Will Iran become Turkey?
“I’ll ask you something completely besides politics: Do you think Ayatollah Khomeini was a good person in his heart?” I ask Hamed, a harsh anti-regime academician.
With a sad voice, he replied: “I don’t know. There is this love letter he wrote to his wife. Your and I could never write with such depth…”
Iranians are a different kind.
The great Persian civilization…
You can’t really understand this civilization in museums.
You see it on peoples’ faces, in their words…
I stayed in Iran for two weeks with photographer Sebati Karakurt.
I wrote for Hürriyet for an entire week.
We talked to the government and made friends in wealthy neighborhoods, remote villages.
The films and songs stuck the spirit of Iran in our hearts.
As if it is our own country.
People on the street look so much like us; I constantly feel like I’ve seen someone I know!
Two old empires, two Muslim countries…
It is easy to identify, to feel as if it is our own country.
Also an intriguing sense of guilt: “We were lucky and they weren’t…”
Iran’s dilemmas are harsh.
Wellsprings of poetry, architecture, arts…
It is ahead of Turkey in the number of internationally published scientific papers…
But there is still whipping, stoning to death…
Reformist Mohammad Khatami came with a landslide 70 percent in 1997.
But the Islamic regime held its ground.
In 2009, Mir-Hossein Moussavi was a hope but lost the elections to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Allegations of fraud resulted in a big revolt, unseen since the 1979 Revolution.
“We will fight, we will die but we will regain Iran,” chanted hundreds of thousands…
They were shot in the streets.
Hassan Rouhani’s victory revived hopes in 2013.
“In the age of digital revolution, one cannot live or govern in quarantine” he claimed.
He approached the West.
He opened the way to the June 30 nuclear deal that will remove the embargo.
But the iron fist of the ulama and the army are still intact.
The only way out for the people is opening up to the world.
Daily life is a field of resistance.
Everybody is looking, smiling at us on the streets, in restaurants.
They want to be heard, noticed.
They are changing life with baby steps.
With satellite dishes, with twitter they access illegally, with veils of the brightest colors…
They move with patience and caution…
Just like their ancestors who invented chess.
It is a long road but they will prevail because life is on their side.
An officer told me in an interview: “Turkey is trying too hard. We are Easterners. Things work differently in our countries.”
He called with a request the following day: “Please don’t mention I am a fan of Survivor! It can be misunderstood.”
An Easterner until he sits down in front of the television!
East or West, humanity is one.
Icon of Iranian cinema Abbas Kiarostami said: “I never heard of an Eastern or Western cancer, or an x-ray that shows one’s nationality, religion or culture.”
Will Turkey become Iran?
I spoke to an Iranian artist who migrated to Turkey the other day: “I feel sad. I see similarities. I already left Iran; I think I might leave here too”
In Iran, Reza Shah undertook a radical Westernization project, taking Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a model.
But eventually he created a personal dictatorship.
Iranian scholar Touraj Atabaki identifies that Turkey’s chance was on Atatürk’s leaning.
He left political institutions such as the parliament and parties free enough to be able to develop as independent entities.
Today these institutions and sensitivities are under threat.
As I write this article, I see a nostalgic news story on Kanal D.
The 1991 elections…
All political party leaders are on a live television debate.
Necmettin Erbakan is speaking sarcastically with his sympathetic voice, Süleyman Demirel with his funny smile…
These pictures are rare enough to be “news stories” today.
Anchorman Serdar Cebe explains: “In the past there were such programs where leaders chatted with a soft voice. We remember these, but new generations unfortunately do not.”
Our mind is still in Iran.
Last night in Tehran, 2:00 a.m.…
We are on our way to the airport.
The moon paints Tehran’s three-story buildings with white.
The highway is full of flags, lit with bright green and red lights…
I am dying to be in Istanbul.
But something is bothering me inside.
I am returning to my comfortable life, leaving my friends with their fate.
But I know that each time I come back, Iran will be one step freer.
When the plane lands in Istanbul, I feel joy in my heart.
I am joking around with Sebati: “Maybe we should have stopped in Ankara and left some flowers!”
There is a billboard on a wall in the airport.
Leaving flowers is not our style, but this would work!
We take out our cell phones.
Sebati and I, side-by-side…
On the wall is a picture of Atatürk, handsome as always…
We take a selfie and then walk back into our lives.