Everything is fine and dandy in Turkey. As long as you’re white. Heterosexual. European. Oh yeah and you should have a penis.
I had a great time because through chance, good fortune, miracles or just genuinely undeserved, unearned privilege I have all of the above criteria which sadly is the baseline for being at least accepted in nearly every country in the world. And Turkey is no exception.
You should also not be a journalist, an activist of any kind, work for certain institutions, believe things that the government does not, be Kurdish, Armenian or a refugee.
One of the first things I noticed in Turkey is the internet censorship. Wikipedia, my go-to knowledge base for pretty much everything that’s not that important but kinda is, is totally banned in every language. Allegedly there were some articles about the government the government didn’t like, and poof. Bye bye that slice of the net. Also booking.com is out, which is rather annoying as the alternatives are a tad naff. Google Earth is blocked too, but you can still see satellite on google maps, so it makes little sense. Like many things in Turkey.
You can get around the blocks by using VPN apps. Download soloVPN or Rocket VPN in play store. Bam.
The Coup of Deceit
I was about one week into my trip across Turkey when I began hearing some strange little stories about bizarre arrests and job losses. It all came together one day when I sat down for breakfast with a very respectable, kind, Muslim guy who had invited me into his home the previous night.
“So what do you think about the Turkish Government?” He said.
I didn’t know how to answer, and my honestly very limited knowledge didn’t go beyond the scope of the biased mass-media and some little trickles of information from activist groups. I also knew from our previous conversations that he was ex-military. So I didn’t say a word. And then he proceeded to tell me everything that the government did—stupidly, he added—but made clear that he doesn’t “hate the government,” which he repeated several times.
At least 40,000 were jailed following the 2016 coup d’etat. But it’s not leagues of rebellious army officials as you might expect. Some 17,000 women and 800 children, remain locked up. More than 100,000 people lost their jobs and a significant proportion of arrests were of teachers, doctors, and judges.
To add another level of realism to our conversation, by chance we met a friend of his while lunching in the midday heat. A man I could describe as cheery, chubby and with a slightly hippie appearance, though Muslim, joined us and told us of the story of how he lost his job as a doctor. His daughter, a teacher, was put in jail 2 years ago and he hasn’t seen her since. He knows she’s alive because every so often she sends letters to her husband describing the jail life and her longing to get out. She has two kids, who also haven’t seen their mother in 2 years. She’s completely innocent, and nobody knows why she is there. I met her husband that night over dinner, who by chance was reading her latest letter which had just arrived. Nearly everybody knows someone who either lost their job or was arrested.
There is now a growing but still very limited body of evidence that the coup was instigated by Erdogan himself to strengthen his position in the government, an opinion shared by many Turks, and myself included.
This all ties in with Kurdish-Turkish refugees I had met in Greece, one of whom who had escaped before he could be arrested. I met his son in Turkey who longed to see his father and mother, but cannot because, given Turkey’s continued and ridiculous “State of Emergency” to this day, nobody can apply for a passport.
Bye Bye Free Media *waves*
I remember watching bizarre pieces on Al Jazeera World on Turkish TV praising Erdogan and filming a lame speech to a small crowd of spectators in Istanbul (when there were far more important topics for a “world news” channel in English). He gets so much airtime, and “coincidently” one of the opposition’s microphones was just a bit crackly for his entire election speech. Due to the impending elections (and impending doom) in Turkey at the time, I had to look at Erdogan’s smarmy face plastered all over buildings in nearly every town I visited. He had all the good spots covered. He is omnipresent. In Turkey, he is one step below God.
You will notice I didn’t upload the picture of Erdogan’s face plastered all over buildings, because his face is already everywhere, and I refuse to put it here too.
After the coup, Erdogan ordered the immediate closure of at least 16 television channels and 45 newspapers. Hundreds of journalists were also arrested and jailed. No more opposition, no more problems. The government now effectively controls all the media. More than 200 journalists remain behind bars. And sadly, the majority of Turks are glued to their TV’s at home and at cafés absorbing all the bullshit.
Where are all the woman?
