"Turkey and I are getting divorced!" - Barbaros Şansal

Turkish fashion designer Barbaros Şansal, expelled from Turkish-run northern Cyprus after a social media post, then attacked by a mob on arrival in Turkey and arrested, has decided to leave Turkey and move to Belgium.

“We are getting divorced,” he said in an interview.

An outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Şansal said he had lost faith in his country after the furore and legal battles sparked by a comment he made in a video he shared social media on New Year’s Eve 2016.

"While scores of journalists are in prison, while children are sexually harassed, raped, while corruption and bribes are everywhere, while extremists are distributing shit to you in the streets, are you still celebrating the New Year? I am not ... Carry on your celebration in disgrace, misery and dirt. Drown in your shit, Turkey."

Hours later, a gunmen, thought to be inspired by Islamic State, attacked an upmarket Istanbul nightclub and killed 39 people. In the aftermath, tension and nationalist feelings were running high.

Authorities in Turkish-backed breakaway northern Cyprus expelled Şansal and as he descended the steps of the passenger plane at Istanbul’s main airport, he was set upon by a waiting mob, punching him and kicking him, shouting “traitor”. Police then arrested him for “inciting the public to hatred or hostility”.

Şansal said he was satirising what he believed was widespread discrimination, and pleaded not guilty to the charges. After two months, he was released from prison, but still faces the charges, plus another count of “insulting the Turkish nation,” under Article 301 of the penal code and could be jailed for up to three years.

“Orhan Pamuk was charged with Article 301 and won a Nobel Prize. Under this scenario, I will win an Oscar. I have no shame. If anything like that were to happen, I will put on a transparent, crescent moon and star patterned dress and go like that,” Şansal said, making reference to the star and crescent of the Turkish flag.

“You know where I am going to put the star, right? Because, the front can only be covered by the crescent moon,” he said.

Şansal accused the government of having released his travel details on state media and said police had stood by while he was attacked.

“The governor of Istanbul will not allow you to bring charges against the abusers. Then, the government passes a decree, to make the lynching legal. First, they put on a show with me, then they made the abuse legal,” he said.

A government decree issued in November last year granted legal immunity to civilians who had acted to stop the July 2016 failed coup attempt, but also appeared to offer people protection from prosecution for future acts against those deemed terrorists.

Şansal said many people like him were selling their properties and businesses and making plans to leave the country as they felt there was no longer any security for life or property. 

“I am a sixty year-old man,” he said. “If the government appropriates my properties and money, how will I live, especially with the police constantly at my door?”

Şansal

Full of future plans for his company in Belgium, Şansal said he would not design clothes, but take designs from his archive and use them to design furniture.

An activist for Turkey’s LGBT community, Şansal said there was very little chance Turkey would ever legalise gay marriage.

“No government in Turkey will ever legalise such a marriage or formally recognise it, not even future governments,” he said.

Şansal said he had always fought for a secular, democratic country, but did not like what Turkey had become after 15 years of rule by Erdoğan’s conservative Islamist party.

Speaking several languages, the designer said he felt confident he would be successful and more accepted in Europe.

“I love my country. But my country has treated me very badly. I have no choice but to divorce myself from Turkey. How can I live in Turkey still? Can I go shopping; take the metro, without being attacked? No. So, exile is the only thing left. Consider it due to incompatibility, domestic violence, or infidelity. I don’t want alimony, but I am taking all my belongings and money and moving away,” he said.

“I am a human rights activist, one who does not recognise nationality, sex or ethnicity. I am part of the animal group known as Homo Sapiens. I want to be on the right side of history when it comes to human rights.”