- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sevgi Akarcesme, former editor-in-chief of the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, says her life can be divided into two parts: before and after July 15, 2016.

The aftershocks from Turkey’s failed military coup are still being felt both politically and personally a year after the event, especially for those like Ms. Akarcesme whom the government links to Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania after a still-murky power clash with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The morning after the coup, Mr. Erdogan accused Mr. Gulen and a shadowy network of his supporters in the government and military of masterminding the coup, a charge that the ailing 76-year-old Mr. Gulen has strongly denied. The Obama and Trump administrations have angered the Turkish government by refusing to extradite Mr. Gulen to Turkey to face charges.

In a Washington talk organized by the Alliance for Shared Values, the nonprofit umbrella group for Mr. Gulen’s Hizmet movement, Ms. Akarcesme described the pain of being exiled from Turkey and watching the continuing turmoil back home.

On July 27, 2016, the same day she planned on flying from Brussels to New York City, she learned that her home had been raided by the police. Then, minutes before her departure, she was escorted off the plane because the Turkish government had canceled her passport.

Soon afterward, Ms. Akarcesme learned that she was one of 50,000 Turkish citizens whose passports had been revoked.

“I can’t recognize the Turkey I left,” she said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.”

She acknowledged that she has a little “survivor’s guilt” but that being disconnected with her country and culture is difficult because she can’t “keep in touch with many people in Turkey knowing that they could be harmed” if she contacts them.

The panelists argued that Mr. Erdogan’s declared state of emergency — still in effect — allowed him to consolidate power and curb political dissent.

According to Turkey Purge, a website that keeps a running tally of the Turkish government’s record, Mr. Erdogan’s administration in the past year has jailed more than 230 journalists, shuttered nearly 150 media outlets and arrested more than 55,000 people, including many human rights advocates.

Judge Talip Aydin was also in the United States, studying law at Penn State University, when the Turkish government revoked his passport.

Today, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia, and he said that if he went back to Turkey he would likely either be fired from his job or in jail.

“So far, 4,000 judges have been dismissed,” Mr. Aydin said. “And 2,500 judges are in jail now. … It is not possible to imagine that any judge and prosecutors could give a decision without fear.”


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