Is Turkey`s Withdrawing from Istanbul Convention?

Is Turkey`s Withdrawing from Istanbul Convention?
18 August 2020 | Virtual Discussion 

Set Them Free discussed Turkey`s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention on August 18, 2020 with Journalists Sevinc Ozarslan, STF Board Members Lawyer Vera Guzelsoy and Psychologist Hatice Kubra Donmez Sarihan. 

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, is a landmark human rights treaty focused on four pillars of prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies to protect women and girls from all forms of domestic violence. 

Lately, Turkish authorities have been discussing withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention with groundless claims arguing that the articles of the treaty are against the traditional Turkish family norms. Lawyer Vera Guzelsoy talked about the importance of the domestic implementation of the Istanbul Convention to protect women and girls from domestic violence. Journalist Sevinc Ozarslan put an importance emphasis on the record number of femicide in Turkey and underlined that full implementation of the Convention is necessary to combat all sorts of gender-based violence against women. 

What I brought in My Luggage!

The state of being an immigrant is a legacy of the United States; it is passed down through the generations and finally reached the Turkish people in current day. People gathered in the hall of Pacifica Institute on a weekend to see what people have brought in their luggage through their escape to the United States.

The state of being an immigrant is a legacy of the United States; it is passed down through the generations and finally reached the Turkish people in current day. People gathered in the hall of Pacifica Institute on a weekend. A “Thank You Brunch” was offered in honor of the conversation partnership program that helps immigrants learn English through volunteer one-on-one tutoring.

In addition to journalists, academicians, and high-ranking officials, nearly 18000 women, and 668 children are in jail in Turkey, and the tragedy touched almost everybody’s life. “Pray for my brother. He has a court date soon” was the sort of sentences being exchanged recently within the Turkish community. As the chaos grows, hearts are more pained and eyes are tearful. What brought tears to the eyes this time was a photo exhibit: “What I brought in my luggage!” The backgrounds were black, reflecting the situation. Pictures, on the other hand, were as colorful and bright as our hopes and dreams. Each photo revealed a souvenir item brought by Turkish immigrants. In one of the pictures, there was a scarf, which once belonged to an immigrant’s mother. The owner described it as her comfort object; it is something she resorts to whenever she is overwhelmed by loneliness or feels homesick. Some of the other objects were a prayer rug, prayer beads and a tiny teaspoon that represented happy memories back in their first homes.

A participant stated that she was moved by what she saw and that she hoped they would start collecting good memories from their new homes here soon.

“Mothers away from Motherland” Panel Discussion

“Mothers Away from Motherland”, Motherʼs Day panel organized by “Set Them Free”and “Atlantic Institute”, had a spotlight on the current situation of Turkish women incarcerated in prisons in Turkey – many with their children – without indictments while embracing the stories of all mothers around the world who have had to find safety for their children away from their homelands.

Beside the three panelists from different communities a video call with a Turkish refugee mom in Greece took place within the event. She talked about her experiences and also about another refugee mom who passed away two weeks ago leaving three kids behind. Set Them Free Atlanta Coordinator Hafsa Girdap told the audience that they would dedicate the program to the memory of that young mom, Esma Uludag.


It was also moving to bring an InterPlay activity offered by Christine Nichols Gautreaux and Ruth Schowaltar at the end of the shared stories of the refugee mothers.

Sophia Pandya, the moderator of the panel, gave a presentation about the impact of political turmoils on women. She also drew attention to the fact that more women suffer in wars or in conflict zones than men do.

Here are some highlights from the panelists:

Karenina Campos from Peru: “If it wasnʼt for my mum we could not manage to succeed in a new life here.”

Saadia Mohamed Kelli from Syria:

“I did everything for my children to have good education here and this idea empowered me the most.” “I always said to my children not to get scared of these people here, and just to be nice.”

Zubeyde Katar from Turkey (about her children who are still in Turkey): “I miss them a lot.” “We are not terrorists, we have always done whatever we could for the sake of humanity.”

Birgul Koca (a Turkish refugee in Greece): “I am a mother and while struggling with the biggest challenges it was my children and most importantly my fate what has strengthened me the most!”

The program finished with a calligraphy performance by a refugee mother.

