CBC Radio · Posted: Feb 24, 2021 6:23 PM ET
OTTAWA STUDENT TURKEY
Guest: Omer Ongun
CH: The pressure is mounting on Turkey to release Cihan Erdal from prison. But the Canadian permanent resident learnt this week he will indeed face a criminal trial this spring. Mr. Erdal is a PhD student at Carleton University. Last September, he was in Istanbul visiting family and conducting research on youth uprisings when he was arrested and accused of inciting terrorism. While he waits for his court appearance, Mr. Erdal has kept busy behind bars with his academic research. In fact, he’s prepared presentations for two conferences this week in Brazil and Ottawa. His partner, Omer Ongun will be presenting his work in his absence. We reached Mr. Ongun in Ottawa.
CO: Omer, what does it tell you about Cihan that he is still working on his academic research while he is in prison?
OMER ONGUN: It doesn’t surprise me. That’s who he is — always making the best of his conditions. And he actually sent me a note and he says, “I will continue to work for the public good, seeking the truth, reason and justice without ever losing sight of intellectual integrity.” And that’s what he’s trying to do — producing, working, reading.
CO: It’s an irony that he is doing his research on his thesis, he is studying youth uprisings, and he’s in jail for his political activities.
OO: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s really interesting I will say, maybe in a sense shocking, to see that he has become the subject of his own research. He was really trying to understand peaceful protests, youth political participation of young people. Now he’s become that he’s behind the walls in prison. And I am doing my best, and I suddenly got pulled into this, so I am presenting on his behalf in different conferences. He’s not giving up. I’m not giving up.
CO: Well I guess you can’t go to these conferences, but you will be presenting his work.
OO: Yeah, I am actually presenting his work. I’m first studying it, I’m trying to understand. And there’s a conference this Thursday in Brazil, which I am presenting live on video. So that’s going to be also an interesting experience for me.
CO: When we spoke with you last September, you told us how Cihan called you in the middle of the night, he was in a panic, the police were banging on his door, they had come to arrest him. What have you learnt since about the accusations that he is facing?
OO: Four months after his initial arrest we finally have the indictments. He’s being criminally charged for fomenting disunity of the state. And this is really based on these two Facebook posts that he had on different dates. Those are just anti-war posts. His defence lawyers believe that actually Turkish authorities realised they could not directly connect him to any of these about the Kobani protests in tweets and letters. So therefore, they support his social media accounts or anything that could be viewed as subversive.
CO: In the fall that was the theory is that he was linked to a letter, simply a letter, written in 2014 that had called for the Turkish government to step out to help this Kurdish town of Kobani that they haven’t been able to tie him to even that, and now they have found some other things?
OO: Yeah, what they did is basically two Facebook posts and those are basically linked to news, to other webpages or articles that are vaguely critical of the governments on different dates. It has no connection with the Kobani protests. But it shows the arbitrariness of this arrest.
CO: Cihan was in solitary confinement at the beginning — horrible conditions, having inedible food served to him. Have things improved? Are his conditions any better?
OO: His conditions are better. He had to stay there for about a month, which was extremely worrying. We had to campaign a lot, write several petitions, and then he got out of that. He’s been receiving letters and books. Basically, Carleton University professors have been sending articles and materials. But we also had to fight for it because Turkish prison management basically told us that there is nobody here that speaks English. So we don’t know what these books are talking about, so they refused to give them to him. And then we were like, come on, right — you can do better. Finally, they did. And in fact, he’s been receiving tons of letters from all around the world, which keeps his morale high. So he’s in a much better condition at the moment.
CO: Cihan is your partner, but he is not recognised as your partner in Turkey. And does that mean that you can’t see him? You don’t have the visiting rights as a family member?
OO: This is also one of those things that we probably take for granted, because, I mean, here in Canada, we are a common law partner. He’s my spouse for 10 years. But now in Turkey, where he’s detained, I am not seen or I’m not recognised as his family member, so I’m not able to speak with him. The last time that I spoke with him was on that night in September.
CO: Oh my gosh. The reason why he was in Turkey at that time was to see his parents. He was worried about them. Are they able to see him and have contact with him?
OO: Yeah. They are over-60 farmers in the Greek border of Turkey, olive farmers. So you can imagine, right, this was a big shock to them. They were able to speak with him. They got pretty emotional at first, but now they’re really trying to stay strong. I talk to him every day and they really see me as their son right now, which is actually amazing.
