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[OPINION] Funeral oration for a lost country

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Mehmet Efe Çaman

The subjective mourning of an academic in exile

Does thinking hurt? Sometimes it does, especially when thinking about the past. Things change in life, and I am not afraid of change. Countries also change, and I am aware of this fact. After all the good things that have been wiped out, however, it is hard to recognize what remains from my homeland. My Turkey no longer exists; or, rather, it exists only in memories. I will never see my country again because the Turkey I remember is not the current Turkey. The place I used to call Turkey is only in my memories now, somewhere in my childhood neighborhood where I grew up, which seemed to be the entire world back then, or in the schoolyard where I used to play with my friends, forgetting everything in the world, even myself. Some voices you cannot hear and some colors you cannot see, for you need more than ears to hear and more than eyes to see. Everything worth seeing and hearing is already part of my memory – and even perhaps my fantasy. When one’s heart starts to see and hear something that belongs to the past, it hurts. This pain is the difference between your today and yesterday, or simply something you somehow lost. Yet, you remember. Despite the pain your memory creates, you decide to remember, since you know that what you forget is a part of yourself. This is the problem with countries that change, and especially when good things disappear one by one. Your memories about your country are like a photo, usually with low resolution and faded colors in which you see familiar faces that you hardly recognize, including your own.

I used to live in the same neighborhood I grew up in before leaving my country. I was happy that my daughter and son were growing up in the same place where I had spent my childhood. It was a pretty neighborhood, like any other place where people feel at home. Your emotions about your home have nothing to do with anything material. It is never about your standard of living, traffic jams or noise. It is rather a subjective, personal feeling that connects you with this place, and you never realize what is so special about it. I guess it is similar to having a best friend. No matter how much other people – even your parents – may dislike them, it does not matter. Your neighborhood is your home; maybe it is even the only concrete place that truly makes your country your homeland. Feeling like this is not only about streets, houses, trees or the sweetness on the wind; it is mostly about people. You usually like all of them, yet without its own sense of community, your neighborhood is nothing. The grocery or the butcher, the barber or the pet shop, the patisserie, the florist or the hardware dealer: Almost all shopkeepers used to know me, my wife and my kids. Almost every week, we would start having a small chat that eventually ended up getting longer and longer. When I forgot my wallet or just did not have enough cash, those shop owners never turned me away but simply said I could pay the next time. I used to play on the beautiful, hot summer days in the big plot behind our apartment house with my friends when I was a child. We used to go to any shop to drink water, unless there was a construction site near our place as they always had a tap somewhere outside. The shop owners knew our names and our parents’ names as well. It was a nice feeling to be somewhere where everybody knew everyone, especially if you were a kid in 1980s Kadıköy, İstanbul. Even though I get a strange feeling in my stomach when I think about all these things, I cannot stop smiling. I do not know whether there is anyone on this planet who feels the same way, and honestly, I do not care. But this is what I picture when I think about having left all of this behind.

I have said that all these things have already been wiped out. They do not exist anymore – at least not for me. My kids are not growing up there, though I am less sad about this when I consider all that we have experienced since this nightmare began. I know Turkey is no longer a civil society. The people of Turkey are fractured; they are part of a parallel society that has been broken like a glass that has fallen on the kitchen floor. The source of the polarization that triggered this social fragmentation and eventually killed what we used to call “us” is an unjust and destructive regime that persecutes all people who disagree with the brutal purge – a purge that calls everyone who criticizes injustice, arbitrariness and lawlessness a “terrorist.” Can this “broken glass” be fixed again? It may be possible to put the pieces together, but you will always see the cracks whenever you look at it or feel the uneven surface when you touch it. Some pieces are just gone – killed somewhere in a brutal dungeon, a bombed house in a Kurdish town or in a torture chamber. Others escaped this open-air prison and fled to other places where they hoped to find some freedom to breathe. They left Turkey only then, when they were left by Turkey.

Does thinking hurt? Yes, it does when you think about this sad story. It is like you are in a nightmare that will never end. And all your attempts to wake up fail. Worst of all, even if you wake up, you realize the nightmare was the reality, and you are simply facing another new part of the nightmare. This happens over and over and over again.

I know it is not only an unjust government that did this to my family and me. I am disappointed not only because a brutal regime jailed tens of thousands of people, journalists, academics, elected politicians, teachers, judges, prosecutors, police officers and many more. I am more disappointed by the fact that people got used to this constant injustice that happened over and over again, every day. It is their rapturous applause that disgusts me. I could understand if they had just been silent – passive but dignified. Did my neighbors applaud? How about my relatives? Did my students or my colleagues at my university applaud? Did the corner shopkeeper on my street who knows my children’s name also applaud? The people who applaud are so many, and those who do not are so few! Maybe that is why I would like to know who did not applaud.

Does thinking hurt? As I said before, sometimes it truly does. It is a feeling like being at a funeral. It is comparable to the abrupt understanding that you have lost somebody. Thinking is connected with pain, especially thinking about the past. No, it is not nostalgia, and I am not afraid of change. Yet, after all the good things, you realize what has been wiped out, and you see all the ruins, making it hard to identify your once-beloved home. It is called the “new Turkey.” My Turkey is not only the old one, but more importantly it no longer exists, so it cannot be my home. The place I believe I used to call Turkey is only in my memories now, somewhere in my childhood neighborhood or in the schoolyard where I used to play with my friends.

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