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[OPINION] My Story As An Academic and Columnist in Erdogan’s Turkey

By MAHMUT AKPINAR

I was a well-paid lecturer at a reputable university in Turkey. I also had a column on a national newspaper. A few times every week, TV channels were inviting me to their programs and listening to my views. I was writing books, giving conferences and sharing my views with the public. Everything in the country, however, started to change after the corruption investigation launched on 17 December 2013 which included serious allegations against close relatives and colleagues of Erdogan. Erdogan declared this investigation as a “coup” against his government and instead of responding to the allegations, he dismissed and penned the prosecutors and police officers carrying out this investigation into jail. Afterwards, he run a widespread and very intense propaganda with the media working under his control and deeply polarised the whole society. He destroyed the separation of powers, captured the whole judiciary, destructed all check and balance mechanisms and suppressed all of the opposition media. The July 15 coup attempt which still has many unexplained dark spots has been “a blessing from God” for Erdogan to establish his one-man rule.

The Turkish society who carried Erdogan to the summit of his power together with all parts of the society have experienced great difficulties in the last 3-4 years. The society is sharply divided; law and justice withered away. The country has become a republic of fear. As it is the case in every authoritarian regime, Erdogan’s Turkey as well first targeted the opponent journalists, academics, and intellectuals. Hundreds and thousands of teachers, lecturers, jurists and public officials have lost their jobs; are imprisoned, vilified, and made into objects of hatred. In September 2015, I came to the UK with my family as a visiting fellow before the situation in the country deteriorated. I was thankful that I was not in Turkey as an academic or a journalist, when I saw how rough life the Erdogan’s regime gave to the people after the coup attempt. I am among the 23,427 academics who have been dismissed from their jobs,[1] but I am not one of the 5000 academics who have been put behind bars. I am among the journalists whose newspaper are closed and banned from writing, but I am not in prison like hundreds of other journalists. The things that happened to me through the process of oppression and intimidation with the least amount of damage may give an idea about what the academics and journalists stayed in Turkey have gone through.

My university is closed down

First a government trustee was appointed to Turgut Özal University where I was lecturing. Then, my university is completely closed down with an emergency decree issued after the 15 July. All the properties of this privately-owned university are seized by the government and many of our lecturers including our president, an orthodontist by profession, have been locked in jail. One year after the coup attempt, it appeared in the news that another operation was carried out against the staff of the university and 47 more were detained.[2] I could not even learn who these people were. The trial of one of my close friends from the university has just finished and he has been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment. He is accused of three deadly(!) crimes: 1- Workin at Turgut Özal University, an international university hosting 7000 students opened during the rule of the AKPgovernment, 2- Having their children attending to schools affiliated with the Hizmet Movement where the children of Erdogan and many AKP members and bureaucrats have also studied, 3- Depositing money into Bank Asya, a bank opened by Erdogan and Abdullah Gul and operating in accordance with the Turkish laws and regulations! I cannot get any information about how many of my colleagues have been released, how many of them still in jail or how their children are coping with all of that. The university lecturers could not even take their personal items, books, private documents and lesson materials from their rooms. All of our belongings have been looted.

A friend of mine with initials O.F.Y. with a gentle soul who cannot not hurt even an ant was reported to the police by his neighbour after the July 15 coup attempt, while he was trying to carry the books listed by the government as “evidence of terrorism” away from his house. It has been a year since he was put behind the bars for this. Another colleague of mine managed to escape the country by crossing through Maritsa River by the help of human traffickers. One of his children is still in Turkey, his teacher wife and two children are in Germany, while he is stuck in Greece.

My newspaper is shut down

I was writing columns containing daily political views and commentaries on Millet newspaper owned by Ipek Media Group. First a government trustee was appointed to our newspaper. Then they stopped publishing our articles and completely closed the newspaper down. All assets, bank accounts and properties of the Ipek family who owned this media group have been confiscated. All my journalist colleagues working at Ipek Media who stayed in Turkey are now in prison. They also issued an arrest warrant against me. If I had not been abroad at the time, I too would have been in jail for the past 15 months. Meanwhile, the few “lucky” journalists including myself who had been able to get out of the country are working as labourers to earn their lives and, at the same time, with very limited means, broadcasting videos on periscope and writing articles as bloggers in an effort to be the voice of their jailed colleagues and share with everyone about the things happening in Turkey.

