YEREVAN. – “Turkish prisons are not at all like what you see in the film Midnight Express.”- Sevan Nisanyan
In an interview to Armenian News-NEWS.am, well-known Istanbul Armenian writer, linguist, journalist, and columnist, Sevan Nișanyan, who escaped from Turkish prison after serving 3.5 years in prison, talks about his future plans, situation in Turkey and other issues.
Mr. Nisanyan, how did you manage to escape from prison?
I didn’t actually escape from prison. I was transferred in April to an open institution, a kind of work camp, where we were allowed to take a week off every three months. I went home and did not return. Getting out of the country was more exciting, but I am afraid I cannot say too much about that yet.
Why did you choose Greece?
I applied for political asylum in Greece and received a temporary residence permit. The final decision on the asylum application will be made by the Greek authorities in March 2018.
I have always admired Greece and felt at home here. I hope to live in an Aegean island which is very close to my home in Sirince. We can actually see the island from the hills of my village.
Your family is in Turkey. Are not you afraid that they can be subjected to pressure?
My three elder children are grown up and intelligent people. I don’t think they will be in any kind of danger.
How do you assess the situation in Turkey in general? Many people say that dictatorship is established and it is, first of all, a danger to national minorities.
The political and judiciary situation in Turkey is bad enough, but I am happy to say it is not yet as bad as the old Soviet Union!
Turkey is going through a period of madness. The political situation is frightful, the rule of law has collapsed. This of course affects everyone in the country, including, but not especially, the minorities. I know that the Armenian and especially the Jewish minorities are very worried, and very many of them have made plans to migrate to safer countries.
What awaits Turkey in the case of this government ? May there be an explosion, taking into account tense relations both on the external and internal fronts?
Turkey was always a very difficult country to govern; now the difficulties have multiplied beyond control. The country is fighting with virtually every other country in the world, but more importantly, it is at war with itself. The outcome of so much bad energy is difficult to predict. In any case it looks like it will not be a happy outcome.
What is it really like inside Turkish prisons? What kind of manners prevail there? How did they treat you?
Turkish prisons are certainly not what they used to be thirty years ago. They are not at all like what you see in the film Midnight Express. The buildings and infrastructure are quite modern, the personnel is reasonably well-trained and efficient, the regulations extremely detailed and mechanically applied. This makes the prisons psychologically more oppressive places than before. Total isolation and dehumanisation may sometimes be worse than physical brutality.
In three and a half years I changed eight institutions. I was everywhere very correctly treated on account of both my age and my social position. I was the only Armenian – the only non Turk and non-Muslim in fact – everywhere I went. This never posed a problem. Most inmates thought this something exotic and interesting, and made a double effort to befriend and/or protect me. I believe the prison administrators were also under strict instructions to treat me correctly and to make sure there were no security issues.
When will you visit Armenia?
I would love to visit Armenia as soon as I am able to travel freely, which I hope will be in March 2018 or soon afterward. Many of my co-nationals in Armenia offered my their friendship and support while I was in jail. I have many friends in Yerevan whom I would like to thank in person.