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article imageOp-Ed: Leaving Turkey in time Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     Sep 30, 2013 in World
Istambul - After a 2.5-year stay in Turkey, I left the repressive state just days before police came knocking on my door over a photograph I published.
As an American, I took my rights for granted. Since I was a child, my mother encouraged me to express my opinion in words and images, shaping into me the idea of free expression. However, when I came to Turkey to teach English and work part-time as a Digital Journalist, I soon learned that free speech is a luxury few people in this world can afford.
At first, I thought the Turks were paranoid. My colleague at a university where I taught English told me,
"There's no freedom in Turkey."
I didn't really believe her, for I heard people speak against their dictatorial Islamist government. I even saw anti-government articles printed in newspapers and on Facebook. But I didn't realize at what price these people were voicing their opinion. I learned later that Turkey has the highest number of journalists in prison than any country in the world. I witnessed how powerful Prime Minister Erdogan's police force really is when the Gezi Park freedom protests began. People were killed, blinded, and injured as police shot tear gas canisters at their heads and doused them with pepper spray and water canons. I was personally attacked by these police on a summer day while meeting friends for tea.
All of the journalists who covered these protests were fired from their jobs, and many were put in jail.
I thought my Turkish husband was over-reacting when he warned me, "Be careful what photos you take and publish." Then he was arrested and beaten by the Turkish police who threatened to rape me (his "Christian wife"). When I posted comments about my husband's treatment on Facebook, I was immediately attacked by Islamists who called me a liar, a hater of Turkey, or "a poor, fat, ugly old woman."
When I wrote about new Turkish laws that target women, I used a photo I had taken in a public place, with permission from the woman who freely posed for me. When that woman saw her photo, she immediately contacted the Turkish police.
A week after I left Turkey to teach English in China, four Turkish police officers came to my husband's family home, demanding to know why I had published a photo of a woman covered with a head scarf (who was now objecting to her photo being used). They wanted to arrest me, but I had left Turkey just in timeā€”and with my Turkish husband. I later removed the woman's photo, not because I felt I was in the wrong for taking it in a public place, but because I wanted to honor her demand for privacy and avoid future trouble with the Turkish police.
As I look back on those 2.5 years in Turkey, I feel mixed emotions, as contrasting as the country itself. I found love and hatred, tolerance and intolerance, and not nearly enough freedom of expression in Turkey. I loved the beautiful country, the smiling people, my eager students, and the food. My last day in Istanbul, I rode the ferry across the Bosporus, past Maiden Tower and the bridge, and wondered why I couldn't get a good-paying teaching job in Istanbul. After 2.5 years of looking, it was easier to go to China.
But I'll never forget how the sun shines on a castle by the sea, where ruins of Greek and Roman temples rise near the stones of Christian churches turned into mosques. Music and dancing fill Turkish nights as blue and silver veils swirl around an open fire. Storytellers utter mystical words of old tales, and I think that Ataturk and his ideas of democracy and freedom will be remembered. New stories will be spoken again in Turkey.
Views northward of the Bosporus that connects Asia and Europe in Istanbul (from the Bosporus Bridge)
Views northward of the Bosporus that connects Asia and Europe in Istanbul (from the Bosporus Bridge)
Maiden Tower rises near the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul  as I cross by on a ferry
Maiden Tower rises near the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul, as I cross by on a ferry
View of the lighthouse and distant skyline of Istanbul
View of the lighthouse and distant skyline of Istanbul
The ferry and docks seem dreamlike as I cross back to the Asian side of Istanbul
The ferry and docks seem dreamlike as I cross back to the Asian side of Istanbul
Students hold the key for future freedom in Turkey.  Here they pose with a portrait of Ataturk.
Students hold the key for future freedom in Turkey. Here they pose with a portrait of Ataturk.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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