Pin It

A letter to Turkey

Paris-based artist Pinar Demirdag tells us why she's flying to Istanbul to vote – and why all overseas Turks should, too

Pinar Demirdag is one-half of Pinar & Viola, a pair of artists who make work based around the internet.

Until now, I've been silent about Turkey. My silence towards my own country should not be interpreted as an act of ignorance – it is a deliberate act of not wanting to contribute in an apolitical discussion where corruption, scandal and lies is valued more than basic human rights.

I am a 28 year old artist in Paris – so why am I spending the years of my youth on a matter where my actions cannot have immediate consequences? As a Turk, how can I contribute when our prime minister said "these are rumours full of slander" after smuggling millions in the past eleven years? I feel asphyxiated, drowned and caged. 

The internet, with its ideals of transparency and democracy, helped to overthrow the corrupt governments of our neighbours. Currently, our prime minister is taking gradual measures to literally slow and eventually ban the internet. This was my tipping point. 

I recently watched a BBC documentary on the Ottoman Empire which made me understand why all this is happening to my country and the rest of the Middle East. There's something special about my country, Turkey: we're the children of one of the biggest empires to ever exist. The Ottoman Empire ruled parts of Asia, Europe and Africa for 600 years, respected by the lands it occupied and feared by the rest of the world. As we know, the feeling of superiority works like heroin: it isolates you from the rest of the world. Eventually,  this ends up killing you.

As the Turks ruled what is now modern-day Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Syria with a laissez-faire "you live, we govern" policy, the West went through the Age of Enlightenment and developed economically and technologically. The Ottomans thought they were safe within their empire, but they were finally brought down by their provincialism. 

Autocrats rose to power in the newly independent countries. Turkey was lucky enough to have a democratic leader like Ataturk, but Iraq, Egypt and Syria weren't: the ones who found the oil got to rule. Because of their past life under the shadow of the Ottomans, they did not have the possibility to discover democracy. In my opinion, the recent uprisings in the Middle East were not only of people against their governments, but also represent the search of a political identity for their own culture.  

I believe my country is going through the same. Ataturk saved the Turks by establishing strong secular rules that sometimes made Muslims feel unwelcome. I've felt like as secular girl since I was born – but now I am the one who does not feel welcome in her own country. My cry here is not one of "us the secular" and "them the religious", but more a fantasy for a prosperous country where we can co-exist:

A Turkey that is so special that it does not want to fit any other form of governance and is strong enough to create its own Enlightenment for Islam.

A country with a version of Islam with a miniskirt next to it.

A country open-minded enough to create a Muslim opera.

A country where football loyalties divide the country in two, but not gender, faith and religion.

A culture where we're not only famous for our kebab and beaches in the West, but also for our tolerance. And one that Arabs visit, not only for luxury and shopping, but also for culture.

A country which finally understands that one of its greatest singers, Zeki Muren, was not only a gentleman but also a gay man. 

A country where the journalists spend more time in their office than in jail.  

A system which finally understands money can never bring Olympics, but tolerance can.

A country where faith in unity, like the one that Nelson Mandela created for South Africa, can overrule the current system. 

And a youth can finally see other meanings in the words "justice" and "development", other than "Muslim" and "money".

The current situation in Turkey leaves me and my friends feeling useless, powerless and influence-less, but I have my fantasy and no-one can take it away from me. 

Yesterday, a close friend of my mother who lives in London posted a Facebook picture of her leaving for the airport with the words: "Who would take a plane to give one vote? This Turkish Republic citizen is about to... Inshallah."

Today, I'm flying to Istanbul to give my one vote in the general elections on Sunday (as these are not national elections, I cannot vote from the Paris embassy). A large population of secular Turkish people live abroad, and even though they have the means, they aren't motivated enough to go back to Turkey to vote. But a vote is a vote, wherever you are in the world. I hope my letter and flying to Turkey to give a vote can inspire others.