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May 02 2019

How women survive Turkey’s post-coup purge - project

A pregnant Turkish teacher labelled a terrorist after the failed 2016 coup and suspended from her job, along with her mathematics professor husband, faced increasing pressure before illegally fleeing the country with her family, according to a project at Boston University.

For its “Undaunted Voices of Turkey: Stories of women who resist” project, Boston University’s Center for Global Christianity and Mission is archiving and sharing online the stories of more than 30 Turkish women who faced what it called oppression from Turkey’s government. The story of the teacher, who has not been named, is the first in the series.  

The government blames the coup on its former allies in the Gülen movement, a secretive religious sect that encouraged the graduates of its many schools and universities to take up influential jobs in government, the armed forces, judiciary and media. Some 250 people were killed in the failed putsch.

After the coup collapsed, the government used emergency powers to summarily dismiss more than 130,000 public sector workers it deemed to have links to what it said were terrorist organisations or other groups posing a threat to national security. Many have been unable to find jobs since.

The woman was born in 1988 into a family of teachers and always wanted to become a preschool teacher, which she did. She married a maths professor and had a son. Five years later she became pregnant again.

Then on July 15, 2016, she and her husband were watching television when they were shocked by news of the coup. A week later, her principal called her to his office and suspended her. Four days later, her husband was also suspended from his job at a university.

“With one small child and another on the way, we didn’t have a basic salary, or health insurance. We had nothing,” she said.

The couple learned of an arrest order for her husband, so he moved in with a friend, leaving the woman alone with her son.

“I went to hospital alone to give birth, praying as I drive the car,” she said. “My daughter was born. She was premature, and needed to stay in an incubator, but I was afraid of what would happen to me. I took the child, and I got out of the hospital.”

Then her father was arrested and sent to prison.

“We decided to flee abroad because we didn’t know what would happen to us if we stayed in Turkey. We were being hunted all around,” she said. “We had never done anything illegal in our lives. The smugglers demanded a large amount of money. We had to take this risk.”

After a harrowing transit across the Aegean Sea, the family reached Greece and bought tickets to Germany. “Even though the plane took off, we couldn’t believe it, and our minds stayed put,” she said. “We thought that someone would come, detain and kill us.”

In Munich, their life was better, even in a refugee camp. “I was so much in love with home in the camp, I felt like wiping and kissing the walls of my home,” she said.

At their court date for gaining asylum, they told the German judge their story and showed their diplomas, certificates of achievement and awards from Turkey’s Education Ministry.

“How are they sending out such educated people from your country?” the judge asked, according to the woman. The woman said she loved Germany, in part because the government gave 90 euros per month to refugees. She said she planned to pay all the money back once she got a job.

“You don’t need to do that,” the judge said. “You can save that money, and you can give to your friends who come after you.”