There is a strange nation growing in European cities, a nation of the “eternally” homeless: female journalists from Afghanistan, Iraqi academics, Syrian poets, Yemeni doctors, and many more whose homes may seem too ruined even to long for. Like many others from my country who have to live abroad, I wonder whether the Turkish dissidents are the new members of this broken nation. When the criminal court in Istanbul delivered its outrageous verdict in the Gezi trial on April 25, my question of “When will I be able to return home?” morphed into “Will there be a home to return to?” It wasn’t the draconian court decision that induced the unbearable question, but the breaking point Turkey is about to arrive at.
Osman Kavala, a leading Turkish civil rights activist, businessman, and a dear friend, was charged with an aggravated life sentence, and the other seven defendants were sentenced to eighteen years of imprisonment. Despite the international reaction, without any evidence—except for the illegally acquired tapped wires—and with the in-your-face nonsense of an indictment, the court felt no shame to decide what President Erdogan has been openly demanding since the case began four years ago: no mercy for the disobedient. When the court decision was read, one of the defendants, seventy-two-year-old architect Mücella Yapıcı, who dedicated her life to defending the public space from the greed of the rich and the powerful, raised her right fist and said, “We lost eight children in the Gezi protests. Eighteen years in prison is nothing compared to that! I don’t give a damn!” One of those children, Berkin Elvan, was hit by a police canister when he was out to buy bread and died when he was barely fifteen. Her mother was in the courtroom hugging another defendant, Can Atalay, a civil rights lawyer. Atalay was holding Yapıcı’s arm during his last speech to his friends as the police pulled and pushed, “We will not give in before this oppression. We will resist!”
I left Turkey in 2016, after the strange military coup attempt in July when Erdogan’s purge of the opposition began. I was exhausted from fear and paralyzed with anger.
Çiğdem Mater, a film producer who has been charged because of a film she never shot, was back from Germany, where she lives to attend the hearing with the certainty that she’d be acquitted. They suddenly were charged with “attempting to throw down the government.” As their shocked faces disappeared behind the unruly police crowd, a handful of lawyers and friends of defendants tried to inspire determination outside the courtroom with their broken voices. Former journalist and Turkish Workers’ Party MP Ahmet Şık preferred to be angry rather than sad when he addressed the millions who joined Gezi protests yet were absent at the court, “Look at yourselves in the mirror and ask, ‘What kind of a person I am?’” Şık’s words resonated with only tens of thousands during the night who gathered under the hashtag #WeWereAllThere (at Gezi), tweeting in desperation and outrage. Ironically, the night Elon Musk bought the social media company, they reminisced about the Gezi protests that began on Twitter in 2013, mainly in shame for their absence.