CO: There are members of the European Parliament who have condemned Cihan’s imprisonment. He has support — as you say, letters coming from around the world, human rights organisations. Has the Canadian government helped?
OO: Global Affairs Canada has been monitoring. But unfortunately, they haven’t really condemned the arrest. We know they can do more. But I also want to mention this, some people also tell me, “Cihan is not a Canadian, right?” And then I say, well, it’s true that Canada has limited say in what happens to Cihan as he’s not a Canadian citizen — Canada should not approached us only as a consular matter, but as a human rights issue. Arbitrarily rounding up and arresting leaders of an opposition party, so we cannot say that this is outside of Canada’s interest because it goes against Canadian values.
CO: Do you think he is destined to become a Canadian citizen while he’s in prison in Turkey?
OO: He is. Because again, this is our chosen home. This is where we feel Canadian. So he is destined and he is aspiring to be a Canadian citizen.
CO: Omer I wish you success with presenting the work of your partner in that conference in Brazil. And I appreciate getting an update from you today. Thank you.
OO: Thank you so much for giving me the floor and the platform. Have a wonderful day.
CO: You too.
CH: Omer Ongun is the common law partner of Cihan Erdal, a Canadian permanent resident who’s been in a Turkish jail since September. We reached Mr. Ongun in Ottawa. In a statement, Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of Mr. Erdal’s detention and that Canada had, “raised concerns with Turkish authorities and continues to monitor the case closely.”
Ottawa Citizen, February 22, 2021
A Carleton University PhD student arrested while visiting Turkey last year will stand trial in April on charges stemming from protests in Turkey in 2014, his common-law partner says.
Cihan Erdal, 32, was detained on Sept. 25, 2020 along with 16 others, after Turkish officials accused the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey — in which Erdal was once a high-ranking member — of urging people to take part in protests across Turkey in 2014 that left 37 people dead.
Erdal, a permanent resident in Canada, is accused of inciting terror and violence. Conviction for this crime carries a life sentence, but Erdal is adamant he is innocent.
In a letter obtained by this newspaper Monday, he says he has been subject to “completely unlawful and baseless allegations” for “political motives.
“Not only my individual freedom and right to education and work but also universal norms and values of law are being usurped.”
The specific evidence for his charges, which wasn’t made clear until January, cites two social media posts by Erdal, which his partner, Omer Ongun, says have no connection to the 2014 protests.
Last month, several members of the European Parliament released a statement urging the Turkish government to release Erdal, along with other political prisoners.
“It is beyond absurdity that he is facing an indictment calling for 38 counts of aggravated life sentence based on the evidence of two tweets, while Cihan was only trying to make Turkey a better place. We ask for his immediate release and call for an end to this travesty of justice,” their statement reads.
The Canadian government has not made a similar public statement.
According to Ongun, Erdal joined the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey – the third largest official party in the Turkish government – in 2014 as a youth member of the party’s central executive committee. He stayed in that role for a year, working as a representative of youth, LGBTQ and the green movement, before resigning in 2015 to focus on academics. Erdal came to Canada in 2017.
He was visiting family in Turkey and researching his thesis on youth-led social movements when he was arrested in September.
Ongun said he awoke to a phone call from Erdal on the night of the arrest.
“He’s like ‘Police are at my door, they’re taking me away. I love you and just do whatever you can. I need your support,’ ” Ongun recalled.
Ongun said Erdal was held in solitary confinement for 21 days, with no access to the outside world, no books or school materials and was served unsanitary food. “It was just a torture for 21 days,” Ongun said.
Ongun said he’s only been able to communicate to Erdal through letters or via lawyers. Phone calls are reserved for family members and Turkey doesn’t recognize same-sex partnership. In his own latest letter, Erdal says he has always been against violence “in all its forms and layers. As such, “I find it disgraceful for law and justice that I am subjected to terrifying accusations regarding a painful incident of violence.”
Since his partner was detained, Ongun has petitioned friends, family, lawyers and the academic community for support. More than 20 organizations have issued statements of solidarity demanding that Turkish authorities release Erdal, among them the Middle East Studies Association of North America and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents teaching assistants and contract instructors at Carleton University.