**“Emin Demiral, Set Them Free Atlanta Art Director, interviewing Sophia Pandya and Lee Dehihns”

Leaving the Country that We Devoted our Lives

Leaving the Country that We Devoted our Lives

I never knew I had such strong ties to this world. Leaving my home was deeply painful. Even more hurtful, my country was now closing the doors to us. My plan was to visit the US for a short time, to be with my daughter, who was expecting her second baby. And then return home quickly. If I’d had any idea of what was waiting for me would I have ever left my beloved country?

I am married to a soldier and our country is everything for us. During my husband’s service in the military, we traveled across Turkey, never staying in the same place for more than 2 years. We made friends that we had to leave, we never had a permanent place or a set lifestyle. In the eastern part of Turkey, my husband’s service was significant for combating terrorism. Because of stress, he was diagnosed with diabetes at an earlier age, and even though he was eligible for early retirement, he preferred to continue to serve his country and people. He never would have imagined that there would be a day that he, himself would be accused of being a terrorist. His tears are for the country that he put his life on the line for–not the accusations he was faced with. For a soldier, country means life.

Everything started when our flight on July 22nd was canceled when there were not enough passengers. Our first option was to fly on July 15th, coinciding with my nephew’s wedding ceremony. So, I selected July 16th, which turned out to be the date after the unfortunate event: the coup attempt on July 15th.  Though I was worried about my country, I boarded the plane and flew to the U.S to take care of my daughter as she was getting ready to give birth soon. But gradually I came to understand that it was actually me who needed help, and that was why I had traveled.

After we arrived in the US, we started receiving bad news about our loved ones. My son-in-law’s two uncles were imprisoned, my nephew was dismissed from his job. My other nephew, an assistant professor at a prestigious university, was fired and, later, my own brother was imprisoned.  I learned how difficult it is to be accused of actions that you would not even have thought of.  My daughter’s mother in law and I were depressed, and our supporter was my daughter…

At the time, my husband and son were in Turkey, and I was not able to convince them to come to the US. My husband was retired, he was not on active duty; but since our country and the people were going through difficulties, he felt that he needed to be there to provide support and care. And, why would he consider leaving his country when he had not done anything wrong?  As we were listening to the news, and hearing from our loved ones in Turkey, we were realizing that things were starting to get out of control. One day, I was about to lose my mind when I heard a school teacher who had diabetes died in prison. I kept pressuring my husband, and he and my son finally came to the US. We initially thought this period would last for a short time, misunderstandings would be resolved soon, and we would be able to go back to the country that we were born, raised, served and lived our lives happily.  But, this did not come true. We started hearing accusations about me. My husband’s nephew and a close friend were detained. Everyone around us kept saying that this period would last for a long time, and that we should move permanently to US, but it was difficult for us to accept this. I had lots to do for my country, I wanted to serve more. For the first time, we had the chance to live in a city for a long time, and we had made long lasting friendships. How would I leave those behind? When my home was evacuated, and my valuable furniture was dispersed, then I understood that I was left homeless, without a homeland.

Was it just me who was facing difficulties?  Many people were left penniless and without jobs, spouses, or kids. They did not have any money to give to an attorney, to start a case, or to feed their families. Parents were kicking their own kids out of the house; and kids were reporting their own parents. With that, it was the time for me to get back to myself, and to start helping those in need. I heard about a group of volunteers who were making and selling homemade pickles and pasta, and sending the earnings to needy people in Turkey. I joined them shortly after, and this effort motivated me greatly. We were working so hard that I had left my worries behind, I did not have any time for listening to myself.  But at the same time, we were faced with the harsh realities: we needed to start a life and make a living here. We needed to have our own place, as we could not keep living with my daughter and son-in-law forever. Most of all, my daughter was seeing her parents crying all the time, and this had led to her getting depressed over time. We were ruining our daughter’s life. We needed to act quickly to start our lives, and stand on our own two feet.

