Idil Özdemir, Class of 2019
On the government’s use of religion during the coup:
“When the coup happened, I was actually far away from Istanbul and Ankara, where you could feel the jets and the bombing. But what I learned that was particularly dystopic about the whole night of the coup was the nonstop prayers from the mosques. In the Islam tradition, there is the call of “sela,” which is a specific type of prayer chanted in funerals during the burial process. They broad- casted these prayers nonstop the whole night of the coup, and for many days after. The intention was to remind people about death and urge them to take action, to urge Muslim people to go outside and defend their state. It was disturbing, because as a citizen, you don’t have much of a chance to stand up against the military forces. And then there is this president giving a speech on FaceTime, afraid to come back to Turkey and simultaneously asking for refugee from other states, and he’s asking you to go to the streets. You can choose to ignore that when you see it on the news, but then there is this prayer which is really terrifying in its tone, that you keep hearing over and over again.
“For a week after the coup happened, people kept receiving random messages from Erdogan himself to force us to go to the streets, which was also very disturbing. A government is supposed to protect its citizens, and be like“there’s a military coup, but you know we’re going to stand against it, and just be in your homes, be safe.” But instead, they took an approach that was very personal and accusative, because you feel like you really should do something, but then you’re also concerned about your safety, and then you feel like a bad citizen.
On being a student now at Amherst:
“When you’re physically so far away from a place, you feel kind of disconnected from its it’s realities.
Also, being in a Western society and listening to the news about Turkey through its media outlets is definitely different from the way I’d hear news in Turkey. When reading about Turkey, like in the New York Times, from the safety of my dorm, I really feel that difference. Because yes, Turkey is battling a lot with the threat of ISIS, dealing with Syrian refugees, but at the same time Turkey is still a very Westernized country. It has a huge web of intellectualism, it has a history behind that, so when I read the news sometimes I really feel it’s unjust for the Western media to reduce Turkey to just a war-torn territory.
On the future of Turkey:
“Turkey is my home, so regardless of the level of threat, I would always prefer living there. Even if it is a very dangerous place, I would never feel like I should stay away from it for all these logical reasons. I don’t know if that’s nationalism or if your blood is tied to the land, but I definitely feel that. If Turkey could get back on its path of being a unified country, it would be through people trying to remember why they’re standing up, not necessarily because of the government or the politics or even nationalism, but because of their personal and generational connection to the land. I feel like in our land, which consists of so many different groups and backgrounds, that’s the only thing that connects us — our cultural connection. I just try to remember that, and that’s my way of looking more positively toward the future of Turkey.”
Boran Kuzhan, Class of 2020
On anti-American sentiment and over- seas US involvement:
“We have a proverb that says ‘there is no smoke where there is no fire.’ Even if it is a con- spiracy theory, that the US is involved in the coup, this rumor indicates that there is something of US origin in this coup. I think it had knowledge of it, at least. To some extent, all of the people here [in the US] are responsible for the death of 300 people that night, not directly, but by not doing something that is essential of every democracy: to demand transparency. Most of the citizens here [in the US] don’t even know what what their country and what their government is doing, not only in Turkey, but in the world in general. Just ask people how many military bases the US has outside of the US, and nobody can give an an- swer. This is of course not to blame you, like “you did this.” But this means that the “unawareness” or “apathy” of the citizens caused some trouble, even if indirectly. Quite ironically enough, there is a lot of talk here around human rights. I do not support them at all — at all — but let’s take a look at, for example, ISIS. It is basically a terrorist organization doing lots of horrible things, but in the minds of people they are bad, and the US is the“savior angel.” Does anyone know how many lives US bombs ended in the Middle East? I’m not even talking about the “jihadists,” I’m talking about the civilian population. If you start bomb- ing people, of course they will turn against you, no matter what. They will find either religion as their reason, or nationalism, whatever you want. And I think the possible “involvement” of the US in many internal affairs of Turkey is one of the reasons why there is great animosity toward the US, and why people do not trust the US.
On academic freedom in Turkey:
“I actually want to be in Turkey right now, but the reason why I’m here is to have more oppor- tunities thanks to the money of [US] colleges. If I graduate from a US institution, my chances of being an acedemic is higher in Turkey. If I want to do academics or humanities I might have to contradict our government policy and what our government says about things. If that’s the case, no matter where you graduate from, you are in a terrible place, because you can get arrested in Turkey. There are a lot more strict rules, such as you can swear in an article here, but if you swear in an article in Turkey, it is not considered in the domain of free speech. The domain is much more strict. That’s why you have to carefully select your words in Turkey if you want to be an academic in a humanities-related area. I have no problem being here, plus I am pretty happy.”