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Vegan Turkish Prisoner | <a href="http://canbaskent.net">Can Başkent</a>

Can Başkent

logic and the rest...



When I turned vegetarian ten years ago (I was only twenty), I didn’t know anyone vegetarian. Being a vegetarian in Turkey is usually considered as a joke: “Not even chicken?” is perhaps the most common question you’ll face while “You can’t be man enough without meat!” is perhaps a bit less common.

When they first learned, my mother cried, my father got angry. I persisted. Then, I started meeting and talking to other few vegetarians living in metropolitan cities in Turkey, discovered 2-3 vegetarian restaurants. During these years, I researched the philosophy of veganism, and began writing on the subject. I was content.

Then, I left the country, moved to Amsterdam and discovered politically conscientious vegetarians and vegans. My two-years of education in Amsterdam introduced me to a variety of vegan fusion cuisine, and refined my taste in a way that I could be modest and still eat some “posh” vegan food. I kept writing on vegan philosophy and animal liberation. I was content.

My Amsterdam years took me to New York City - by far the vegan paradise in the world. Gourmet vegan restaurants, posh vegan people and expensive vegan food proved itself as such a politically unconsciousness vegan scene. During these years I published my book on veganism and sexism. I was still content.

In September 2011, through some friends, I received a letter from a political prisoner in Turkey. Osman Evcan, the prisoner, was vegan, and complaining that he was not given nutritious vegan food. That sounded terrible, and he was asking for help and support.

While I was eating my pasta with some Tofurky sauce, I felt bad. I feld bad not in a way that I felt guilt or shame, I felt bad in a way that how come other people who read the letter before me kept silent, and did nothing. Clearly, the duty was on me.

I immediately started a support campaign, and called it “Vegan Food for Osman”. I started a simple tumblr blog (osmanayemek.tumblr.com/english) to collect support messages and signatures. I sent them to the prison authorities, and Turkish government.

I live in Brooklyn, Osman in a small high-security prison in central Turkey. I didn’t have much hope that I could do anything useful that can help him in his daily life. I didn’t give up, I sent an email letter to many Turkish dissidents and journalist, and let them know the case.

For me, and for our campaing, we have a very specific focus: We demand that Osman needs to be given vegan food. We are not honestly concerned about his crime - we didn’t even know why he was serving when we started the campaign. Our focus was narrow and direct - we avoided politics, we didn’t identify ourselves as a political movement. We were just people who asked the authorities to give Osman the food he can eat.

I started corresponding with him. He said that the problem was going on for many many months, and he was given some food that looked simply disgusting. For some time, he was given food that was cooked in a weird looking substance. He took that substance off the pan, put it on his skin near his wrist. He got a rush there after about ten minutes, he wrote to me.

The more details I learned about him, the more the situation looked a lot more like “Midnight Express”. Osman wrote me long letters with a neat handwriting. He draw flowers on the letters. His command of Turkish revealed a lot about him. He wasn’t college educated which most likely means that he got arrested quite young.

In time, I learned more about him. He was serving since he was involved in killing someone while he was in a “leftist armed revolutionary organization”. That was inexcusible. He is imprisoned since 1992, and will be released in ten years, and he cannot be paroled.

I, in no way, agree with what he did. I wish he didn’t commit such a horrible crime. I don’t even know him personally. Yet, I believed he still deserved food.

I started the campaign in September 2011. In the past months, we got bigger. Some environmental organizations in Istanbul got involved in the campaign. They organized some streed demonstrations.

They also got a liberal, central-leftist MP, Melda Onur of the Republican People’s Party, interested in the case. She, yes, she, visited Osman in prison, talked to him, and moreover gave a talk about it in the National Assembly. I was surprised.

Flood of media interest followed. I gave interviews to national newspapers. There were quite many news coverages, and op-ed columns in the papers. Even, the Turkish edition of CNN had a news coverage of the campaign.

However, his condition got more serious. He started hunger strike on November 4th to protest the mistreatment. We felt weak and powerless since we couldn’t talk him out of it.

I learned about Turkey during this campaign. Living in Turkey as a vegetarian for about 4 years with all its ups and downs, I thought I knew it all, and I had enough reasons to be pessimistic. Yet, the campaign proved me wrong. Happily.

Most of the people who signed our petition (available at osmanayemek.tumblr.com/english) are not even vegetarian. The culture which sees animal sacrifice for food as a holy ritual, the society who feels offended when not offered meat as guest food, the people who cannot even imagine themselves living without animal products left their heritage aside, and presented their support. That suprised me. Happily. I am now content again.