Letter to Sara

By Doug Nicholls

I’ve lost the early eighties paper cutting. I’d read the article in a broad sheet,

And, as I had never done before, nor ever since, cut it out and kept it neat.

It so frightened me. I felt so deeply for you,

Yet writing to you in your prison, was all I thought I could do.

Sakine Cansiz, Diyarbakir Prison, Turkey, was my only clue.

They’d intercept and stop it, they’d burn my unity in the coup;

Even so, I thought, my small brown envelope would get through.

I posted it, so hoping you could feel my concern and care

I almost prayed and wished I was there

Delivering it by hand as the guards, confounded, stared.

We were about the same age, with the same politics, and shared

No doubt the same ideas and passions. I guessed

We’d read the same books, loved Hikmet, Giap, and the rest

Of our brave world leaders of the time. I did, I pressed

The letter to my lips, I so wanted your torture to end;

It was the little touch between us that would offend

The dungeon ghouls, and mend

Anything in your heart and mind that needed healing.

It was the superstition of connection that was reeling

Round me, secretly sealing

My simple message of heart-deep comradeship.


I heard the crack of the razor whip.

Smelt the ‘disco,’ a bath in shit. A trip

Again to the room of leering, greasy men.

Guards who outside the jail didn’t amount to much,

And trained their dogs inside to go for the naked crutch.

When they forced prisoners to strip and lie in a pile,

It made them feel worthwhile.

When a toenail slid out, they’d smile.

Their thrill was constant punishment,

They simply would not relent,

Creating anguish was how they spent

Their days. Year after year,

Hoping that perhaps tomorrow, just once, they’d see real fear.

Death after death, but never a sign of fear.

Screams more awful than death, but never fear.

Comrades denied them the slightest sign of that,

Hung, arms behind their backs, for days, bludgeoned on a mat

Warm with the brains of friends,

Water-boarded to get the bends,

Electrocuted where life itself comes from,

Penetrated with truncheons by sadistic doms.

So thin and frail the photo showed you at the best of times,

I wondered if you’d survive their crimes.

Now forty years later, I discovered you did, and of course with dignity,

Now I learn of your great role, and would love to see

You in person and wish some other serendipity

Would bring us together for just one warm embrace.

How I’d love to respect your determined face

And look into your eyes and chase

With just one quick look

All of the dark chambers and crooks

Out of your mind.

In our handshake I’d feel how kind

You are, and sense your military might,

And absolute conviction to your people’s fight.

One memory perhaps would linger deep,

And secretly make you weep:

Four young comrades in the jail,

Defied the constant, never ending, shrieking wail,

And rolled themselves in newspaper arm in arm one night,

Covered it with paint and set themselves alight.

That was their escape

From the violent rape

Of their nation, their sisters, their brothers,

By the generals, CEOs and others.

So many brave young martyrs you had known

And heard the snapping of their bones.


They could not break you and on release

Into a lifetime of struggle that never ceased

You inspired and led and always spoke your mind

Against any act or thought that dragged behind.

They made the classic mistake in your assassination,

They assumed it would darken the cause of liberation,

But you had led and taught by strong example,

And no tank track nor boot can ever trample.



Sakine Canciz, (1958-2013) known as Sara, was one of the founding members of the PKK and Kurdish liberation movement.  She was jailed in the Turkish coup in 1980 and released in 1991 when she resumed political activity for the cause in the Middle East and Europe. She was assassinated alongside two other female leaders in Paris in 2013.

Doug Nicholls is Britain’s longest serving trade union General Secretary having first been elected GS of the Community and Youth Workers Union in 1987 and the General Federation of Trade Unions in 2012. He has produced new versions of two Sumerian poems. His collected poetry 1975-2005 Speaking Tools was published by Bread Books and his forthcoming collection “The commonwealth of Britain” will be published in 2023.