Ongun has set up a website dedicated to freeing Erdal and a GoFundMe page which has raised over $16,000 towards legal fees and the purchase of books and clean clothes for Erdal, who is currently imprisoned in Sincan F2 Prison in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.
Ongun said Canadian government intervention appears tricky, since Erdal is only a permanent resident, not yet a full citizen.
“Nevertheless, Cihan is a Canadian,” he said. “This is our home.”
In an email statement, Global Affair Canada spokesperson Jason Kung said the department is aware of the detention of a Canadian permanent resident in Turkey.
“Canada has raised concerns with Turkish authorities and continues to monitor this case closely,” he said. He declined to respond to other questions.
Ongun said the government has contacted Erdal’s lawyer in Canada. Still, Ongun said Erdal’s case deserves more attention – especially since Erdal’s April 26 trial is not far off.
“It’s unclear if the Canadian embassy in Ankara will actually be observing the trial,” Ongun said. “We just want Canada to ask questions, to make inquiries and to observe the trial.”
“We know Turkish courts will make the decision, but we need Canada to remind its NATO allies that this is not right, that this is all arbitrary and unlawful.”
Ongun said he also wants Global Affairs to assign Erdal a consular officer. Global Affairs did not answer questions regarding consular representation.
Blair Rutherford, chair of Carleton University’s anthropology and sociology department, where Erdal was studying, said the best thing Canadians can do right now is write to politicians.
“(People need to) send an email to their member of Parliament and ask them to demand the Canadian government have very strong conversations with the Turkish government to try to free Cihan,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford’s department at Carleton condemned Turkey for its actions in an official statement on the day Erdal was detained.
“It’s crazy that he’s been detained for more than five months on something as innocuous as posting Facebook posts,” Rutherford said.
In September 2020, the Turkish government conducted a series of arrests in response to numerous deadly protests throughout Turkey dating back to 2014 in relation to invasions in Kobanî, Syria carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Kobanî is a Syrian town near the Turkish border. The protests began after ISIL began to invade the town as a means to gain more control and territory along the Turkish-Syrian border. At the time, many people expressed frustration and disappointment towards the inaction and idleness of the Turkish government in fighting back against the attacks.
Cihan Erdal, a Turkish PhD student, with Canadian permanent residency, at Carleton University in Ottawa, and a member of Turkey’s Green Left Party, was one of the many individuals who were arrested over 5 months ago.
On September 25 2020, while on a trip to visit his family in Turkey as well as to conduct some research on youth-led social movements, he was detained by Turkish police on accounts of involvement with HDP (People’s Democratic Party), a Turkish left-wing opposition party. He is accused of having incited people through Twitter to engage in the protests back in October, 2014.
His doctoral supervisor at Carleton University, Jaqueline Kennelly, wrote in an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen: “Although he was serving as a student member of the HDP executive at this time, he was never a major player in the HDP and has not lived in Turkey since January of 2017.”
Cihan Erdal was a also a member of the Green Left Academy (Yeşil Sol Akademi). In 2017, he was in charge of conducting the opening speech for the Green Left Academy Conference which took place in Istanbul from May 26 to May 28.
He speaks of combatting Turkey’s oppressive regime, defending academic freedom, tackling the patriarchal system, and fighting for more ecological politics. Throughout his speech, Cihan Erdal expresses his wishes to build a better future with the help of the Green Left Academy.
His speech can be viewed on YouTube with English subtitles.
The European Greens’ Reaction
In January 2021, over 4 months after his arrest, members of the European Green Party demanded his release:https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1352212503594479616&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalgreen.news%2Feuropean-greens-ask-for-the-release-of-imprisoned-former-turkish-green-left-party-member%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=889aa01%3A1612811843556&width=550px
A few members of the European Parliament released a statement on January 21 2021, urging the Turkish government to release not only Cihan Erdal, but all other prisoners of conscience as well as journalists, political activists, academics, and many more.
