The writer is editor in chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet.
Turks are renowned for their hospitality.
This attribute, which they take great pride in, is for the most part the result of friendliness, but it also emanates at least in part from an instinctual desire to avoid taking a beating. This is because Turks do not raise their hands against their children in front of guests; the most you’ll hear from a chastising father is “wait until the guests leave, and I’ll show you!” For a child who has grown up hearing this threat, a visitor means safety for as long as he or she remains.
Last month, while accommodating world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Antalya, the Turkish government observed this tradition, taking a break from exerting certain “domestic pressures.” But as soon as the guests left, it added Erdem Gül, Ankara bureau chief at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and me to the more than 20 journalists it has already put in jail.
In today’s world, which long ago became a global village, one would think that such despotic acts would attract notice and invite repercussions.
But this isn’t necessarily so. There is also the prospect that guests will shut their ears to the screams they hear as they walk out the door in order to maintain relations with their abusive host ; that they will look away when their neighbor’s children receive treatment they wouldn’t tolerate for their own children.
This is how events have transpired in Turkey.
On Nov. 26, I was imprisoned for publishing a news article on trucks being used by the Turkish intelligence service to illegally transport arms into Syria. Then, just days later, the European Union and Turkey came together for a summit on the migration crisis.
In a letter written on behalf of all imprisoned journalists, Gül and I reminded European leaders of the core values of Western civilization, such as freedom of the press, thought and expression. As these leaders walked into the summit in Brussels, they had our letter in one pocket and the 3 billion euros they would give to Turkey in the other.
The money in the right pocket was deemed more important than the letter in the left. Naturally. We watched the news conference announcing the win-win agreement with bittersweet smiles. We drew lessons from the fact that the most fundamental rights were given no voice. Europe paid to rent a far-off refugee camp. Ankara received the payment and obliterated its political infamy. As Europe and Ankara embraced one another, two things were crushed in between: principles and us. Now, in our prison cells built to “Western standards” at Silivri prison, we are like kids our father and his guests beat together.
We are hospitable nonetheless.
Come one at a time.
All are welcome.