Doing it My Way: Real Men Become Turks
By Eddie J. Girdner
(A True Story)
Anyone can become an American. Real men become Turks!
Every Turk is a happy Turk. Everybody in Turkey knows that. And the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, told them so. Well, I thought it would not be a bad idea to join that happy Turkish crowd.
So after teaching in Turkey for fourteen years as a full professor and six years before that in The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, I decided to become a Turkish citizen. After all, there should be some advantage in being a citizen of a country where one lives. Sometimes it is necessary in any event. One does not have to give up their American Citizenship to become a Turkish citizen. Afroyim v. Rusk 387 U.S. 253 (1967) Why not have the double pleasure of being both a happy American and a happy Turk at the same time? Such were the thoughts running through my mind, naive that I was. I was actually old enough to know better. Instead of double pleasure, it might turn out to be double trouble. It might get on Uncle Sam’s nerves. He never liked that double citizenship stuff and went to the Supreme Court to stop it, until the judges threw it back in his face and told him to get lost. As for the Turks, well, they liked Americans well enough, that is, as long as they were only American and not Turks. Why not leave well enough alone?
Nevertheless, in only a year, I worked my way through the Twelve Bureaucratic Labours of Hercules and was duly certified, pasteurized, homogenized and legitimized as a Turkish Citizen. I continued on my happy road as a professor of political science in Turkey. And a professor at Izmir University.
One day the Rector called me in.
What the hell? Have I done something wrong? I thought.
“We just found out that you are illegal,” he says.
“Illegal? How the hell am I illegal?” I asked.
“You’re a Turkish Citizen,” he said.
“And that makes me illegal?”
Sure as hell. Officially illegal.
“Now that you have become a Turkish citizen, the rules say that all the Turkish laws apply to you and you are no longer a professor because you became a professor under the rules for an American. You have been working here illegally,” the boss said.
In other words, as an American, I was perfectly qualified to be a professor in Turkey. But once I was a Turkish citizen, it was all over. Out on my ear.
Right. That made a lot of sense!
“We’ll have to make you an assistant professor,” the Rector said.
Good for him. That would cut out a lot of my pay and save the university a bundle of money.
“The best thing for you to do is give up your Turkish citizenship,” he said. “Then you can be a professor again. Dickering around and trying to be a Turk is dangerous stuff.”
“What about my Turkish retirement?” I asked. “I need to be a citizen for that and a lot of other things like owning a house.”
I was clearly on dangerous ground.
If I stayed a Turkish Citizen, all my work would be wiped out, I was told. All the books and articles I had written over the last thirty years, down the academic drain. And my textbooks being used. All my promotions too. I would have to start all over and climb the academic ladder as a Turk, just as if I had been a frigging natural born Turk all along. Forget the American trip up the academic ladder. That was just thirty-five wasted years of my life, after all, if I really was going to insist on being a Turk.
“Are they going to send me to the Turkish Military too?” I asked. Don’t hold your breath. My discharge from the American Navy wouldn’t mean a damned thing now.
I was joking, but I didn’t know the half of it. Fool that I was. The rocky road to Turkish happiness is not easy. And it was a long, long, way up, since I was back to square one. Or maybe minus one. At least thats what I thought. Damned fool!
A couple of weeks later the chief called me in again.
“Forget about that assistant professorship,” he said. “Now you are a part timer.”
“A part friggin timer? No shit!
More of my pay down the rat hole. This is Turkish happiness? I thought. I wonder what its like not to be happy.
“That pack of bureaucrats, those guys from the Turkish Higher Education Council, well, they spent days and days going over your records,” the Rector said.
Those guys must have been dumbfounded to discover an American, a sure-enough genuine American, who was, no shit! dumb enough to become a Turk. They just had to do something about it.
They would make him illegal. This was the solution of the Higher Education Council (Yok) which regulates all of higher education in Turkey. Yok from Yok equals yok. (Nothing from nothing equals nothing.)
I don’t know about the rest of the country, but they sure as hell were giving me a higher education. I was learning new things every day that I could never have even imagined.
“Well, its like this,” the chief says. You get all your documents, certified, notarized, organized, pasteurized, homogenized, sanitized, plasticized, and stampilized, officialized, and discomboobalated and finalized and pack them off to that bureaucracy, signed, sealed and delivered, and one by tedious one, they might give you an equivalency. That is, if they can discover any reason why the education that you received in America is equivalent to that in Turkey.”
Great! On my road to Turkish happiness once again.
No problem! I collected all my documents and had then all notarized at fantastic cost. It will be worth it, I thought. Had them all notarized, officialized, pasteurized, homogenized, plasticized, sanitized, proper sized and organized and signed, sealed, wrapped, mailed and delivered. A huge bundle that fit into a big box and packed them all off to Ankara. There, that ought to do it. Bury those guys in official documents. Sure!
