GUVERCIN: 'I Will Never See the World Again' proves poignant amid Turkey's troubles


Column: The Bigger Picture

In October 2019 a memoir written in the confines of a prison cell and smuggled to the outside world through pieces of scrap paper was published, exposing the dark reality behind Turkey’s political and justice system. 

The memoir, "I Will Never See the World Again," was written by prominent Turkish journalist and author, Ahmet Altan, who was arrested in 2016 and given a life sentence in 2018. 

His life sentence was due to accusations on behalf of the Turkish government, that he sent subliminal messages to the plotters of the tragic coup attempt that occurred on July 15, 2016 in Turkey via a television show he appeared on the day before. 

His brother, Mehmet Altan, who is also a journalist and a professor of economics at Istanbul University, was arrested the same day under the charges of attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly” and “interfering with the work of the government.”

Ahmet was the founding and former editor-in-chief of Taraf, which was a liberal daily newspaper, and, with his brother, made significant contributions to Turkish media, literature, journalism and human rights advocacy. 

He and hundreds of other journalists were imprisoned as a result of the coup attempt in Turkey, which currently ranks 157 out of 180 countries according to the World Press Freedom Index. The country began a crackdown on all academics, journalists, authors, lawyers, citizens and many more, who spoke out against the government through something as big as a newspaper article to a simple tweet they posted. 

Ahmet is such a respected and valuable figure that his detention was condemned by 38 Nobel laureates, who wrote an open letter to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asking for his release.

Turkey is currently experiencing a period of significant political turmoil and oppression, as widespread censorship of media and imprisonment of opposers has led to a widely uninformed internal majority and a lack of resources to truly comprehend the horrors that thousands of people have experienced as a result of the coup attempt. 

Through his memoir-style book, "I Will Never See the World Again," Ahmet explains the events he has experienced in prison, as well as illustrates the people whom he stayed with, which varied from innocent school teachers and marines to fathers who were separated from their families. 

In the book, Ahmet initially explains his arrest as an event he had certainly anticipated and explained how life came in a full circle, as the day he was arrested was eerily similar to the day his father was arrested more than 40 years ago for the same crime, using his pen against an oppressive government. Such a legacy ran in his family as his great-grandfather was “sentenced to death for helping rebels to defect to Anatolia during the War of Liberation.” 

It seems that Ahmet was almost destined to follow in his family’s footsteps and perform one of the most significant and valuable duties one can for humanity — record history and be a voice for those who do not have one.

In this touching memoir, Ahmet maintains a compelling balance between being a vulnerable human sharing his personal misfortune and struggles, and a vocal observer who utilizes prison as a means to record and explain the history and events that he is witnessing. 

He shares personal anecdotes and musings with the readers to help them understand him as a writer, but makes sure to include real stories of the innocent prisoners to fulfill his duty as a history-recorder. 

He also provides an immaculate depiction of the current Turkish justice system by describing the legal process he went through. He was initially charged for only being a “religious putschist,” despite being an outspoken atheist. Later, he was charged for being a “Marxist terrorist,” which earned him a life sentence in prison. The evidence the courts used were a mere three columns that he had written and a television appearance. 

This book is one that eloquently summarizes aspects of the country’s history and culture that have contributed to its current status and major events, and one that gives an immaculate description of the purge of human rights that the author himself is best-suited to explain as a first-hand witness. 

Most simply, it is a story of a man struggling against a giant beast, his own country, but also an even bigger beast, his own vulnerability and loss of freedom. 

I would highly recommend this book to all Rutgers students, as it is a piece of history and testimony to the unspeakable horrors that are happening in a country that preaches democracy. 

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in psychology and minoring in philosophy. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," typically runs on alternate Fridays. 

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