Friends said “you are a good cook; everyone here works and doesn’t have time to cook. If you start cooking and delivery, this will meet a significant need, and on top of that, it could help you make some money.” Nowadays, I work as a caterer, and guess who is my helper? Someone who did not even cook a soup for me during my pregnancy: my husband! We work so hard together, we don’t even have time to think. With our earnings, we try to contribute to our family budget, and also help brothers and sisters in Turkey by sending some of our earnings.  This has really helped us get beyond our own worries. Throughout this time, I’ve understood that the only thing that would help you endure is to not to focus on your own worries, but to think about others who are in need.

Not Searching for Heaven, Just Escaping from Hell

Not Searching for Heaven, Just Escaping from Hell

My father was a teacher who had dedicated himself to his students. After his retirement, he founded an association to provide scholarships for poor children. Simply because of his political opinions, he has been accused with terrorism and put in prison since May 2016. We know that his friend was tortured under police custody and we fear the same thing happened to my father, too. He denies it, possibly not to upset us, but we read all about the maltreatment and torture my father went through in his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

My mother faced the prosecutor who charged my father with terrorism, and asked him what evidence he has to imprison and torture her husband. His response was simply blood-chilling: “I will never release him because he betrayed his country, and he will learn to obey. My advice to you is to divorce your husband because you will never see him again.” Could you imagine that moment? My mother lived through that and tried to be strong in spite of it.

All of a sudden our neighbors turned into spies and voluntary investigators to harass us, such as our next door neighbor who raided our house one night and accused me of being a traitor. Why? Because I borrowed their laptop to write my fellowship application to the US (all the computers in our house were confiscated by the police as evidence), and he had it translated to see what I wrote in my application letter. This man, who was a close friend of my father at a time, was now threatening to kill me because I complained about my country’s situation in my fellowship application letter. After the arrest of my father, the police raided our house once again because of my father’s tweets against the government. This time my mom could not take it anymore; she fainted and stayed in hospital due to an unknown sickness for five months.

As we were occupied with her treatment in the hospital, I got detained in January 2017 with the same accusation and I spent 5 horrible nights under police custody. On the first day of my detention, I had an asthma attack and cried very loudly. Then a police officer came and yelled at me, saying “you are a terrorist, stop acting like an innocent victim!” It was 3 am, and I heard him beating the other detainees in the nearby cell. Then they turned off the heater during a freezing night in January. Luckily, I survived that night, and the next day we were transferred to another city where the case was opened.

I cannot tell anything about the 5 days I spent under detention, because I am embarrassed of myself to remember how weak I was. I had thought myself to be a strong person, a human rights defender… But the accusation of terrorism and the treatment we had under custody was so heavy that I could not remain calm, or say the words I wanted to say. I was being accused of terrorism but all the questions I was asked by the prosecutor were about my legal everyday activities, such as my bank account, my media subscriptions, my residences during college years… These had nothing to do with terrorism, but only marks of affiliation with a legal social network that all of a sudden was declared to be a terrorist organization by the government authorities. I was again, “lucky” to have a heart disease and asthma report that got me released from detention, but my friends from college were arrested and they have been in prison since then.

Soon after, my husband was fired from his job as a research assistant at a public university, without any legal process. It was simply because of being married to me that he lost his job and all his financial rights and benefits. The rule of law in the country was totally missing, and we saw no other way than leave the country.  But obviously, we could not do it the normal way.

We searched for ways of exit, and found one. We were going to walk across the border with a guide, I mean, a smuggler! As he was driving us to the border city, he asked us if we were political dissidents or ordinary criminals. He said, if we got caught at the border the police officers would release the ordinary criminals but arrest the “terrorists” like us. That made me realize that political opposition is a bigger crime than murder or burglary. How sad!

Then we came to the most difficult part of our escape: crossing the border by boat. In recent years, I had read and heard a lot of stories about refugees desperately making a life-threatening journey, mostly the Syrian refugees. But now, it was me who was taking this journey. There were only two options for me at that moment: stay and be imprisoned, or cross the border and be free. It reminded me a phrase I read at an article: refugees don’t escape to have a heavenly life, they just escape from hell to anywhere.

