Fear and the Loss of Freedom to Be Afraid
“By the time this clip was finished, we knew what was going on. There was much to be said, a lot of fear, and things to do. It was not long before an emergency bag was packed and I had made the dreaded first call to my mother.” – from Part 1
I walked out of the living room and dialed the number, one of the few numbers I know by heart since we moved to dialing area codes. In the dark of the entrance to my home, I gathered my nerve and reined in my emotions. A deep, low, and quiet voice rose up, “Hi Mom, it’s me. It’s not good. There’s a military coup going on . . . “
One would think they could imagine how the rest of that conversation went. But I have learned in the past few months that people truly handle stress and fear very differently. My Mom was a German WWII bride. She lived through 3 bombings. She had seen worse than this. She had also been an expat herself, having moved more than 4000 miles from her family, her mother, to start a new family with her American husband. She had also already lost 3 daughters. Mom had never seen her mother again. I became determined.
I was not coming home in a box.
Mom was thoughtful and kind. She remained calm. She thanked me for calling her (which I had done before she learned the news from the TV or someone else.) I knew she was worried, desperately worried, without her saying it. That was the first of several calls I made to update her that night. Luckily, she is not on Facebook, or she would have been frantic reading my play-by-play posts.
I lived in fear that night and for many weeks after the attempted coup. I experienced numerous nightmares. The sound of an airplane overhead still frustrates me, causing me to flip them the bird each and every time. I have, however, stopped screaming at them.
I certainly was afraid to post or say anything other than re-posting of news articles and reporting what I was seeing. Over the years prior to the attempted coup, there had been numerous journalists arrested for what I had understood to be simply reporting.
I was afraid for people on both sides of the attempted coup. No one wanted a coup, and yet, so many had been affected. We had a family member who was at the TRT television building when it was taken over by soldiers. He and his co-workers had been locked in a basement before and after the forced-broadcast by the military. i believe he was still in that basement when the outside of the building was attacked.
A former neighbor of a family member lost a son that night. He had went to the streets as called by the government. I don’t know any of the details. I don’t know if he was feeling patriotic. I don’t know if he was willing to die for Turkey. I do know that he was in his early twenties and he died.
Days later, I learned that 5 acquaintances had been arrested. As I lawyer, I had made an effort over the past years to meet lawyers and judges in an attempt to get to know the legal system. When I saw the list of the Danistay who had been arrested in the days following the attempted coup, I quickly scanned it. Five judges I knew had been arrested.
Weeks later, I realized that a Turkish friend was no longer my friend on FB. I tried to message her. She did not respond, and then, blocked my messages too. I had heard that her husband who held some type of high government position, has something to do with selecting those who were being detained. Their house had been attacked at some point after the attempted coup. I didn’t take her withdrawal personally, though it made me even more worried.
And then there were all of the news reports of the numerous young soldiers who apparently did not know that they were participating in the coup. What would happen to them? Military service in Turkey is mandatory and therefore, most every male has served. The military is highly respected. But now, those who died were being buried in a “traitor’s cemetery” with no pomp and circumstance, no Imam praying over them. The outlook did not look good for those who were arrested.
I have lost count of how many people have been arrested, detained, fired from their jobs. As the numbers grew, my fears grew. I tried not to worry whether my husband would lose his job, although thousands of professors had. He is not political. He can’t stand Gulen. He said nothing to nobody. But he is married to a loud-mouth American, who is from the state that is no longer a place a Turk wants to mention out loud. Could this be enough to endanger him? Seems silly, right? But no, I was afraid of that too.
As weeks, passed, I felt the anti-American sentiment growing. The Turkish people are uber-patriotic. In addition, although there are virtual ropes tying the hands of journalists who want to write their thoughts on the attempted coup, there is nothing stopping them from “reporting” on other countries. So a lot of BS stories were coming out. I was infuriated when I read things like, “America was behind the coup,” or “America is planning an earthquake in Turkey.” Seriously? We can force an earthquake? The problem is that many Turks read and believe. They watch the news and believe.
I stopped speaking English outside of my home.
A month later, after numerous calls and emails from siblings begging me to come home, I finally decided to go — without my husband (even after writing a series of blog posts entitled, “Not Without My Husband). As a professor, he was banned from leaving. But I needed a mental health break. I would fly less than 2 weeks later for a short visit.
New fears emerged. What if there was another attempted coup while I was gone? There had been talk in the papers of the possibility. What if they took my passport at the border? There had been rumors of that. What if they didn’t let me come back? What if they didn’t let my husband come to me? What if something happened to him while I was away?
