Audio Recording of Interview
Summary: The anonymous narrator shares his journey fleeing Turkey after being put in jail for his alleged involvement in a coup d’etat. He expresses the tensions in Turkey as a member of the Hizmet movement along with the ultimate decision to flee the country for Greece while part of his family sought asylum in the United States. He details his migration journey of familial separation and reunification, connection to Islam, and education.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Location: Princeton, NJ (via zoom)
Length of Interview: 2:07:47
Content Warning: N/A
Section 1: (00:00-20:03)
Conditions back home, employment - Introduces his previous role as a police chief in Turkey until the government transferred him into retirement before ultimately putting him in jail for being allegedly associated with a coup d’etat.
Education - Speaks about his forced retirement by the government despite his qualifications in the police force and educational background in criminal justice and a PhD in political justice from Kent State in the United States.
Religion, family - Shares about being born Muslim and his ultimate journey towards the Islamic Hizmet movement. Although his parents raised him in a Muslim household with prayers five times a day, he talks about being drawn to being a Hizmet sympathizer due to the specific values such as completely obeying Islamic rules like not smoking and being prohibited from being corrupt.
Section 2: (20:04-51:25)
Politics, discrimination, historical context - Discusses the beginnings of the political opposition and discrimination he felt during his time in the police force while being associated with the Hizmet movement. Spoke about the fear and expectation of his house being searched for documents associated with the movement and how he ultimately destroyed documents showing how his children attended Hizmet movement schools such as their report cards. Ultimately, he shares about being detained.
Religion - Talks about the influence of this governmental discrimination on his religious life where he began to hide his prayer life instead of being openly associated with the Hizmet movement in the period leading up to his arrest.
Section 3: (51:26-1:19:09)
Family- Speaks about his separation from his family during his 21 days in detainment and sharing a cell with approximately 20 other people who were also associated with the Hizmet movement. Talks about the different forms of family visits permitted spanning non-contact visits, and in-person visits over the phone through glass, and no permission for visits at time.
Religion - The narrator discusses how his spiritual life in jail was able to become more open through the act of prayer since he was surrounded by fellow Hizmet sympathizers.
Conditions back home - Talks about his altered sense of community in the neighborhood upon being released from jail since the people around him became skeptical of his family.
Section 4: (1:19:10-1:46:17)
Family, immigration process, employment - Speaks about being released from jail and his fear about going back to jail or the blame being placed on his wife and her being taken to jail. Thus, he and his wife decided to leave the country. Although their passports had been canceled, his younger daughter was a US citizen and his wife was able to get a visa to go to the US, so they went together. Meanwhile, his son had been accepted to a US university for a PhD program and was permitted to leave to attend the program. Thus, he and his older daughter were split from the rest of the family as they managed to leave the country, with her going to Germany for an Erasmus exchange and him fleeing to Greece. He was able to have enough money to pay the smugglers after collecting his pension and working as an English translator.
Language, employment - Talks about opting to not attempt to learn the Greek language because he envisioned staying in Greece for a short period of time and since many people spoke English. Similarly to his employment in Greece, he was able to work as an English translator while learning how to become a lawyer online for asylum seekers.
Section 5: (1:46:18-2:07:47)
Religion - Shares that he felt the ability to pray openly in Greece without discrimination.
Education, family - Recounts his family being reunited in the States, and discusses how different members of his family experienced different challenges in the adjustment process to life in the States, especially regarding education systems. Talks about the decision to go back to school to earn an LLM and his plans to sit for the bar exam in the future.
(0:47)/ “I was a police chief first; I was transferred to retirement. It is a very strange term "transfer to retirement" - what does it mean? That means I didn't want to retire, but the government forced me to retire, in a way. And then there was a coup d'etat, so called coup and while I was retired, and then I was in jail. Because of my so-called, or alleged, involvement in the coup d'etat, I stayed in jail for seven and a half months, pending trial. And then I was sentenced to six years and three months in prison. I appealed it, then - first, my wife and children came here, the United States I mean. And then I fled Turkey, because I was prohibited from going abroad. First I went to Greece. And because the application for my wife for asylum in the US was granted, she applied for a family unit reunification, which was granted. And after three years and four months of separation, I got reunited with my family. And I had a daughter, who was at a time in Germany, and she joined us after four years. So, it's been a little bit more than two years since I came here. So I want to live in freedom. But, of course, we have some financial difficulties, but we are fine.”
