I used to live in Turkey before I ended up here. I think it was 2012 when I started my first year in Istanbul Social Sciences High School and 2017 when I left for Canada. I haven’t been back since. I didn’t want to return anyways. At times, I find myself wondering what had happened and how we got to where we are today.
The boarding school I attended consisted of a very tight knit community. It made sense, considering it was also our home for 8 months of the year. There, I developed many skills from learning how to write effectively to forging my parents’ signatures in order to go out in the evenings. Like every student, I had some amazing teachers throughout my time at boarding school, as well as some that were… well, not so amazing.
That being said, there was one teacher that I may never forget… Mrs. Sema, the reason I fell in love with Turkish literature. Unfortunately, she passed away this year due to illness.
She was graceful in the classroom. Mrs. Sema ran engaging discussions on poetry and theatre, gave us her undivided attention, showed patience with our every mistake, and smelled faintly of tobacco. She taught me how to write a research paper so flawless that I could have skipped going to my first year English lectures in university and it would not have made the slightest difference on my grades. I did get to thank her after I started my BA in the University of British Columbia and I am so glad that I sent her that text while sitting at the library alone, missing “home”.
Life is short, but the ways in which we are touched by people lives on. Stories are necessary to carry on these legacies that are left behind. As I write these words, I am intentional that somewhere –either on paper or a website page— it will forever say that Ms. Sema was an outstanding teacher who loved what she did and in turn, instilled that love within her students. I am sure we all greatly desire to leave behind a good legacy when we pass away, even if it is as simple as being remembered for our kindness.
At least I know I do.
My favourite place in Istanbul was Beyoğlu. Most would recognize it from the photos of the Galata Tower overlooking the Bosphorus. An iconic building for both locals and tourists in Istanbul.
There is a well-known myth which says that if two people go up the tower together, they end up getting married sooner or later. I actually went there once with my best friend Ismail. We did end up getting married to each other, but I doubt it had much to do with the myth. Another inexplicable mystery of this universe.
For a very long time, the Galata Tower was a symbol of love for me and associated with my warmest memories. Now I sometimes think of the salty breeze coming from the sea, standing there, and looking up. I feel sorrow. I might even be making up the scene, but like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve been back.
I didn’t know Nahit when I was in high school to be honest. He was an upper year student, he played basketball, and my friend had a crush on him. Even though we shared the same halls at school, I do not remember much of him other than small bits and pieces of information.
His dad was a judge then, who has now been imprisoned for almost 7 years as part of the Turkish government’s purge of government officers. A lot of people have been accused of being terrorists since the attempted coup in 2016 (about 600,000 people give or take) and members of the Gulen Movement were affected most. Kurds and other dissenters were also affected, but to a lesser extent. The witch hunt led to some losing their jobs, being sent to prison, and many were excluded from their families, neighbourhoods, and friend groups because the accusation sticks and doesn’t let go. I would know. The affected were mostly teachers, police, lawmakers etc. Nahit’s dad was only one of those tried unjustly under the Presidential Law.
Nahit suffered from something called a ‘social death’. Stigmatised as a terrorist in his 20s, I can imagine why he could not talk to anyone about what he was going through.
Imagine the fear of the future eating at you as you think of starting a career while also jumping through hoops to avoid getting profiled in job applications. The anxiety of knowing they won’t accept you if they learn about your dad. It is a drowning sensation and you cannot see the shoreline. People who see you drowning don’t lend a hand, some don’t even look your way and you can’t shout nor ask for help. His roommate of one year didn’t even know Nahit’s dad was in prison and had no idea how much he suffered.
People say Nahit was a kind soul. He was hardworking and silent. He got into the best university in Turkey, Boğaziçi University after he aced the entrance exams. He had a solitary life in his dorm room where he prayed often according to his roommate at the university. He had a tough time after his dad was imprisoned. Injustice made him distressed. Enough to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder not long after his father was taken away from him and his family, which included Nahit, his younger sister, and his mother.
Nahit committed suicide at Galata Tower on October 12, 2022.
At first, journalists wrote that it was a foreigner who jumped and therefore, irrelevant. When a foreigner dies, it is of no concern to the public.
A week later they wrote that Nahit was simply depressed and sick, and claimed it had nothing to do with the injustice his community had inflicted upon him. Again, no concern of the public – the newspapers said so.
Against all the lies the Turkish media spread about his death, I bear witness to the injustice that killed Nahit. Life is ephemeral but our legacy lives on in people whose lives we touch – knowingly or unknowingly. As I write these words, I am intentional that someone, somewhere will read this and know that Nahit was a kind soul, that he tried standing up against the face of injustice, and when he couldn’t anymore, he was murdered in maybe the most public place in Istanbul. A place that used to hold a different meaning for each of us.
I am not sure what the Galata Tower symbolises for me anymore. I thought about pain, resilience, injustice, anger, but nothing summarises what happened to Nahit, especially my insufficient words.
I wish I could do something more than write this article.
In the name of Allah – Al-Ghaffar, Al-Hakam, Al-Adl, As-Shaheed, Al-Muqsit, I pray that you find the justice you have yearned for in this world where you are.
This article was first published in The Muslim Voice Magazine Ephemeral Edition.