Written by Carlotta Gall
For two days, as the story unfolded of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi security and forensic officials, his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, waited on the sidewalk outside the Saudi Consulate, undermining Saudi claims that he had left the building.
“I tried to do the right thing as much as I could,” she said. “Even for a different person, say, a truck driver, I would have done the same investigation. Jamal had been killed for what he believed, and I am coming from the same position.”
She spoke with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, gave a lengthy television interview and collaborated on a book, “Jamal Khashoggi: Life, Struggle and Secrets.”
Overwhelmed with grief and attacked on social media, she withdrew from view, even rebuffing an invitation to visit the White House. Now she is reversing field, determined to seek answers and justice for her partner.
“One must take action to conclude this case legally and humanely,” she said in an interview last month. “It is a moral duty.”
She recently attended a conference in Norway of the Association for Critical and Investigative Press and is planning to visit the United States mid-May. It is not clear if the invitation from the White House is still open. After initial comments about the seriousness of the Khashoggi’s killing, President Donald Trump has made it clear that the scandal will not change relations with Saudi Arabia. Cengiz is hoping to meet members of Congress, if not Trump himself.
“I am not a politician, but I can talk about what is moral,” she said. “I don’t know if I can change the mind of a president.”
Khashoggi’s body has never been recovered. Saudi authorities have said that Saudi agents strangled and dismembered the dissident and that five suspects now face the death penalty, but many questions remain unanswered. Foremost among them is whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the operation, which involved his close aides.
On a personal level, the past six months have been excruciating for Cengiz as she grappled with the horror of Khashoggi’s murder and struggled to claim her place in his story.
Cengiz, 37, was an unexpected and late player in the Saudi journalist’s life and death. They had known each other for barely five months, but were on the verge of marrying and setting up a home together when he was murdered.
One of five children, she grew up in a conservative, middle-class family and went to a religious seminary in the Turkish city of Bursa. The family later moved to Istanbul. Her father, a kitchen ware merchant, was wealthy enough to support her throughout her schooling, which included two years of Arabic studies in Egypt and a period in Oman to research a master’s thesis. She is now a doctoral student, focused on Arab Gulf countries.
She met Khashoggi at a conference in Istanbul in May 2018. Cengiz attended a panel discussion that Khashoggi took part in and asked him for an interview.
She never published the interview, but they began an email correspondence. In July, they met up again in Istanbul, and Khashoggi made his intentions clear.
“He started to tell me how he was alone and how he was unhappy. I was very surprised,” she recalled. “Suddenly, I saw a completely different human being, and then a special, direct dialogue began.”
The two — she 36, he 59 — developed a deep emotional relationship, with a shared passion for politics, international affairs and justice for the Arab world. A week later, he asked her to marry him, and she accepted.
“Let’s not think of it as a romantic proposal,” she said. “We were not children — we were two adults, and we immediately had a very rational conversation about how we could share it, how we could make it work.”
The relationship was nevertheless intense, not least because Khashoggi was going through a wrenching breakup with his home country. After a long career as a loyal supporter of the Saudi monarchy, he was becoming a dissident. He had moved to the United States 18 months earlier and begun to write columns for The Washington Post.
The main target of his criticism was the young and powerful Prince Mohammed, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, who was modernizing the country but also locking up opponents.
Many of Khashoggi’s friends had been imprisoned, and he felt obliged to raise his voice on their behalf, Cengiz said. “He was always talking about the moral responsibility he bore,” she told the Turkish news outlet Haberturk. “He was saying, ‘I have the opportunity, for my friends, for what they could not write.’”
In her book, Cengiz recounts an evening when he called in low spirits. He told her that Saudi prosecutors were seeking the death penalty against Sheikh Salman al-Awda, a reformist cleric. He said he despaired of making any difference with his writings. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do, and I am just stunned,” she recalled him saying. He began to weep.
She tried to encourage him. “This is a world of tests, and you have to do your best with the opportunities you have,” she told him. After the call ended, she also burst into tears. “He shared his sorrow,” she said. “It was a very hard day for me.”
In view of what was to come, however, “even these sorrows were happy moments in a sense,” she reflected. “Even sharing this kind of pain with someone like him is a good memory, a great happiness.”
Her father had reservations about her marriage to Khashoggi because of the age difference and concerns about his health, but allowed her to make her own decision. He asked Khashoggi to buy an apartment and settle it on her.
He bought the apartment, and they went to the Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2 to obtain papers that would allow him to marry Cengiz. The furniture was due to arrive two days later, she said. They planned to marry as soon as they could.
“He was always very keen to resolve things,” she said. “He was not an indecisive person.”
And she recalls his enthusiasm for their new life together.
“He was always saying that the most correct thing I did in my life is to marry you,” she said. “No one understood me like you do.”
But it was not to be. She cannot talk without tears about the two days that she spent standing on the sidewalk outside the consulate, clutching two phones that he had entrusted to her, desperately hoping he would re-emerge.
“I think Jamal is in a better place,” she said simply. For herself, she is latching onto the idea of growth through trauma. “Even if you want to live the grief in full, life does not let you.”
She is determined to keep demanding answers. She said she wanted “to shed a light on the unknowns beneath this affair, to prevent such a thing from happening ever again.”
“There are many people like Jamal in his country,” she said. “They are imprisoned. Maybe these activities would improve their lives.”