This Photo Almost Got Me Arrested in Turkey

I lived in Turkey for 2.5 years, teaching English and exploring the culture, history, and language of a country I came to love. I even married a Turkish man and was invited into his large family. His mother, a Muslim woman who wore the traditional “turban” (head scarf), cooked the best soup I ever tasted, mixed with fresh vegetables and spices. I traveled around the country, doing photo essays of varied landscapes and historical places. However, my love story was marred by violence when Turkish police, under control of Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan, tortured my husband after he was arrested for protesting rights violations.

He was released from jail, and we filed a legal complaint that we later withdrew for fear of reprisal. Then the freedom protests began last spring, and I wrote about them for Digital Journal. I even posted videos on Youtube. One Sunday, as we met friends for tea in Istanbul, I watched as police attacked a group of tourists with water canon and tear gas. As we made our way home, they attacked us also.

For all the drama I witnessed in Turkey, it was a simple photo that made police come to my old apartment door, seeking to arrest me. I had left Turkey just days earlier, with Omer, to take a teaching job in China. The offensive photo was not of a military facility or a policeman. It was of a turbaned Muslim woman, who had been my friend, freely posing at the Kocaeli Book Fair. She later cut all ties with me, after finding out I was a Christian who wrote critical articles about the Islamist Ak Party, whom her family supported. When she saw her photo on Digital Journal, she filed a police report.

Although it is legal in America to take photos of people in public places, the same is not true in Turkey where more journalists are imprisoned than any other country. In my photo, a giant banner of Ataturk waves next to a banner of Erdogan, of equal size. The scene is symbolically framed by flagpoles like prison bars. Erdogan seeks to erase Ataturk’s secular democratic values and replace them with his strict Islamic controls. My photo captures his intentions. You can see the photo here, minus the woman, whose request I have honored by removing her likeness.

Censorship will not prevail. If people can’t have images, they will find a way to write what happened.

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