“CIHAN ERDAL IS A PEACEFUL HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND AN ACADEMIC. IT IS BEYOND ABSURDITY THAT HE IS FACING AN INDICTMENT CALLING FOR 38 COUNTS OF AGGRAVATED LIFE SENTENCE BASED ON THE EVIDENCE OF TWO TWEETS, WHILE CIHAN WAS ONLY TRYING TO MAKE TURKEY A BETTER PLACE. WE ASK FOR HIS IMMEDIATE RELEASE AND CALL FOR AN END TO THIS TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE.”-Ska Keller, Co-President of the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, and other members of Parliament
The European Greens strongly condemn these unjust acts committed by Turkey that go against several human rights. In Article 8 of the European Parliament Urgency Resolution, the European Parliament calls attention to Cihan Erdal’s case.
Support From Back Home
Through numerous petitions and social media activity, growing pressure is being put on the Turkish government to release Cihan Erdal as promptly as possible.
Cihan’s family, friends, and his partner Ömer Ongun are worried for his well-being. During his imprisonment, they have created a website which includes various resources to help him such as petitions, social media accounts, letter templates to send to local MPs and press coverage.
The following links include petitions urging for the release of Cihan Erdal as well as additional resources for further reading:
- Petition to release Carleton Sociology student Cihan Erdal
- Change.org #FreeCihanErdal petition
- Twitter account for @freecihanerdal
Athena is a second year undergraduate student at Concordia University in Montreal pursuing a BA in Honours Political Science. She is passionate about international relations, tackling social and climate issues, defending human rights, and learning about what is happening in terms of politics on the other side of the world.
Την κράτηση του Cihan Erdal, που προφυλακίστηκε με άγνωστες προς το παρόν κατηγορίες στην Κωνσταντινούπολη την περασμένη Παρασκευή, και ακόμα 81 πολιτικών, ακαδημαϊκών και ακτιβιστριών καταδικάζουν ελληνικές συλλογικότητες και οργανώσεις.
Στο κείμενό τους ζητούν την απελευθέρωση του Erdal, LGBTQ+ ακτιβιστή κι υποψήφιου διδάκτορα στο Τμήμα Κοινωνιολογίας και Ανθρωπολογίας στο Πανεπιστήμιο Carleton του Καναδά, όπως την ασφαλή επιστροφή στη χώρα που επέλεξε να μεταναστεύσει.
Όπως έγινε γνωστό από τις τουρκικές αρχές οι συλλήψεις σχετίζονται με διαδηλώσεις του Οκτωβρίου 2014 στην Τουρκία, κατά της κατάληψης της κουρδικής-συριακής πόλης Kobane από τον ISIS. Οι διαδηλώσεις τότε κατεστάλησαν βίαια από την τουρκική αστυνομία και είχαν ως αποτέλεσμα τον θάνατο 37 πολιτών.about:blank
Οι οργανώσεις τονίζουν πως ο «Ο Cihan είναι ένας queer ακτιβιστής και πρώην μέλος της εκτελεστικής επιτροπής του αριστερού φιλοκουρδικού πολιτικού κόμματος, HDP. Μετανάστευσε στον Καναδά το 2017 για να ολοκληρώσει το διδακτορικό του. Είχε επιστρέψει πρόσφατα στην Τουρκία για να επισκεφθεί την οικογένεια του και να πραγματοποιήσει έρευνα στο πεδίο στο πλαίσιο της διδακτορικής του μελέτης.
»Ήταν προγραμματισμένο να επισκεφτεί την Αθήνα και να παραμείνει στην χώρα για ένα χρονικό διάστημα, καθώς η επιστημονική του έρευνα αφορούσε μελέτη των στάσεων των νέων σε Ελλάδα και Τουρκία. Ο Cihan επίσης πρωτοστάτησε στο κύμα αλληλεγγύης από την Τουρκία κατά τη δολοφονία του Ζακ Κωστόπουλου και αποτέλεσε το σημείο επαφής των LGBTQ+ κοινοτήτων σε Ελλάδα και Τουρκία».
Την έκκληση προσυπογράφουν οι Justice For Zak/Zackie, Colour Youth – Κοινότητα LGBTQ Νέων Αθήνας, Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research, Athens, ΛΟΑΤ ΑμεΑ, ΟΛΚΕ – Ομοφυλοφιλική Λεσβιακή Κοινότητα Ελλάδας, Proud Seniors Greece (Ομάδα Υποστήριξης ΛΟΑΤΚΙ ατόμων ηλικίας 50+), και Thessaloniki Pride – Φεστιβάλ Υπερηφάνειας Θεσσαλονίκης.