AND ETC. / October 4, 2016

In Times of Crisis #1




This is what I have been postponing to write since July 15, 2016. 

I avoided writing about the political climate in Turkey in the wake of the coup attempt that took place in July 15, 2016 mainly because I have been trying to digest the events and sitting with the pain… since I came across the news of both bridges being closed to traffic on Twitter that night. My initial response was “There is nothing new under the sun!” but on the other hand, I was pretty aware that my country would never fail to surprise me in unforgettable ways -something shocking, outrageous or tragic 24/7. What was the night to beget?


Iran-Iraq war

When I was allowed to watch TV as a kid in the ‘80s, the first conflict that slapped on my face was the Iran-Iraq war. I remember my 6 year-old self getting smaller and smaller before the TV as the news presenter gave the number of casualties at 8 o’clock news every night – without any footage though. I was praying for the war to end, but deep down in my heart, was I favoring one side as if it were a football game? Through our Iranian neighbors who immigrated to Turkey after the Revolution, I was exposed to the beautiful calligraphic world of the Arabic language… It was them who explained me the meaning of my rare name for the first time: Nihan (Nahan, or Nehan) means secret, hidden in Farsi. Was I expecting Iran to win the war because of them? How would I feel if we had Iraqi neighbors too?


Gulf war

Then I was in high school when the Gulf war started in the ‘90s. The US (and the UN) involvement in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was nothing short of a video game for teenagers like us and we were so confident that it would end only in a few days, but it did not. Green screen journalism with its embedded journalists and its jingle, ‘The feelings begin’ (How ironic was that Peter Gabriel’s song became the official soundtrack of the war?) dominated our living rooms for months and together with the whole world, we watched a war live on TV 24/7 for the first time. Years later, we would find out how the media manipulated the whole course of the war and even the toppling of Saddam’s statue was a staged PR event. After all, you came to realize it was not such a childish perception to call it a video game!


Yugoslav civil wars

1990s also witnessed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Though it was a country far and far away, due to its historical ties Turkey received another wave of Bosnian immigration during the course of the decade-long conflict. Through our Turkish Bosnian neighbors and their distant family members from the disintegrating country, I happened to feel connected to another war again. One summer I met a Bosnian girl my age in one of the seaside resorts of Istanbul, with whom I immediately clicked! When I look back, I still think that particular summer would make a good coming-of-age movie: the story of two teen-age girl friends falling in love when the war was roaring in the background. When she went back to Zagreb, we somehow managed to keep in touch talking on the phone at nights and writing mails. It was the first time when someone I care about was living in a war-zone, and I never knew if I would be able to see her again.


Failed coup attempt

On the night of July 15, when jets were flying so low –and causing sonic bombs, I refused to turn on the TV. Texting with friends who live abroad made the situation worse. “Yes, we know! We are watching it on TV!” was the response when I was sending text messages like “They are bombing us!” I was not sure which one was worse- dying or being reduced to a number in statistics- just like many other casualties I have happened to watch on TV over the years? I felt small and desperate as never before. Sonic booms (which sounded very much like air strikes), sela (under normal circumstances, sela is the call to the Friday prayer and the funeral prayer) and also the call to take to the streets against the coup from the mosques followed, one after another, till the morning. It was surreal, to say the least.


In the following days and weeks, rumors of some bloody events turned out to be true; the city was bathed in red -Turkish flag; and mehter –the Ottoman military song- blasting from cars echoed day and night in the streets of Istanbul. Feelings of rage, fear, despair, and anxiety together with unpredictability took over. (my complete repertoire of feelings!) The cold crispy reality of our life still continues to bite: The witch-hunt is not likely to end. Authoritarianism is strongly taking hold. The crack down in the East does not seem to cease. Hush is a way of life. As I always say, Byzantine Empire is long gone, but the term “Byzantine intrigue” is to stay here forever! The puzzle encompassing that night has yet to unfold for many of us.


How to reclaim our life?

In the beginning, it was difficult to move on for I felt stuck and paralyzed by fear and rage. When the world outside is on hold on many levels, how do you reclaim your life? A while ago, I came across an article in NY Times that covered the story of the most successful tennis players in America, who emigrated from former  Yugoslavia  during the war. They were the children who continued their training in the basement floors or gardens of their house when the world outside was crumbling down.


How was I to move on? First, I tried to give up victimization. I tried to stop blaming time for being so fast and so slow at the same time. Then,  I turned to simple things that could give joy, like watering a pot of basil or creating something that flashes a moment of beauty. I turned to spending time with children, who urges you to be in the moment regardless of anything. I turned to yoga and meditation to be grounded again. I turned to astronomy to find the awe in being again. I turned to reading and music to find inspiration. Most of all, I turned to solidarity… supporting people who felt as desperate and restless as I did.


Decades ago, Tanpınar, one of the most distinguished authors of Turkish literature wrote, “This country has  never let its children get involved in anything else other than itself.” Of course, I’d love to write inspiring things about Istanbul. It just doesn’t happen to be so all the time… Anyway,  I had to get this off my chest.


*This photo essay is now available for purchase.

Tags:  Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar childhood coup Gulf War Iran-Iraq war mehter memories photo essays politics quote series TV war Yugoslav War

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