A couple of years ago, I went through a very challenging competition for a scholarship for postgraduate education from the Turkish National Education Ministry; rivals came from all over Turkey. Criteria included a nationwide exam and a face-to-face interview by experts at the Education Ministry.
In 2014, the Turkish government saw me as a potential resource, worth investing money in. But fast forward two years and what made be valuable then now defines me as a terrorist and threat to Turkish national security. As of Sept. 1, the Turkish government terminated the contracts of 158 scholarship-holders and labeled them terrorists. I am one of those 158 people. The “terrorist” label was publicized through the government website.
This was not a big surprise for me, though. … If you know anything about Turkey, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Many involved in higher education, including attorneys, judges and police officers, are now imprisoned. I do not see the Turkish government as a friend of people who think critically or make negative comments about their actions. That is why attorneys, police officers and government-funded academicians like me are targets.
All of these things are sad — not for me, but for Turkey. I used to think that Turkey didn’t deserve to be labeled a “developing country.” I thought Turkey was one of the premier countries of the world. But in the past three years, things have become much clearer to me. I believe Turkey may be in the position it deserves. Citizens vote freely in Turkish elections, and the current government won at least half the votes in elections for the past 10 years — so Turkish citizens want their government like this! Thus, I believe Turkey’s current situation is what we deserve.
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I’ve heard negative comments from people before. Some have told me, “You are too rational” or “over-confident” — or “not romantic” (this usually comes from my wife). But now, I have a new one — “You are so terrorist!” I have moved on from previous labels given to me. So, I can move on with this unpleasant adjective too. I didn’t get upset when my government called me a terrorist — or when I was told I was “too rational” either. Life goes on.
If I were in Turkey, I would be far more affected. With such a label, I wouldn’t be able to find a job. I have academic friends in Turkey on the same list. They are in huge trouble. They lost their jobs and fear being sent to jail. Some are traumatized. Unfortunately, I can do nothing for them except pray. However, I am very grateful not to be in Turkey. Living in the United States is a tremendous plus. I have a graduate assistantship in my department that the Turkish government cannot interfere with. Thus, I can continue my education and life. This is huge.
Lastly, I must say I get tremendous support from people in my department. My adviser, department head, all staff, friends. … I feel their support in the depth of my heart. I will never forget it. I would like to thank them most sincerely. In addition, I feel great loyalty to the U.S. because living here has saved me from a huge tragedy. If I have a chance to do something for America, I wish to help the people of this country.
Enes Gokce is a doctoral student from Turkey in Adult Education at Penn State and a participant in Interfaith Initiative Centre County (InterfaithInitiative CC@hotmail.com).