For Ms. Hatice Cengiz, remembering what happened on October 2, 2018, is a painful and hard exercise. On that day, her fiancé Jamal Khashoggi, well-known Saudi, US-based journalist, went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in order to pick up the documents required for their soon-to-be marriage. He never left that building alive. “Actually, I don’t want to remember that day, because I didn’t know that my life would have totally changed. It was the initiation of a highly painful and sad period for me,” the Turkish researcher underlines. We meet her in a hotel in Manhattan, only a few blocks away from the United Nations, where the world leaders have gathered for the 74th session of the General Assembly. Cengiz came to New York, along with the Italian senator and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Emma Bonino, in order to give a speech during a conference organized by the NGO “No Peace Without Justice” at the UN. A purple hijab frames the deep eyes, that, while speaking about Jamal, can’t help but mist with tears.
The world is only aware of Jamal Khashoggi’s public face, especially his journalistic work and his criticism against the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and King Salman. It is no coincidence that in September 2017, Mr. Khashoggi decided to flee his country and go into a self-imposed exile. However, in the eyes of Cengiz, he was much more: he was her everything. “I miss him like a friend, a husband, sometimes also like a brother and a father. At first, I didn’t think we could have a special relationship”, but then things unexpectedly changed. “We met at a conference”, she tells us. In the days that immediately preceded the fatal appointment at the Consulate, the Washington Post journalist didn’t suspect that his life could be at risk. He had already visited the diplomatic headquarters a few days before, on September 28, and he had been warmly welcomed. Before that first appointment, Jamal was afraid. “We considered all the possibilities,” and even “the worst-case scenario occurred to us,” Cengiz explains. However, the Consulate officials asked him about his new life, offered him coffee or tea, and congratulated him on his marriage. They graciously talked with him for about 30 minutes. Jamal, thereby, relaxed and decided to schedule another visit for the last bureaucratic procedures. In Cengiz’s view, his murder must have been planned between those two appointments.
However, Khashoggi’s fiancée is not concerned about her life. “I am not afraid,” she keeps saying, “why should I be?”. “I was afraid in the first days after Jamal’s murder,” she concedes. She was primarily worried because of his fiancée’s information and belongings. “The following week, I brought everything to the Turkish Government.”
Only a few hours before this interview, crown prince Salman’s statement on Khashoggi’s murder started hitting the news. “I get all the responsibility,” he said to PBS, “because it happened under my watch”. However, according to Cengiz, he was only assuming the responsibility on an “official” level, as the actual chief of the Government, while at the same time implying that he didn’t know “what was going on”. This version of the story dramatically contradicts the report issued by the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who put on paper “credible evidence” of prince Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder. However, when we ask Cengiz about her personal view, she doesn’t seem to have an answer, “I really don’t know,” she admits.
From Saudi Arabia, nobody—neither officials from the Government, nor journalists—have tried to reach out to her. However, even if they had, she wouldn’t have talked to them. “My Government asked them many questions and they have not answered yet”, she underlines. On the other hand, a few days after her fiancé’s murder, Cengiz received a notable invitation from the US Government: President Trump proposed a meeting at the White House. On the same day, Hatice received a call from the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. However, she decided to decline. The United States, she explains, “didn’t do anything for Jamal’s case. The US has a responsibility towards the entire world, not towards me, per se. We are talking about the killing of a journalist who was an American resident.” Indeed, President Trump made it very clear that his priority was to protect the US’ economic relations with Saudi Arabia. That “lack of reaction”, Cengiz points out, “definitely damaged the image of the United States of America as the defenders of fundamental and human rights.”
According to our interlocutor, the US is not the only one that should be blamed for not doing enough. The other members of the UN Security Council should have acted differently as well. “What more needs to happen,” she later would ask at the “No Peace Without Justice” event, “before you act and call for an international inquiry?” Cengiz also expresses a critical view of Italy’s behavior. “It is a European Union member state and should have adopted a clearer attitude. What I’m talking about,” she clarifies, “is not punishing Saudi Arabia or Saudi people. I want the perpetrators to be brought to justice, and I want them to be punished. Italy and other EU member states could have condemned Saudi Arabia for this murder, or should have made a statement, or could have invited Saudi Arabia to at least make a statement about this incident.”
Khashoggi’s fiancée has already heard about Giulio Regeni, the Italian researcher brutally killed in Egypt in 2016, but she didn’t know the details of the story. As she asks repeatedly why Mr. Regeni was murdered, Bonino, who is participating in this conversation, recaps Italy’s diplomatic fight to obtain truth and justice. “Jamal’s case is a very political case,” Cengiz then points out, conceivably realizing the similarities between those two incidents. “You can easily imagine why they killed him.”
In her view, Turkey is handling the situation quite well. She was able to meet with President Tayyp Recep Erdogan, who “has been seriously following this case.” Also, international media showed her profound solidarity. “I was very surprised by the fact that, even beyond the day of the official statement about the murder, Jamal’s killing has continued to hit the news. His murder shocked the entire world.” Hatice herself was contacted by several journalists who in the past had met with Jamal. She states, “He was so close to the heart of his colleagues.” However, the media’s attention alone is not enough. “On the other hand,” she continues, “we got to realize that life is not all about the media’s power. We also need political power to resolve Jamal’s killing.”
Asked about the impact of Jamal’s murder on freedom of the press in the Middle East, Cengiz shows a surprisingly positive attitude. According to her, the “sacrifice” of her fiancé has started to engender some promising effects in Saudi Arabia. After his killing, in fact, “the Saudi administration started to release some intellectuals and journalists very quickly, and they were heard at the court at least. Now,” she adds, “the Saudi Government recognizes that nothing could stay” concealed “behind closed doors anymore.” This was also, in some ways, “the purpose of Jamal while he was alive. We will see, of course, the implications in other Middle Eastern countries in the medium and long term.” Obviously, she clarifies, “nothing will compensate his loss”. That pain is imprinted in the intense gaze of this courageous young woman, who, along with some of his colleagues and friends, on October 2–the anniversary of Jamal’s death—will be commemorating him in front of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. In several other cities all over the world, other events will take place to remember Khashoggi and to call for truth and justice. On the verge of that painful and meaningful day, Hatice makes a solemn promise, “All together, we are planning to give a powerful message to the entire world.”