For the first time since the July 15, 2016, failed coup, I spent a full nine-day cut off from what’s been going on in Turkey. This was not the first time. Together with a group of very close friends, who have become closer than family members to us, we were on a cruise tour in western Mediterranean. Even when we were cruising between the Baltic capitals or the Norwegian Fjords, somehow the close link to Turkey was maintained. But this time, perhaps we were mentally exhausted, and the ladies imposed a total ban on internet - even when we were on land, internet connection was limited. If we hadn’t overheard from a British couple celebrating their 50th anniversary, we would not have known that a disaster hit Miami and Barbados, where some other members of our group had preferred to cruise this year.
By the way, don’t trust ads by cellular companies, which proudly present that you can use your Turkish SIM card for just a 19.9-Turkish Lira daily payment in some 100 countries, including the whole of Europe. A message from a relative about the health situation of my wife’s mother was a sufficient reason for us to temporarily turn on our telephones. After four hours of use, the telecom company Turkcell informed me that my bill for using international roaming reached 925 liras. What an efficient service! This as well might be a sufficiently strong reason why Turks should stay disconnected from Turkey when travelling abroad. But there are many other reasons.
Arriving back home midnight to a rather hot Ankara, I was shivered with a blunt reality looking with two widely opened black eyes on a huge billboard. In Italy, France and Spain on this latest tour, and as I recall from my trips to over 90 countries through the past decades, the other times I saw such huge billboards carrying portraits of all powerful leaders were all in third world countries. I have not been to North Korea yet so I have no idea other than what I see occasionally from ceremonies broadcast on TV, but unlike the U.S.-nourished South Korean democracy, the fat young guy’s portrait appears to be everywhere in Pyongyang as well.
While I was abroad, some other colleagues were put behind bars, reaffirming the strong and undisputable championship of this country jailing journalists. A look at the news hour on some channels showing some of our colleagues reiterated that they were still continuing to serve as propagandists of the absolute ruler.
Though some of the seniors of the profession apparently continue hoping that perhaps Cumhuriyet editors, writers and executives would eventually be freed, it will not be shocking to see further arrests tomorrow. What about that arrest warrant against a former minister and three top executives of a state-owned bank? The perception of a rough state is spreading.
Turkey definitely should not deserve such an authoritarian rule and such power-worshipping rituals. The incredible ordeal all Turks have been going through, the persistent and aggravating propaganda bombardment of the majoritarian rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the president become all the more visible if you are allowed to leave the country and more important granted the permission to come back.
As my wife is a university professor, I carry a green passport, which is given to top bureaucrats and officials. Strange enough, each time I travel abroad, I, and my wife, ask in written letter for permission from the rector of Hacettepe University. It takes about 15 days to obtain that permission. Then, we have to compile a set of documents, including photocopies of our ID cards, passports, tickets, a social security status paper and so on… At the airport, there is a special “inspection” team that we have to be seen by with our papers and they check our criminal records electronically and decide whether we have the right to travel abroad. Travelling to even my home country Cyprus has become a real torture. This torture, unfortunately, is not a personal undertaking; all Turks have to go through it.
Can this country be a normal democracy? What is a normal democracy? We have almost forgotten it. Thus, a strong advice to Turks: Don’t travel abroad, returning and re-facing the perennial stinking reality is really horrible.