This article is about simplicity, candidness and the names in the title. I’m not sure if it’ll be short or long, or where it’ll go. It’ll probably be quite long. Please excuse me and bear with me. After all, I don’t get fired every day.
I have a favour to ask: aside from special cases, replace each “I” with “we”.
I believe living a simple, candid life is a good thing. Being open. Simplifying even the seemingly most complicated things. I’m the son of parents who lived simply. My late father toiled in poverty to educate his four kids, three of whom were daughters. As far as we know, he didn’t have any other concerns. One day he said, “Son, when we first moved to Istanbul with two pots and a carpet, if somebody would have come to me and said ‘Huseyin, one day you will have your own home, your kids will be educated,’ I would have laughed. Thank God, it all happened.” My dear mother, may God give her a long life, was his right hand.
This example might clarify what I mean by simplicity, by candidness. Years ago, when my mother heard news about a divorce, she said, “They have a washing machine, a fridge, God gave them everything, what is it that they can’t share that makes them separate?” Do I make sense? I grew up fond of this simplicity. Also, in speaking or in writing, I don’t stray from this path.
What does this mean? Without a doubt, no human behaviour is detached from ideologies. Right now, though, that isn’t my main concern.
If the person walking beside you stumbles, you hold their arm without thinking. When someone is in pain, you don’t want them to be in pain. When someone says, “I’m hungry,” you can’t sleep and you share your bread with them if you have any. If there is someone in pain next to you, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or nationality, you lend them a hand. You don’t turn away a helping hand. Simple.
If you are a teacher at a school, like us, you defend the honour of the student who is waiting to enter the school and who needs to wear a wig to be able to do so. You stand by her. You try to prevent the leftist student from being dragged on the floor by the police. Like me, if you can’t help, at least you don’t turn a blind eye. You don’t try to hide your blushing at the very least. If someone attempts to curse at someone else because they are Kurdish, you say, “Stop there!” You look out for those who are hurt or might get hurt. Simple. That simple.
You react if someone is humiliated because he is poor. When a cruel man kicks an innocent miner, you empathize with the person assaulted, not with the one who assaults. Simple. If a bomb explodes somewhere and people are blown to pieces, you don’t stop to wonder who is the culprit and who is the victim. At the very least, you would find it shameful to think like that.
If a woman cannot bury her son due to the curfew and must keep his dead body in the fridge, you feel helplessly ashamed. You hide your face from others for a while. It’s simple, isn’t it? So simple.
Let’s assume you’re working in the same field as us. If someone should be released by the court pending trial, you say so. You don’t flinch. You don’t mind who this person is, either. If you are against shutting down a political party, you write it. You keep your emotions separate from your job. You defend even those you find appalling. Just because this person needs to be defended. Simple. Extremely simple.
If there are certain repercussions of behaving that way, you bear the consequences, you don’t complain. It’s that simple. Let’s assume you’re fired… You try to hide your grief, remembering the worst cases that you’ve seen, that you know of. Just like hundreds of my colleagues who think even misery should involve grace.
Last week I had a job. Not anymore. This means I need to build a new life; more precisely, I’m in a situation where I am discovering a new stage in life. This is the situation we’re all in. That’s it. Simple.
We got our fair share from a country where a lot of people are sentenced to the irrational, where fascist regulations prevail. So be it. We’re going to see those paying the price for all the unlawful acts they’ve committed. A few years ago, if we were to tell those blokes in their robes who made people suffer under the disguise of trial what is going on today, they would burst into laughter, wouldn’t they? When the utter ignorance rests on power, this is what happens. You can’t make them understand. They must go through it themselves.
Without a doubt, we’ll witness “the future” of those who have today named the dissidents in the state of emergency decrees for disagreeing with government policies, targeting them as terrorist sympathizers. They can get away with it? Don’t be ridiculous. All we need is a bit of patience and resistance. That’s all. Simple.
Of course, you can’t make those men understand that when they finally stand trial one day, the people who will defend their “right to fair trial” will be the ones they are currently tormenting. You thick-headed fools! It will be us defending you! Those who remain silent today were silent yesterday, as well. And they will remain silent tomorrow. How foolish you are!
We’ll keep writing on these issues anyway. Once again, by using the simplest and the plainest words.
First, I’m going to express my gratitude and then I have a few brotherly tips to the students.
Thank you to those who have been supporting and checking up on me since the very first day. It’s such a joy to realize once again the halo of honest people that surround one’s life. My journalist friends. Thank you very much.