We walked for one hour to reach the bordering river. It was raining, I was praying, and my husband and our guide were inflating the boat. The guide said “be careful because after a few minutes the gendarme will come here with dogs for patrol. We must be ready to hide when we hear their voice.” We must be ready? How could I be ready?  But God’s mercy was with us, as He covered the sky with dark clouds for us so that we were able to inflate the boat in forty minutes without being seen. I felt the serenity when the moment came to board the inflated boat to say goodbye to my country in a condition that I had never imagined in my life. Despite the darkness, I could see everything, hear the singing of the birds, smell the earth and the flowers. I remembered, and uttered the same words Prophet Muhammad said when he was forced to leave Mecca, his beloved city: “I would have never left you if they had not forced me to leave!”

We crossed the river, and walked for four hours to arrive in Greece. The rest was easy because we had visas for Europe and USA. We were able to safely board the plane to the US and come to Chicago, where we are settled now. Thankfully, we are safe here from government persecution, but my loved ones are still back in Turkey having to live under that persecution. Soon after I came. here, my mom was detained and stayed under custody for five days, released with a pending trial. There is no way for her to leave the country unless she takes the same dangerous journey I took, and she is not physically healthy enough to do that. Also, she cannot leave my father behind, who is still in prison. My brother, on the other hand, was quick enough to fly here and live with me when his classmates from college were arrested. He had to quit law school in order to live without the fear of being arrested anytime.

Despite all that happened to us, we consider ourselves among the lucky ones because we were able to escape from that hell, which is still home to many of our family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Behind the numbers, are lives that are destroyed. My story is only one of them, and not the worst one yet.

My Mom’s Heart is Too Weak For Prison

My Mom’s Heart is Too Weak For Prison

I grew up as a kid who was always supported and encouraged by my family. My mom was a brave, loving woman despite her heart disease and all the challenges of life. She owned a kindergarten and was also working there as a teacher. She was never out of time or energy to play with me and my brother although she spent all her days taking care of children. My little brother was born with a bone tumor, so her sensitive heart was also burdened by the ailment of her younger son. Although my family was already suffering the financial cost of these health issues, they still decided to send me to the United States so that I could get a better education. “Go and make us proud” they said.

Our hearts were always connected although we were physically apart; we talked on the phone via FaceTime everyday. My mom was not able to travel due to her health issue, but despite that they had bought tickets to fly here for a surprise visit. My 4-year old brother was crazy about taking a flight for the first time, and I was happily making preparations for them in my little apartment. Yet, all my dreams were shattered on the day they went to the airport to board the plane. When I heard that they were taken into custody at the airport, I thought “there must be a mistake; I hope they don’t miss the flight.” But it turned out to be a very serious situation as I learned that even my 4-year-old brother was questioned by the police in a room separate from my parents. My mom and dad were both arrested, their passports were taken, and my little brother was going to be taken as orphanage as he was left with nobody to take care of him. All this felt totally unreal to me, like a bad joke, as I had to live through this nightmare miles away from them.

I learned that my grandparents rushed to the police station and tried to console my little brother who was shaking with fear. My mom was thrown into a cell–without being able to take her medication. My little brother would be in a state orphanage now if my grandma had not grabbed him firmly and insisted on not letting him go. It was unbelievable for me to hear these things when I was just dreaming of the days we would spend together in the United States. My family was all of a sudden split up by a senseless accusation of terrorism. Their only “crime” was to have downloaded a publicly available mobile chat app -now infamously known as Bylock. They were accused of betraying the nation and put in a prison cell reserved for the most serious crimes in Turkey.  The judge asked them why they were going to the US, what their son is doing in the US, as if it were a sign of being a US spy. He eventually decided to imprison them despite having no evidence.

Imprisoned… My parents… My mom who was a kindergarten teacher, and my dad who provided scholarships for students by collecting donations as a local NGO director… Now they were being treated worse than murderers and drug dealers. Not just them, but thousands of innocent doctors, police officers, teachers, and their kids and babies have been labeled as terrorists in Turkey. Is it possible for a country to totally lose its conscience?!

I am not allowed to talk with my parents on the phone because I am in the US. All I can do is to hear about their situation from my grandparents and pray for my family. Although they tried to hide it from me, I found out my mom had a heart attack in prison. They said that the prison guards woke everyone up in the ward in the middle of the night by hitting on the prison bars with their batons and shouting insults at the inmates -which was too much for my mom’s ailing heart.