Two days later, my big bundle of documents bounced back to me faster than a rubber ball, postage charges collectible.
It just doesn’t work that way, they said. Look, my boy, it has to be done step by step, one by one. Once one document is approved, then you go on to the next, if one lives that long. Don’t take being a Turk for granted. Ottoman bureaucracy was not called Byzantine for nothing!
The very next week another notice came.
“Where is your high school equivalency,” I was asked.
Your High School Equivalency. Don’t you realize that you have to prove that you graduated from High School?
They wanted my high school record. Oh God. I had missed the idea altogether! I thought that after being a full professor in Turkey for fourteen years that they would start with my university education, not high school. Jesus, high school? Lets see, that was fifty years ago. Only fifty years ago? They wanted an official diploma, the original. Oh boy. Now I have been hanging onto that son of a bitch for fifty years for dear life! No way. It did not exist.
I called up my old high school in America. Asked if there was any way I could get my official diploma. No, it could not be done, I was told. That was ancient history. But I could get an official transcript of my record. This would, of course, have to be translated and notarized, plasticized and so on and so on, and approved by the local governor’s office.
More work. More expense, more time, more waiting. I was not getting happier as a Turk, just more sore feet and emptying out my friggin wallet in legal fees. Shaky ground, indeed.
High school, bachelors degree, masters degree, doctorate, assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, articles, books, conferences and on and on … At this rate, I would long be dead and burried before the bureaucracy worked through all of those documents. Oh, Hell! Now there’s something I never thought about. Would it be possible to die and be buried as a Turk? What pile of documents would I need then? Who knows?
Nevertheless, Fortitude! Documents off in the mail again. New energy. Faith Springs Eternal. Bullshit. Tilting at windmills.
A new enquiry came. Yok. Yoked again. Looking at my official transcript for a bachelors degree, the Higher Education Council wanted to know what my undergraduate major was. I had noted it down in the space provided, and it was fairly obvious, with the long list of Physics courses on the transcript, but they didn’t buy it. I must be lying. I was a political science professor and had studied physics? No, that can’t be. Oh well, thats nothing. I studied pigs nuts too when I was in vocational agriculture, but somehow lost interest in a pig’s sex life and moved on. The same thing happened with physics. Great subject, but there were more important issues in the world than quarks and pi mesons.
For the Higher Education Council, they had to have an official letter from my old undergraduate university stating what my official major was back there around fifty years ago. This was in spite of having my official transcripts in front of them, signed, sealed, and delivered. Now who is going to burrow through fifty years of dust to unearth my friggin undergraduate major? They will think its a joke.
I was beginning to see a pattern in all of this. If every document submitted called for two additional documents one would soon be filling up rooms with documents and never getting to the end. I knew enough mathematics to figure that out. 2x2x2x2………
Naive that I was, I imagined that I could become a Turkish Citizen and and still be a professor! Friggin Fool! I had, it seemed, just wiped out my career and thirty-five years of scholarship and publishing. If you want to be a professor in Turkey, then you had better start out as a Turk. A natural born Turk from day one. Get yourself reincarnated as a Turk! Nope. Too late for that.
Then it hit me. Of course. All this had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with citizenship, documents, equivalency, notarization, homogenization and stamping up a storm in every notary’s office. Nothing at all. Took a look at their rules. That’s what the laws said. That I was still a professor, even as a Turkish citizen. It was clear that they just didn’t like my ideas. And that’s why I was now slotted as a part-timer, soon to be promoted to a no-timer. They were on a mission.
And that’s how I discovered the joys and happiness of being a Turk.
And being the official guardians of education, they sure had taught me a valuable lesson.
Lesson: Any wimp can become an American citizen. Real men become Turks. Thats the real challenge. Go for it!!!
Well, the Higher Education Council fell silent. They did not call themselves yok, which means nothing, for nothing. They had more important work to do, namely, their mission of creating a new generation of religious youth, as they now said. I was of absolutely no use to them in furthering that mission. I wish them well.
But now as a Turk, I was tough and I was happy. I had met the ultimate challenge and proved my mettle. I had measured up.
Another year and a half and I had worked my way through most of the documentation. Yok finally produced an official document that certified that my Ph.D. from the University of California was equivalent to a doctorate degree received in Turkey.
It was all for naught. My job had long since been flushed down the drain. The Brave New World of New Turkey had no more use for a professor with a doctorate from the University of California.
Nevertheless, I had done my twenty years in the Turkish system. It was perhaps not a very bad accomplishment.
“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has not,
The right to say the things he feels,
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows, I took the blows and did it my way.”
April 28, 2015