Until last year I lived in Istanbul with my husband. We're both from Australia and we taught English at local universities. We had a great life, with wonderful Turkish friends like Hasan and Nurhan (not their real names.) On Friday nights in the summer, we went out to dinner with them.
On one such outing, we shared an enormous meal of fresh calamari and sea bass on the terrace of a secluded restaurant in Fenerbahçe, a neighborhood on the Asian side of the city. We could hear the sound of water lapping against a stone wall. As was our tradition, Hasan and I shared dessert. We were arguing over the last spoonful of kazandibi when Nurhan received a text message on her phone. It contained a single word. Darbe. Coup. It was 10pm.
Within minutes we were caught up in a throng of people trying to get home. Stuck in slow moving traffic, we listened to the car radio in fear and confusion as we heard that the coup was the work of a faction within the security forces. Outside the local military base I've passed by numerous times before, where I've seen soldiers get married and families picnic, heavily-armed soldiers with tanks stood guard. Our phones vibrated with hundreds of anxious messages, posts and tweets.
The coup was quickly crushed. But the transformation of my life in Turkey had just begun.
In the week after the attempted coup, I stayed close to home. I darted in and out of local shops only when necessary. Long conversations comparing the merits of different olives and cheese at the grocery store were replaced by quick exchanges of money and minimal eye contact. When I ventured out on one of the few buses that were still running, passengers were unusually polite. City residents, who typically had little regard for personal space, held themselves at a distance from each other. The relaxed banter of strangers was replaced by a watchful silence.
In the cosmopolitan neighborhood of Kadıköy, where I usually meet friends, grab dinner, and buy books, the streets were empty. Most stores were open but no one lingered in doorways, smoking cigarettes or laughing with friends and customers as was usually the case. My reserved and courteous butcher sported a mysterious black eye and refused to say how he'd acquired it. My spice merchant only shook his head in despair when I asked him how he was.
A state of emergency was declared. The government announced that Fethullah Gülen, a former imam from Turkey who lives in the U.S., was the mastermind behind the coup. Thousands suspected of plotting it were arrested in Turkey. Anyone who had worked at Gülen's schools or universities were either detained or placed on a blacklist, limiting their employment prospects elsewhere. Suspects were held without charge, newspapers were shut down and journalists were arrested. Despite the purge, people came out in droves to support the reinstatement of democracy. Every night, enormous rallies across the country celebrated the suppression of the attempted coup.
Our Friday night dinners with friends were abandoned. Communication was limited to cryptic messages on social media out of fear that an innocent remark might be taken out of context, leading to an unwelcome knock on the door. My husband and I were supposed to apply for jobs in the new academic year but dismissals in the education department meant all applications by foreigners were put on hold.
Suddenly, all the things I'd loved about living in Istanbul now seemed like liabilities. The passionate nature of Turks and the joyous spontaneity of living your life according to ‘inşallah" — the belief that it's up to Allah how things turn out — had lost its charm for me.
Even before the attempted coup, you could recognize the smell of tear gas in Istanbul. I'd become adept at analyzing when to walk in a different direction and when to run. I knew that anything I said in private could, and would, be used against me in ways I'd never previously imagined. But, cocooned in my comfortable life with wonderful friends, it was easy to ignore. Now that was no longer possible.
A month after the attempted coup, I left my apartment and my friends in Turkey, a country I'd lived in for nearly 10 years, to start all over again somewhere else.
I'm now in Portugal. It's quiet and peaceful here but moving hasn't been without difficulties. I'm in the process of finding a place to live, getting a job and making new friends. Loud noises still make me jump. When I see a police vehicle, I look for the nearest escape route.
I still long for my old life in Istanbul, despite everything that happened after the attempted coup. I know I'm lucky. I'm alive and, unlike many, I'm still able to choose what happens to me next.
This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, which includes pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any other language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris that we call home. Send ideas and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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