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: Ilhan Çomak: Silivri 5 No’lu L Tipi Yüksek, Güvenlikli Kapali Cezaevi, F9 Alt Silivri, Istanbul, Türkiye.
- 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 / email@example.com
- 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 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Write to Turkey’s Minister of Justice: Mr Abdulhamit Gül, Hukuk Birimi, 06659 Kızılay, Ankara/Turkey / email@example.com
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org