That was a question I asked myself on many occasions going through some towns (and even some cities) in Turkey. Streets and cafés can be swarming with men without a single female in sight, and if you’re a female traveller in Turkey, this can no doubt be extremely intimidating (actually for male travellers too). There were homes I was invited to where the wife was hidden away, never to be met. And the claims of sexual harassment can no better be summed up by a woman herself. Frances Grier, a cyclist who is travelling from the UK to Mongolia, writes:
There's the other side of solo female travel: the unpleasant, unwanted and downright scary side; the side we can't photograph; the stereotypes prevailing which travel is there to break down; the side which stops us sleeping at night and sometimes wants us not go on in the morning. . There's the two men in three days who have stopped me by the side of the road and suggested "You. Me. Sex" but not known the word "hello". The man who reached out and grabbed my bum when I cycled away from him. The man who leant out of his lorry to try to kiss me. The leers I get when I cycle through a rural town. And all of this when I am literally covered head to toe in mud and grease. . I attract these because I am a lone, western woman and, by comparison to the east, film and media portray us as loose and less moral. I want to say to these men "I am the same species as you. I don't want to have to fear you. How would you feel if a man tried this with your sister or daughter?". . I hate that, after four weeks praising Turkey's friendliness, kindness and hospitality, a few men in the north east have shattered my view of what has otherwise been an amazing country. I hate that I entered a village after one of these incidents and glared at every man who approached me. I hate how suspicious I was when a genuinely kind man in that village brought me a fruit juice, as so many of the generous and hospitable men in this country have done before. I don't like looking at the world with fear. . It is hard for me to comprehend the way these men have approached me. All of this has been in four days on a mountain road that I have been desperate to get off so that I can feel safe again. It has been very tough. And that's before I even mention the huge climbs, long distances and weather I have had to contend with. Isn't my cycling route hard enough without this added as well? . This journey is more than just a cycling trip. Some days you need a game face just to set off in the morning. #gobibike
Black and Gay?
In Cappadokia I met a young, mixed-origin black man, who also happened to be gay. His story of Turkey outside the touristy areas was somewhat different from mine. Beginning on the bus ride from Istanbul, the driver checked his ticket not once, not twice, but six times. He was asked to move seat twice and was given odd looks by nearly everybody on the bus. During his time in Turkey, he was never invited to anyone’s homes, and I doubt he even scored a free cup of tea, something which became a daily occurrence for me. If you’re not white, it can be no dice.
LGBTQI-everything rights are also pretty bad in Turkey, and if you are suspected of being gay, you can currently expect, as a minimum, being stared into oblivion.
In conjunction with random road blocks, tanks on the street in parts of Turkey weren’t out of the ordinary. And during my first days there, military jets were continuously flying overhead, no doubt a show of force to its neighbour Greece where many islands remain “disputed”. But the more harrowing nature of the military came with Turkey’s recent invasion of Afrin with “Operation Olive Branch.” A part of Syria which by and large was peaceful at the time, and where the Kurdish PYD, and its sub-branches basically single-handedly defeated ISIS in that region. Turkey’s invasion seems nothing less than continued oppression against the Kurdish, which also form a large minority within its own territory. It seized a bloody opportunity to counter the Kurdish forces, killed several hundred, including hundreds of civilians, left 40,000 children unable to attend school, and caused several thousands more to flee forming another wave of refugees to Europe.
If it all weren’t enough, despite Erdogan’s 15-year reign over Turkey, he just (unsurprisingly) won the recent “elections” seeing him as leader of Turkey for at least another 5 years. His latest rhetoric is “One nation, one flag, one country, one state.” Which is roughly the same political message uttered 100 years ago when Turkey began systematically killing 1 million Armenians. Nothing like putting a good bit of potential genocide on the table.
I really enjoyed travelling through Turkey. But it’s not a free state by any means. And until it becomes so, I will complain about it as much as I like with this little voice of mine.
Between ease of typing and mild laziness, I chose not to reference this article. But if you dispute anything you read, tell me and I’d be happy to back everything up.