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Living Outside Turkey

I spent the weekend in Belgium, attending the “Crimes against Humanity in the 21st Century” conference. Many academics from Turkey, living in exile, were among the international participants of this conference. Besides reconnecting with an old friend and esteemed colleague, a Professor of communication, Vedat Demir, I had the opportunity to meet many other colleagues.

I delivered an academic presentation at the conference, organized by Leuven University (KU Leuven) and the Belgian-based civil society organization Solidarity with Others, addressing the dynamics of authoritarianism and systemic human rights violations in Turkey. Participating in an academic activity freely in another country after many years was truly special and wonderful.

Leuven University is one of the world’s leading academic institutions, a research university ranked among the top 50 in the world. Besides the honor of being connected to this university, it was crucial to discuss human rights abuses in an academic context. Presentations focused on Turkey during the conference were significant steps in this direction, and these efforts need to continue.

In addition to hosting the conference, Leuven University provided accommodation for all participants in the Irish College building, constructed in 1607 in Leuven. Apart from presenting scientific papers, I had the opportunity to engage in long and profound conversations with both academicians from Turkey and Turkish expatriates in Belgium. These discussions, each as valuable as reading a book, revolved around the struggles, daily lives, expectations, and future plans of the Turkish diaspora living in Belgium and other countries. We talked about what they have done and what they are planning to do, delving into their concerns.

Speaking with our colleagues who have faced adversity in many European countries was therapeutic. I realized that we were on the same boat, experiencing similar problems and challenges. We discussed Turkey, freedom, human rights, democracy, pluralism, and the future. I learned a lot from them and recharged my depleted energy. Being with these incredibly valuable individuals, whose qualifications meet global standards, was an invaluable experience. Turkey lost these people—its trained individuals, the elite and intellectual segment that took 20-30 years to nurture.

Each of them has different worldviews, perspectives on life, areas of expertise, personalities, and stories. Despite their differences, these people, united by being intelligent, educated, and idealistic, became victims of a witch hunt. Sadly, nobody cared about what happened to them. They were reduced to numbers, subjected, along with their families, to great oppression and injustice. Their own society and homeland betrayed them, paradoxically accusing them of betrayal. The real betrayal was what was done to them, to their families, and above all, to their children.

What did the thick, old walls of Irish College, standing for 416 years, feel as witnesses to these stories? During those conversations, in addition to the respect I felt for the strength and resilience of my colleagues, I thought about this.

In Brussels, I not only met with academicians but also with the valuable colleagues working in our newspaper who keep our institution alive. I won’t mention their names here because, despite their attempts to hide it behind their smiles, they are under significant pressure, just like their scientist brothers and sisters. Oppression struck all of us, but perhaps it hit them the hardest. Somehow, we managed to continue our academic careers outside Turkey with great difficulty. However, their buildings, printing presses, studios, cameras, and archives were raided. The monster of barbarism looted and ravaged the press and information sector first.

Nevertheless, TR724 Brussels Center stands as a persistent monument.

Together with Vedat Demir, I visited that building and hosted our weekly program from that studio, joined by my esteemed colleague Abdülhamit Bilici. It was a beautiful broadcast. Participating in a broadcast from that studio for the first time, spending a few hours with excellent technical infrastructure and our experienced journalist and technical team, was wonderful. The magnificent breakfast they prepared for us after the program became one of the unforgettable moments. Thanks to the team, they took us to the most beautiful places in Brussels, and we also met many Turkish expatriates in Belgium. We talked and shared our concerns.

In the last 10 years, a highly qualified mass has left Turkey due to the political and legal tectonic disaster, overwhelming landslide, regime change, and shift in axis. It was heartening to observe how these individuals, now living in Belgium, have rebuilt their lives, made great strides in their integration, become citizens or permanent residents, and achieved great success in their children’s educational lives.

I also want to express my gratitude for the warm hospitality at the reputable kebab restaurant (Beyranet) and Çankaya Patisserie, where we had the opportunity to taste delicious flavors. I want to mention that these are places that those who happen to visit Brussels should definitely check out.

Life goes on, and the number of those reaching the light at the end of the tunnel with their own efforts is increasing. The struggle for human rights, law, and democracy continues on various platforms. The efforts in academia and free journalism are undoubtedly important. But equally crucial is to continue living and holding on in defiance of the regime in Turkey, striving for greater success in all aspects of life.

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Dr. MEHMET EFE CAMAN
Dr. MEHMET EFE CAMAN
Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.
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