I’m tired of Turkey, I wanted a divorce - Barbaros Şansal

Outspoken fashion designer and activist Barbaros Şansal has said he moved to Cyprus because he could no longer guarantee the safety of his life and property in Turkey.

Speaking to Ahval’s Made in Turkey podcast, Şansal said he felt there was no longer a place for him in the country of his birth. 

“Today you have to be pro-government, you have to be pro-religion, you have to be pro-nationalism, you have to know the right people, the right officials, and then you can be everybody, you can be everyone. You don’t have to be educated, you don’t have to be experienced, you don’t have to be recognised,” he said.

“These things made me tired. For years I’ve been struggling, fighting for my country. I still love the Republic of Turkey, I still believe in the Republic of Turkey, I don’t have any other nationality or identity. I live now in North Cyprus.

The thing is, I’m fed up and tired, so I decided to divorce because this marriage does not work! It’s too much, it’s not worth it for me anymore. First of all, I need the guarantee of my life and my belongings which doesn’t exist in Turkey.”

Şansal spent 3 months in jail in 2017 for a social media post criticising the Turkish government and society. 

He also told Ahval about leaving Turkey in the early 1980s to study fashion in London, saying “I escaped, (after the) military coup I was arrested because I had red shoes, I was accused of being a Communist because I had red shoes!”

After returning to Turkey in 1989, he began working with the designer Yıldırım Mayruk, a partnership that has continued for the past 32 years.

Şansal described how the situation for democracy and human rights in Turkey initially improved in the first years under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) but said that for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “democracy is not a target, it is a tool. Once they finished with democracy they went down their own road, which is radical Islamism and autocracy at the moment”. 

“They changed the constitution, they want to change it again, they changed the parliamentary system. This political party became like a holding company. If you are pro- Erdoğan you have all the rights, but if you are against Erdoğan, you don’t have any rights.”

Talking about his involvement in the Gezi Park protests, an outpouring of popular frustration that swept the country in 2013 after authorities sought to redevelop one of Istanbul’s last green spaces, he said: “We won, Gezi Park is (still) there”.

Şansal says he will now start a fashion school in Cyprus, where he wants to help promote the reunification of the divided island.