These lines were conceived in the sea, but only a few days ago they took shape, these lines were born in the Aegean Sea, halfway between the port of Çeşme in Turkey and the port of the island of Chios in Greece, they were conceived in a ferry containing four suitcases, three crew members, two trucks with fruits and a sole passenger. I should not be there, I did not want either, but due to the bizarre post-coup-of-July-15-in-Turkey situation, I was forced to pack the maximum I could of my belongings and leave the country before something more serious could happen, as I will explain later. These lines are published without approval, like almost always, but with the tacit support of my parents, them and my sisters being the only people who knew my situation in Colombia, while I was still in Turkey and because of their fear and concerns they had been wise enough not to disclose anything regarding my state, despite the suffering and anguish that the ignorance of my situation and safety still generate. Given this, I hope you now understand my position and the need to write this text, as part of my own catharsis.
It is important to make clear that I need and I find it very hard to write this, because my voice has been drowned, my academic and professional life was chopped, my personal safety was at risk, and my privacy and fundamental rights were violated; because I’m tired of living in the shadows, because my loved ones have been seriously affected and because finally, after psychic disaster, I feel enough strong to do so, making also clear that what is written here is of a total and complete responsibility of the one who is suffering and typing.
As I watched the port of Çeşme and my dear Izmir fading away, and with her all of Asia Minor, it was impossible not to feel like Aeneas fleeing the destruction of Troy; as the Byzantine scholars, who fled to the west after the capture of Constantinople; as thousands, who covered the same route in 1922 after the great fire of Izmir, and like thousands of others who did, do and will continue to make that journey as refugees, fleeing war and violence in their homes, be it Syria, Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan. In the end, I was traveling as another refugee (at least in a more stable boat) and my story was the same as that of all these examples, leaving everything behind to save their “skin”: I was saving mine from what Turkey became after July 15, 2016.
During the trip from one port to another, my head was a sea more turbulent than the Aegean itself: memories, projects, faces, tears, places, farewells and hugs that I could not give to all the people from many parts of the world that for sure will make a mark on me; the inability to find a rational explanation for what was happening; the impotence in the absence of an official response and foremost, the fear generated by the tense atmosphere in the streets and offices caused by the retaliation of the regime towards everything and everyone. The unrest, until i realized that many of the prejudices that my relatives from Colombia warned me about the country and the region were true or were in their way to become true. But above all these things, the immense sadness of being forced to leave something for which I have been fighting for so many years and which, until the time I received a strange and most unexpected email, I had been accomplishing with particular adaptation and solvency for a person of my cultural background.
Let’s say from the beginning that things did not start well: for several years, I had been focusing my studies and interests towards the Middle East and the classical world and especially the relationship of these two historiographical fields within the Latin American and Colombian context. I had already applied for the government scholarship of Turkey a year before, but the very Hispanic letter “ñ” that stands out in my surname created conflicts in the system and made me lose the opportunity; then, after winning the scholarship in 2015, my awaited ticket Bogotá-Madrid-Istanbul-Izmir never came and only after a month, having all my belongings packed, having kissed goodbye all my friends and relatives, having resigned from work and with no social security, having to send dozens of emails and to struggle in person in the embassy, were I finally able to obtain my ticket and make the trip of 27 hours to Turkey. In the end, I arrived to Izmir and my adaptation process was arduous, all other new students having already had a month in advance in all aspects, from metro routes to language courses.
Despite all these, despite also the several months, during which the scholarship funds were wired in my account later than all the other scholarship students and after a harsh winter, my life was finally on track: I was speaking Turkish fluently, I was integrated into society, I knew the vast history of the country beforehand and every day I was indulging into topics and unknown sources of it; I shared the way of life of its inhabitants in aspects I thought were useful: their dances, from the frantic horon to the parsimonious zeybek; their music, from Anadolu Rock to even the most banal pop; their lyrics, from the poems of Rumi to Penguen comics. I deeply felt respect for those who forged the history of Anatolia in all its stages and love for the land and its customs, from knowing and following all teams in the Turkish league to intensely fast during Ramadan, breaking the fast only in the time of iftar.
