The Wind Changes Direction
The wind had changed direction, and now I was a ‘criminal’, wanted by the state. This was an attribute that could endanger the event, but also the lives of the attendees when they returned to Turkey. Like a contagious disease, fear had also gained a hold. ‘Don't get us wrong, but we were afraid that if you came it would change the direction of the memorial event. We only got the hall at the university because we guaranteed it wouldn't be a political event.’
Every word they said to explain their reasoning just made me feel more disappointed. My late father used to say: ‘It's not the sword that kills the hero, but the cruel word’. I was used to being excluded by my opponents, but I was unprepared for it to happen with friends. Erdoğan’s barbed attacks didn’t hurt me, but now I was being pierced by the thorn of a rose in my hand when I simply wanted to enjoy its scent, a rose that I knew.
Like a contagious disease, fear had also gained a hold.
I tried to hide how hurt I felt. We all went out to dinner that evening. Without asking for permission, I shared a photo on Twitter as a happy memory, with the caption: ‘With friends/At the table of the sun.’
It was only later that I realised I was putting them in a difficult situation. And also that I was no longer ‘the Can of old‘. It was risky to be photographed with me, a risk that could cost them dearly. The regime’s loyal media didn't even wait until morning but denounced them on their websites during the night.
I went to bed burdened by this knowledge. And the next morning I was awoken by the news of the attack. Winston Churchill once said: ‘Democracy means that if the doorbell rings in the early hours, it is likely to be the milkman.’
Whereas we learned in school that if the doorbell rings in the early hours, it’s the police. Sixteen doorbells rang that morning. The chairman of the foundation that publishes Cumhuriyet, the editor-in-chief, columnists and cartoonists, accountants and lawyers – the newspaper’s entire management team were hauled out of their beds and arrested.
We had been expecting this operation for months. Luckily, my wife Dilek was in Izmir. When no-one answered the door, the anti-terrorist unit got the neighbours out of bed and told them to call Dilek. When I spoke to her she was once again calm and courageous: ‘Usually they get a locksmith to open the door and go in, but when I said I'd come right away, they said they would wait. I’m flying there now to let them in.’
The plague was quite literally at our door. I immediately tried to reach my colleagues at the newspaper. The telephones had been cut off. Most of the staff had been taken to the police station. I watched helplessly on the TV screen as my colleagues were led away by police officers.
'Democracy means that if the doorbell rings in the early hours, it is likely to be the milkman.' [Winston Churchill]
Friends arrived who had heard the news that morning. They were all worried, with some fearing that the newspaper would appoint an official receiver, while others panicked about being arrested on their return. Members of parliament asked us in desperation: ‘What should we do?’ My closest friends advised: ‘Don’t write anything for now, hide yourself in a village in the mountains and keep a low profile for a while.’
These words, the atmosphere of defeat, the general sense of desperation, only served to spur me on. I did my best to remain calm. Soon the story was fleshed out: investigations had been initiated and arrests ordered for allegedly ‘supporting and aiding the PKK and FETO17’. Right from the outset, the investigation was kept confidential in order to prevent debate.