She has been kept in prison despite her health problems, and she suffered two heart attacks already during her pre-trial detention. It is as if the prison officials are deliberately being harsh, rude, and abusive to the inmates who were arrested following the post-July 15 purge. I think they believe their mistreatment of the prisoners will be rewarded rather than punished. When my maternal grandmother went to the prison to see my mom, she saw that my mom was barely able to walk… According to what she told her, the prison officials give their meals in the pots and pans, without any plates or utensils to eat with. The water is cut off frequently so they can’t wash themselves. All signs point to a deliberate attempt to dehumanize the decent, well-educated citizens who were imprisoned unjustly; and I don’t know what else to do other than telling others about the plight of all these innocent people and their children.

Just recently I heard that a pregnant woman died in prison after telling the officials that she did not feel her baby alive in her womb… I don’t know if I will hear similar bad news from my mom, who has to stay in prison with chronic heart disease. The officials are unchecked, and unhinged in their violation of basic human rights. But I believe that there will be a day when everybody involved in this crime against humanity will face their day in court and get their due punishment. And those who silently witness these crimes will be held responsible on Judgment Day.



Cost of Turkey Purge: A Drowning Family in the Coasts of Mytilene Island

On November 21, 2017, the Greek Coast guards in the Mytilene Island found bodies of a family of 5, drowned while trying to cross the Aegean Sea. This tragedy of the teachers, father and mother, and their 3 kids is just like a summary of the mass persecution towards Hizmet movement members in Turkey.

Huseyin Maden was a 40-year-old science teacher and his wife, Nur Maden, was a 36 year old preschool teacher. The family resided in Kastamonu with their daughters Nadire (13) and Nur (10) and their son Feridun (7). Huseyin Maden used to work at a public school before he was expelled from his profession with a decree law after July 15. Then, he was investigated with the accusation of “being a member of a terrorist organization”. Fearing getting arrested and leaving the kids alone, the couple had decided hide from the police.

They managed to hide in different places for a year but police had searched for them in their own house several times. In the mean time, Huseyin Maden was trying to make ends meet with a job that had no insurance and made $250 a month. However, the pressure on Hizmet Movement members was getting heavier each day and Huseyin Maden decided to go abroad with the last money that was left. They had lost most of their savings due to getting expelled from their jobs, and seizure of their possessions by the government. According to the information their family gave, Huseyin Maden made contact with several smugglers but he just did not have enough money to afford the fees asked for a family of 5.

So, he borrowed some money from his friends to add what was left in him, and he bought an old boat. Without knowing how to use a boat, he decided to take his family to the Mytilene Island of Greece and seek asylum there.

His friend, whom he went to borrow some money from, described his last night: “We did not sleep till the morning prayer, and we converse

d. He told me about his second hand clothing that he bought only for $2.5. We did the morning prayer together, he even led the prayer. I was asleep afterwards; he woke me up before leaving. I walked with him and we said our goodbyes. He was carrying his stuff in a plastic bag. Lastly, he said “I really don’t want to go but we have no option. I don’t know anyone there. We are going to an uncertain future”. I asked how much money he had and he said “only about $1500. Allah is great.” Then he said goodbye. I don’t usually cry but watching him leave like that, I shed a few tears. There was a different sadness in our home.

Then, 40-year-old science teacher Huseyin Maden sailed through the wild waves of the Aegean Sea with his family. The next thing that was heard from them was the final text message he sent to his family: “ We saw the lights, getting ashore soon”.

Twenty days had passed after his last message. Their families tried to comfort themselves with the thought of them “at least” getting arrested and put in a refugee camp in Mytilene Island. Their calls were never answered.

However, the bodies of 3 kids washed ashore on Lesbos Beach of Mytilene Island: the bodies of two girls and a boy. The description of Greek police gave completely matched with Maden family’s kids. Also, there was no trace of that family in the refugee camps.

BURIEDBecause of the severe decomposition by seawater, it has stated that the kids’ bodies had to be buried after taking their DNA samples.
Although their relatives in Turkey are struggling to get to Greece and take the deceased, they haven’t gotten their visa yet to cross the border.

Huseyin Maden was a very successful physics teacher. The details about the science fair once he partnered with TUBITAK are still posted on the official website of the Ministry of National Education. In the official website; “the TUBITAK 4006 Science Fair that was conducted by our physics teacher Huseyin Maden, was carried out in May 22-23, 2015 thanks to the devoted work of our teachers and students.”