On Thursday July 21, 2016 at 18:00 in Turkey (GMT +2), with great surprise, I received an email, where I was warned that because of my “scholarship abuses”, my scholarship was “frozen”, only to receive another email an hour later informing me that my scholarship had been canceled. An email delivered in non-working hours, without any obvious rational argument, was the beginning of my dark times to come, where my dignity would be exposed for days and long hours at the offices of the Ministry in charge of scholarships, at the University, in my dorm and in every institution I would get into contact with, either by phone or in person, me being the recipient of a mean and paranoid attitude of all the above towards me, when my question if my scholarship cancellation was by any means related to the “coup” was being brought up.
Nobody wants to experience a coup, and it is clear why, because it is an alien to normality, legality and covers everything with an aura of uncertainty. I did. I saw the planes, fighters and helicopters taking off from the air base on the outskirts of Narlidere, Izmir with direction to Istanbul and Ankara. I watched live as the soldiers entered the studio of the TV channels, as the president – same who had been blocking and banning social networks before – communicating through them and calling the people to the streets, I received a text message from an unknown number asking to do the same on behalf of the government, I heard the roar of mosques all night like in the days when they were calling for war during the Ottoman empire. For endless hours, in solitude, without having the slightest idea of what would happen to me, I was watching the people going out to defend the established political system, to satisfy their thirst for revenge against everything and everyone, going out against the army they have always worshiped (exactly like they do when the Turkish youth goes to fullfil its compulsory military service), going out against the malice of academics and intellectuals. After all, going out against anyone who did not manifest in favor of the president and his government.
Taking the decision to leave the country has perhaps been the most critical in my life. My family in Colombia was urging me to go to Ankara and find out in person what was going on, while they were making efforts in the Turkish Embassy in Bogota from their end, and the opinion of my friends in Izmir was divided between those who saw no need for me to leave, suggesting me to get a job and pay for my university instead, and those who only saw as a solution me gettting out of the country as soon as possible, as the atmosphere of tension and uncertainty was not boding well . Inspections in our dorm rooms became more frequent, suddenly the same people climbed into the buses but in different stations, the heavy sound of whispers and silence gripped all space, outside of cafes, restaurants and canteens, all that added to the impotence and fear of not knowing where to turn, who to trust and how to act.
Fortunately, making the decision to leave the country as soon as possible was the right one. A few days after crossing the sea without vetoes and censorship of information that the Turkish government (which controls more than 90% of the media in the country) applies, newsflow about retaliations against the attempted coup showed that the regime’s response was worse than a dictatorship´s: in one month, around 70,000 public employees in all sectors, ministries and universities lost their jobs, tens of thousands were arrested and herded into stadiums, prisons and pavilions, practices that Videla or Pinochet would approve, despite the statements of former president Abdullah Gul. The official response quickly became worse than a dictatorship, of which Turkey has some experience.
Among the witch hunt that could make Joseph MacCarthy blush, driven by paranoia of the regime, fueled by personal feuds and dressed with the national past time to formulate and believe in conspiracies, has not only reached the followers of Fetulah Gülen -accused first for having been involved in the coup-, but also everyone else who did not sound pro-regime or is not an authentic Turkish (as if at this point something like that exists) or Sunni Muslim and conservative, either Kemalist, Kurdish, Alevi, socialist, moderate, environmentalist, Jewish, Christian, atheist, agnosticist, feminist, LGBT or international student, like me and several students from various cities in Turkey, who somehow were not so lucky to leave. To cite just two clear and near examples: a Spanish doctoral student in International Relations at Ankara University was arrested, taken to the wards, where they detained the putschists and was held deprived of any means of communication for 36 hours before being deported to Madrid without any stamp in the passport. And another student, in this case from Panama and resident in Antalya, who stayed in a cell with 9 other prisoners for 11 days after the police raided his home, confiscated his property and subsequently deported him to his country of origin without further explanation.
While in Turkey, I had heard the news of these and other students, whose grant had been canceled outside of working hours and arbitrarily, like me, who have had so far no response for the reasons, not even after resorting to diplomatic missions including two Colombians who received the same email, but while not being in Turkey. Seeing that the situation was dangerously far from normal and realizing that I would not have an answer to my questions for an official response about my situation, either from the Turkish embassy in Bogota or from official institutions in Izmir or in Ankara, and that as time passed, new details not necessary connected to each other but speaking for themselves were discovered, like intercepted communications, or that these two other Colombian students received the same mail, meetings in Bogotá between scholarship students and representatives of the Turkish government; demonstrations day and night by people from neighboring municipalities being brought to Izmir with free transportation, food, beverages, flags and free bathrooms (normal for any manifestation); portraits of the president carried as a Byzantine icon in procession; “Grey Wolves” or better “fascist nationalists” stopping everyone who were not shouting their slogans, banners and flags, long hours of shouted slogans with no hint of the word “democracy”… in short, a myriad of facts, events and details that turned my last days in that side of the sea to hell and this side into a bearable purgatory, thanks to the hospitality of those who welcomed me without any prejudice and with confidence.
