My dear Turkey... The home of my dreams, hopes and tears, and now my home of heaven which is its grave. The land where I was born and grew up. And the one I love to death...
I was born the fifth of nine children to a poor family. I was a girl. I was born in the village. Therefore, I belonged to a disadvantaged group in terms of getting an education. There was no one around me who had a higher education, but within me education was burning like a fire.
Reading was my biggest passion. I read whatever I could find around me. Since everyone in my village went to primary school, I went too. But I was lucky and my teachers saw something in me and were instrumental in meeting my family and enrolling me in secondary school. My secondary school teachers also insisted my family enroll me in high school. My grades were very good, I belonged in high school, but without my teachers, this would have been just a dream for me. I was in high school now and it was up to me to carry on after that. My teachers had done their duty and withdrew from the stage with peace of mind. Now it was my turn to do something for anyone who needed help. But first I had to help myself and get into university. I had seen how a teacher can change both his own life and other lives. I made my decision: I was going to be a teacher. The gratitude I carry in my heart towards my teachers has never changed. They still live in a corner of my heart and mind.
I gained a place in the language and literature department at university. I realized that I was actually academically gifted. I was pondering, reading, writing articles. I guess I wanted to be a university professor. And my teachers were still supportive. Unfortunately, the financial situation of my family did not change during all this time. Trying to hide from friends that you don’t have money for lunch, or sometimes not being able to find money to go to school, and my mother’s frequent borrowing from neighbours are things that still bring tears to my eyes as I write.
Gülen or Hizmet Movement
After completing my university education successfully I was preparing for the academy exams. Then a friend of mine from class said that a group known as the Gülen or Hizmet Movement needed teachers in their school. She asked if I wanted to apply. After attending their seminar, my dreams of academia were pushed into the background because the world they described was wonderful. There was talk of a great human ideal. It was said that the ill fate of humanity could only be changed by education. Ignorance, poverty, enmity could only be eradicated by well-educated individuals with a higher level of humanity. It was said that all people in the world are our brothers, and that common points of dialogue can be found with everyone through kindness and values. And examples of this happening both in Turkey and around the world were being told. And the seminar conquered my heart. Yes, if I was going to be a teacher, it would be in these schools. I also had to support my family financially. If I was going to be an academic, I could do it later. And so I was accepted to a Hizmet Movement school in Istanbul and started working.
In my working life, I saw much more than what was explained in the seminar. From the principal to the teachers, everyone was like angels descended from heaven. There was an incredible atmosphere of brotherhood and kindness. You felt extremely safe. Our relationship with the students was great. It was as if heavenly systems were established on earth. We were teaching students mathematics, science, literature and introducing the modern world. Our most important goal was to raise individuals with common human values. And we did it with love and great sacrifice. Even though public schools were better in terms of salaries and benefits, it never crossed my mind to apply for public school teacher’s exams. Moreover, our working hours were very long, we voluntarily took care of our students for long hours after the classes were over. This continued for years. The public also had a great interest in these exam preparation courses because they were very impressed by the moral maturity and success of the students who grew up. And because we were their teachers, they loved, respected and supported us very much. At least one person from almost every family was educated in Gülen Movement schools or courses.
The nightmare begins
But then, the political power started to develop a hostile attitude towards the Gülen Movement. Erdogan developed a hostile attitude towards the Gülen Movement. But his son-in-law had studied at the university of this movement, and he knew them well. In 2011, this hostile attitude became more visible. Institutions were put under pressure. On 17-25th December 2013, a major corruption operation was carried out against the government. Erdogan completely changed the security system in one day. He arrested police investigating corruption. Those police are still in jail. And he associated everyone who investigates corruption with the Gülen Movement and declared them a traitor; the police who tried to protect their country’s stolen money and everyone who supported them were accused of being traitors. As a result of the process that gradually developed into a war, trustees were appointed to the head of the schools.
Erdogan, meanwhile, had built up a huge media power over the years. No news that he did not want could find a place on the screens and in the newspapers, the people were put to sleep with stories and lies. As Erdogan grew stronger and feared, he began to become authoritarian and distanced himself from democracy. He developed an aggressive attitude towards everyone who criticized and opposed him, and somehow disabled everyone who did not obey him. He silenced opponents with threats, money or authority or discredited them with lies. But Erdogan could not draw the Gülen Movement to the line he wanted because the Gülen Movement wanted a Turkey that does not compromise on democracy, where the law is paramount and where common values prevail. On July 15, 2016, there was an unexplained coup attempt in Turkey and approximately 300 people lost their lives. Erdogan blamed the Gülen Movement for the coup and declared everyone who had any connection with the Gülen Movement as terrorists and traitors. On the day after the coup attempt, he dismissed hundreds of thousands of people from the civil service, arrested them and sent them to prison. All institutions belonging to the Gülen Movement were closed. The licenses of teachers and doctors were revoked.
People who would not hurt an ant were suddenly referred to as terrorists...
The public was frightened so that no one would find a job anywhere. People who would not hurt an ant were suddenly referred to as terrorists. It was said that their wives, daughters and property are spoils of war, and if they are hungry, they should eat tree bark. The whole society was in a state of complete insanity. The coup attempt, which was described as “theatre” by impartial organizations, was used by Erdogan used to rule out all his opponents.
“This coup is a gift from God to us.” he said in front of the cameras. We soon understood the meaning bitterly. At the point we have reached now, there was a Turkey that has become marginalized and isolated. The Erdogan Government, which has eliminated all its reasonable partners and supporters, is now associated with the mafia. The Home Secretary is accused by a mafia leader of drug dealing. The whole of Turkey is watching this.
The situation now
Human rights and law are trampled underfoot. No one can speak a word of dissent. The police may come to your door for tweeting. Even teenagers are prosecuted for insulting the president. The members of the Gülen Movement pay the heaviest price in all this dust and smoke. There are tens of thousands of men and women held captive in prison on grounds who are in no way criminal. Women are taken from the delivery room to prison, birthing “imprisoned babies” who grow up in prison with their mothers… People are losing their lives while trying to cross the Meriç river, people helplessly deliver their spouses and children to the waves. Families are torn apart, children growing up without a father and mother… And a moral collapse that cannot be recovered for years. All of these victims are innocent people who don’t even have bad habits, let alone any involvement in crime.
Escape at the first opportunity or you risk losing your strength, your faith, your sanity. Thus you can return more energetically to serve your country when the day comes.
Although it is difficult to endure the pain of statelessness and it is impossible to make up for our losses, we are very happy to have come here. Mankind needs freedom. When you don’t feel free, you die slowly.
My dear Turkey. You’re always in my heart. I pray that you will be treated fairly as you deserve. And the oppressed people of my country... I defend the rights of all of you one by one and hug you all. Hope to see you in good days...
Zeynep's story can also be found here, at the website of the Croydon Refugee Day Centre, a centre which supports asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in Croydon, London, offering them a safe meeting place and practical assistance. The staff at the Cryodon Day Refugee Centre believe that everyone deserves to feel safe and free, and they welcome refugees. Their instagram handle is @croydonrefugeedaycentre.