turns into university campus
Davutpaşa barracks, where the victims of the coup were once exposed to torture, now serves as the Fine Arts Faculty of Yıldız Technical University. In an ironic twist, the son of one of Sel’s friends now receives an education in the same ward his father was once tortured in. “When taking the photographs, we visited [the barracks] and music was coming from the corridors. My friend got very happy when he saw younger generations receiving an education there,” Sel said.
Sel formed the scenes of his book according to the people he photographed. “The photograph on the book cover shows Sefer Atalay. [For the photograph] he took a walk on the hills of Dragos and I took a photograph of him while he was there. I supported the photos with my stories. This book will be an important mediator today since the late history is being questioned,” Sel said.
Story of a neurology professor
Sabahattin Sahip, a member of the Greek Communist Party, came from Komotini toIstanbul in order to study medicine. He was arrested and tortured after the coup. After he was released, he maintained his education with great difficulties. He was attempted to be exiled, but he managed to become a Turkish citizen. Now, he is a professor of neurology.
The journalist Aydın Engin was the editor-in-chief of Politika Gazetesi (Journal of Politics), he used to write a column titled “Tırmık.” And he was ordered to be arrested for one of his columns.
“On the day I was released, the charge against me was finalized. I was going to stay in prison 7.5 years more,” Engin said in the book. “On the day I was released, I fled to Dusseldorf with the first plane. The document of my final charge arrived in Davutpaşa next day,” he said.
The objects that were made by the prisoners during their imprisonment and their photographs from those times can also be seen in the exhibition. The book Davutpaşa Mid 3 will be available for purchase at the opening.
About the Mid 3 ward
“Davutpaşa Mid 3” presents the portraits of 42 human beings with a shared fate in the Mid 3 ward of Davutpaşa Military Prison in the lead-up to and aftermath of the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup d’état, that left an indelible mark on the recent history of Turkey.
In his book Sel treats the old inmates as if they were in a time tunnel, on a stage constructed somewhere between the past and the future. The places where the photographs have been taken not only contain details regarding the past and presents of the people in the portraits, but also feature clues that point toward the world beyond that field, for instance, toward Turkey’s transformation. Thus, a family album striving to exist in memory begins to exist in the reality of the present as a document that has been handed down from the past.
The Mid 3 ward, now used as an art studio by a university (Şahin Arslan); the asphalt road that has taken the place of teahouses along the shore and the coastline that gradually moves further away (Mustafa Taluğ); the hills of Dragos, once a place to visit to find solitude in the years after coming out of prison, but now covered with kitsch villas of the wealthy classes (Sefer Atalay); a five-storey building in Sefaköy, erected in place of a police department once used as a torture house (Kemal Işık); and memories revived at the side of one’s mother, who also signs of the passing of troublesome times (Kazım Rençberoğlu). The photograph of Erhan Tüskan, who after long years spent in prison settled in the Netherlands and felt alienated to his own city, was taken at the edge of a city, in an area that was once covered with fields, but is now filled with skyscrapers!
The portraits in these constructed places are an opportunity to face-off, both for the viewer and the person who has been photographed. “Which traces of youth remain?” is one question that comes to mind. The shadow of an old code of conduct – the way the legs have been crossed, the tesbih [worry beads] in one hand, the challenging manner of a certain slant, or the weathered look emanating from a crestfallen glance? The people in the portraits are left facing their own reality, their present condition and their own mortality in these photographs. Even the negatives on which the portraits are recorded on, the paper they are printed on, and the wood of their frames will last longer than these lives enriched with dedication and complexity.
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Reported by Hürriyet Daily News