Halime Gülsu – Turkey’s failing prison system led to the tragic death of a unique soul. A book review of The Life of Halime Gülsu: The Heavenly Teacher Murdered in Prison (2022)
by Vivien Kretz
How can prisoners not be sentenced to death but still be murdered?
How do civilians pay for their lives? Questions like this arise when thinking about the fate of Halime Gülsu.
Written by Zeynep Kayadelen and published by the US human rights organization Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), the book, titled “Halime Gülsu: The Heavenly Teacher Murdered in Prison,” is based on the accounts of Gülsu’s cellmates who witnessed her final moments as well as friends and family. She died as an inmate in a prison ward in the Mersin province in Turkey due to insufficient access to medical aid.
Halime Gülsu’s story was now reconstructed by Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), a Turkish NGO. Author Zeynep Kayadelen incites her work with a preface: “We have died many times” (Kayadelen 2022, 9). The hopelessness peaks through her words. She dedicates this work of literature to those who have died from painful deaths fighting for a cause they cared about.
In her heartfelt novel, Kayadelen touches on the saddening fate of Halime Gülsu, a dedicated teacher who taught in Turkey and was a part of the Hizmet movement. This movement is influenced by the ideas and goals of scholar Fethullah Gulen. The Hizmet movement is dedicated towards a freer, more equal, and more sustainable Turkey.
Gülsu was a highly devoted teacher. She taught her students during her working hours and supported them when many of them were persecuted by the Turkish regime.
Turkey’s regime worked against those affiliated with Hizmet and those who were part of the movement. Gülsu and most of her friends were in a difficult situation. She felt watched for her every step. She knew that the regime was after her and that they did not mean well to her. Kayadelen described it as: “If their oppression was a fire, their animosity was the wind raging it up”. However, Gülsu refused to give in and declined the opportunity to leave the country. Much of her family lived in Canada, so she often could go abroad to see her family. However, she was a very proud Turkish citizen and chose to stay to defend herself against the regime. It is stressed multiple times throughout the book that she saw herself as a citizen of Turkey and decided to fight for a promising future for her country. However, the leaders of the regime disagreed with this.
On February 20th, 2018, Gülsu was arrested for being part of the Hizmet movement. Her arrest caught her by surprise. Gülsu knew she was being watched but did not expect to be arrested and incarcerated.
After Mersin’s Anti-Terror Special Forces team had crammed through her entire apartment and pulled everything apart, they handcuffed her and took her to Tarsus prison.
Gülsu was not healthy. She suffered from chronic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease, and required daily and weekly medication to treat her illness.
When the Turkish forces ripped the teacher out of her home, she quickly grabbed her daily medication and medical records to take with her. Unfortunately, Gülsu forgot to take her weekly medicine during her arrest.
Once Gülsu arrived at the prison, she asked for her medical documents, which stated that she was sick and needed her weekly medicine and medical aid, but her medical records were nowhere to be found. Gülsu found herself in a terrifying and life-threatening situation.
She was put in an overcrowded cell with other women. The cell was made for ten people with ten beds, and when she entered it, it was already at double its capacity.
Some of the prisoners had babies but were taken from them. Female prisoners were forced to send their young children home because they could not care for them in prison.
Gülsu experienced everything first-hand: the routines, the uncertainties, and the other prisoners’ stories, but not for long. Three months after her arrest, Gülsu died from medical negligence.
Gülsu did not receive access to her weekly medicine or was ever granted medical treatment for her chronic lupus illness. Her condition worsened, and she developed growths and lumps- she was in terrible agony.
Gülsu got weaker and weaker by the day. When her brother finally was able to deliver the medication to her, it was already too late. Gülsu couldn’t cope with the pain, and the aggressive illness had progressed too far. According to inmates and family accounts, Gülsu became aware of her final days.
After weeks of suffering, Gülsu was finally allowed to go to a hospital, but it was too late. After she returned to the prison, her inmates, who had become caring friends, had to carry her as she was too weak to walk –they looked after, fed Gülsu and prayed for her.
Sadly, on April 2018, at 3:10, she died alone in a prison corridor. “Like an empty cocoon, her dried-up body was left behind, just lying there “, wrote Kayadelenin in her book.
The author Kayadelen narrates the book in a first-person perspective, which makes it easier for the reader to emphasize what the teacher must have gone through during her difficult time in prison.
Kayadelen’s book is a beautiful reading experience with a personal insight into what Gülsu experienced during her final days. Through multiple interviews with people who work at the prison and those affiliated with Gülsu, the organization gathered the tales about her time in prison and created a strong background for a story told with heart.
Kayadelen’s work is a strong voice against all human rights violations in Turkish prisons. Advocates of Silenced Turkey did an excellent job giving a tiny piece of justice to Halime Gülsu, “the heavenly teacher”.
The book can be purchased here: The Life of Halime Gulsu: The Heavenly Teacher Murdered in Prison: Kayadelen, Zeynep, Girdap, Hafza, Korku, Ummu, Nazif, Muhsin, Y., E., W., Barbara, Hur, Hande, Silenced Turkey, Advocates of, Publishing, AST: 9798365685956: Amazon.com: Books