From the outset it was clear that for Turkey it would be a nightmare of a year. My last shred of doubt was dispersed when I was driving that day, all alone, in the sweltering July heat, towards a western Greek port.
It was July 21. The night before, Turkish cabinet had convened, as the turbulence of the patchy military uprising still went on, to decide on the state of emergency. Official Gazette was reprinted as of 2 a.m. of July 21, to make it ‘official’.
This was the patent for the peaking nightmare.
Yet, its news was at that time treated as just one of the ordinary developments. When I found out about it at a gas station, my thoughts were crystal clear: Turkey would roll down into the abyss. Anyone who had a memory, knew what sort of service on a plate ‘decree regime’ provides for a passage to autocratic rule.
I tweeted a few lines, giving a heads up to my nearly hundred thousand followers. Another surprise: Even those academics who were supposed to know the history of world politics tried to downplay it; some responding like ‘oh, it will be short lived’, ‘it is needed, but will pass’, ‘no worries’ or something in that vein.
I remember how disappointed I was by this tone, and felt so helpless, that I did not bother to discuss any further. In frustration, I jumped back into the car, and pressed the gas pedal. I had a ferry to catch, after all. I was glad that I had chosen freedom; ever so the highest priority in my life.
That feeling was alive, for days. The patchy military uprising, later known as the ‘failed coup’, in the night of July 15, had left many of us journalists sleepless. My biological engine was on for more than 36 hours, trying to catch and absorb the most vital parts of this amazing story.
The decision on how to deal with it on personal and professional level had to be part of that. My strong intuition told me that, no matter who would come out victorious through this chaos, journalists and dissidents would suffer. I had no doubts, and in a matter of hours, legally, I was out of Turkey. Sitting somewhere not far away from Turkish-Greek border, barely keeping my eyes open in that hazy afternoon of July 17, with two refugee kids playing about in the vicinity, it took me various incoming phone calls to realize how right I was.
The first call was the BBC, for a brief chat. The second was from the Swedish TV, a reporter apparently in a lot of uncertainty about ‘what is going on over there’. And the third one was the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which had – I am sure by the memory of history – clearly understood that the gates of hell had opened for our unfortunate, somewhat cursed country. It marked the beginning of the series of Turkish Chronicle, which you have been following for a year. I am proud to be documenting all I could see as a raw material for history writing.
Weeks, even some months before the eruption of chaos, some of us journalists had a powerful gut feeling some calamity was building up. For many of us in the profession life was not made unberable due to the coup, but long before that. We had witnessed with bitterness, that the outlets we worked for were seized one after another, the so-called ‘mainstream’ media which was strictly ruled by its flunkey proprietors had day after another fired all the colleagues who insisted on doing their jobs properly.
Many of found ourselves jobless; working pro-bono. Days before the coup attempt, I had only a tiny source of income for columns in the daily Özgur Dusunce (which was shut down as part of the first mesures by the emergency rule). We suffocated.
I remember meeting my colleague, Kadri Gürsel, at a cafe – named ‘Gezi’ – in Taksim Square, some weeks before the chaos. We had some differences of opinion on the state of things in Turkey, discussed fiercely at times, but trusted each other fully. We agreed that we had no longer any future in the country, unless we changed jobs. ‘We are in a cage’ said Kadri.
I said that there were so few of us with courage displayed publicly, that we would be such easy preys. I remember telling him something like ‘It would be moronic to think that a struggle against an irrational, barbaric structure of power, which employs all the tools so easily’. We agreed on that too, as well as the necessity to leave the country. I did, I know he wanted to, but couldn’t.
He is behind the bars, for almost nine months, accused of ‘acts of terror’.
Like 170 others.
Thoughts on what might happen to Turkey, to all the good people I had known, to those whom I have seen suffering for decades, to all my friends passed through my mind like a mountain stream till I reached the Greek port. When I stepped on the ferry, I realized that all I have been left with was not a sense of worry, but bitterness and anger. An experiment for a decent democratic order had not only failed, but the country was hijacked by forces which would unleash all the evil they can think of over old, and newly invented ‘domestic enemies’ – a well-known tool in Turkish history to maintain brutal, inhuman order in place.