Just days after I arrived in the US, I discovered an article had been published in the BBC before I left Turkey. I had been quoted in the article but was never informed that it was finally published. Frankly, it doesn’t say anything. But does anything need to be said in order to be detained? I woried. http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20160810-why-every-expat-needs-an-exit-plan
Then, I received an email. Someone from Ankara’s police department working in security and investigations wanted to connect on LinkedIn. I checked his recent 150 connections. They were all lawyers, Turkish lawyers. This was the same day that the Istanbul courts had been cleared again. After a few conversations with American confidants, I hesitantly accepted the request.
I spent the rest of my visit worried that I would be detained at the border upon my return. I tried to call and email the US Embassy in Ankara. They were absolutely no help at all. I contacted two Turkish lawyers. Nothing.
The few siblings who knew about my concerns were equally worried. They could not understand why I was going back. But I did and I am happy to report that the trip was uneventful.
By this time, I realized I had the right to be afraid as long as I remained in the States. I do not, however, have that same right here.
The Turkish people, in general, were handling the aftermath of the attempted coup very differently from me. Most did not fear being arrested. After all, they believed they had done nothing. I didn’t have confidence in that although I too had done nothing. “In the aftermath of the July coup attempt in Turkey, the government has seized an estimated $4 billion in assets and arrested or questioned more than 100,000 people in its ongoing investigation, according to a New York Times story.” http://blogs.barrons.com/emergingmarketsdaily/2016/09/19/turkey-a-medieval-witch-hunt/.
International news reports had become more difficult to access. Worldwide papers displayed dark views of Turkey’s future. Turkish papers did not.
To make matters worse, I had less and less people to talk to. Something was changing. Or perhaps, there was no change, but rather, a newly-found recognition of a major difference between Turks and Americans.
The Turkish family did not discuss the attempted coup with me – at all. Two had asked if I was ok. Naturally, one had petted my head, like a little lamb, and told me not to worry, it would all be fine. But no one discussed their thoughts and feelings with me. No one asked mine. No one, save the two, called to see how I was – even though it happened over my head. Surely, they did not think the attempted coup was “normal.”
Or perhaps, they did.
Turks seemed to be shrugging their shoulders and moving on. Why couldn’t I? WHY COULDN’T I??? I’ll tell you why. A military coup is something that happens in third world countries! Unstable countries! This is Turkey! While I have repeatedly said I love the mix of the old and new here, I still viewed Turkey as a modern society. I know that most of the country is small villages, or small towns and cities where folks lead what much of western society would call a backwards life. But to me, there is so much western influence here. Big refrigerators. Fancy cars. McDonalds and Starbucks. Weren’t the modern people of Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir enough to stop this from happening?
Over and over again, I read, “We have been through coups before.” And then I started hearing it from Turkish friends. They laughed at me when I was afraid to be in large crowds. They made snide comments when I worried about speaking English at restaurants. They had, “lived through this before.”
This was utter and complete bullshit to me. First, having lived through a coup, like Mom having lived through a war, would make one know what to expect, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it make a person more afraid? Or does it make one blind to the reality of what happened?
Second, Turkey, according to Wikipedia and other online materials, suffered 4 coups in recent history. It is difficult to compare them to the attempted coup of July 15th.
- 1997 – “The 1997 military memorandum . . . in Turkey refers to the decisions issued by the Turkish military leadership on a National Security Council meeting on 28 February 1997. This memorandum initiated the process that precipitated the resignation of Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan of the Welfare Party, and the end of his coalition government.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Turkish_military_memorandum.
- 1993 – “According to some sources, there was a “coup d’état” in 1993 in Turkey, allegedly organised and carried out by elements of the Turkish military through covert means.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1993_alleged_Turkish_military_coup.
- 1980 – “The 1970s in Turkey were marked by right-wing/left-wing armed conflicts, often at the scale of proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively. To create a pretext for a decisive intervention, the Turkish military allowed these conflicts in Turkey to escalate; some say they actively adopted a strategy of tension. The violence abruptly stopped afterwards, and the coup was welcomed by some for restoring order. In total, 50 people were executed, 500,000 were arrested and hundreds died in prison.” On 12 September, 1980, “the National Security Council . . . declared coup d’état on the national channel. The MGK then extended martial law throughout the country, abolished the Parliament and the government, suspended the Constitution and banned all political parties and trade unions. They invoked the Kemalist tradition of state secularism and in the unity of the nation, which had already justified the precedent coups, and presented themselves as opposed to communism, fascism, separatism and religious sectarianism.” The military occupation lasted 3 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980_Turkish_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat.