According to the information Huseyin Maden’s friends gave, he was struggling with serious health problems although he was only 40.

He had undergone surgeries on his kidney, liver and spleen. Therefore he was worried about his health problems could deteriorate and risk his life if he was to be arrested. Besides, there was an arrest warrant issued for his wife, and it was unacceptable to leave the three kids without both of the parents.

After Huseyin Maden was expelled and his properties were seized, his financial situation was getting really worse. The kids were unab

le to get their education because the family had to hide. All of these reasons made the family take risks, condemned to social death in Turkey, and tried to flee to Greece, which costs their lives.


God! Why now? I asked my Lord. I needed to be able to walk more than ever. The pain in my feet amplified the sorrow in my heart . I was so helpless… My loved ones, my husband, parents, and dear friends were not around me.

I have been successful and in the spotlight, all my life. I graduated from a well-respected university with a dental degree. While I pursued my career as an academician, my passion had been to serve people in need in Africa. I was always one to help and serve others, but I had never been in a position where I was so incapable and desperately seeking help from others.

If someone had told me that, there would be a day when I would need to leave my country silently, I  would have never believed it. I would say my country was a part of me.

With my foot hurting, I was not able to walk in the darkness.  “Come on” said my companion ,“we need to get out of here as soon as possible,” she whispered. All the tears that had been accumulating in my eyes since the beginning of this journey started flowing with feelings of weakness. “You should keep going; you should survive,” I told her. “Worst case, soldiers will find me, and then.. we will see what God will bring.. maybe one day we’ll meet in the Hereafter…”.

I was traveling with a family who had two little kids. The 6-month old baby was held tight by the mom, and the 6-year old girl was in daddy’s lap; such cruelty these innocent little ones were facing. We had to tell the 6-year old Leyla that she should not be crying because we had to keep silent.  Who knows how badly these memories of this hard trip that was even testing the adults’ limits would scar these young and unspoiled minds?

“Lean on me sister” said a gentleman. The road that would normally take 10 minutes was taking an hour, but still they did not leave me alone. The One with Infinite Wisdom had gifted me with these companions and eased this trip that was full of hardships with their company. I still pray for them to be among the Lord’s loved ones.

We started seeing some villagers and considered asking for help. Actually, this could have posed another danger for us. They could report and turn us in; but we did not have any other option. They were seeing my inability to walk, perhaps they would show some mercy. It did not go as expected, they were not willing to help, and we left hoping that they would not report us. We all felt desperate. Then a car stopped nearby. We could not understand what this young man was saying, but the language of humanity is the same anywhere in the world.  Indeed, he was one of the villagers, he did not know Turkish or English and did not understand that my foot was hurt. After we left, when villagers translated our request for help due to my injured foot, he wanted to offer help. I then grasped and got the response to my own question: Why now? His Wisdom was not to be questioned, but I did.


The young man took us to a secure place where we were able to stay and rest for two days. After my foot started to heal, we moved to Thessaloniki, where we could abandon our fears of being returned to Turkey. After meeting my husband in Thessaloniki, I said farewell to my dear companions, hoping to see them again sometime, somewhere..

Going back and thinking of these bitter memories, I am thankful to my Lord that I survived and I am alive now. Before my trip during my last year in Turkey, I had not been faced with cruelty or harm, and I was used to asking the question: “My Lord! Hardship has come upon many beautiful, innocent people. Why am I at ease, why am I not able to share this hardship with them? Am I not one of them, among the ones that are dear to you?”

“Thank you my Lord for accepting my prayer, and allowing me to immigrate with Your permission under such conditions”. **


** In Islam, it is believed that God tests those that he loves with difficult circumstances



Contrary to the disclaimer, “The events depicted in this movie are fictitious and any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental,” what will be told here is completely real. For security purposes, however, the actual names of the characters will not be revealed.

I was a teacher like any one of the thousands who are serving their time with the rest of the inmates in jails nowadays. I used to be a teacher who dedicated 20 years of her life to her students.

