I got so happy when huge Turkish language news portal HaberX asked me to publish some of my blog posts on their site. I want to reach as many people as possible with my writing, so publishing on a site with 80,000 visitors per day, in a language that I don’t yet publish in, is wonderful. But after my first blog post was published there, it suddenly hit me: now I’m no longer writing for outsiders abroad, but for Turks in Turkey. It feels to me like a totally different arena.
So different in fact, that it made me burst out in tears. What I fear is that I will be put in a political camp. That I get a stamp on my forehead: ‘She’s pro AKP!’, or ‘She’s against Atatürk!’, or ‘She against the unity of Turkey!’ For all three, and everything else you can think of which labels me as taking sides: not true.
Why does this touch me so much? It is, you could say, an old pain. I’ve been in a tumultuous relationship with a Turkish man for six years. Me, a liberal Dutch journalist, trying to somehow figure out this country, he a leftist nationalist pro-army Turk. As you can imagine, we had a few fights about politics. And consequently about my work. It’s too complicated to go into the details, but in the end, he questioned my journalistic integrity. Suggested I was paid by parties other than media outlets to publish in a certain way about certain subjects. Accusing me of many other things that all boiled down to being an infiltrator against the secular Turkish republic and its founder.
You cannot believe how much that has hurt me. I could not defend myself. What can you say to somebody who is so utterly suspicious? And over time, it got worse. I got to know Turkey better and was able to give better counter-arguments to his – in my view – very scary nationalist views, and that would sometimes get totally out of hand. It made me feel utterly powerless, misunderstood and denied, both as a person and as a journalist.
And now I’m afraid that will happen again. That I will be too easily judged from a Turkish perspective. I am not a Turk. I don’t want to join the polarization that is going on in Turkey. I am not even able to. I think differently, simply because I grew up in another country. I love living in this country, but I don’t have the passionate feelings that Turks have about all the issues that matter here. Turkish history, Turkish culture and Turkish blood: it is all just not in my veins. So don’t put labels on my writing as if it were.
I’m scared. At the same time I know I can have faith. Because the fear is based on what is now history – I put an end to the relationship a year ago. Since then I have expanded my Turkish social circle. With every new Turkish man or woman that I meet, I realize my ex was an exception. No need to be uncomfortable sharing my writing with Turks. In fact, the time is exactly right for it. I want to be in the middle of this society, and joining the debate in Turkish is only a logical part of it.