Walking the Balkans

Imagine you are a dorm supervisor, like a residence assistant, you know the ones that take care of all the unruly students. I happen to know they do so much more. Resident assistants not only make new students feel welcome, but they are role models and supposed to guide those around them to make good choices and watch out for their safety. That is what she did. I will call her “Aisha” because to use her real name could put her family back in Turkey at risk. She was beautiful with an infectious smile. Not many people know that Turkish people can also be blond with blue/green eyes. Aisha was young, like 21 years old kind of young. What is so amazing about her? She walked through the Balkans by herself to escape the Erdogan regime. For those of you new to this blog or website, you can find more robust information on the Turkish Purge in the resources section. In a nutshell, the Gulen or Hizmet (which means service) Movement supporters were unjustly blamed for the 2016 coup attempt. Many of Turkey’s highly educated members like teachers, lawyers, judges, journalists, and businesspeople were purged and forced to flee for being associated with the movement. They were used as pawns to cover up corruption taking place by the regime. They fired teachers and closed schools across Turkey and all over the world. They arrested, tortured, and purged anyone with any kind of association. Yes, that meant a dorm supervisor too. In fact, on July 15, 2016, the night of the coup Aisha, went through the dorm rooms and took books or anything that would associate the students with being a part of Hizmet. She made many trips from the different dorms to her car, and she was overwhelmed with the anxiety that someone would see her. She loaded her car with student notebooks and books about service, interfaith dialogue and peace and drove to a remote location to dump them. After returning to her parents’ home, she realized her life was going to change. She was supported by her mother, but her father wanted her to marry and if she didn’t agree, he would disown her. She did the hard thing, she left. Her passport was most likely revoked and if she tried to use it, she was putting herself at risk of going to prison. She would have to walk to Greece, and it would be risky. Especially for a young girl. During our conversation I stared at her beautiful big blue/green eyes, and I saw the pain and suffering. But they sparkled with hope, and grit. The translator told me how this journey was still fresh for her, and some things she just couldn’t talk about. I heard how she walked through the forests of the Balkans, entrusting herself to smugglers who would help her cross borders. She would sleep in the woods and often shiver from the cold and hurt from hunger. There were many things she endured on that long journey to Greece, things that one can only imagine. She made it to Athens and would now attempt to go to the Netherlands. She had to turn back from the airport several times wasting airline tickets. If she was rejected from boarding, she would just wait until she had the money and try again. The time she removed her hajib, a part of her identity, her life and her religion and bought bright tourist clothes and made it on the plane. I am sure by now she has started a new life in a new land, learned a new language and has integrated into a new culture. She should know how brave she was to seek freedom and walk through the Balkans. Like her, there are hundreds of thousands of women who have been purged and who have had to escape the Erdogan regime. All in search of something we often take for granted. Freedom.

Human Rights in Turkey: Assaults on Human Dignity (Volume 15): Aydin, Hasan, Langley, Winston: 9783030574758: Political Ideologies: Amazon Canada Vonya Womack author of Chapter 19 Trauma of Turkish Women and Children in an Era of Political Unrest

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