How can so much change in just 2 years?
In 2014, around this time, I was nervous and scared about travelling to Turkey. But it was from completely different reasons than you would say now. It was my first big travel abroad, the longest period for which I would leave my home and live somewhere unknown and far away. So I was afraid of the simple things like if the other people will like me or if I can survive so long without bacon and good beer.
Nobody was warning me about travelling to Ankara, telling me that I shouldn’t go because the country is dangerous. It wasn’t. There might have been some reverberations of the Occupy Gezi movement from one year before but apart from police smashing any kinds of protest with big TOMA cars and water tanks (I’m not suggesting this was of lower importance, definitely not), the country was safe. When I once witnessed the suppressing of a protest while walking home from my university, and breathed in the pepper spray myself, I thought this would be the biggest turmoil I would experience in this country. How wrong I was.
I remember it like today, I packed my suitcase, spent a night at Vienna airport and off I was for a big adventure. When I got to Ankara, I knew I was supposed to get off the bus in Kızılay , the city centre back then unknown to me. If only I knew that this place would be the source of the biggest fear for me, about one year and a half later. Don’t get me wrong, I still walk through Kızılay when I am in Ankara, like all locals do, because it is quite impossible to avoid this place. But even the slightest fear I get when I remember the deadly bomb attacks, is something I would never thought of 2 years ago.
But this February, everything has changed. We were sitting in a park, enjoying a nice evening when a loud sound has disrupted the atmosphere. At first, I thought just a big pile of wooden boards fell to the ground, nothing more. Just minutes later, we have found out the sound came from a big explosion, around 2 or 3 kilometres away from us. It was the second time Ankara has experienced bomb attack. The city was hit again and was about to be shot in its core, just one month later. The administrative, non-touristic, boring but for us Erasmus-party-fun-related city did not even get time to heal its wounds. The shot in the back, the unexpected intervention, the downfall…
There were about more than 80 other Erasmus people coming to study at Ankara University at the same time as me. Other universities received even more applications. People from all over Europe came together to have fun in the Turkey’s capital and travel around the country. And we did. The local Erasmus Student Network section was doing a great job taking us to beautiful places for a really good money. If not with the official trips, we set off to explore the country on our own. In April 2015, in the second semester of my exchange programme, my best friend and I even went on a big trip to the southeast, from Gaziantep through Şanlıurfa to Diyarbakır. To the last one you cannot even enter normally now and the surroundings of the beautiful Şanlıurfa were the place where the first bomb attack in Turkey occurred.
Now, much fewer students will enter the exchange programme at Ankara University, numbers at other universities will not be significantly higher. It’s a shame, such a shame. I loved my Erasmus in Turkey, I was thrilled that there was such opportunity even though the country is not in the EU. I remember all the cups of tea we drank in the lazy afternoons, exploring the city and enjoying the atmosphere unknown to us from Europe. I recall all the shots we haggled for when slightly tipsy at many of the parties. After all, it was Erasmus. Truth be told, I never drank so much and I think I will never again drink so much in my life. But it was part of the experience, the fun and new friends, the excitement, the late night conversations and early morning after-party kebabs on the streets of Ankara.
So much has happened in the past year that made my heart sink every time I read the news. From the big bomb attacks in Ankara, Istanbul and the southeast to the July 15th coup attempt, I could not stop shaking my head. What is happening to my beautiful Erasmus Turkey?
Just the other day I was driving my car, our Erasmus song started to play. The song we danced to at 3am, when thinking we should head home but convinced that this is the last song and we cannot leave because “this is our song”. I got nostalgic, I remembered all the good times, the strong smell of shisha at our friends’ apartment, the delicious late night barbecue at our big terrace, the times we were too tired to walk and got a taxi instead, not being able to tell the driver the correct address. I wish, and I guess all of my Erasmus friends do, that the country was exactly the same it was two years ago. The Turkey we got to know, the beautiful country with welcoming and hospitable people, natural wonders and rich culture at almost every corner. I mean, it’s still the same. The people did not change, the nature is still as magnificent as ever before. We can only shake our head at ugly politics and hope for the best.
I ask you, all of you reading this post, don’t erase Turkey from your travel list. Visit the unbelievably charming country, meet its magic and miracles, get to know all it has to offer. I’m not saying the situation couldn’t be better, it could of course and I miss the Turkey that was introduced to me in 2014. We can all hope for the best, but meanwhile just know that Turkey is neither described by its ruling party, nor the opposition. It’s not the politics that speak out of the ordinary people offering a cup of tea to a stranger, just passing by their house. Visit the country I fell in love with and see for yourself, where is the truth. You will be amazed.