With Kafka to Turkey

In 1925 the most famous book of Franz Kafka was published. With the title Der Prozess (The Trial)” it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor the reader.”[1] The experience of the protagonist of the book, called K., is not unlike the experience of my wife during our latest stay in Turkey.

About four years ago my wife was arrested in the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul and taken into custody. When we asked about the reason, we got no answer. About eight hours later at the office of the prosecutor, we were told that she was suspected of fraud committed in a small town of central Turkey. A male person had opened a phone line in the name of my wife and made somebody in the town buy him prepaid minutes for the phone pretending that he was a doctor who urgently needed the prepaid minutes.

As my wife is a woman, the prosecutor rightly saw that she was innocent. He took her statement and released her. However, during the eight hours of the ordeal she was sent to medical control and had her fingerprints taken. Besides, our flight had long gone and we had to pay extra for another flight. The business meeting she had planned was cancelled. I later wrote the prosecutor who had ordered her arrest without taking the trouble of sending a man to our address, asking him to have our loss reimbursed. More than three years have passed and I have not got any answer yet.

After one or two years a new case came up. This time it was in a town in central Anatolia. I learned about it by chance. Therefore we could go to the local police station where my wife could repeat her former statement without getting arrested at the international airport.

Then it happened again. Now the felon had moved out to the eastern part of Turkey where he in some obscure town had made a man buy him prepaid minutes. Also this case I managed to catch before any harm was done, so we went to our local police station where my wife for the third time gave her statement. Some weeks later an official came to our door and presented us with a nolle prosecui and we thought that now at last they would leave us in peace. But not so!

Evidently the aggrieved party in eastern Turkey had objected to the nolle prosecui and again my wife was arrested in the international airport and had to spend the night at the police station. This time they did not take her fingerprints. They had them already.

My wife was offered to spend the night with the other women in detention. First time this room had been behind iron bars. Now the bars had been exchanged with a large window. In spite of her age (she was born during the Second World War), my wife preferred to spend the night in a chair.

The next day my wife was taken to court. The judge saw that my wife is a woman and according to the aggrieved party the felon was a man. Thus she was released.

So far so good. I am sure, though, that this is not the end of it. The authorities do not make the effort of coming to our address with their questions. They simply leave the job to the airport police. Consequently, every time we have to leave the country, we have to go to the police to ask whether my wife is wanted or not. Otherwise she may face a night in the airport detention.

Here the intelligent reader may ask why the prosecution and the courts do not refer to our address, which is known and written in our residence permit. The answer is that I do not know.

The reader may also ask why the authorities keep harassing a woman when they from all the witnesses are being informed that the perpetrator is a man. Also here I must answer that I do not know.

What I know for sure is that all this is not due to bad intentions on the part of those in authority. We have met with unusual kindness and understanding from all the persons who have been involved in the case.

The only possible explanation I can think of is the lack of elasticity in the judicial system. Many changes have been observed in recent years, but the rigidity of the Byzantine bureaucracy (called Byzantinism by Bouchier[2]), that was taken over by the Ottomans, is still to be seen in certain procedures.

When the individual is up against the system, right or wrong, he is bound to be the loser.


[1] “The Trial,” Wikipedia, accessed on March 3, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trial

[2] Describing the late fourth century AD Bouchier writes: “and Byzantinism, as it is customary to call that carefully organized but soulless system of administration, was already apparent.” – E. S. Bouchier, A Short History of Antioch (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1921), 163


About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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