It was the worst defeat for all those who had hoped for a better future, and the lion’s share fell upon us journalists, academics, human rights defenders, civil society strugglers, those few politicians who truly cared for the underdogs… It was a major collective failure, which has would keep me angry for months ahead. I know now for certain that the lost momentum will hardly come back.
It will take generations, at best, to bring back things to normal. I can hardly disperse the thought that, if mistakes haven’t been grasped, we would end up with another Iran at our hands. Parts of its fine human resources chased out; large swaths of its population declared undesired, the remaining ones constantly dismayed, helpless; hostage to a thought that the world is against them.
‘What went wrong, then?’ I can almost hear you ask.
Turkey is so complex that there is not a single response.
But I can tell you that its each and every citizen is a prisoner of her/his fixed notions.
Decades of militarist tutelage empowered by an obsolete educational system, backed by a judiciary obsessed to protect the Turkish state against its citizens; a pumped up denialism of diversity of opinion and identities shaped a stiff national psyche which remains closed to empathy, civilised public discourse and democratic progress. Social groups act still like tribes, suspicious of each other. They are prisoners of their rigid identities, unable to line up together against the oppressors.
They remain hostile to each other; stuck in an eternal blame game. Whenever a social group to which they are hostile is ‘beaten’ they remain silent; or worse, they applaud the injustices. Justice, they all seem to think is a notion limited to their identity; their privilege. Each time a new identity gets to power, the basic instinct becomes to chase out those it sees as the domestic enemy.
This fundamental fact makes Turkey a ground where ‘forced coexistence’ is an established way of life; its vicious circle, which to a great deal explains the defeat.
Some weeks after my chat with Kadri, my sense of suffocation was so deep that I had taken a break to clear my thoughts. I found myself on a placid Greek island in northern Aegean.
It was the first days of July.
One night, at a remote seaside restaurant I met a young couple.
They were from Istanbul and had briefly gotten away from the ‘madness’ as they put it. She was pregnant, quiet but you could see the tension. Soon we began to talk about the way things are happening in Turkey. ‘It is such a restive society’ she said. ‘I am sick of it, they can never find peace; at the throats of each other, seeking pretexts to beat the hell of each other. For centuries they have gone west from Asia to our beautiful Anatolia, but they are so keen on keeping it like hell. Not a moment of peace…’
‘It is ours, this paradise and this hell’ had our great poet Nazım Hikmet. I told her that the paradise is the Anatolian soil, but it is the people who are hell.
She nodded, and smiled bitterly.
Then, perhaps there is also something called the power of the curse. I was reminded the other day of an elderly Ottoman Armenian man from the town of Muş – a survivor of the genocide. Someone asked him somewhere outside Turkey, where he was chased away: ‘What will you say when you meet your oppressors?’
‘I will tell them: You have annihilated us in these lands, but there will come a time for me or my grandchildren, to see you all helplessly wallow in your own dirt that you yourselves have created’ he responded.
Curse or not.
Here we are.
A ruler class living in lies, silencing all those who speak the truth.
Justice buried and gone.
These days, as Turkey’s nightmare doesn’t seem to let go, all I do is to think of my friends in prison; best and brighest of their generations who sacrificed the best portion of their lives for a decent human order in the country they love:
Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Altan, Şahin Alpay, Murat Sabuncu, Deniz Yücel, Tunca Öğreten, Cihan Acar, Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Güray Öz, Murat Aksoy, Enis Berberoğlu, Büşra Erdal, İnan Kızılkaya and all 170 of them.
And the academicians, and human rights defenders.
And thousands of Kurdish politicians and the grassroots of Gulen Movement, so apparently paying the price for some murky coup they had no idea about, the only ‘crime’ of theirs is affiliation with a sect, which is surely legal in any democracy.
365 days that have passed was a breathless horror.
You can only imagine how corrosive it is.
And the worst part is yet to begin.