Those from the School of Political Science (at the University of Ankara) and from Bogazici University, thank you. What the students and colleagues from Bogazici University did is unforgettable. You’re the proof that our hard work won’t be wasted. Years of exhaustion has been wiped away in one hour. All those who stand in solidarity at the School of Political Science in Ankara; my colleagues; professors; administrative staff; other workers; cleaning staff; Yusuf and Akif, the barber. Akif, who shaved the now departed professor Yavuz Sabuncu in his sickbed. Time goes by quickly. Tahsin and others from Orta Cafeteria at Bogazici University. Thank you.
And, of course, our dear friends with whom we’ve spent many years side by side. How blissful it has been to have fallen out only to make peace again and again over the years. That resolute generation, the one preceding us, who shaped the School of Political Science into its current state. They were the ones who saved the institution from the swamp of the September 12 military coup. It has been a long time. It was good. Let’s wait and see…
A few brotherly (not quite fatherly) tips:
First, I want to share a “special moment” with the students on the condition that it’ll remain between us. In it, there is the profession, academia and the department itself. I had written about it in the newspaper Cumhuriyet but you might not have read it. Besides, at the beginning I told you that I have no idea about the trajectory of this article. As you see, I keep writing…
At the end of December 1995, I passed the assistantship exam. While I was leaving the room where my committee of Erdal Onar, Yavuz Sabuncu and Cem Eroğul had gathered, my professor Cem Eroğul asked me to see him in his office in an hour. I went to see him. I sat across from his desk. He pointed at the three photographs hanging on the wall behind his desk. He said, “Look Murat, these people’s natures and dispositions, their ideas and characters differed. But all three of them were very diligent and none of them betrayed their people. If you work hard, you may stay here. Otherwise, I can’t let you exploit public resources.” Can you imagine hearing these words an hour into your assistantship? The department’s rules were very clear. Hard work and ethics. Simple, isn’t it?
Those three photographs were of Bahri Savcı, who had initiated the education of human rights, Mümtaz Soysal, whose course I took in my first year, and Muammer Aksoy. Mümtaz Soysal, who was a dean during the March 12, 1971 military coup, was taken into custody during his lecture, and was forced to clean toilets in prison. Bahri Savcı, who was dismissed under Decree 1402 during the September 12, 1980 military coup while he was preparing his farewell lecture three months before his retirement, and Muammer Aksoy, who was assassinated about ten years later. Cem Eroğul, who pointed out those photographs to me, also got his share from Decree 1402. When they were dismissed, Fazıl Sağlam, who was a member of the Constitutional Court, resigned.
Without a doubt, what’s going on today is too grim to compare to what happened during the September 12, 1980 military coup. Back then, there weren’t any bans on traveling abroad, forcible dismissal, etc. Darn, we’ve progressed too much in democracy. By the way, what is more ludicrous is the fact that my other assistant friend from back then, my precious Dr. Dinçer Demirkent, and I were dismissed on the same day – exactly 34 years after Bahri Savci had been dismissed on February 7, 1983.
You see, the Department of Constitutional Law is so attached to its traditions. By the way, I don’t care how many times they dismiss him, Dinçer Demirkent will be one of the most valuable professors of constitutional law in this country. As I’ve already said, a state of emergency decree to settle the truth has yet to be issued.
My dear student friends. This is also how you become more mature. With every passing moment, you build your future, your years to come, your relationships, loves and conversations. You get to know your country, its institutions, its people. Don’t lose your joy. As we’ve reminded you, the first things these sorts of political regimes kill are hope and joy. They start from there. Don’t despair. You cannot give in to desperation, unhappiness or hatred.
You must even defend the rights of those that you think you hate, so that all the efforts don’t go down the drain. You need to understand those who are not like you. You need to think about and ponder the circumstances. Marx said, “Men make the history, but under the given circumstances,” didn’t he? Each one of us is the product of the society in which we have lived so far.
No one is born immoral. Everything is learned. There are not many stupid people either. We have our circumstances, classes to which we belong. With perseverance, we must strive to be “equal”, without despising anyone, without looking down on anyone. As citizens who are able to pursue education through taxes from the poor, we don’t have the luxury of hatred. We shouldn’t have. Never. See, I don’t emphasize “poorness” for nothing. Do you know what the most depressing thing is about hundreds of academics being dismissed? It’s the fact that public funding and educated people are wasted. It’s a pity. It’s not only bad for the academics, but also for the country’s resources. It’s a real pity. But it’s really hard to explain that to the mindset of those who don’t hesitate to treat both onions and potatoes, and the educated in the same way. The public cheers at its own resources being wasted. What’s the worst that could happen to a society?
