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 “I was given two years and 10 months only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, they caused this. I only painted it.”

Banksy’s mural dedicated to the Turkish artist Zehra Doğan, in New York.

Her troubles began with a painting the Turkish judiciary saw as an act of terrorist propaganda.

Dogan’s recreation of a photo of military convoy in the battered cityscape of Nusaybin

Since February 2016 Doğan had been living and reporting in Nusaybin, a Turkish city located on the Syrian border.

The city of Nusaybi located on the Turkish-Syrian border in the ethnic Kurdish region
The city had been under strict curfew for a period of months, confining Zehra Doğan inside for long stretches. An accomplished artist, she passed the time painting scenes of Kurdish women and everyday Kurdish –artwork that also included depictions of the oppression suffered by the Kurdish minority at the hands of the Turkish government.

The crackdown was not new.  Zehra Doğan is best known as the editor of Jinha, a Kurdish news agency reporting news from the south-eastern city of Diyarbakır, with a staff consisting entirely of women. 

JINHA staff at a press conference in Istnabul Jinha Women’s News Agency
In late 2016, Jinha was closed down along with a series of other major and local media outlets. The shutdown came after the Turkish government published two new statuary decrees under the country’s state of emergency following a failed military coup  to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  

One day she came across a photo posted by a pro-Turkish military Twitter account celebrating victory over the PKK.

In the photo:  A military convoy stands in the foreground surrounded by the battered cityscape of Nusaybin, with Turkish flags draped over crumbling buildings.  It was this photo that inspired her to reimagine its depiction in a way that revealed the truth of what was happening Nusaybin. 

Upon the painting’s publication and circulation on social media, it was found by Turkish authorities.

On July 21, 2016, Zehra was arrested in a cafe in Nusaybi. Her artistic work deemed by the Turkish authorities to be an act of terrorism.

Her Facebook page has since gone black.

“The defendant photographed a scene in Nusaybin and painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings.

It is very clear that this painting is against the operations that were conducted as a result of the PKK terrorist organization’s barricade and trench policy, which undoubtedly includes violence and force.” –Turkish Authorities

The prosecution’s lawyers used Doğan’s paintings and social media posts as evidence against her. Doğan testified that all the crimes she is accused of are journalistic activities, for which she is registered with the state and a member of the Union of Journalists of Turkey.

That trial ended with no sentencing, but Zehra remained in prison until her release on December 9, 2016. Her trial continued on March 2, 2017, where she was acquitted of the charge of Illegal Organization Membership,

but was sentenced to 2 years, 9 months and 22 days for posting a painting to social media.

Since violence in the region resumed in July 2015, Turkey’s 33-year conflict with the PKK has devastated neighborhoods and livelihoods across the majority-Kurdish south east. During the period, at least 2,748 have been killed, around 100,000 have lost their homes, and up to 400,000 have been temporarily displaced.

Banksy’s tribute to the jailed artist and activist is a not-so-subtle reminder of the persecution suffered by ethnic Kurds at the hands of the Turkish government.

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