If there is one thing that characterizes the ongoing purge in Turkey is the number of children left behind without their fathers. I received a letter from a frustrated Turkish mother, Mucteba Sanli, whose children are going through difficult times without their father. Mucteba told their kids that their father is on a business trip. When asked to make a video call, the mother can’t respond. Here is the letter:
My name is Mucteba Sanli. I am a mother of five. Because my husband, Orhan, was a businessman he was always a busy man. Almost every night he came home late. But no matter when he was at home, he spared time to play with his children.
The eldest of our children is 13 years old. His siblings are 10, 7 and 3. The youngest is only 6 months old.
Until October 26, the kids enjoyed spending time with their father every day. October 26 was the day when our world plunged into darkness. On that day Orhan was taken away by the police. A minivan stopped by our house at 7 a.m. and handcuffed him. Orhan was accused of being part of the coup attempt on July 15. A man who studied History at the university and then started a business and who has never involved in politics whatsoever is detained on charges of overthrowing the government. Orhan is in love with his country. But he is rounded up for being a terrorist. He is ready to sacrifice his life to protect every inch of this land. He is a patriotic father who has raised our kids with the same love to our country.
Every single person who knows him would laugh if they ever heard that Orhan would be prosecuted for being a terrorist. He is a hardworking businessman who earned the respect of many people he did business with. But as he was incarcerated as part of the mass arrest in the aftermath of the coup attempt, people started to look at him through a different perspective. Everyone is now avoiding doing business with his company. People start asking questions.
October 26 was the day when our life suddenly lost its meaning. Our children still have no idea where their father is. I could only tell my eldest son where his father is. Arif is preparing for an admission exam (TEOG) for a secondary school. Arif’s teachers keep telling me that he is daydreaming during classes. He does not talk to anyone. There is a significant decline in his cognitive ability since his father was arrested.
Arif did not only lose his father but a friend with whom he wrested. Orhan was his best friend. I am asking the ruthless government: Who will rectify the future of my son? Is there anybody who could be the best friend of him? No.
Merve and Sefa, our 10 and 7 years old daughters, think their father went too far away to come back anytime soon. I told them that their father would make a lot of money when he comes back and that’s why he needs to be away so much time. Although I told them that their father is not coming back anytime soon, every single night they ask me when Orhan will knock the door. What should I tell them? Two weeks? A month? Maybe a year? They want to make a video call as they did when their father was away in the past. I ran out of excuses.
My daughters did not only lose their father, but also their friend who played with them no matter how tired he was. They lost someone who took them to luna parks. I am not even allowed to cry whenever I want so that the kids don’t start thinking something is wrong with their father. Is there anybody who can be a father to my daughters? No.
I somehow manage to answer endless questions of elder kids. What about my 3 years old Sena? She does not understand the concept of time and space. When I tell her that her father is gone, she starts crying. She does not know what it means to be away working. Or making money. Orhan is the only source of happiness for her. The only thing that makes her life meaningful. Since Orhan’s arrest, always-smiling Sena was replaced with a snobby kid who is irritated by almost everything.
Every time our door is knocked, Sena runs to the door by yelling “father, father.” What can compensate the disappointment when she realizes that it is not her father. Every time she has a beautiful drawing or a new toy, she promises to show to Orhan. And I tell her that the toy I bought was a gift send from the father.
Every time she cries, I try to be her father. Every time she calls for father, I try to be a father. Is there anybody who could be a father to our Sena? No.
What about our 6 months old baby? Will she be able to see her father again? Will she recognize her father the next time she sees her? Is there anybody who could be a father to our infant baby?
At a time when I lost everything, I also needed to be a father. While I struggle to survive, I stand stronger than ever. I stand firm in the face of this relentless pressure.
It has been 15 years that I was married to Orhan. He was my everything. I did not only lose my husband on October 26 but everything that was meaningful to me in life. Every time I make tea, I remember the time I drank with him. Every time I go to groceries; I remember the time we went to the shopping together. Every time I need a repair at home; it strikes me when I realize that he was the one who took care of this kind of stuff. Every night I go to bed alone. I wake up alone. And I have no idea until when I will be alone.