Loneliness Kills

September 22, 2023
by Ömer Güler, published on 22 September 2023
Loneliness Kills

I should confess that I was first impressed by the cover of “The Lonely Century” by Noreena Hertz. I was wandering through the shelves of a second-hand bookstore when my eye caught this beautiful book, thanks to its cover.

My encounter with this very important book and its influential author should not have been due to its lying on the shelves of a second-hand bookstore and my liking its cover. This is my ignorance. I admit that. Anyway, whether it is pure luck or my taste for the covers of the books, I deem myself privileged to read this book and know her author.

As I immersed myself in the book from the very beginning, I realized that the content is better than the cover. Noreena Hertz, an economist who describes herself as a “campaigning academic”, as the title of the book suggests, grapples with “loneliness”. As we experience this phenomenon ourselves in our daily lives, “loneliness” has been ever-increasing. This is not a trend that started with COVID. There are several reasons, from technology to the modern lifestyle, modern cities behind the increase in loneliness. “The Lonely Century” is full of several examples and arguments for this and is an eye-opener to the problem. I will not go into details. There are many good reviews of the book. Please refer to them. And beyond that, anyone interested in this topic should read this book.

I am writing this article because reading this book made me better understand the persecution that I and millions of others have been suffering in Turkey after the failed, or as many argue, staged or controlled, 15 July coup attempt in 2016.

Noreena Hertz defines loneliness as:

“…not only as feeling bereft of love, company or intimacy. Nor is it just about feeling ignored, unseen or uncared for by those with whom we interact on a regular basis: our partner, family, friends and neighbours. It’s also about feeling unsupported and uncared by our fellow citizens, our employers, our community, and our government. It’s about feeling disconnected not only from those we are meant to feel intimate with but also from ourselves. It’s about not only lacking support in a social or familial context but feeling politically and economically excluded as well.” [emphasis added]

This broad definition of loneliness is very much to the point and is conducive to understanding our various social problems. For example, based on this definition, Noreena Hertz examines how the populists manipulate loneliness and isolation felt by certain groups and thereby tries to explain the rise of populism.

As the title of one of the book's chapters suggests, “loneliness kills”. Loneliness causes serious health problems, and severe loneliness even leads to suicide. There are several studies and research on this. That chapter explains them in detail.

Considering both this broad definition of loneliness and “loneliness kills”, I can reflect on what I and millions of others, mostly followers of the Gulen Movement, have gone through much more meaningfully.

Before July 15, the ominous acronym for all the events and cruelty that occurred after the failed, or staged, coup attempt on 15 July 2016, I was a diplomat in Edinburgh, UK, for the Turkish government. I had nothing to do with the coup attempt whatsoever, working thousands of miles away. Just 10 days after the coup attempt, I was called back to the headquarters, and 35 days later, I was dismissed from the public service with a state of emergency decree law, the notorious KHK, on the grounds that I was linked, associated with, or a member of a terrorist organization. The decree does not bother to specify what these big words mean, nor the law. I know it is hard to believe, but I had to search through a list that contains 19 other lists, with the names of over 50,000 public employees dismissed in a single decree released at midnight. I found myself among them. No personal notification or prosecution. One of my unfortunate friends, who was not aware that he was on the list, went to work the next day just to find out that he had already been dismissed. I still do not know the exact reason for my dismissal.

From being a diplomat to being a terrorist in a single day. It may seem like an Orwellian story, but it is not. Turkish President Erdogan and his government have launched a cruel crackdown on dissent. The dehumanization of the alleged opponents has been beyond imagination. The country turned into a madhouse. Nearly 200,000 public employees have been purged. Over 2,2 million people have been prosecuted, and hundreds of thousands have been sentenced and sent to prison. The Turkish government also ensured the purge of one third of the judges and prosecutors, including two judges of the Constitutional Court, just days after the 15th of July. The judiciary and police were brutal against those who had been dismissed or prosecuted. Thousands of them were tortured, and hundreds of them died in prisons due to maltreatment or denial of access to treatment [1]. I was lucky that I left Turkey, illegally without a passport, on a boat over Maritsa River in December 2017. My several former colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were not as lucky as I was. They had been detained in May 2019 in a massive operation and at least five of them were severely tortured which was documented by the Ankara Bar Association

The dehumanization has been continuing unabated. Because of this unimaginable dehumanization, Gülen's followers and many other dissidents have become pariahs. Friends, relatives, colleagues and even parents and siblings have cut ties. They could not even find jobs in the private sector. Even those who try to financially help the families of those who are in prison are being prosecuted.

Now, try to put yourself in the shoes of a Gülenist or a dissident in Turkey. Dismissed from public service or lost your job in the private sector, have no right to a fair trial, mistreated/tortured by the police, discriminated against and dehumanized in society, and have no ties with friends, former colleagues and even siblings and parents. This is the utmost loneliness that Noreena Hertz describes: disconnected not only from your friends, relatives, and colleagues but also from your government, public institutions, and society. And you are not only disconnected but discriminated against, too.

This has had a serious impact on the well-being of those who suffered from persecution: “Loneliness kills.” Nearly one hundred people of those dismissed have committed suicide. Divorce has skyrocketed among the persecuted. Hundreds of them have lost their lives due to serious illnesses like cancer. Countless are currently being treated for cancer and other serious illnesses. Tens of the children of the followers of the Gulen Movement have committed suicide because of the discrimination they had faced. Thousands of them have gone through psychological treatment. I have several friends who managed to run away from Turkey after a perilous journey, still dreaming of being caught and imprisoned by Turkish police.    

As a victim of this brutal persecution, I still do not know how to describe it. This is also a hotly debated issue among the victims. Considering the broad definition of loneliness put forward by Noreena Hertz and 'loneliness kills,' it will help us better understand 'modern forms of genocide.' Because it is beyond doubt that persecution and dehumanization create loneliness for the victims, and loneliness kills.

[1]For a detailed analysis of the human rights violations against Gülen Movement, and dissidents in Turkey: https://www.institude.org/report/human-rights-violations-in-turkey-rising-to-the-level-of-crimes-against-humanity-case-of-gulen-group 

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