(43:13)/ “I was worried. Yeah, I was worried. Because I was expecting some police officers to appear at my door anytime. That's why I searched the whole house and eliminated everything that can put me into trouble. What is it? I'm going to explain. The Holy Quran, the Holy Quran is my book, right? And if it is published by a certain publishing house, it's in trouble. For example, as I told you, the Hizmet movement had media outlets. If there is a one year old copy of that newspaper, and it's found in your house, you're in trouble. You see? Or - the Hizmet movement had a lot of schools - thousands of them - in Turkey and all around the world. Schools. And I sent my children - all three of them - yeah, all three... I have three kids. So I enrolled them in their schools. All the report cards, you know, honor something, you know, everything. I destroyed them. Because I was expecting a search, a thorough search in my house. So I eliminated everything that can create a link between me and the Hizmet moment. I destroyed everything. Like everybody else. So, the computers for example: if you enter website links to the Hizmet moments - get rid of the hard disk. Get other one. You understand - it is that serious. Because, when the police officers came and searched everything, they got all my computers, and the whole family's - five cell phones, for example, or broken cell phone, it doesn't matter. All the flash drives and everything!”
(56:55)/ “We were taken to the buses, and then went to jail. Again, in the jail, we were not treated well. You can say jail because it’s not a place of good people. But we were the most educated people. And probably in the world at the time - especially at the time - let's say at the end of 2016, Turkey has the most educated prison population in the world. Because we were all educated because this is what the Hizmet movement told us. "Go to school, don't stay ignorant." And we were not ignorant. And we were well educated. Because I told you - at that time when I was, you know, admitted to the prison... Of course they were taking some notes, what's your name, or whatever - you know. And they said: "what's your status of education?" I was asked. I said: "PhD." The officer asked: "is there such a thing in the computer?" You know, he said, Oh, button button, you know, something like that? They didn't know because, I mean, no doctors visit a jail normally. But, I mean, jails were full of professors, university presidents... You know, as higher level people, because we were tasked, that is I don't know if it is the right word, but by the Hizmet moment's values. "Don't stay ignorant. You know, just get educated well." Anyway, I was in jail. And let me tell you - probably you're gonna ask me about it. Let me answer your hypothetical question in advance. How was the jail? How was the room? It was bad. It was a two story cell - a prison room - not a cell (a cell is one person). No, it's not large. But normally it's designed for eight people. Yeah, two story idea. The first floor, there's a small kitchen and shower and toilet facility and an opening area with a TV - but TV we have to buy - you know, the refrigerator we have to buy. Anyway, upstairs, there are eight bunk beds for sixteen people, but we were there twenty seven and twenty eight. Twenty seven of us. So there are mattresses everywhere; you cannot move, you know, not bunk beds, on the ground. There was not enough space for the mattresses, you know, to put. So, maybe 1/3 of it was under the bunk bed, you understand? So, for the morning prayer, for example, you have to wake up, right? You have to make wudu. You know, you have to wash certain pieces of your body. So you have to go downstairs because there's the fountain. You have to go. But for 27 people, there's only one toilet and one shower. You see what I mean? Why is one toilet for 27 people? You have to wait - you are sloppy: doesn't matter - you have to wait in the line. And, for example, you had to go to the bathroom at night - at three o'clock in the morning. It's impossible to go through people without waking someone up. I mean, it was so crowded. But the good point is that they were all sympathizers or members of the Hizmet movement. So, we shared the same values. So, under such conditions... We had a good time, under such conditions (laughs).”
(1:53:27)/ “So I'm, I have an LLM now. So I'm supposedly preparing for the bar exam to become a lawyer. I mean, the good point before you asked me, let me answer your would-be question. What I mean, this is freedom. Because there is no limit to your thinking. You can think as wide as you want. I don't know if I can express my feelings. But okay, if you want to do something, okay, there is a way to do it.”