This story involves me as a blogger, the Prime Minister, me again as a web developer, an Islamic cult attempting a coup d’état, and me again as a solopreneur. Oh, and WordPress. And ISIS.
WordPress: My First Encounter
In the beginning of 2006, everyone in Turkey was talking about blogs. It was the hot new thing on the web. Forums were “out” and blogs were “in”. Anyways, I was getting ready for the ÖSS and studying to get into a university but I was psyched enough to register a blog on WordPress.com, on January 2006. (I moved the blog into a free hosting space the next month, and opened up beyn.org in July 2006.) I was in Kocaeli, the city right next to İstanbul.
After the registration, I realized that I had nothing to write about. So I wrote about the day I had. The next day, I did the same thing. And the next day. And the next seven and a half years. Of course, I skipped four or five days. But that kind of dedication earned me a reputation and an award for “Best Personal Blogger of 2008”.
But I didn’t just write about my days. After getting accepted into Ankara University in September 2006, I began to read and think about politics, as nearly all young Turks do in university. Eventually, I started writing about politics as well. Because you know what they say: If you want to learn something, write about it.
Oh, I learned it pretty well, and I learned it the (somewhat) hard way.
Facing Jail Time with a Blog Post
2010 was probably my darkest year in my entire life. (2016 is the next candidate.) I was 22 years old, blogging daily, learning about web design and WordPress (more on that later), and keeping up with what’s going on with the country. Things were crazy back then: A very big prosecution was going on called the Ergenekon Case about military people allegedly planning a coup (Hint: This is not the coup I mentioned in the intro! These guys were all acquitted later.) and a big campaign for a constitutional referandum was more than enough to keep the whole country busy.
In December 2010, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of the time (and the President since 2014) sued me for one of my blog posts. It was about one of the slogans he used in his referandum rallies (“The terrorists and the opposition parties are soul mates!”) and me using the same sentence against him. Like, the exact same sentence. He didn’t like the way that the slogan was used against him, so he reported me and the state brought charges against me. I was 22 and I was being sued by the most powerful man in the country, because I used his words against him.
When the Prime Minister sues you, you go to jail. There were little to no instances of winning a case against the government, especially when they were the one suing you. Thankfully, I was one of the few instances: I won the case in my third trial, February 14, 2012. (“Lovely” day, isn’t it?)
There were one downside though: With the fear of the government suing me, I stopped writing about politics in 2011 and 2012, and even a few months after I won. And to this day, even though that fear is long gone, and even though I’m writing about politics again on Beyn, I still can’t write regularly like I did back then.
Anyways. Moving on with the “web development” phase of my life.
Learning to Develop WordPress, and Teaching It at the Same Time
When I started Beyn, I immediately loved WordPress. I had some experience on HTML and CSS on Dreamweaver (never was a FrontPage guy), and I happily retired DW because I won’t be able to work on it while I was learning WordPress.
I don’t remember trying to learn something with such passion. I loved the idea of plugins and themes extending the core. Beyn became my playground for new tricks, my laboratory for new experiments about WordPress. I installed plugins, edited themes, learned what’s right and what’s wrong with what I did… I probably crashed the website more than a hundred times!
By 2012, I’d already started making websites for other people and getting paid. I had developed a few plugins, made a couple of themes from scratch. While still learning what awesome things I’m able to do with WordPress, I applied for a small writing gig at Wptuts+, which was later renamed Tuts+ Code. Because you know what they say: If you want to learn something, write about it.
That “small writing gig” was in fact my biggest source of education. I wasn’t a WordPress expert, but that gig was the ultimate reason to learn more and more about WordPress. I remember constantly feeling that “I’ve finished telling about everything I know about WordPress, so now I have to learn more!” and doing research on things to write about.
I was aware that I don’t have any chance to write a sloppy tutorial, so I nagged my editors (first Japh Thomson, then Tom McFarlin) about my writing style, my choice of topics and of course, my English. They said my English was very good, and my topics are relevant and suitable for publishing on Tuts+. In almost exactly four years (from April 2012 to March 2016), I wrote 134 posts and I’m very proud of (almost) all my work there.