After these days pass, who knows maybe another evil, with different means and under different names, will emerge. All of us must find the strength and determination to stand up to it as well. Forget about the destination, dear students, let’s experience the journey itself, with beauty and dignity. For instance, let’s use time productively. Organizing reading groups, alongside many peaceful demonstrations, could be one of the best things to do during times like this. I’m telling you. What you have to fight against must be the preconceived truths, mindsets; not the poor working class private security staff at the door. What we have to comprehend must be the Cereyanlar (The Tides) as mentioned in the title of Tanıl Bora’s book. There’s something in this life called human nature, which somehow “cuts through” the average person, who is certainly not free from ideologies, but is molded by them. Don’t ever forget. No group, no electorate, no “camp” is entirely comprised of uniform people. Following our dismissal, we received support from all walks of life. Of course, the terminology is different, and that’s a good thing. While someone sends their message of solidarity, another asks for my blessing. Ah, these are the things that really touch you, after all.
A lot more can be written on the political and other implications of what’s going on, I can write about them too, but this article needs to end somewhere.
A couple of words to the rector, and then I’ll get to the title.
Mr. Rector Erkan İbiş,
You know us. And we know you, too. We know you very well since the days when you were a frequent visitor to Anıtkabir (the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic) while you were Nusret Aras’ assistant. You are not the one who’s politically responsible for this, of course; it’s the political will. Indeed, you passed the buck to each other with YÖK so many times that, in the end, the “will” on which you rely, or think that you rely, made a statement that took responsibility for the dismissals.
It’s said that we were going to pay the price and so on. Alright. However, we know that, in exactly the same way as they were in September 12, the lists are prepared and sent by you. Back then, they were being sent to the generals in power enforcing martial law, now they are being sent to YÖK (The Counsel of Higher Education). It is 2017, surely the military officers wouldn’t dismiss people – the civilians do it now, of course. After all, the years of military tutelage are over!
In recent years, from certain politicians with whom I had a quick chat, I had this impression: CHP politicians think that you support CHP! We have to admit, this is an important achievement and quality. Indeed, especially in the first election, you managed to receive many leftist votes from the School of Political Science at the University of Ankara. However, what you did now is such a thing that, you almost wiped out the university and two of its faculties in particular. Half of the Faculty of Communication; the Faculty of Languages, History, and Geography; the Faculty of Education; The Faculty of Medicine; and of course, the Faculty of Political Science, which was intentionally targeted for so long. Obviously, after the Military Academy and the Medical School, we were next. Indeed, those on your side are constantly saying that this is the revenge that’s been waiting for two centuries.
But I suppose you thought that nobody would dare say a thing, that these days would never pass. Just as you think that every injustice would continue forever. That you could mock our school, established in 1859, and from which thousands of bureaucrats currently on duty graduated. You probably thought a couple of backscratchers made up the Faculty of Political Science itself. Alright.
Personally, I’ve always been nervous about those who talk big and take unnecessarily bold actions. The reasons behind your courage and enthusiasm surely will be revealed soon. One has to trust time, and be patient. However, without any doubt, you’ve already made a name for yourself in the history of Turkish academia. Congratulations.
Don’t forget, we, our friends in academia, are leaving our 9, 13, 15 square meter humble offices without having committed any injustice to any student knowingly or willingly. After all those years in which we strived to do our best, we’re leaving with our heads held high, with a clear conscience. Keep that in mind.
Lastly, I want to say something that you and the temporary halo surrounding you would never ever understand, and would laugh off.
In the Yavuz Sabuncu Constitution Symposium we held on Thursday, our head of the department and my dear colleague Ayhan Yalçınkaya, who delivered the opening speech and submitted his resignation on that same day, opened that amazing “gowning” ceremony with a poem from a Political Science graduate poet, Ece Ayhan, “You understand whether the person you love is decent or not, not while you’re in love, but while you’re breaking up.”
Apart from hundreds of students and dear colleagues, and the school staff, among those who bid me farewell were our staff and waiters in the dining hall, Nurcan, Nursel, Üzeyir and Osman Abi, whose tea and coffee I’ve been drinking for almost a quarter of a century. We hugged and asked for each other’s blessings.
You didn’t understand, did you?
Suggestion: I’m leaving here the amazing gift prepared by the Faculty of Political Science Theatre Club for their professors. I was also very much in love with Cyrano while I was young too…
* Translated by UToronto Workshop in Literary Translation: Turkish-English (WILTTE)