My think-tank is closed down

I was the founder and the director of the political desk of an Ankara-based think-tank organisation (hesa.com.tr). We published reports on degeneration and corruption, which drew extreme reaction from the government. Following the July 15 coup attempt, our head office has been closed down with an emergency decree and all of its assets have been confiscated. A highly esteemed social scientist and the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of scientific papers, Prof. Ibrahim Cerrah, who for years had given lectures at the Police Academy on police ethics and human rights and was twice Full Bright scholarship holder was remanded in custody in an insulting manner. Prof. Cerrah, the school mate of the President of the Religious Affairs, a respectful scholar until a few years ago, highly revered and known for 30 years by the Undersecretary of the Turkish Intelligence Agency, was tortured by being kept in a cell hand-cuffed from behind for 31 days. The garden of his house has been expropriated just to oppress his family. He is now in jail for more than a year and is not able to deal with the special needs and education of his 8-year old daughter with Down syndrome whom he used to call “My Little Angle”.

My twitter account is blocked

Like many journalists, I was also very active on social media and used to have a twitter account with 163,000 followers. In my articles, talks and social media posts, I was making my critical remarks always with respect to personal rights. For this reason, I had never a court case filed against me in this regard. With a court order issued after the bloody coup attempt, however, together with the active accounts of hundreds of other people, my twitter account too has been withheld in Turkey.  Because of the created atmosphere of fear and hatred, 30,000 people unfollowed me in only one week. Meanwhile, my blog in which I was sharing some of my writings has also been blocked.

The publication house I was working with is shut down

At the beginning of 2016, I agreed with Ufuk Publishing House to print my book on critics of political Islam. I sent them the draft version of this ninth book of mine. In December 2015, just as I started to make the final revisions, a governmental trustee was assigned to the head of the publishing house and my book is left unpublished. What is worse, after the coup attempt, the books published by 29 publishers, including the Ufuk Publishing House, were declared as “evidence of terrorism” and the people, in whose house these books were found, were accused of being terrorists. With a governmental order, all of the books printed by these publishers have been collected from the 1130 libraries all around the country and have been destroyed completely.[3]

My House has been raided twice by the police

I have never committed a security offense, even in the slightest manner, throughout my life and have never had any issue with the police station, the policemen or the courts. But at the age of 50, I saw that my house was raided twice by the police for the accusation of committing a “terror crime” of revealing my thoughts and writing articles with my pen. In case of another police raid, since I was abroad at the time, an altruistic friend of mine took the risk and went into my house and took all the books that the regime labelled as “banned” or “unfavourable” out of my house, because, the houses of journalists and academics were being raided, all of the books and printed materials were being confiscated and they themselves were hand-cuffed and then imprisoned. For days, the streets and rubbish bins of Turkey were filled with books and publications that people dumped/burnt out of fear. I do not know which very valuable books of mine my friend threw to the bin. Because of this massacre of books that took place at my university and my house, at present I do not have any copy of the books I had myself written.

Schools of my wife and children are closed and burnt down

The private school where my wife was teaching is shut down, and, like thousands of other teachers, her certificate of teaching was also invalidated.[4] My children’s schools are closed down too. One of my children had stayed in Turkey. He was at the last year of his high school and was going to enter the national university entry exam. He was a successful student at a successful school. His school is closed down and his university dreams collapsed. After the July 15 coup attempt, the school where my 10 and 13-year-old daughters attended and much loved was not only closed down but also burnt down by pro-government raiders.[5] More than a hundred thousand teachers including the teachers of my children have lost their jobs. Some of them have been detained without any trial. Those who are out of prison are left to suffer an immiseration. There have been many teachers who started to work at building sites or as sellers at town markets and many who could not bear the cruelties they had faced committed suicide.

Following the July 15, the wife of a friend of mine with three children was imprisoned together with her 1-month old baby just because she was a “member of a union”. While trying to save his wife, he himself is detained on her behalf. Their family had to be happy for this “exchange” and consoled themselves by the release of a mother with a tiny baby.

In the last few years, the Erdogan government made the lives of hundreds of literate, well educated, highly qualified people very miserable just because they “do not pay homage” to his rule. But I count myself among the lucky Turks.  Although I lost my job and my position, I am not in prison. I am not among those who committed suicide because they have been shamelessly disgraced. I am not among the 80 people who lost their lives due to the tortures in prison. I am not among those whose wife or children have been detained, because they could not find him. There is such an intimidating atmosphere in Turkey that I cannot call my close relatives even during the Eids. Even those whom I call, they dread to answer or speak to me very timidly.

Being an academic in Turkey is very hard, being a journalist is very hard; but being both is much harder. Nowadays in Turkey, using a pen is considered much more dangerous and lethal than using a gun!

[1] http://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-40567898 16.7.2017

[2] https://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/kapatilan-turgut-ozal-universitesi-calisanlarina-operasyon-40-kisi-hakkinda-gozalti-karari-169210.html, 23.10.2017

[3] http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hurdalik-kitaplar-40183026

[4] http://www.turkiyegazetesi.com.tr/gundem/387495.aspx

[5] https://www.turkishminute.com/2016/07/17/anti-coup-protesters-vandalize-school-building-turkish-capital-ankara/

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