We are here republishing a translation of a book review a new book published in German entitled Letter Exchange: Christa Eckes Hüseyin Çelebi – April 1988-December 1989. This review was written in German by Ulrich Weber and originally published in the Kurdistan Report, issue 218 for November/December 2021.You can find the original here: http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2021/91-kr-218-november-dezember/1188-briefwechsel-christa-eckes-hueseyin-celebi-april-1988-dezember-1989

The translation published here was done by Laura Altinsoy.


Book review

“Letter exchange between Christa Eckes Hüseyin Çelebi, April 1988-December 1989″

Ulrich Weber


When we remember Christa Eckes and Hüseyin Çelebi, we think of two people that were part of different movements. In light of the first assessment of prisoners from the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the PKK, their frames of reference diverged. However, that the common idea of liberation unified them cannot be rejected out-of-hand. This was to be achieved, according to both of their analyses, in an armed anti-imperialist struggle.

Despite the real differences between the domestic climate in the BRD (Federal Republic of Germany, Bundesrepublik, BRD) and Turkey, the antagonism against the hegemonic state led to similar conditions. Behind the red cloth of colonialism, a sabre-rattling apparatus became apparent that tried to discredit armed struggle against its inhumane conditions by any means necessary. In the BRD, as a dialectical answer to the 68 revolutions, a political status quo developed, which had already determined conditions in Turkey since 1923. The German state responded to attacks on its power structure with torture and isolation of the enemies of the state apparatus, which in every pore consisted of ex-NSDAP members and profiteers of German fascism. As in the 70s and 80s, the traditional cooperation between the German and the Turkish state deepened, so the interchange between the prisoners developed into a dialogue about their different positions on these states.

Christa Eckes died of leukaemia in 2012. What she left behind was a letter exchange between her and Hüseyin Çelebi, which has been published in 2021 in the form of a book entitled Letter Exchange: Christa Eckes Hüseyin Çelebi – April 1988-December 1989. Christa politicised herself in her school years and was later heavily influenced by the 89 movement. Contrary to many like-minded people, Christa maintained her position and norms through the whirlwind of state reformism. In 1973 she occupied a house in Hamburg with many other people in the gentrification-affected part of the city called Hohenfelde, which they named after Petra Schelm. Petra Schelm had been hit by a machine gun during a raid. She did not receive first aid, and ten minutes later she died.

It was not long before the eviction of the occupied house and the occupants’ journey to illegality. After Christa finished her first sentence of seven years, she went underground again. In 1984 she was sentenced again. During her incarceration she kept struggling through six collectively organised hunger strikes in prison against the system, which wanted to make the prisoners feel the balance of power psychologically through so-called ‘extermination incarceration’ and the isolation of individual prisoners.

At the time when Christa was incarcerated again, for four years, Hüseyin was imprisoned with other Kurdish activists, to be charged with membership of the PKK in the first big Düsseldorf trial. Hüseyin grew up in Hamburg and was active in his early years against the systemic discrimination of migrants and adopted an important role in the building of Kurdish structures. Christa, who witnessed the impact of the Düsseldorf trial, and was informed about it by Hüseyin, did not hesitate for long and initiated contact via an exchange of letters. For both it was clear that communication would be subject to strong censorship and could lead in the worst-case scenario to new charges against them from state security. Regardless, the letter exchange epitomises the societal atmosphere of change at that time. Simultaneously, it is a testimony concerning tactics used by the state to shatter social movements, as the conditions of solitary confinement used against Christa and Hüseyin made apparent.

We would be committing a grave mistake if we were to look at this collection merely as a historical artefact. Then we would fall for historical revisionism and demagogy. The forms of repression might have changed their appearance, nevertheless the Western states are dabbling in yet more subtle methods to suppress social and revolutionary movements.

It is exactly the contemporary character of these topics after 32 years that makes this letter exchange so special. It is not only a testimony of the exchange between two revolutionary movements in a decade of global struggles for freedom. It also opens up questions, for which we still have to find answers, and which are definitely worth discussing with regard to global political developments.


The letters as an exchange about prison conditions and the international perspective of armed struggle

Trikont is a term used by the political left for the countries of the three continents Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is often used as a synonym for developing countries. [1]

In this context, the continents are also referred to as having been “kept underdeveloped”. [2] It is also pointed out that this is an attempt to avoid the “discriminatory” terms ‘developing countries’ or ‘3rd world’.

Christa’s first letter was only followed by a shy answer five months later. For him it was not immediately clear upon what they would base the charges against the thirteen incarcerated Kurds. The only thing that was clear was that the attack on the liberation movement would take place under the cover of fighting terrorism, which back then had to be called a §129a trial. Since the explosion of national liberation movements in the Trikont, i.e., all countries in Africa, Asia and South America, which threatened an eruption of anti-colonial sentiment, the BRD was also interested in maintaining and expanding economic hegemony. To realise this, criminalisation and discrediting were employed, which meant in the case of Hüseyin the fabrication of the most absurd charges. The theatre-like performance was meant to manipulate public discourse. To sediment the state narrative, both the prisoners of the RAF and the Kurdish movement had reduced visiting times and permitted letters. This culminated in an absolute prohibition during the hunger strikes.

