It all happened in a year’s time. In one year, “old Turkey” was turned into “New Turkey.” This vast country of eighty-million people transitioned from a seventy-year-old parliamentarian democracy, the origins of which go back more than hundred years, into an authoritarian presidential model. This colossal change came about in waves, engulfed the country like a ball of fire and struck us all. It does not stop or subside. Every passing day it grows wilder, hits and hurts more and more people.
About a year ago, on a summer night while most people were having their dinner, the country witnessed a military coup attempt. Turkey has been experiencing military coups every other decade ever since it switched to a multi-party system. But this failed attempt is unprecedented and still retaining its mystery. It fell upon us all unleashing equally unprecedented political developments, reshaping the course of our lives.
In a short period of time, the ruling party turned this military undertaking into a civilian coup. The press and media have been silenced. Public servants have been purged. Academics have been fired from their universities. The usurping of rights and liberties has become normal practices. Torture has become widespread. Suspects are considered offenders. Confiscation of suspects’ properties, and the detaining of their family members have all become commonplace. Those released are banned from leaving the country. As the rule of law is being dismantled, secret witnesses and informants have emerged. “The banality of evil” has now overtaken the country.
Today, it is possible to arrest the academics who are on hunger strike to get back the jobs they lost because of a petition they signed, by accusing them as ‘’terrorists’’ and human rights activists as “spies”. While writers and journalists are charged of being members of terrorist organizations and are under trial to be condemned for life, reintroducing capital punishment has become official discourse. My country, where over fifty thousand people are in jail for political offenses, is now the stage of a profound social trauma.
The military coup attempt that marked the beginning of this trauma caught us abroad. As our friends were put in jail one after the other, we remained outside. They will not be able to leave the prison as they have entered. It is not clear how long and how, under what conditions, they will stay in there… We feel the burden of this uncertainty. We try to learn about their lives in jail by talking to their families. We exchange with each other every bit of information we have been able to piece together. We want to touch them, even though from afar. But in vain…
Some of those outside are within the country. In a sense, they are “inside” too. Their houses could be raided any moment, they or their families could be detained, their passports could be confiscated. We talk to them, we write to each other, or we meet with them somewhere abroad. They bear the uneasiness of remaining outside. We see pessimism in their eyes. The testiness or weariness in their voices is interrupted by deep silences. We see them changing…
We are changing, too. We, the ones abroad… We, the ones who remained outside of everything… Gradually, we are getting acquainted with a feeling we have never experienced before. It is as if this nightmare unfolding in the country is just a game, a game of dodgeball that we have been excluded from but forced to watch… We fear growing alienated from those inside. We feel ashamed that we are not inside. We feel guilty. And we can’t express any of this, neither to them nor to ourselves…
But actually, we are not outside either. Even though we are physically outside, mentally we are inside. We are in exile. It doesn’t matter whether it is forced or self-imposed, being in exile means being estranged from your country. It means giving up the country you were born in, the city you love with all your being, the house you have worked your whole life to build. It means giving up your country for not giving up your liberty that you know will be taken from you. It means, as you try to hold onto life in a different country, far from your family and loved ones, having lost most of what makes you who you are, to feel the ground beneath you sliding. Living in the most beautiful place in the world doesn’t make a difference. Exile is exile.
Exile is a permanent state of being disconnected from the present where past and future permanently play hide-and-seek with each other. From time to time you get lost in the memories of past life, and then again you dream of that day to continue your life from where you left off. ‘Today’ is too difficult. It might be so easy to tumble into fears and worries you have never known, as to find yourself caught in spells of ire for no reason. … This is why you are mentally ‘there’, though you are physically ‘here’.
Exile, sometimes, is a deep sense of guilt. In your new adopted country, it suddenly hits you while you are enjoying being among your new friends or it throttles you for no apparent reason. It is the feeling of helplessness for being unable to reach those friends who remained inside. A sudden urge to cry…
If we could share all these feelings with each other we would know being outside is not all that different from being inside. Because the world being torn apart belongs to all of us. All that is familiar to us, all that we love is slipping from our hands. As our country ceases to be a place we know, we are all being exiled from our lives.
Tuba Çandar (born in Istanbul) is a Turkish journalist and author of biographies of three leading intellectuals in Turkey. Her 700-page seminal biography of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s life and struggle, titled Hrant (2010), was a best-seller in Turkey. The book was translated into English by Maureen Freely as Hrant Dink: An Armenian Voice of the Voiceless in Turkey, and was published in the United States in 2016.