It’s been about two months since I received the mail and began to investigate the reasons for this situation, I did everything in my power to find out, leaning on embassies, institutions and contacts, but the absence of an answer, the administrative incapacity or even the state arrogance when my embassy tried to reach the turkish institutions, these answers do not exist, are not communicated, are not known, or they do not want to give them. One possibility is that it has been canceled because of my posts and messages on social networks reporting on the coup in near real time, with all the doubts that still generates the coup itself and that the deliberate government reaction does not allow me to dispel, especially after analyzing the situation in the country for years and seeing it, living it and reading it every day for 10 months, witnessing when newspapers were closed; witnessing when the people fiercely fought against the rising of the political powers of the president, when terrorism struck the heart of the country; in the same intensity as for years hit the southeastern border; when acts of intolerance from the increasingly reactionary and conservative majority were the order of the day, and how the things that I assumed from my studies and my experience took a 180 degree turn at high speed in a couple of days. Still, this possibility is ruled out, because many other students who today are still active, did so, and many of those who saw their scholarships canceled never published nor commented anything.
I, as a visitor and scholarship student always had respect for the institutions and the country that easily became admiration; Turkey has a cultural, historical and archaeological wealth that their own people struggle to imagine a sovereign country with its foreign debt paid off and coverage of education, health and basic services almost first world, not to mention its deservedly famous landscapes and places that delight the senses. And in the same way was and I encountered multiple reproachable aspects: the total absence of environmental awareness in a country so rich in resources, a serious public health problem due to the absurd levels of consumption of snuff, rampant ignorance of their own history; all the above augmented with the irreparable damage made to the country´s population by how unscrupulously the official history is taught and with the well known governmental problems crossing the borders of violation of human rights: uncontrolled repression to government opponents, double game with the crisis in the region, be it the war in Syria, ISIS or refugees. But especially the absence of a real democracy (no, democracy is not the power of people to make choices, if so Cuba and North Korea would be democracies) that guarantees the exercice, claim and joyness of rights to free expression, association and social security. There is no point watching a magic sunset in Istanbul, if you have lost your job unfairly, if you feel threatened and you can not complain.
Nevertheless, I want to go back, I want to go back to the cities that were already sewn into my mind and my senses: Izmir, Ankara, Istanbul… I want to lose myself in bookstores, touch the ruins, lose my mind in the museums, but above all I want to go back to see my friends, to spend some quality time with them drinking çay and eating doner. But I honestly do not know if I can, I left the country relatively smoothly, I do not know how easily I can enter. I have been waiting for two months for an answer that does not come, waiting for the government or the embassy to give me a reason and I want those who shared with me this scholarship to remember me as I still do. I fully understand that many of them don’t want to jeopardize their status quo and keep silent, even though they share my views on what is happening in Turkey. But i want them to analyze the fragility of their position, that the contract we have signed is extremely ambiguous and often international students are merely another puppet of the regime and our identity and culture are often indiscriminately undermined because we are not as they want us to be, or when this scholarship holders serve to fill coliseums and flatter the president only because the trip is for free, or even worse, when they send messages at night, during a coup in process and ask students to go to the streets in their traditional costumes to “support democracy”.
A special mention should be made for the people who selflessly handled my arrival in Athens, a place that I always dreamed of visiting since my early childhood, but obviously under other conditions. They have welcomed me, provided me with a roof, a bed and a home, that’s why I owe them nothing more and nothing less than my life and have contracted an immeasurable debt of gratitude with them. Although hearing the phone ringing or receiving a message was and still is an ordeal and I still don’t feel like answering, they know that Greece, despite the economic and refugees crisis, remains a fantastic country, but I should be on the other side, in Turkey; but I could not stay there being critised for my unfair situation, I could not allow (or obviously defend myself) being accused of promoting a coup and having relationships with people that I don’t know, I could not allow my resources to be exhausted, my residence permit to expire. And if I had to pay for a master, this wouldn’t be in Turkey , especially after all the deans having been removed from their positions; it becomes clear that there is no freedom of teaching, research or access to sources.
