2013 was the year of extremes. 2013 was the culmination of all social effects influencing the way we move since the turn of the millennium. In many corners of the world the end of the times as we know them began. This is a small account of events as they occurred in the author’s current neck of the woods, namely Turkey, narrated utilizing one man’s deeds and another’s experiences.
2013 in Turkey could be summarized as “the resistible rise (and fall) of Arturo Ui” to quote Bertolt Brecht. Or it might be described as the year autocratic regime of the AKP government became obvious for all to witness. Previously only observed and despaired by the minorities and radicals, Islamist government enabled the terror of Turkish state for the “white Turks” who enjoyed the discrimination in their favor since the foundation of the Republic.
With the #OccupyGezi movement of end-May and June and jailing of dozens of journalists and thousands of activists throughout the year, Turkish state was finally seen by the global community for what it is; a relentless dictatorship in the making. Again. Already in 2012, Reporters Without Borders had christened Turkey “The World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists” as the country became the leading jailer of journalists—ahead of China and Iran.
But we have promised a personal story, and we shall provide one.
Sevan Nisanyan is an Armenian citizen of Turkey. He describes himself as a hotelier, restaurateur, farmer, travel writer, illegal constructor, stone sculptor, linguist and author. In fact he is all of the above and more: protagonist of a one man war against the red tape and discrimination of the state mechanism in Turkey.
And on the second day of 2014 he ended up where all do when they question the ridicule of the Turkish state: prison. Sevan Nisanyan wrote the most comprehensive dictionary of Turkish etymology. He transformed a dwindling old Greek village near Izmir (Sirince) into a famous holiday spot. But he was always a maverick in Turkish society as Nanore Barsoumian calls him in her latest article in The Armenian Weekly.
He donated all his real estate there and helped build Mathematics Village, Philosophy Village and Madrasah of Drama in collaboration with Nesin Foundation which provide advanced education for kids who cannot get it elsewhere. But he always protested the red tape brought by the state against minorities by building undocumented small structures as a challenge to the state.
One 60 square meter shack made of stone in the village caused him the jail time: a 2 years minimum conviciton. In a country where 60% of all government buildings are illegal that’s a hefty price to pay. But then again he is an Armenian in a historically xenophobic country.
As he headed for prison, friends urged him to leave Turkey to prevent the imprisonment like many before him, but he wrote:
Some people trusted you, believed in you. That comes with a responsibility. To disappoint them is to act maliciously. You shouldn’t do that.
You have started a fight, you said you have accepted the risk. When the winds turn south, getting scared is a disgrace. You shouldn’t act disgraceful.
Just because three bureaucrats, nibbling like rats opened a hole in your life, you cannot desert that life. There is plenty of work to be done.
You told everyone ‘do not be afraid.’ You have built a ‘Tower of Dare.’ It would be contradicting with yourself now to say ‘my personal comfort is more important than anything else.’
So he went to jail.
Where he immediately started building a library for inmates.
Turkey is the country of obnoxious self-protection. People treat one another like garbage in the pretense of self-preservation under the eternal excuse of ‘you don’t understand me!’ And when the abused party spits on their face, i.e. when they get what they deserve, they immediately become ‘heart broken.’ They are either self-convicted or inevitable recluses in the society. Any relationship, a discussion, a radical instance is but an attack to their well-established, baseless, misanthropic place of comfort where they hide from all their social and most importantly psychological realities. Any deviation in their lives from that fiction they have created is a blow in their faces.
Turkey is a closed society. It lives behind a veil of secrecy over individual private lives to hide lifetimes of trauma, abuse and despair. Most are raised by teachers who would go to any length to create paper tigers and who in reality are worthy of Pink Floyd’s proverbial stick and in dire need of growing up themselves. As the current Prime Minister Erdogan wished for, it is a society of self-inflicted hatred and rage towards anything or anyone who does not conform.
2013 was the year people like Nisanyan who bring light to everywhere they go lost another battle against the rest who only live by the darkness inside. The latter are the vast majority, they come in all shapes and sizes in Turkey. They are very recognizable. They have an incurable self-pity and they are always right. They can rationalize almost anything they do.
They are the intellectuals, they are the simple people. They share the subway with you. They smell badly, they are as clean as a recently bathed toddler. They are academicians, they are students, they sit next to you at the barstool. They are your colleagues, they are your neighbors, they live in your house, too.
They are you.
And unless you start your personal revolution of change and start seeing yourselves and the world around you for what they really are, 2014 will be the same: you will surround yourself with your broken heart and rage.
Just like the guy sitting across the table.