ISTANBUL: More than a week has passed since our last meeting outside the consulate of Saudi Arabia, before Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance became global news. We were in the middle of making wedding plans, life plans. After the consulate, we were going to buy appliances for our new home and set a date. All we needed was a piece of paper.
We were going to take my siblings and some of our closest friends to dinner to share the good news. Marriage is an important and special step for all couples. For us, but especially for Jamal, it was particularly significant. Spending more than a year in self-imposed exile in the United States — away from his country, his family and his loved ones — had taken a toll on him. “I miss my country very much. I miss my friends and family very much,” he told me. “I feel this deep pain every single moment.”
Now we were about to be married and spend time between Washington and Istanbul. We were so expectant. He had been feeling so lonely, but I could see the clouds clearing. He wanted to build on his years of professional experience to become an influential journalist in Washington, as the Arab world set the stage for major developments. He was thankful to be able to write in The Washington Post, to be the voice of his colleagues who could no longer speak up.
When I asked him why he decided to live in the United States, he said America was the world’s most powerful country, where one could feel the political pulse of the planet. Jamal had applied for US citizenship, and his reason to visit to Turkey was our intended marriage. He was hoping to take care of all necessary paperwork before returning to Washington.
On Sept 28, Jamal visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for the first time, despite being somewhat concerned that he could be in danger. Yet he noted that there was no warrant for his arrest in his native country. Although his opinions had angered certain people, he said, the tensions between himself and Saudi Arabia did not amount to hate, grudges or threats.
He was, however, increasingly worried about an unprecedented wave of arrests in his country. Yet Jamal did not think the Saudis could force him to stay at the consulate in Turkey, even if they wanted to arrest him. In other words, he did not mind walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul because he did not believe that something bad could happen on Turkish soil. It would be a violation of international law to harm, arrest or detain people at a diplomatic mission, he said, and noted that no such thing had ever happened in Turkey’s history. After a positive first meeting with consular staff, who welcomed him warmly and assured him that the necessary paperwork would come through, Jamal was hardly concerned ahead of his second visit. He walked into the consulate of Saudi Arabia, his native country, without doubting he would be safe there.
After seeing how relaxed he was, I waited patiently and full of hope. But after three hours I was overcome with fear and concern. I texted a few friends to inform them, and I asked about Jamal at the consular building. I received an answer that further fueled my fears: Jamal had already left, they told me, possibly without my noticing. Trying to stay calm, I immediately called Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and one of Jamal’s oldest friends. Since the incident came to the attention of the press and law enforcement, I have been waiting fearfully.
This much is true: He entered the consulate, and there’s no proof that he came out. In recent days, I’ve witnessed the work of the Turkish authorities as they monitor the situation closely. I am confident in the abilities of Turkish government officials. At this time, I implore President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance. I also urge Saudi Arabia, especially King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to show the same level of sensitivity and release CCTV footage from the consulate. Although this incident could potentially fuel a political crisis between the two nations, let us not lose sight of the human aspect of what happened. Jamal is a valuable person, an exemplary thinker and a courageous man who has been fighting for his principles. I don’t know how I can keep living if he was abducted or killed in Turkey.
Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive. Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned. As an individual who believes that life and death are in the hands of God, I pray to God alone for Jamal’s safe return.
Cengiz is Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée. She lives in Istanbul.
By arrangement with The Washington Post
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018