[OPINION] Getting out of the diaspora

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Former Zaman newspaper editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı. AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE /

Former editor-in-chief of the now-closed Zaman daily, Ekrem Dumanlı, warns people who have fled government oppression in Turkey and sought shelter in other countries against becoming isolated in the countries they are now living in and advises them to exert efforts to get to know and integrate into their new countries of residence

Getting out of the diaspora

By Ekrem Dumanlı
There is a great oppression of people in Turkey. One consequence of this bitter fact is the people who fled Turkey and are now living abroad. If the necessary lessons are not taken from past mistakes, we will come across a group of people who have isolated themselves, living in a ghetto and who have been overwhelmed by their anger as they become more introverted. However, the forced immigration of people caused by government oppression in Turkey can make a great contribution both to the country these people have gone to and to Turkey as well as world peace.

First immigrants were betwixt and between

This is not the first time some Turkish people have had to live in diaspora. Our people have had to leave the country and go abroad for various reasons. Turkish expatriates in Germany are the largest group of people with stories of living abroad in modern times. The cultural shock experienced by our people who did not know the language or way of living of Germany led to the creation of “little Turkeys” in the heart of Europe. Turkish workers who formed their own ghettos and were able to survive only by giving support to each other have always seen themselves as guests in the countries to which they moved. They were not able to return to Turkey nor did they make their new country of residence a homeland. The first generation of Turkish immigrants in particular. The shock they experienced led to the creation of chasms with the second generation of Turkish immigrants. Most of our immigrant citizens were betwixt and between: They were neither European nor Turkish.

There have been waves of immigration abroad in every period of time. Small islands of Turkish people have been formed in the heart of Europe during coup periods in particular. The extreme practices of the state (arrests, acts of torture, revocation of citizenship) changed the characteristics of the Turkish diaspora. The Sept. 12, 1980 military coup and Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup led to a different profile of victims who had to flee abroad while revealing how abusively state power was being used in Turkey.

New immigration wave might be different

Now there is a new wave of immigration from Turkey. Yet, the destination of the new immigrants is not limited to Europe. People from various segments of society, mainly those who are accused of membership in the Gülen movement, have had to leave Turkey and go abroad. We are faced with a map of victimized people that is spread across Europe, the US and further. A snapshot of “the Turkey outside” needs to be taken right now so that the number of mistakes can be reduced and the number of truths can be increased.

The anger and resentment of the people who had to immigrate to foreign countries in masses in the past were very obvious and hard to ignore. The longing for one’s homeland turned into anger and even hatred in some periods (due to ideological cleansing in particular).

This mood led to the creation of more introverted ghettos while increasing the polarization among people. This situation has increased to the maximum the lack of communication between the immigrants and the new country in which they sheltered. The complaints about Turks’ failure to integrate in Europe are not without merit because a large mass of people has closed all the doors to the culture and the laws of the country for the sake of preserving their identity.

Now, the oppression of the Turkish people over the fight against the Gülen movement has created a different picture. The countries that have accepted Turkish immigrants have for the first time been faced with Turks with a high level of education. Most of the immigrants are university graduates and include professors, high-level bureaucrats, teachers, journalists, businessmen, etc.

Actually an advantage for Turkey

Although the exodus of so many educated people to different corners of the world is a brain drain and a gap hard for Turkey to fill in the short run, it could be a big advantage for Turkey in the long run. As for Western countries, it is an opportunity they have not seen before because the people who are seeking shelter in these countries are Turkey’s most educated, who are also the most familiar with Western culture and who are open to universal values such as democracy and human rights.

Yet, there is a big risk, which is the new group of immigrants repeating the mistakes of their predecessors. A protectionist living style that is based on good intentions such as solidarity has the potential of turning into isolation. Yet, there is no need to form a new ghetto or diaspora.

If the diaspora becomes the first step of being dragged to the center of desperation and anger and if it becomes a new identity discovered by the disgruntled, the cultural disharmony that will emerge cannot lead to a positive synthesis. The mass psychological mood of being in exile, which builds its own prison and dreams of living happily there, not only fails to produce something new but also eats itself up over time.

It is a fact that not so many people have been forced into live in exile in our history. This situation is in a way a brain drain. If this process is not managed well, this brain drain could turn into brain injury and then brain death.

What should be done?

First, these educated people who were forced to flee Turkey should get out of the trauma they have experienced as soon as possible and look for a new way for themselves. This does not mean forgetting the acts of unlawfulness in Turkey and accepting the oppression there. To the contrary, making a contribution to the elimination of the oppression in Turkey can only be done in this way.

Moreover, it is necessary to overcome the language barrier as soon as possible. People should immediately begin to learn the language of the country in which they are living such as German, Flemish or Swedish so that adaptation problems can be quickly eliminated. No matter a person’s age, they should begin with learning the language. If the first group of immigrants does not learn the language, they will experience problems even with their own children in the future because their children will have learned the language well.

My humble suggestion to the new immigrants is to stay away from neighborhoods where mostly Turks live and move to places where it is possible to get to know the people of that country better. We need to keep in mind that there are very good things we will learn from each country. Without forgetting our identity and past, we should make an effort to understand the experiences of those countries (particularly in improving freedom of speech and respect for human rights) so that they can also make an effort to understand us.

To be honest, it would be a grave mistake for followers of the Gülen movement, who are open to universal values, to live apart from the society they are in and build a new isolated group just for the sake of easing their homesickness and desire to be in solidarity with people sharing the same fate. Those leading to this will have made a historic mistake. The worst scenario is to become isolated and disappear behind invisible walls.

The winds of fate have made Turkey’s most qualified people spread all across the world. The tyrants who caused this will find no relief in this world or the hereafter. This is the fate of the tyrants.

There is another aspect of the issue concerning the victims. We need to see this fact: These people will make good for themselves, their children and their own countries if they do no isolate themselves, if they adapt to the culture and the laws of the country they are living in and show the courage to make contact with the society without losing their identity. Otherwise, there is no way out of the diaspora.

This article was first published in Turkish on the tr724 website on Monday.

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