Ankara Or Abroad? A Turkish Exile's Dilemma As Elections Loom
Turkey holds key elections next month. Many who were exiled over the years have returned with optimism, only to be jailed. Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran says from now on, she will only go back on her own terms.
“Turkey doesn’t allow its children to be occupied with anything other than itself.” This is the damning indictment written in the diary of Turkish poet and novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. The sentence is well known in Turkey, but is due an update. Maybe it can be: “Turkey leaves its children nothing to do but to hold their breath” instead. Nothing but to helplessly wait… for another election, referendum, news bulletin, last minute update or breaking news update.
We Turks live our lives assuming our motherland and father-state will slap us unexpectedly one day. And we wait for that day to come — maybe tomorrow, maybe even sooner.
The clock is ticking. I wanted to take a short look at our destiny and sorrow by pausing the time and the wait with bated breath for a moment on the eve of the general elections, on May 14, that will radically change Turkey’s history and our lives.
How can you have plans?
“What? How can you have plans for June? The elections are on May 14,” my friend said to me as I was talking about my upcoming business trips. They gave me such a look; you’d think I didn’t have a care in the world. As if I had given up on Turkey.
How many times should somebody return home knowing that they will be reduced to tears?
Wasn't it me who has been writing about politics and elections, unable to think or talk about anything else since the earthquakes. You’d think I was one of those carefree people who didn't give a damn if the world burned. I was a bit brusk with my friend in response.
I’m not sure if it was a matter of dignity or pride. However, how many times can you eagerly run back to a place where you get a beating with the hope of being welcomed with compassion this time? How many times should somebody return home knowing that they will be reduced to tears? Only those who have experienced it know the suffering of unrequited love. People cannot hate anybody else more than they hate themselves.
I’m thinking about all those Turkish men and women who went to exile. Journalist, writers, musicians and thousands more others. Those who misinterpreted a sign from the country and returned to get jailed. Those who ran away from home for their lives once more after they were freed and then waited for the next election or official statement as helplessly as we do today.
One can hold onto neither dignity nor pride in such a situation; you drift from one place to another as if a toy hurled by a cruel hand. That was why I brushed my friend off: “From now on, it’ll be like this. I will go not when home class me but when I decide to.” Whereas, that’s not the truth and it is not possibly to really breathe. You hold your breath secretly, even from yourself.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a ceremony marking Victory Day in Ankara.
A life abroad
It’s not about whether it is worth it or not. Sometimes you lie to yourself. You pretend as if you have plans to travel to other countries in June. You pretend that you don’t care, even if it’s for five to 10 minutes. You gloat to yourself, by yourself. Who are you fooling? You’ll go crawling back when called. You will go as if you're drunk with joy and rush to every task with a big smile until you get the next slap.
It's not a crime to want to return to a home where you’ll receive a beating.
Sometimes I meet those kind people abroad. They left the country ages ago. They forgot some of the sayings in Turkish; they sometimes use some words in the wrong places while speaking their mother language. They haven’t been following the news from the homeland for a while. “Is that so? I haven’t checked the news for so long,” they say.
They speak to their children in a foreign language. There is something about them. An incompleteness that is hard to define. A sorrow that has dug into the flesh. They are not sad anymore, but it’s like they don’t get joyful either. I’m scared that I’ll be like them as I pretend to have plans that are independent of Turkey. I wonder if I too would feel nothing one day? Absolutely nothing.
It's not a crime to want to return to a home where you’ll receive a beating — to want it with all your heart as you keep it a secret even from yourself. You continue to make your plans for June. Tell yourself that you will return when you decide to. You do these things but know that you’ll go crawling back.
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