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The death of Turkish humanism: When an infant pleads a stray dog for her mother

Despite continued conflicts, devastating wars, and the Crusades in Anatolia, between the east and west, many great humanists have emerged such as Ahmed-i-Yesevi, Haci Besiktas-I Veli, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi and Yunus Emre during the centuries.

Considered one of the last representatives of the Sufi tradition and a Humanist, Fethullah Gulen embraced the oppressed, despised, and isolated souls of Turkey through interfaith-intercultural activities and education facilities, he is also currently declared as the Turkish state’s number one enemy.

State oppressions have continued to rise drastically since the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began cracking down on critiques since the Gezi Park protests of 2013. The current Turkish government continues to oppress and crackdown on dissidents in a lawlessness environment. 

Erdogan continues to blame Gulen for the failed coup attempt on the 15th of July 2016 and has continued to purge with cruelty levels matching that of Hitler’s Nazi Germany in certain scenarios. Does this mean a millennium old Turkish humanist tradition is fading away under Erdogan’s brutal Islamist regime as the Turkish nation continues to turn a blind eye on the state’s systematic oppression?

Post-coup, Erdogan’s witch hunt has seen more than 130,000 people suspended or sacked from public sector jobs with nearly 95,000 detained. The government has continued to target Alawites, leftists, and Kurds, with followers of Gulen being oppressed the worst since the failed coup attempt.

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It does not matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair…” 13th century’s Great Sufi Rumi who was buried in the city of Konya opened his heart to all, just like other renowned humanitarians. However, the Turkish society has put this quote to the ‘sword’, being completely unresponsive to the state’s cruelties.

Perhaps the most striking scene that demonstrated the death of humanism in the country occurred when a 2 year old girl who was left alone in the court garden while her mother was being detained, turned to a stray dog, pleading for her mother.

Eight-year-old Ahmet Burhan Ataç’s death sparked public outcry against Turkish authorities but it was not enough to save Ahmet’s life.  Ahmet’s father was imprisoned for alleged links to the Gulen movement, whilst his mother was also kept under surveillance with an investigation underway. Ahmet’s father Harun Atac remained in prison and his mother Zekiye Atac was granted release with judicial controls in 2018 after two weeks in custody. Ahmet was diagnosed with osteoid cancer but mother Zekiye was detained again as part of a separate investigation. 

Zekiye was eventually released but her son had now been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, there was hope for treatment in Germany but the state disallowed any form of foreign travel, with Zekiye’s application being denied multiple times. Ahmet managed to fly to Germany for treatment without his mother and returned to Turkey later. The state relaxed its ban and allowed Zekiye to travel with her son to Germany in an attempt to save his life but it was too late, the cancer had spread. Bones broken and a low blood count, Ahmet’s body could not handle further treatment. Zekiye eventually came back to Turkey with her son who died in May earlier this year. His father’s crime was working for a student hostel belonging to the Gulen movement.

Musician İbrahim Gökçek, of the Turkish folk band Grup Yorum, also died on the same day with Ahmet. Gokcek lost his life after almost a year on hunger strike. Again, the Turkish public did not react enough to the state to save Gokcek’s life.  

Teacher Gokhan Acikkollu’s drama was another sign how the Turkish nation has become senseless. He was detained on July 24, 2016 on trumped-up charges of coup plotting and was subjected to torture for 13 days prior to his death from a heart attack.  Imams, appointed by the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate, refused to conduct his funeral prayers and the authorities wanted to bury him in a special traitors’ graveyard in Istanbul. Açıkkollu was found innocent 18 months after his death and was reinstated to his job.  

Esma Uludag was a civil servant in Izmir province. Following the 15 July coup attempt, she was dismissed over alleged links to the Gülen movement. She crossed Maritsa River with her three children and reached Greece. She was waiting in Athens for family unification as her husband was in Germany.  Uludag who had to run away from Turkish state’s brutal regime, had a stroke and left this world in April 2018. 

Many journalists, air force academy students, top judges, generals, women, kids, and elders who are affiliated to the Gulen Movement have been suffering under Erdogan regime. Thousands of them are in jail or face social isolation as the state views them as terrorists. 

Anatolia is no more a place of great humanists and a place of friendly, generous people. The Turks now show no reaction to state oppressions targeting Kurds, Alawites, and Gulenists regardless of their innocence or age.

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Turkmen Terzi is a journalist, researcher and political commentator focusing on International Relations and Political Science based in South Africa.

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