Free the Poet İlhan Çomak

[Darllen yn Gymraeg]

İlhan Sami Çomak is Turkey’s longest-serving student prisoner.

His trial lasted 22 years and he was given a life sentence for a crime he denies.

Ilhan’s only company is a small pet bird, and he has 4 more long years to serve before he will be freed on parole. He has always maintained his innocence.

During his 26 years in prison, İlhan has written and published 8 books of poetry. The most recent, Geldim Sana (‘I came to you’), was awarded the Sennur Sezer Prize for Poetry in 2019. Read his poems in English here.

You can also read poems written to him by other poets, including two poems by Wales PEN Cymru president, Menna Elfyn, here.

PEN Norway is leading a campaign to call for his immediate release and to share his poetry widely. Help us to campaign for his release from Silivri prison, Istanbul. Help us to free İlhan Çomak


‘Rowan’ by Menna Elfyn

If I could, I’d send you a llatai
in your captivity.
A key is not permitted.
I can’t send the air of my country
or a jar of rain that makes
my country infamous.
 
I send you a leaf
from a rowan tree -
beautiful for you to hold
in both hands.
In its veins a secret message
Criafolen, criaf -o- len.
A cry behind a veil.
And a song’s murmur
as you walk one day
towards her and gaze
from her branches
at the sky's unveiling gift of ‘awen.’      


‘The piper’ by Menna Elfyn

with a nod to T.E.Nicholas

See the gentle bird there, by your window,
Startled by you, so  pensive in your cell,
Spare some  crumbs to this little fellow
To mark his arrival as he wishes you well.
Listen to the melody, what a gift
A poet’s accent, its harmony restarts
Another song , an aria to  uplift
And  beat in the sweet- poet’s tender heart.
 
And perhaps he’ll fly away, message deliverer                                     
To the land of your boyhood, bright message ablaze;
share with other mountain birds. Piper in gorse and heather--
 a message of longing, hiraeth as he sings your praise.
His wings will reverberate of your captivity,
Folk song of hope for the blue sky of liberty.
 
Menna Elfyn

I have acknowledged a famous Welsh language poet 
T. E Nicholas ( 1879- 1971) who was imprisoned  during 
the Second World War on false charges. He was a pacifist 
and held Communist ideals.  He wrote 150 poems in prison 
which  were smuggled out. Written on prison toilet paper 
they were published  in 1942 to great acclaim. He wrote one poem 
to a bird near his cell which I have reimagined here. 

Hiraeth - A kind of homesickness that can also mean
 a longing, nostalgia, and yearning, for a home 
that you cannot return to, that no longer exists, 
or maybe never was.


‘I Give Praise to Flight’ by İlhan Çomak

for Menna Elfyn, in response to her poem The Piper
I give praise to the embraces of women
that reach right into my cell
I give praise to the wind's own knowing
that it is wind.  I am without a door,  yet my wings
splay wide as an atlas. Birds love me.
I hear that delight in their songs
and the quiet of these blues and greens
gives me peace. There is a stairway
that leads to the very height of life.
 
I love the birds because we're brothers in hunger,
as the window creaks with tiredness in its frame.
So then sing your song, beautiful bird.
Let us go blazing to the seas, to my childhood,
when I believed in all the stories, to the times when
I fell and fell, grazing my knees,
to the pain of my hand when it would bleed.
To the wound of the skies and the earth.
To the pure, bright experiment of rain.
I am with the birds.
Life accepts me again.
 
İlhan Sami Çomak, August 2020
translated by C.Stockford


How can I help?

  • Write to him: İlhan Sami Çomak, Silivri High Security Prison, F9 ALT, SILIVRI, İSTANBUL,TURKEY
  • Write to Turkey’s Ambassador to the UK: His Excellency Mr Ümit Yalçın, Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 43, Belgrave Square, London, SW1A 8PA / embassy.london@mfa.gov.tr
  • Write to Wales’ Minister for International Relations: Eluned Morgan AS, Senedd Cymru, Bae Caerdydd, Caerdydd, CF99 1SN / Gohebiaeth.Eluned.Morgan@llyw.cymru
  • Write to the UK Foreign Minister asking for his intervention in İlhan’s case with the Turkish Government: Mr Dominic Raab, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AH / dominic.raab.mp@parliament.uk
  • Write to Turkey’s Minister of Justice: Mr Abdulhamit Gül, Hukuk Birimi, 06659 Kızılay, Ankara/Turkey / info@adalet.gov.tr
  • Hold a poetry event or write poems and make art for İlhan
  • Share your work and messages on social media #FreeThePoet @ilhancomak
  • Donate towards the costs of publishing a collection of his work in English and an anthology of poetry written for and with İlhan Çomak, by contacting caroline@norskpen.no 

More information: ilhancomak.com