- 1971 – The 1971 Turkish military memorandum . . . issued on 12 March that year, was the second military intervention to take place in the Republic of Turkey, coming 11 years after its 1960 predecessor. Known as the “coup by memorandum”, which the military delivered in lieu of sending out tanks, as it had done previously, it came amid worsening domestic strife, but ultimately did little to halt this phenomenon.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_Turkish_military_memorandum.
I am no expert on military coups, but I can read. From the above, the coup of 1980 was the only one that even came close to what I experienced that night. The results, that is the numbers of people detained, arrested, killed, released from jobs, were staggering and can be read here.
One major difference between the attempted coup and the 1980 coup, other than this recent one was not successful, was that the military moved in at approximately 4 a.m. They took over without fighting jets destroying the skies overhead. Everyone was asleep. The actual coup was quiet, the aftermath, not so much.
The children who lived through the 1980 coup are now in their 30s and 40s. This would be the age of most of my Turkish friends. Those who I spoke to, who were children at the time, said they woke up and the army was in the streets. Simple as that. They had no stories of what they saw, experienced, felt. They had no stories of fear.
So I looked it up and came across a fascinating article detailing how that coup affected many of the children. The author quotes a US professor, “I remember my mom and dad waking up to a phone call very early in the morning. Then my dad hangs up and tells my mom “Ihtilal olmus” (Apparently, there was a revolution) and then they go back to sleep!” She reports on a writer and academic who “remembers the heavy footsteps of the boot-shod soldiers who came every morning to escort the colonel, who lived in the same apartment building as her family, to work. Though eventually the sound became routine, (she) still remembers the anxiety the soldiers caused her. ‘To this day, boots are irksome.’” She writes of a woman whose uncle was arrested and her fascination with her uncle’s books, “Every time I visited my grandmother and uncle, I would spend hours looking at his books. They had become such a source of mystery to me. I would think, what’s in these books that makes soldiers look at them?” http://muftah.org/i-only-remember-fear-the-legacy-of-the-1980-coup-in-turkey/#.V-DeZCh942w.
This article has made me question myself. Who am I to judge? No, none of them had jets overhead. And many of them don’t remember anything other than military in the streets. But yes, some of them do have memories, bad memories. While I am angered by what I see as complete disrespect by Turkish friends of my feelings, perhaps I should not so readily judge them. Perhaps I should not ask, “Well, did you really live through a coup.” Doubtless, a coup through the eyes of a child is different than as seen through the eyes of a 50+ year-old woman. But does that justify my anger towards friends and family? And I can’t forget that most of these folks have no other place to run as I do. Perhaps what I see as simpleton shrugs are in fact, their way of coping.
Here is the statement in the above article that I find most striking, “these children of the coup were raised in an atmosphere that rewarded those who remained silent on matters of politics and remained obedient to the nationalistic dogma of the state.”
If you, Turkey, wish me to remain silent, then I ask something in return. I ask that you, Turkey, respect my right to be afraid.
First of all I don’t read blogs at all.. But I just moved to Ankara from my hometown Izmir. (you may know most liberal city in Turkey). And I was researching for the city and found your blog. Myself also an expat I spend last 10 years of my life overseas (Asia and middle east).
As an Izmiran Ankara and the people here very strange to me too. I have driver and car to go to my work but generally I choose public transportation to observe the life in Ankara, and I see sad people generally. Yes I feel the same silence in Ankara but I am disagree with you there is a silence in Turkey. And I believe it is the nature of this city and the people. Government buildings allover, military, police and secret service. A lot of cars around with special plate numbers and colours, beacons escorted by gunmen. %80 of the men wearing black suits and topcoats women also almost same. Weather here contains ‘fear’ more than the humidity.
I believe there are a lot social pressure on people here. And they still can’t know whom to believe/trust, who is right or wrong and what is healthy for their own and for the future of Turkey. But trust me the situation is not same in other cities at least in Izmir. People talks, discusses and argues about the events in street in public transportation in pubs and restaurants.
As you mentioned people have no other choice here as you do. And you always have option to change the geography you live in to be on safe side. And I am pretty sure that biggest options for these people here to be on the safe side is ‘Silence’
I agree, silence can make one safe. But it does not make for a brighter future. Thanks for reading hte blog and hos geldiniz!