While it was sad to leave Tuts+, I had a project in my mind that I put off so long: Optimocha.
WordPress Speed Optimization with Terrorists, Bombs and Death
That title came out grimmer than I expected. Heh. Anyways.
2015 was the year when I first thought about a speed optimization service for WordPress-based websites. Then I thought that I would better use my energy on the upcoming general elections in June. I worked for an NGO called “Vote and Beyond” to ensure transparency in observering of ballot count in the elections.
2015 was also the year with a whole lot of terrorist attacks. PKK, a terrorist organization pretending to defend Kurds’ rights (while giving a bad name for all Kurds countrywide) and ISIS (you know them) were the most active terrorist organizations in 2015. They killed more than 250 people and injured more than 1000 in a series of shootings and bombings throughout the year.
Worst year ever, right? Not even close. Let me quickly summarize the hell we’ve been through:
- ISIS killed 116 people in 5 different attacks.
- PKK killed 176 people in 15 different attacks.
- TAK, PKK’s even uglier cousin, killed 43 people in 4 different attacks.
- FETO killed 248 people across the country in their coup d’état attempt on July 15.
583 people killed in terrorist attacks in 2016. So, just a few more than all those lovely celebrities.
What’s that FETO sticking out among the others, attempting a coup? That’s FEthullahist Terrorist Organization: The organization of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cult leader comfortably residing in Pennsylvania, plotting to take over the government for (I kid you not) over 40 years. Even I had made peace with the President because of the much needed “purges” to scrape his crypto-disciples in the government organizations. FETO is one of the enemies that can let you make peace with the ones against your values.
(By the way: While celebrating that we got rid off that horror show of 2016, ISIS killed 39 more people with an AK-47 in a New Year party on January 1, in the middle of the night.)
Still waiting for the part where I founded Optimocha, right? Sorry it took a bit long.
April 2016 was the month I registered my company by paying for the usual fees to register a sole proprietorship, accountant fees, rent for an office (because by law, you can’t register a company without an office), some paperwork. All my funds vanished, leaving me with nothing to spend on marketing.
PayPal halted operations in Turkey on June, because of conflicts with the government. 2CheckOut followed. I was going to use 2CO, so I was left with no payment gateway provider. Along with the terrorist attacks, I decided to spend Ramadan (the holy month for Muslims, passed on June 2016) sleeping, lying and moping around with depression.
At the beginning of July, I was ready to work again, amped up for success! Except the coup attempt happened. Bombs and sonic booms in my city. Back to depression.
By October, I was almost ready to go live with the website. I didn’t. I forced myself to finish it in November, before Black Friday. I did! People responded to my emails, said they’ll publish my deal on their blogs. People who saw the deal also responded and purchased my services. Yay.
Blogging is hard. Blogging with the most powerful man in your country trying to lock you up is the hardest.
Solopreneurship is hard. Solopreneurship with several, highly active terrorist organizations killing people next to you is the hardest.
Yet, and I’m sure this is going to sound cheesy, I have hope. This is the price we have to pay in order to get rid of the scum in the world. Turkey isn’t the worst country in the world suffering from terror–we’re just a country stuck between Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. (Talk about a rock and a hard place…) We will survive this, and this too will pass.
Turkey may be viewed as “yet another Middle Eastern country”, but it was founded almost a hundred years ago with the heritage of the Ottoman Empire, but also with a Western, secular mindset. Even today, you can’t find a sensible person talking trash about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who declined the Ottoman monarchy to set the foundation of a democratic republic in a time of dictatorships across Europe and Asia. Emphasis on the words “even today”, because the principles of his vision of the Republic of Turkey is in danger, a very large portion of the country has the confidence and equipment to defend those principles.
Again: We will survive this, and this too will pass. You have my word.