After surviving cancer, divorce, and a near-fatal car accident, I had to get a new job. I was a housewife and homeschool mother in an upscale California community, and suddenly I had nothing but my Master’s degree in English. I looked for a teaching job in America for a year and a half and then took a job teaching overseas, first in Russia and then in Turkey.
Turkey is a land of contrasts. A beautiful country with 4 seasons and landscapes varying from snowy mountains to rainy forests to hot Mediterranean seasides and deserty plains, Turkey spans the continents of Asia and Europe. Turkey’s music, food, handcrafted embroidery, and colorful clothing are famous throughout the world. Its history reaches into Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk brought Turkey into the 20th Century by establishing it as a modern, secular democracy.
But in the early 21st Century, an Islamist government took control. Under Ak Party Prime Minister Erdogan, Turkey started going back toward the days of Sultans as the Turkish people lost their personal freedoms. Erdogan’s police force arrested people who didn’t agree with his Islamist policies. Academics, writers, ex-army generals, and even students face long prison sentences or life behind bars. Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country.
I didn’t know all of this when I arrived in Istanbul in 2010. My students began telling me their stories. I observed events around me, learned Turkish, and even married a Turkish man and was welcomed into his mostly Muslim family. Then the Gezi Park protests began last spring. Police injured thousands by pelting them with pepper spray and water canons. Six people died, one young man shot in the head by a police bullet.
I was chased by Istanbul police while meeting friends for tea. My husband was tortured by the police who threatened me, his “Christian wife.” I received threats on Facebook when I posted articles for “Digital Journal.” Tired of a difficult life in Turkey (and not getting paid well to teach English), I took a job in China. A week after I left Turkey with my husband, 4 police officers showed up at our old apartment door. They wanted to arrest me because of a photo I had published.
I don’t know when I can go back to Turkey, but I hope to continue writing about my adventures there. And I hope that university students, who recently started new protests in Ankara, will bring back Ataturk’s democratic ideals.