Poet Aron Atabek writes to PEN from solitary confinement in Kazakhstan

Kazakh poet Aron Atabek was sentenced to two years in solitary confinement in 2012 for writing a book that criticises President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Since we launched our campaign in August 2013 to have Atabek released from solitary confinement, PEN centres have been lobbying their governments and respective ambassadors to Kazakhstan, asking them to raise Atabek’s case with the Kazakh government. Some members have written directly to Atabek in prison.

Recently, Atabek was able to respond to a letter of support sent by Sascha Feuchert from German PEN. Please read his personal message (and a poem written especially for German PEN) below.

Tell us what your centre is doing for Aron Atabek.

Letter to German PEN from Aron Atabek

I received your letter on 17 September 2013 in the ‘strict conditions’ block of the LSP (life sentence prisoner) section of the prison in the city of Arkalyk.

I am touched by your attention and concern. In my books I often criticise the West’s liberalism for its double-standards: human right defenders attack the dictator’s (Nazarbayev’s) regime in Kazakhstan, whilst at the same time officials share hugs with the same dictator standing on a red carpet.

If there was no policy of double standards, democracy and social justice would be the winners in Kazakhstan (and in neighboring countries). We are sacrificing our lives and liberty to achieve this victory.

I hope there are persons in the West who are not drunk on Kazakh oil and gas, and for whom the principles of freedom and progress are more important than short-term economic profits.

I send you my response in the form of a poem. The philosopher said: “In one’s soul there is a miniature portrait of his nation.” The portrait of my people is in my poems. Your great classic, Goethe, said: “Only those who struggle for them deserve happiness and freedom!”

I hope we are worthy of freedom, democracy and progress. I ask you to accept my poem - written especially for you - as a sign of great respect to your great nation and civilization.

Aron Atabek (Edigeev).
City of Arkalyk Prison,
Life Sentence Prisoner Section

(translated by Askar Aidarkhan, Aron Atabek’s son)

Dedicated to PEN Zentrum Deutschland, Hon-Prof. Dr. Sascha Feuchert, Manuel Emmerich

Poems of German genius
Where Mermaids and fairies live,
Schiller, Goethe, Heine —
And songs of Lorelei.

These poems are known to everyone —
I re-read them in my memory;
I listen to these songs,
Seated in my prison cell.

We are the nomads of Aryana,
Our god is Tengri* — the Sky.
Impassioned devotees of Truth,
We race through space and time.

In the saddles of Hunnish horses,
As princes we came to Europe:
Celestial people –
A breed of burnished gold.

As Poets-warriors we ascended the throne —
And Seri** became Herr and Sir!

We live in Germanic sagas -
In the heroic song of Beowulf.
We are alive in the greatest dramas -
Faust and Mephistopheles!

I can save my soul -
This spark of heavenly fire.
But though my firey burden glows immortal,
I, mere mortal, wait in death’s cell.

We are the Knights of Aquarius —
Freedom’s warriors.
And the Lorelei sings to me
Her faerie songs.

The city of Arkalyk, “krytka”, LSP
УЧ УК 161/12

*Tengri is the Mongolian word for sky
**Seri means poet-warrior in Kazakh