The news blackout in Turkey

My intention today was to finally write the short piece I have promised my friend Marissa on the Poliakoff exhibition I was fortunate enough to catch in Paris at the end of January.

However the turn of events unfolding in my beautiful country has forced me to “put pen to paper” on a completely different matter.

As of midnight March 20th 2014, Twitter has been blocked by our prime minister. The approximately 10 million users across Turkey are denied access to “tweet”. At a local election campaign rally in Bursa he threatened to “eradicate” Twitter and definitely kept his word, stating “I do not care what the international community says at all. Everyone will see the power of the Turkish Republic.”

Sure we are a very powerful Republic, nevertheless I am certain censorship of which only authoritarian regimes would be proud of should not have been the way to demonstrate our “power”.

Highly concerned about being dragged into isolationism, my emotions run from sheer shock, to frustration, to disbelief, to misery, to disappointment. As of today, I am not even allowed the fundamental right to “tweet” the link to my blog. How is it possible to switch off social media without also switching off a forward thinking mentality?

This abrupt restriction has of course sparked widespread fury domestically and has been condemned by the international media. Much has already been authored, rage expressed, comical pictures and satirical cartoons “tweeted” by all those who found ways to ridicule and circumvent the blockade.

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However I shall not scribble about the political and economic implications of the ban nor meander into what a dangerous experiment this really is, nor dive into a discussion why aggression really is not the most favourable act to locate one’s self in history books. Today I feel the urgency to look forward and be hopeful for a brighter and more transparent future, figure out ways to contribute into living in a modern democracy where vibrant public debate is promoted.

Although not uttered for the current situation in Turkey, I think Daniel H. Wilson’s below quote is the best fit “Change creates fear, and technology creates change. Sadly, most people don’t behave very well when they are afraid”.

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Eminönü ferry station & fishermen at Galata bridge- Istanbul

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View of Galata tower from Eminönü-Istanbul

Istanbul was blessed with glorious weather today. I was one of the many out and about enjoying a beautiful spring Saturday, running errands. Crossing Galata bridge from Karakoy to Eminonu, watching the fisherman having a go at the catch of the day, sipping tea, gossiping, my mind drifted to a great book I just finished reading by Roger Willimas called “The Fisherman of Halicarnassus”.

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Turquoise waters of Bodrum’s bays

The Fisherman referred to is Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli, an Oxford-educated writer and artist who is credited with making Bodrum, a fashionable and pretty seaside resort in Turkey’s Aegean coast famous. A gentleman from the “upper stratum of Ottoman Society”, he apparently lost his heart in Bodrum upon arriving in 1925 as a prisoner, sentenced to internal exile by a tribunal of the new Turkish republic for something he had written in the pictorial weekly Resimli Hafta.

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Sunset at Bodrum Marina

Mr. Kabaagacli passed away in 1973, the year my beloved brother was born. He is buried on a hill overlooking the blue sea and the town which has become forever associated with his name. Hence he still lives in the “heart” of Bodrum.
It is his words written on a large sign that greet visitors on the main road leading into the town center.

“If you come to the top of this hill, you will see Bodrum. Don’t think that you will leave the same person as when you arrived. All those who came before you left their hearts in Bodrum.”

When he arrived at his “designated prison”, a fortress in Bodrum, he apparently found an impoverished village of fishermen and sponge divers. He then devoted his whole life to promoting Turkey’s wealth of classical ruins, educating the locals into understanding the value of the heaps of columns, teaching them to treat these chunks of columns that had been lying around for centuries with due respect. One of the founders of Blue Anatolian Humanism, a pacifist ideology, he would point out over and over again that the roots of Western civilization sprang from Anatolia and the Aegean, dedicating his being to spreading the word. Finally through hard work and determination, turning his designated prison into a paradise for himself and all Bodrum lovers.

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Overlooking the town of Bodrum and Bodrum castle

The book end with the following paragraph:
The Blue Anatolian Humanist had provided his own epitaph when he wrote: “The heavenly bliss of life in Bodrum is better than any eternal bliss that may await us.”

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Today I very much feel like a prisoner with my freedom of speech, a fundamental right in any democratic society suppressed and am gravely concerned about the blockage of information flow and non-transparency in the media. Then I think of Mr. Kabaagacli. Once a prisoner himself, through his profound humanity and inner strength how he must have fought to build today’s Bodrum from an impoverished village of narrow lanes trudged by camels and donkeys into a glittering seaside resort. And then I take a deep breath and say to myself – “no matter what we are going through, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. This too shall pass”.

Perhaps we should always remember and remind many of the current regimes of the following words of Abraham Lincoln:
“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

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Bodrum photo credit goes to my wonderful friend Selda Yavas

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