Back in Türkiye
When we arrived back in Türkiye, we were so happy – almost euphoric. Between Oct 2021 and January 2022, we already spent three months in the country and fell in love with it. When we arrived in Antalya, we had the honour to hold our first workshop about Stigmatisation of mental disorders in Akdeniz University.
As much as we were excited about this, we could not wait to hop on the bike and see more of this beautiful country. From Antalya we did not ride the Ocean Road but chose to go up to Taurus mountains. It took us 5 hard days to arrive in Beysehir and from there we went to Konya where we decided to skip Cappadocia and its many tourists and go south instead. The route to Osmaniye lead us through endless mountain areas where everything above 2000m was still or again covered in snow.
It was end of May and still freezing at night in the tent. In Osmaniye we were again invited into university to hold a workshop and from here we got invites from Gaziantep University which holds its own mental health centre on the campus. The day we arrived in Gaziantep our tour changed completely. First of all, the traffic in Gaziantep is the worst we ever experiences (Iris travelled all over Asia incl. India and still says the same). Also, on the first day in town we wanted to experience the great food everyone was talking about – so we ate everything which crossed our way and looked yummy. Unfortunately, one of those great tasting meals gave Iris her first food poisoning (again – after travelling 10 years in Asia incl. India) with the result that she could not leave the house or even bed for the next two days.
The day of the workshop she could just barely stand on her feet again but it still went really well and we left Gaziantep in a very good mood. What we did not know then was, that from now on, until we crossed the border to Georgia, we would have to deal with police check points and Army which would tell us where to camp, which roads to ride and randomly would take pictures of our passports and us every day.
The first day after Gaziantep we have been displaced by Jandarma to another camp spot in the middle of the night – we did not get a proper reason, just “it is dangerous”. We heard this phrase every day from now on and it really took away a lot of our fun as we now were trying to hide when wild camping instead of just camping openly. Another reason why we had to get a bit more discrete was the curiosity of the people in that region. They are absolutely friendly and hospitable and we cannot tell how happy we were about every time we connected with someone. But the downside was hundreds of curious kids following us, invading out tent, opening our bags, screaming and shouting.
Other people woke us up in the middle of the night and asked if we have any drugs to sell to them and other just randomly following us and staring at us for hours making it unable to wash ourselves or take a pee. We could actually have dealt with that but what really made us sad were two things we had to discover and experience: some Teenagers in eastern Türkiye can be quite a threat – they threw stones at us, tried to push us from the bikes or hit us while walking down the street and always asking (or actively looking) for money. And worst: there is absolutely no freedom of speech in (East?) Türkiye.
Minorities have suffered from atrocities for a long time in Türkiye, people who support them are being stalked and investigated by Police and Military. In former Kurdistan the Army is randomly investigating villagers by invading their houses. Kurdish people, Armenian decedents and intellectuals are being persecuted and silenced.
We got in trouble with our Anti-Stigma Campaign as well in one institution as it was understood as a threat to the “ruling” class (which it is). The first time ever we have been given a strict “guideline” on how to present our cause, to whom, under which circumstances. One of the rules was not to mention the place and date in our social media or take (post) pictures which actually would not prevent us from doing so if it would not be for the people who helped us.
We spent 5 months in Türkiye, three of them we cycled, 2 we volunteered. We cycled more than 3500 km and more than 40.000m up in elevation (most of them down also). We were able to reach hundreds of people with our mission and got a lot of information about the support system within the country.
We love Türkiye and even more we love the people. 4 of our 5 months were just amazing in every respect. The last month we were having a lot of amazing moments and we made some real great connections but it left us with the bitter after taste of oppression, arbitrary institutional violence and even fear. We are aware that, by publishing those lines, we might risk our return to Türkiye. But the whole point about fighting social injustice is to talk about it.