Turkey post-coup – A new land of hope over fear
I am in Istanbul – yup, the very same one, which suffered a terror attack, a mere two months ago and overcame an attempted coup only last month. On the evening of July 15, both as Turks living at home, and those living abroad, we did not know what was going on and what to make of this coup attempt; neither did we know any better, waking up to chaos the next morning. Within days, Turkey became more a Middle Eastern country than it had ever been, and seemed a lifetime away from the developing nation it once seemed to be. Democracy was under threat, the country was on the verge of becoming a police nation, after a state of emergency was declared and some 40,000 people were detained.
Within days, even Turkish citizens living abroad were cancelling trips home; talk less of tourists that had booked holidays in the Turkish Riviera. If the terror attacks in June hadn’t put them off altogether, the coup attempt on July 15 was the cherry on the cake. Travel supplements of British papers advised on getting refunds for Turkish package holidays, as I had Turkish friends on social media canvassing on whether they should cancel their trip back home.
Within days, I could see the decline in status of my homeland, yet again reduced to a hashtag; the very people commending my country for being a progressive, democratic, developing Islamic nation were now the ones trying to cheer me up with words such as “Oh, so sad what’s going on in your country” or “I hope your family is not affected by the events.” After all, despite rivalling them on Twitter as top trend, Turkey was neither France, nor Belgium, never an advantageous Western, European Union member country; it was – for all intents and purposes – a dignified other, far, foreign.
As arrests at home gained pace, and anti-Turkish sentiments abroad gained column inches in the Western papers, I kept on being asked whether I would still be heading home for my holiday mid-August. Defiant, I decided yes, come rain, come shine, come ISIS, come coup, I would be heading home, for it was home. If us too, Turks abroad, wouldn’t, who would?
Then something miraculous happened. As it became evident that the powers behind the coup attempt were the members of the parallel state within the government, the army and the judiciary, and further arrests made to weed them out, the disintegrated Turkish public came together. For the first time in over a decade, party leaders, including the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, were negotiating the terms and conditions of the new status quo post-15 July. For once, they were not trading insult or provoking their voters against conflicting points of view. For the first time in over a decade, people of Turkey were united by a common cause: a sovereign, independent, democratic state. For weeks, following July 15, Turkish people were united on the streets and squares of every city every night on what was called “democracy watch” – Turkish flags at hand, singing and dancing into the night.
While gigantic billboards commemorating the July 15 Martyrs – those who laid their lives for the state, or banners with words such as “Sovereignty belongs to the nation” (incidentally the words of Ataturk, the founding father of the modern Turkish republic honoured for the first time by the ruling AKP) or “We are the nation; we will defeat all terror or coups” may come across all too jingoistic, and weeks upon weeks of gathering on public squares, “under one flag, under one call to prayer” may sound extremely pro-Turkish and pro-Islam, I can’t help, but feel a sense of pride that finally, as the nation we have pulled together, with a touch of vindication that at long last those in power can appreciate that the true power lies with the nation.
Last weekend, a child suicide bomber caused carnage at a wedding in Gaziantep in southeast Turkey. When my worried in-laws, who are due to fly in this weekend, called my husband, asking whether they should rethink their first, albeit ill-timed sojourn to Turkey, he responded with, “Would you cancel your trip to Lagos because a bomb killed 50 people in Borno?” Not too far from the truth, this analogy. The further one’s country from what is deemed to be the epicentre of civilisation, the more its nuances reduced to a single story of violence and bloodshed? Hence, we can’t – or are not allowed to – see beyond a bloodied beach in Tunis, or a ramshackle border town in Nigeria, or a terrorised airport or failed coup in Turkey?
Despite what the column inches racked up over the last couple of months would make you think, Turkey has a lot more to offer than fear and terror. Do the crowds gathering in the streets every night make the country any safer or prevent another terror attack? Hardly, I am aware. However, as my in-laws prepare for their holiday in the Turkish Riviera, in less than a week, do I have the conviction that Turkey will give them a safe and sound welcome, as it will many other foreigners, who are courageous enough to venture where most fear to tread? More so now than a few weeks ago; more so now than ever, as I have seen hope triumphant over fear.
I am in Istanbul – and I may be a whisker away from a terror attack, but I am in no more danger than I would be on home turf in London or on holiday in the south of France. The very reason why I urge my in-laws and other foreign tourists, do not let fear win. Despite what you may have seen on Twitter feeds or TV screens, Turkey may yet surprise you and win you back.