Attrition and demoralisation was the advocated goal, aiming at the extermination of ideas. The justice system thereby became an instrument of war, a weapon and a defence mechanism of responsible politicians that could shield themselves by displacing the dialogue from the line of fire. The tactics employed against Christa and Hüseyin impressively demonstrated how the justice system attempted to manoeuvre by trying to separate a deed from its motives. Concerning the concrete situation regarding the deed in question, what we can call the ‘political attitude’ was thus meant to be separated from the motive and intention of the societal movement. The deed in question had to be stigmatised as an individual decision and contorted in order to fit the tight net of the penal code. It was no accident that the justice system tried by all means to avoid a political defence of the prisoners of the RAF and the PKK. Especially the letters by Hüseyin illustrate furthermore the racist practices of the German justice system, which made defence of and communication between Kurdish prisoners a Herculean task due to the bureaucratic hurdles of translation. Regarding the prison conditions, Christa speaks of a “prison conducting internal psychological warfare” (p. 19), which should proceed until the psychological destruction of the health of the individual was achieved. Since the beginning of the 70s, solitary confinement became a prominent concept for political prisoners, which concerned mainly prisoners from the RAF and the PKK. “Sensory deprivation”, i.e. the drastic reduction of sensory stimuli, like absolute silence, social isolation and dominant colours, was meant to break the prisoners. The letters make apparent that disorientation and the withering of sensory experience is a calculation made when dealing with political enemies, to take from them what keeps them alive. The methods were thus not employed against individuals, but were meant to strike at the heart of political movements.

It should be no surprise that this concept of subtle torture developed in the BRD became a commodity exported to regimes and dictatorships worldwide. Subtle because prisoners only saw through the methods when it was too late, and at first could not define what they were fighting against. This is how it happened that on 16 May 1990 the prison in Stammheim was visited by a Turkish delegation and subsequently the F-Type-Solitary Prison in Turkey was built in its image. Concurrently with extermination incarceration, an anti-communist propaganda offensive was launched in the BRD, whose targets were primarily Palestinians, Tamils, Kurds and Iranians. The repression and enactment of the trials thus seemed to be a less intense part of the war at the back of the increasingly escalating war against the Trikont. The Bonn government of that time knew to keep this far away, to silence and kill the voices against it.


To value the significance of Christa and Hüseyin

In this climate, which after more than 30 years since the letter exchange has not become poorer in political contradictions, repression and war with Western participation, we can look back on the letter exchange with courage and resolve. Christa and Hüseyin generated with this self-evident rapprochement of internationalism a reciprocal warmth, which can be felt by the reader regardless of the more than three decades past. This was demonstrated by the fact that Hüseyin adopted the demands of the RAF prisoners as well during his hunger strike. Precisely this form of mutual support leads to, as Christa metaphorically describes, new forms of solidarity and human relationships that are at the core of internationalism. All this shows us, that empathizing with the negative parts of the suffering of others, but also the positive aspect in joy and victory, is essentially what lets the distance from Cuba to Germany or Germany to Kurdistan shrink so far, that these hurdles and obstacles only make us smirk. Hüseyin describes this emotion thus: “The tenderness of the peoples is noticeable by us, we can feel it” (p. 156).

We see in the reflection of the last decades how the post-fascist state at the beginning of the 70s launched a politics screaming of injustice and in whose eye of the storm we are situated in currently. Regarding the spectre of “international terrorism,” which is conjured due to a state’s subjective interests, nothing has changed on the side of the state and justice system. We have to remind ourselves time and time again, the truth is not chained to the lips of judges and prosecutors, but it can be pinned to the side of the revolutionary through an organised counter-hegemonic narrative of repression. As has already been determined back then, the modern state claims to represent society, which is why it fights by any means necessary against a society that rebels against the state. In the case of emergency, it can always reform itself a little. For Hüseyin, however, this intensity of fighting against revolutionary activity can only mean to “unflinchingly continue revolutionary politics, as the reactions show that this is the right way” (p. 28). Which answers do we find, as humans living in the BRD, a state that is still at the top of the repressive bloc of Western nation states? When we discuss this question, the understanding of situating the revolution, like Christa and Hüseyin, as a general breakthrough through the front line of the war imposed on us by capitalism, helps us. Even today we therefore have to remember at any moment, that the revolution in Rojava and the resistance in the mountains is a breakthrough in the capitalist line, as was the victory in Dien Bien Phu, not only for Vietnam but worldwide, as a breakthrough through the glass house of the colonial system. In the concrete resistance today in Kurdistan we see every day the living expression of a movement, which could not be suffocated by even the Düsseldorf trials and the inhumane conditions. From the lines of this book, the added poems and mischievous comments we can gain the optimism that we will need for the coming phases. The stronger we get, the more we leave the status quo, the eye of the storm, and learn from Christa and Hüseyin how the storm does not take away the ground from your feet. They offer us with their lives the stability and perspective, which we can anticipate laid outside of the eye of the storm.