“As a law-abiding citizen, I knew I had done nothing wrong…”
By Sevgi Akarçeşme
As I stood in the passport line at the airport in Istanbul on the night of March 6, ready to leave Turkey for an indefinite period of time, I couldn’t help but remember the nerve-wracking scene in the movie Argo in which six American consular officials went through the airport in Tehran to escape Iran after the 1979 revolution.
As a law-abiding citizen, I knew I had done nothing wrong to be stopped at the border. But in Turkey being a journalist from Zaman media group was enough for me to be considered an “enemy of the state.” And I was the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman which had been brutally taken over a few days earlier, earning me a suspended jail sentence for my tweets criticizing then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Turkey has long been a tough place for journalists, worsening with the crackdown on the protests in Taksim Gezi park in 2013 and increasingly after that.
But the despicable coup attempt in July this year gave President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan what he described as “a great gift from God” by allowing him to persecute and purge anyone at will, turning Turkey into a complete hell for all but Erdoğan loyalists.
In what can only be described as a witch-hunt, at least 32,000 people have been arrested since then, including schoolteachers, academics, lawyers and prosecutors — even housewives. Several companies have been seized without due process. There is no guarantee for private property in post-coup Turkey. Star football player Hakan Şükür’s properties were confiscated as the draconian regime put his father in prison, too.
While the foiled coup still awaits a thorough investigation, the government has leveled wild accusations and people have been linked to the coup under such spurious pretexts as carrying one-dollar bills as some form of code.
Currently, 120 journalists are behind bars. And I have no doubt that, had I not left Turkey when I did, I would be behind bars like many of my colleagues who were arrested on unsubstantiated charges of terrorism.
This is how the government operates: The first target is anyone who is perceived to be a sympathizer of the Gülen movement. Then the Kurds are in line. Yet, the majority of the Turkish intelligentsia turns a blind eye to such massive oppression mainly because of the identity of the victims.
Appallingly, in the absence of any credible evidence, they are willing to buy Erdoğan’s argument that Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen is the mastermind of the coup. Even some European politicians seem ready to jump on the bandwagon simply because “everyone says so.”