No good deed goes unpunished,” says the proverb.
These days we also know for certain that “no good journalism goes unscolded.”
In the case of Stephen Kinzer, both have merged, only adding to the sad saga of how determined Turkey’s number one authority is to cut down the good values of journalism.
I have known Kinzer for almost two decades. He is one of the best professionals in the global field, marked by an immense curiosity and equipped with solid integrity.
We are not only colleagues, but have over the years become close friends.
I will always be grateful for all of his efforts to bring Turkey and its immensely interesting story to the stage, highlighting how crucial these stories are to be shared worldwide as they stem from an utterly important country with a wonderful blend of people. Admired for his pivotal work providing an in-depth understanding of Turkey as well as Iran to the world, he is also the author of eight books — two of which are focused on Turkey.
We met again a few days ago over a jolly dinner along the Bosphorus at one of his wife’s favorite restaurants. We were busy catching up on his observations in Iran — he had just returned from a long trip with a group of friends — and the political volatility in the region generally.
Kinzer was full of joy. He told me that he was expected to be in Antep to be declared an “honorary citizen” for all of the “good works” he had done as a journalist, bringing the wonderful city of Antep to the attention of the world.
He kept saying that night how honored he felt by the invitation from the Antep municipality. I could identify with that — the best recognition given to a journalist is recognition for the impact of their work.
That was the case.
As he wrote in his column for the Boston Globe:
”The reporting … dates back 15 years, to when I headed The New York Times bureau in Turkey. My story about planned flooding of an ancient site set off an international reaction. Dozens of mosaics were saved. A world-class museum was built to house them. In 2010, the number of tourists coming to Gaziantep had reached 1 million. I asked one entrepreneur here how many tourists came before the mosaics were discovered, preserved and placed on display. “None,” he replied, continuing: “We never saw a tour bus. There were no big hotels. You have changed the fate of Gaziantep.”
Then, a “no good deed goes unpunished” type of story took over.
When I had just been through a “tour d’horizon” of the demise of good journalism in the region at an international conference organized by the Jerusalem Press Club, Kinzer’s message appeared on my laptop screen.
“You will not believe what happened to me,” it read.
Here is — as he tells it — what happened in Antep:
”A lavish ceremony was planned. Tickets were printed. A professional interpreter was engaged so I would not have to expose my fractured Turkish.
”Upon my arrival, however, my acutely embarrassed hosts sat me down and told me the ceremony, and my honorary citizenship, had been cancelled by personal order of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Gaziantep’s mayor was given the order while attending a United Nations conference in Paris.
‘Later, according to one of my friends here, Erdoğan’s office sent her a fax describing me as ‘an enemy of our government and our country.’ Attached as evidence was a Jan. 4 column I wrote for the Boston Globe that included a critical paragraph about Erdoğan.”
Kinzer had written this:
“Once seen as a skilled modernizer, he now sits in a 1,000-room palace denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control.’
The email he sent then continued:
”According to protocol, the Gaziantep authorities had to ask permission from the Foreign Ministry in Ankara, the capital, before honoring me. It was duly granted. At the last minute, though, someone close to Erdoğan evidently showed him my five-month-old Globe column and persuaded him to revoke approval.”
I do not really know what further comment I can make on his narrative. I have lost count of the alarming chronicles of journalism falling prey to monstrous hostility that is determined to extinguish it.
Kinzer’s case is only an exposing element on the strangulation of our profession.