I was the president of a charity organization, used to spend all my family time with projects like opening water wells in Africa. I used to be one of the charity volunteers who had been inspired by the Gulen movement and had believed that there could be a more peaceful world.

One night, I was declared guilty -a terrorist- in just one night. A fugitive in one night, and now a refugee.

I couldn’t believe it when my colleagues started mobbing me and blaming me for the coup attempt in July 15 because of the fake news from government media and provocative speech of politicians. I was found guilty just because I prayed that nobody would get harmed in the heat of the incidents and warned my friends not to go outside that night. I was shunned the teachers’ lounge. I was among the teachers who were forbidden to talk to their students. I became a kind of ‘teacher’ who started getting threatening text messages from the colleagues with whom I’d once shared food. I was an educator once, who used to spend most of her personal time trying to serve the youth and the future of her country. And all of a sudden, we, educators, were declared terrorists, were expelled from our jobs and got arrest warrants.

I was still shocked after I lost my job and was thinking that the government would come to realize they had made a mistake and that everything would go back to normal. I was expecting even just a call of support from my closest friends and my students whom I had tutored even in my off days, but all was in vain… I hope no one will ever experience any of this but suppose that it happened to you too, what would you do, who would you go to first? It would be your family, wouldn’t it? Under the effect of the Emergency State declared after July 15, which has been still in effect since then, imagine such a situation of common insanity and lawlessness that your own father would kick you out of their home, your mother would turn you down in case you could get them into trouble too. Or your siblings reporting and turning you in thanks to the money awards offered to snitchers without even the need of any evidence… Living in that nightmare had been impossible for me, every police siren was a threat to me, every single glance at me was full of accusation for the coup that resulted in the death of hundreds of people. I was not an inmate, but every morning I woke up it felt like I was living in a prison as big as the entire country.

Everybody was in fear and feeling panicked. So was the government; a 12-year-old boy was arrested over sharing a caricature on Twitter, as were the youngsters who wore ‘HERO’ t-shirts and some grandmothers who did not even own a smartphone but were accused of downloading a ‘suspicious’ app. I couldn’t breathe anymore. I understood that there was no future for me in the country where I was born and had proudly defended and served. Our elders always say that the Turkish nation is noble and loyal. Unfortunately I lost my faith in this nation and my pride for being a Turk after they cowardly turned blind and deaf to all the things we went through.

We decided to leave everything behind and try starting over in another country but they had banned the expelled teachers from going abroad. If we had stayed, I was going to be arrested and probably would have been exposed to torture or sexual abuse while in custody. Just yesterday, we were only teachers who were rushing to their classes but today we were branded as criminals who were trying to make it to Greece by illegal means. And it all happened in just one night, all the opponents became enemies, all the families were at each others’ throats and Turkey turned into an asylum in just one night! I was not guilty. I did not do anything wrong. I was not supposed to be in fear, but I was afraid. Because if I had gotten caught, I would have been dragged into an uncertainty where there is no law and justice, where all the filth and corruption is hidden under the decrees of an Emergency State.

My husband and I set out on our journey with prayers. Just as we were crossing the Aegean Sea, here hundreds of Syrian people lost their lives; the Greek police caught us on the border and sent us back. But we were determined not to go back, so after hours of walking we were able to reach the shores of Meric River. We inflated the boat we brought with us and set out again. I was puzzled with all the emotions, what had I done? Why was I running away from my country like a criminal? Where was I going? Who would cry over my death if the boat sank in the waves? Would my friends or students remember me as a criminal after my death? Right at that moment, our guide lost the way, we couldn’t find our way to the train station and we saw police lights ahead: “Surrender!”. We had been thrown into police custody, had difficulty in breathing and felt both mentally and physically drained. But, luckily, Greek police had been familiar with the situation in Turkey and so they let us go to Belgium when they learnt that I was a teacher. After staying there for some time, we finally came to the United States.

Yes, this chasing game is over for now but we can never say that we are truly relieved until our brothers and sisters are released, get their freedom back and the law in Turkey is restored again. All the things we went through helped me realize how much oppression there is all over the world and to have more empathy for each person.

All I wish is, not just for Turkey, but also for a better world is that we should be one and stand together against all the injustice and make ourselves heard without playing 3 monkeys.