All Stateless Am I, Ever Since My Goodbye

Playing with words to refer to a 1963 song by Brenda Lee, this headline may seem to the readers a tad strange, but – trust me – there is nothing wrong with it. I am writing this article as a witness to the extraordinary incidents which have been proven watershed. It is also sad they pass as ordinary events as they happen more and more daily.

Once I was proud of my Turkish identity and always felt I represented my country wherever I was and with whatever good I did. This enthusiasm drove my heart and soul and shaped my objectives in life. My entire career has passed in the overseas, and I had many chances to showcase my culture, language, and the country at the best level, without a single penny from any governmental budget. I met many great people who did the same and tried to represent their values and culture as I did. Was it wrong? No, not at all. I believe people will do the same if things ever get normalized.

However, things started to fall apart after the fake-coup-attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, as thousands of civilians were purged, arrested, and detained for ‘perpetuating the coup’.

After this failed military coup attempt, the Erdogan regime staged a civilian coup on July 20, 2016, allowing Erdogan to rule the country with an iron fist and silence all opponents in the months and years that followed. All the media outlets that were deemed as opponents by the Erdogan regime were shut down and journalists were arrested.

Doctors, judges, lawyers, teachers, academicians, businessmen, and many other groups regardless of their ages, genders, health conditions were arrested and incarcerated through witch-hunts and forced to await their deaths in total isolation from society by the Erdogan regime.

Not only the opponents who live in Turkey but those who live abroad faced the same fate. I and my wife were living in Pakistan when the July 15 coup was staged. Our lives were deeply affected by the very next day of the coup. The Erdogan regime labeled all educationists who are working abroad as terrorists and ventured to purge them by using the government apparatuses to reach Erdogan’s goal of authoritarianism for silencing the opponents and gripping more power.

The Erdogan regime seemed to have recruited the services of many politicians and bureaucrats from Pakistan the same as he did in several other countries especially in Asia and Africa. In almost no time, the news for the deportation of the Hizmet participants in Pakistan and the seizure of schools started to show on the Pakistani media outlets. Pakistanis, by the Government and the nation, have favored the Turkish mindset by default especially due to the historic bonds and Pakistan’s need for breaking its then-global isolation through Turkish bureaucratic assistance. Just as one of the top leaders of the Government of Pakistan had said in the mid-2000s, “the Government of Pakistan followed Turkey in rain and shine, regardless of the fact whether Turkey is right or wrong.” In the same vein, Pakistani government officials in July 2016 onwards increasingly favored Erdogan and his regime as if it was their own mode of governance and without deeming whether Erdogan asked them to act on legitimacy or not. On November 16, 2016, four months after the failed coup attempt in Turkey, the Turkish teachers in Pakistan were ordered by the Ministry of Interior Affairs asked to leave Pakistan within 3 days.

Of course, it was impossible for us to leave Pakistan within a short notice of time. I and my colleagues engaged in a hectic struggle against time to evaluate options and stay safe from any illegal action including abduction, deportation, or extradition. Eventually, we had no other option but to apply to the respective UNHCR representations across Pakistan to be placed under UN protection as holders of asylum-seeker certificates. UNHCR witnessed the humanitarian crisis caused by the two countries, Turkey and Pakistan, unfolding and stepped in a timely manner to contain the crisis. Turkish and Pakistani authorities could not achieve their objectives in the first run, and Turkish teachers gained much-needed time and respite while being deprived of their students and livelihood.

As we strived for financial and social survival in Pakistan during this time of transition before we could leave for another country, the Turkish Embassy in Islamabad declined all official applications made by the Turkish teachers to have their travel and identity documents issued as a part of their basic citizenship rights. Unconstitutionally rejecting our applications, the Turkish Embassy in Islamabad – similar to the Consulate General of the Republic of Turkey and many Turkish foreign missions abroad – served to deepen the humanitarian crisis and virtually applied civil death measures on the Turkish educationists in Pakistan. Some friends of mine who had newborn babies were not given identity cards and passports for their children. They themselves were considered as non-existent by the Turkish Embassy personnel in terms of their passport renewal and power-of-attorney applications. Hence, their fundamental human and citizenship rights were ignored by the Embassy personnel’s illegitimate rejection of their applications at multiple times.

As I and my spouse were preparing to leave Pakistan, we were additionally stressed by the fact my passport was to expire soon. In the light of the abovementioned reasons, I was unable to have my passport renewed and this troubled us a lot. Eventually, we migrated to Thailand, where we lived for almost two years while seeking to find interim solutions to our problems.

Fortunately, I had a valid US visa stamped on my passport and so, I and my spouse arrived in the United States 9 months before the expiry of my passport. Hence, I was relief from constant tension. Good news: November 9, 2020 – 13 days ago – marks the date when my passport was finally expired. It is rather a strange feeling as, for the time being, I bear no passport awaiting to be renewed by any country. Politically speaking, I am a stateless person now, and it is a mixed feeling with pride as far as I am safe and sound.

I was proud to represent my home country 5 years ago. Now, on the contrary, I am sort of proud to be away from it. It is neither a contradiction nor an expression of hopelessness but a statement of consciousness, love for freedom, and knowing who I really am.

Turkey was once motivated to spread peace, love, and hope to every corner of the world, and that was why I supported that vision at every opportunity. Today’s Turkey is unfortunately stifled with chaos, hate, and division. This is where I stand proud as a stateless person, away from Turkey in her current state.

Educator, Author and Activist

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