This is me, reporting from Istanbul, Turkey. I would say “speaking” but I’m rather in the mood for “reporting”. This is my blog. I’ve been writing here for almost a year by now, writing about no particular subject. It’s mostly “personal” though. What I feel, what I think, what I like, what I despise etc. So one may even call it egocentric, given the one recurring theme: me. On the other hand, technically we’re all doomed to be the center of our own little life. There is no other way around as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, I’ve so far written my blog in my native language since it’s the language I feel myself most comfortable with. Maybe just once or twice I have dared to write in English and that was probably because writing in a foreign language makes me feel as if it’s not actually me speaking but someone else. It’s as if I’m not obliged to take the responsibility of my words whose full responsibility I always take. This time, however, I write in English not because I see it as a break but literally a means to communicate with the non-Turkish speakers out there. After Blogspot was banned once again recently, I realized my blog is being read in many countries other than Turkey. Of course I’m pretty sure a grand majority has just a peek by chance and that’s all there is to it. Then again, some passers-by are curious enough to use the Google Translate and see what I’m up to here. I must admit it’s quite amazing to see the effort, no matter how small, for having a sense of what a total stranger is saying. In fact, this is what prompted me to write in English now. I have things to say and why hold them back if I have the means to say them to a way larger community.
The funny thing is that I am actually deprived of the means in question. Internet bans are very common in Turkey and the last lucky one was Blogspot for a second time. Plus, Google and YouTube were also banned until recently. The alibis are always far from satisfactory. Actually I can’t think of anything that can legitimize this bullshit. It’s either a website where someone insulted the founding father of Turkey or a sub-domain illegally broadcasting football games whose rights are already sold to a company for a considerable price. The whole Google, YouTube or Blogspot goes just like that. I’m talking about a few thousand websites here and it’s hard to say that the government is truly sorry for the inconvenience. I guess Facebook and Twitter are the next ones in line since a revolution might pop up any moment (!) when considered the recent examples having taken place in a geography dangerously close to us. Seriously, we should be out of our minds to reduce the upheavals in question to slacktivism, although as a social scientist-to-be, I do find the concept very promising and exciting.
You can see that as bloggers in Turkey, we’re not so much hindered by prohibitions. It’s almost by reflex that we figure out ways to bypass obstacles constantly coming up one after another. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not peculiar to bloggers or anything. In fact, this is one of the things that make this random group of people who happen to cohabit, a society. A bold generalization or a pretentious claim you may call it. Well, I call it a humble participant observation. I’ve been around here for quite a while by now and I can say this: we can almost always find a way around anything. I even wrote a passionately Foucauldian dissertation on that one but I don’t intend to be the sociologist here, not now at least. Given the current political conflicts in Turkey, one can obviously not get away with a hundred pages long master’s thesis whereas a voluminous PhD thesis on freedom of expression would not be bad for a start.
In other words, it’s a very long story and a pretty sad one, too. Internet prohibitions make but a very small part of this story. My country has a very shameful history of violation of human rights. Especially the right to express one’s opinions has not been much favored so far. As if we were granted our right to live a decent life in the first place. No, I shouldn’t do injustice to that sweet little group of nice fellows who do live substantially decent lives while rest of the population is unemployed and unsupported except for the partial and periodical charity works of the state that function to perpetuate poverty rather than eradicate it. Anyway, nationalism and religion have always been the two major pains in the ass around here. As an atheist, I would pick the latter as my favorite. Neoliberalism, global capitalism or whatever you name it just makes everything worse. I’m not going to get into any of that stuff despite the fact that I’m actually dying to. No, the reason I make a change and write in English today is because I need to tell how fucked up things are. Journalists who mess with the party in power and its deeper roots below, are being arrested and put in prison for no legitimate reason or for overtly fictitious reasons at best. The current political climate resembles a witch hunt where all dissidents are stigmatized by the same crime (“membership to a terrorist organization whose members and aim are not yet known” in this case) and taken away from their houses by force at 5 or 6 a.m. in the mornings. Phone conversations of those who constitute a potential threat to the regime are being listened and it is not an extraordinary practice at all.
The worst part is that we dare speak of this nightmare-like atmosphere less and less each day and not only because of the fear that our house might be raided one dawn and we can be taken somewhere that no one can hear from us again. We dare speak less because we’re afraid to be called names. For instance I’m not pro-army since I don’t define myself as nationalist but I’m not pro-government either, since I definitely don’t define myself as Muslim. The “moderate Islamic” government presents itself as a champion of democracy, so whatever stance one takes against it, is considered an anti-democratic move. They say they don’t interfere in anyone’s life style but funny how I find my life style threatened more and more as my life style is likewise considered a threat for them. I might be arrested for drinking a can of beer by the sea or I might be raped for wearing a mini skirt at 3 a.m. on a Friday night. If I’m out there as a young woman, it means that I’m looking for trouble and I definitely deserve it.
We have a saying in Turkish, it translates as this: the arm breaks but remains within the sleeve. It means no matter how bad things happen, it should remain within and not made public. This is also the sort of mental climate that we all had been socialized in, so I was not exactly willing to burst things out like this. But the urge got unbearable. The broken arm hurts too much. Every oppositional voice is severely suppressed. Improprieties, thefts and lies do not even need to be hidden anymore. It’s all out there and we just watch. Of course raising a voice has always had a price everywhere but it’s quite expensive here nowadays. This is what concerns me. The fear. What we have here can be called anything but democracy. Where any opposition is suppressed this vulgarly and impertinently cannot be called a free country without feeling at least a little shame and guilt.
“This is a Muslim country”, my prime minister yells in anger. I am not a Muslim, so where should I go, where do I belong? I do not believe in what he believes in and I am not a disciple of the sect leader that significant domestic power holders are disciples of. I do not agree with the ideals by which the country is run for the past 8 years and I do not consent to this hypocritical, impudent, opportunistic, fascistic and corrupt administration. What’s more important than everything, is that I defy and curse the violation of the right to freely express opinions be it pro or con government. Bloggers who criticize the statements of the head of the ruling party aka the prime minister, are sued by him. Comic magazines are sued. Political small talk with the barber costs two years in jail. If the slightest criticism does not go unpunished, what’s the use of watching my words? Why should I even care to be scared if judicial power is used arbitrarily? The last but not the least, how on earth can I be expected to respect such a government?
Obviously, this is not the result of a meticulously designed and conducted research. It can hardly be called a sociological analysis. This is just a blog I’m writing here and this particular one may be considered an unofficial criminal complaint at best. I’m not so scared of being called this or that anymore. The madness has gone too far to care about that. I’m just concerned and I wanted to say it louder this time. Of course the story is way more complicated and way longer than a tweet or a blog can cover. In a nutshell, things are not going very well here. The arm is broken and the sleeve is not exactly helping.