İbrahim Karadağ, who was a teacher in a Turkish school in Libya, had to flee the country in 2016 after the Turkish government demanded the extradition of Turkish citizens who had ties to the Gülen movement and moved to four different countries until he was granted asylum in France.
In an interview with Bold Medya Karadağ spoke about his four-year-long journey to a free life. Karadağ moved to Libya in 2012 to work at a school affiliated with the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, and to continue his higher education. The country had just gone through a civil war and it was still feeling the effects.
“The country looked like a wasteland. I went to the University of Tripoli to enroll in a master’s program, but there was not much of the university left,” Karadağ said. “There were four of us Turks, and we took a taxi to get there, but the taxi driver robbed us. He took our money and left us in the middle of nowhere. The other three Turks left a week after that, but I stayed.”
Karadağ helped open the first Turkish school, the International Ömer Muhtar School, in Tripoli in 2012 and worked there as a teacher. The country was still in turmoil, which was difficult for him, but he said he persevered. However, a week after a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey five teachers working at the Turkish school were arrested by Libyan soldiers and extradited to Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity. As part of the crackdown Erdoğan dismissed some 150,000 public servants including members of the armed forces, police officers, teachers, doctors and academics by emergency decree-laws, locking up tens of thousands and seizing their assets.
Pro-government Turkish newspapers had already reported that the school in Libya would be closed before the arrests. “The Libyan soldiers raided the school and took five teachers. They had converted a zoo into a prison during the war and they took the teachers there. We did not hear from them for more than a month,” Karadağ said.
After what happened to his colleagues, Karadağ decided to leave the country and set off for Tunisia, which he believed was a safer destination. He found that this was not the case when he tried to enroll at Ez-Zitouna University. The Turkish consulate in Tunis blocked his application to that university and other universities in the country.
Karadağ started a business selling ice cream, but he was attacked by a Turkish group while he was working at the stand. Tunisian authorities said they would not extend his residence permit and told him to leave the country in three months.
Karadağ decided to leave for Mexico via France, but the Mexican authorities would not allow him to enter the country. “I had a red stamp on my passport indicating that I could not enter Tunisia again,” he said. “The Mexicans said the Turkish consulate did not recognize me and asked for my extradition to Turkey. After long arguments, they put me in a prison cell.”
According to Karadağ, the prison cell was filthy, and he caught a bacterial disease that spread to his eyes and ears. He gradually lost his eyesight due to the infection. Karadağ was sent back to Turkey via Paris and asked for asylum at the airport in France.
He was unable to prove his struggles in Libya, so the French authorities rejected his asylum. He was taken to a prison outside of Paris, which according to Karadağ was as bad as the prison in Mexico.
“It was a filthy trailer, where the toilets had no doors. I stayed there for nearly a month in the same clothes because the Mexicans had confiscated my belongings. A doctor came to see me and gave me medicine for my eyes.”
Karadağ said he still could not open his eyes even though he used the medication. He said a lawyer helped him read the official documents and understand the French terms. He was later referred to an appeals court, which granted him asylum.
After obtaining asylum in France, Karadağ underwent an operation that helped him regain his eyesight. He began taking French classes and enrolled in the Department of Arabic Language and Literature for a master’s degree at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. He also began working as a tutor in a private school.
Turkish officials claim more than 100 individuals affiliated with the Gülen movement have been brought back to the country since the failed coup. Countries such as Malaysia, Albania, Moldova and Pakistan have extradited Turkish citizens, most them teachers, without any due process. In many cases, the teachers were under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and yet some of them are still under arrest in Turkey.
In an opinion about the case of the Komiş family, who were deported by Malaysia, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found last September the arrest and detention of the Komiş family arbitrary and recommended that the Turkish and Malaysian governments (1) release Arif Komiş, who is currently in pre-trial detention; (2) pay compensation or other reparations to the Komiş family; (3) conduct investigations into the violation of the Komiş family’s rights; and (4) make the necessary legislative amendments and/or changes in practice to harmonize the laws and practices with their international obligations in line with the present opinion.