Still, for my teachers, friends, university staff, the embassy in Bogotá and the Turkish people in general I have nothing but words of appreciation and I deeply regret the things that are happening. But for those who watched my toffees from Juan Valdéz with suspicion and disgust thinking they had alcohol or pork; for those who stole my money in my own room in the dormitory; for those who told me they didn´t need to learn another language, although one else speaks Turkish in the world; for those who were fighting with a knife in the street “insulting” themselves with terms such as Kurdish, Greek, Armenian, Christian or dog; for those who told me that smoking is less harmful than drinking wine; for the ones who took photos and videos of me like a zoo animal, when I did the sign of the cross and laughed seeing me in the church of San Anthony of Padua in Istambul; for those “drunken” with chauvinism, thinking that all neighbor countries want to invade them because they think they are the best; for those who say that had it been in their hands, they would have destroyed all ruins of Ephesus, Pergama, Aspendos and all the cultural heritage that is not Turkish or Islamic; for those who paint graffiti in historical sites including mosques; for those who feel the shelter of the regime and act like little sultans; who promised to help me and they didn’t; for those who can not live with anyone who is different from them, even when it comes to citizens of their own country; for those who are happy because I’m not there, thinking that they won a moral victory; for those I made feel unconfortable whit my arguments based on facts and documents; for those saying they did not want to see “dirty refugees” in the streets or watching impassively as women are beaten by their partners without having done anything, forgive me if I keep something diametrically opposed to affection.
Yes, I am now in Greece, in Athens, and those who know me well, know how much this means to me. I’m fine, not so anxious, protected and loved by many and diverse friends that I have made, and I have done things here that were only filed in the section of “impossible” in my imagination. Yet I find it hard to smile, I feel that I have grew years in a few months, unfortunately for them, the people who welcomed me here live the worst version of Luis De la Peña, they’re worried because he does not leave the bed, does not speak and does not smile, he is going to museums and starts to cry, because with his “rustic” greek he says that he is fine and that there is no problem, while he takes his look back to the ground. And yes, there are problems, but they are not so serious as the ones in the last days in Izmir. Two months later and looking at my departure from Turkey in retrospect, I realize that despite the gravity of the circumstances and the immediacy and urgency under which those decisions were made, I think I make do fair enough. No one would imagine being left alone, preparing to face a crisis like that and finally coming out of it sound. Showing caution in every conversation, saying goodbye and thanking those who deserved it, crossing with all the luggage the immigration control and holding back tears; wanting to scream at the indifference, hypocrisy and injustice lived.
The Sunday 2nd of October of this year, for the first time since I left home, I sincerely wanted to be in my house, cuddle with my family, play music loud, have “agua de panela” or “patacones” and go out to vote in Colombia, as I have been doing since I reached the age of majority, convinced that democratic principles, created in the place where I now live and distorted over and over through time, are not perfect, but they are the best that our species has generated throughout our stay on the planet, and it will always be better for a people to divide, blame or even virtually insult each other, than have a retrograde and authoritarian government. Colombia and especially its democracy are not the examples to follow, but we have things we do not value enough and they weigh a lot, from voting with more than one option to having the right to oppose, criticize and refrain (venomously if applicable) freely, without having to flee your country because of these. My heart is oppressed by the fact that I couldn’t live that, I was not able to ogle the streets, the faces or the newsletters from the elections. That day could have been the most important day of my life, of our lives (those who read me and have Colombian identity card). We are all victims and above all, we were guilty of what happened that day and we have been this way for half century-quarter in my case-. Many people have died for what was about to happen that Sunday and we should have behaved and must behave according to the occasion, act or not with conviction, whether in Colombia, Greece or Turkey.
This is the last month that I can be in the European Union without a visa; my options and my time are reduced, work permits, residence and posibilities to continue my studies (the reason why I originally began this journey) are the priorities and because I do not want to become an undocumented migrant without the means to return to my country, since I arrived I am dedicated in building a life that was not planned, but with the strong conviction not to give up, to continue and demonstrate that leaving behind love, family and affections was the right decision, although sometimes the conviction -stubborness- can do more than the body, as some recent visits to the doctor confirm. Yet, as I said before, embarking on the plane from Bogotá, I did not travel alone, I came with all those who love me and care about me today more than ever. I need them, I need them to read, understand and help make this known, and like me, they all must keep in mind that if one thing is clear is that the end, the port of Ithaca that Kavafis promises, for me is still far away.
Omnia mea mecum porto.