October 17, 2015

As abnormalities become normal in Turkey…

Sevgi Akarçeşme

In a country which has a head-spinning agenda mostly filled with depressing news, we were somewhat revealed when the editor-in-chief of Today's Zaman, Bülent Keneş was released from prison, where he had been sent just because of his tweets, on Wednesday after five days.

Since arbitrary detentions have become the rule rather than an exception, one cannot help but wonder what made the government release Keneş only five days later. It seems that it was an attempt to save face because arresting a journalist on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was way over the line even for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. After all, journalists including but not limited to Hidayet Karaca, Mehmet Baransu and Gültekin Avcı are behind bars for similarly absurd reasons, but they are not as internationally recognized as Keneş, who runs an English language daily that is one of Turkey's gateways to the world. Indeed, this is the very reason that the oppressors are extremely ill at ease with Today's Zaman; it maintains a consistent editorial line of reflecting the facts from Turkey while its peers are too intimidated to do so to the same degree.

Columnist and former member of the European Parliament (EP) Joost Lagendijk warned the public against a dangerous trend in Turkey as we were about to say goodbye Keneş as he headed to prison: getting used to abnormal news and unlawful practices. He warned that the perception of such grave developments as routine should be avoided in order to ensure democracy. In the end, by accepting the abnormal as normal, one would only serve the desires of the autocrats who want to intimidate and oppress more and more people.

I learned the good news about Keneş shortly after my visit to Diyarbakır, the unofficial capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The Southeast of our country is one of places where the abnormal has become almost routine. Because of the existence of government institutions, a common official language and shared social practices, Diyarbakır does not feel like a different country, for sure, but when you wander the streets of the city, it is impossible not to miss how the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) dominates the region, simply by looking at the graffiti and murals painted on the walls praising various extensions of the PKK.

There was a partial curfew in effect and garbage was not being collected because of a municipality workers' strike when I was there. Despite the seeming calm, when you talk to local residents, the deeper problems of the region that go beyond daily conflicts slap you in the face. It is possible to see that the Kurdish Islamic scholar Bediüzzaman Said Nursi was right about calling ignorance, poverty and conflict our biggest enemies in the region almost a century ago. The story of a teenage girl who became a guerilla as a result of PKK propaganda thinking that she is fighting for her nation or a toddler whose father does not fix his child's handicapped hand because God created him that way tears your heart. Then, when you think that more and more idealist educators and entrepreneurs are needed in this region, but you see that the government is targeting the free prep schools for poor children in the region only because they are run by Hizmet movement volunteers, it deepens your pain. What could be a bigger act of treason than shutting down educational institutions that are the natural enemies of the PKK? In a region where schools are burned down by the PKK and the state could detain and torture even innocent teenagers, a young Kurd could believe that he or she has found a purpose in the mountains by fighting for the PKK.

I would hate to use the cliché that education is imperative as a solution to all of our problems, but especially after seeing Diyarbakır, I could not help but think that it is the first and foremost remedy, along with a sincere belief in peaceful coexistence and respect for diversity.

I salute the any idealistic souls who volunteer to serve in the Southeast amid security risks in a country where the abnormal is increasingly becoming normal.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 October 2015, Saturday