If you happen to be a journalist in Turkey, the price you pay for its defence, for insisted integrity can never be high enough.
Your everyday pursuit of the truth is a stroll on a minefield, and even if you survive, you are a ‘public enemy’ – criminalized for your existential choice in life.
In the holy Quran, there is a parable.
‘Every creature will taste death,’ a surah says.
You can see this chilling reminder at the entrances of some cemetaries in Turkey.
Let’s convert it to the Turkish reality:
”Each and every decent journalist here will taste being censored and sacked. Then, the court cases and jail comes as bonus.”
On Tuesday, it was my turn; along with 35 colleagues, on Tuesday.
In a sense, long wait, filled with anxiety, is now over.
Very early Tuesday morning, I was woken up by another alarming ‘pling’ on my phone; as part of a routine these days, about the ordeal concerning journalists in Turkey.
It was a text message by the doorman of our apartment block in Istanbul, that read:
‘Herr Yavuz, police entered your flat a short while ago, with the help of a locksmith. They did not damage nor took out anything during the search. Told us about an arrest warrant for you and left a report.’
I was abroad.
In a form of self-exile.
Fully aware that the real consequence of the botched coup would focus on finalizing the unfinished business to nullify whatever remained of dignified journalism in Turkey, and seeing my 72 year-old dear friend Şahin Alpay – one of Turkey’s most powerful, dignified, consistent liberal columnists – and Lale Kemal, a top veteran reporter, expert on military issues, known for her stories earlier for Jane’s Defence Weekly, sent to jail for their independent professional stands, I felt the countdown in my spine to be targeted as many of my colleagues are these days.
I heard in those morning hours, that the house of Ali Yurttagül, not far from where I live by Bosporus, was also raided.
Ali was a columnist, like myself, with the English language Today’s Zaman, until it was brutally seized and shuttered last spring. He has been a respected advisor – as a member of German Green movement – to European Parliament on Turkish affairs for decades.
Soon I read the news story that a new round-up, 35 journalists were being hunted that day. A new list of ‘public enemies’ were issued, including my name. By Tuesday night, we knew that at least nine of them were taken into custody, which means up to 30 days under arbitrary confinement, according to emergency rule regulations.
Why was all this happening?
That evening of Tuesday, all efforts with my lawyer and others’ lawyers did not single light on what was going on about us. I still have no idea, at the time of writing this, what I am accused of, because as my lawyer told me that ‘all the files in this sweep are classified’.
It may look bewildering to any reader with a clear logic. But we all know, by now, what the destructive official pattern, since as early as Gezi Park protests, targeting journalists, mean.
As a matter of fact, every single sign in the days preceding the clampdown on Tuesday had actually sent signals of a brutal escalation against our freedom and diversity.
After the recent closure of pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem and arrests of intellectuals such as author Aslı Erdoğan, police raided another Kurdish paper, Azadiya Welad, in Diyarbakır and rounded-up 24 Kurdish colleagues some days ago.
In addition, 36 staff members of the state brodcaster, TRT, were also detained and sent to jail those days.
As of now, the total number of Turkish and Kurdishb journalists in jail was, 114. If you add also those arrested and kept in police custody, the number goes up to 150, perhaps above.
‘Necmiye Alpay is detained!’
This message circulated like a rocket in social media two days ago.
Alpay, an internationally renowned scholar, linguist, litterary critic and author, was sent to jail on Wednesday. Charges? ‘Membership of the armed terror organisation.’
That is, the PKK.
Necmiye Alpay is, just like the jailed author Aslı Erdoğan, a member of the advisory board of now-shuttered pro-Kurrdish daily, Özgür Gündem. As expected, she had protested the closure, and took part in peaceful acts of solidarity for its survival. The bitter irony of history, a deja vu: She had spent two years in prison for her leftist views after the military coup in 1980!
When writing this blog, other plings on my phone:
‘Murat Aksoy was detained and sent to prison this morning.’
Murat is a friend. A columnist with centre-left leanings, who was already left jobless by the authorities when the news site he was writing with, Haberdar, was raided and shuttered. He was also assigned by the leader of the main opposiiton party, CHP, as an advisor on media issues. His crime? Nobody knows. Not even the lawyers. Because his file is ‘classifed.’
‘Dilek Dündar was stopped at Istanbul Airport and prevented from leaving the country. Police seized her passport, and told her that it would remain confiscated, , indefinitely.’
Dilek is the wife of Can Dündar. Former Editor of Cumhuriyet, sentenced to five years of prison, for reporting a story on trucks belonging to the Turkish secret service, MIT, which, the story pointed out, was carrying weaponry to Jihadist groups in Syria. Can, since the verdict lives in Europe, unwilling to return, because he does no longer believes that the rule of exists in Turkey.
Dilek had wanted to meet her husband.
Now, she is held a hostage, as ite were, by the authorities.
Let’s return to the present, then.
We journalists had begun the week with immense pressure on us, sending private messages to each other across the media:
‘You just be careful’.
What else could we do?
So vulnerable and abandoned, as we are, by the European politicians, taken hostage by their obsessions over realpolitik, increasingly blind to the values that was supposed to keep the EU solid, united and inspirational, what choice did we have?
We knew we have been completely on our own for a long while, as some sort of ‘endangered species’, in our conduct for journalism.
In the absence of a proper rule of law, the logic of the current series of media clampdown is plain and straightforward:
The Turkish government, ruled strictly by President Erdoğan, is keen to fill the agenda with what it sees as ‘domestic enemies’, branded as terrorists. That is very helpful to keep the society on edge, dependent to power, which in Turkey’s case relies on ‘constant state of crisis’, a collective sense of siege, reimposed every day.
Critical segments of Turkish media has therefore been branded as such, just because it is seen as affiliated by Gülen movement, and almost the entire bulk of Kurdish media outlets were marked as such because it seen as ‘serving the interests of the PKK’. The battle to annihilate whatever remains of media integrity is based on the recent decision, taken at a National Security Council (MGK) meeting, declaring a two-frontal a-war against both, with focuys on what the AKP calls ‘their media legs’.
Thus, the logic: it is not about what you report or comment, it is all about with which media you work(ed) with, and as long as you are critical and inqusitive about Erdoğan’s policies, you are ‘persona non grata’.
You may have gotten fired through political pressure, but if you insist on an independent journalism elsewhere, the path leads at best to court, or arrest.
As of Saturday, Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) had reported 108 colleagues in jail. Now, with the latest round-ups, the figure is above 150.
No need to say, the AKP rulers by far top the league of ‘enemies of journalism’ – far higher than several dictatorships combined; outclassing all.
And the irony is that many in the West are made to believe that this ordeal is part of the ‘democracy celebrations’ (!) in the wake of the bloody coup attempt.
The bitter paradox is that all the oppression keeps escalating, as we are invited to buy the narrative that it was ‘the will of the people’ that overcame the putschists. The carte-blanche to eradicate the constitutional right to independently inform and public right to be informed has apparently come together in that package.
It is hard not los faith totally as a media professional. ‘You can not imagine the fatigue over here’ wrote a colleague. ‘People have no way to do reporting, all blacklisted and penniless. Some want to get out to a new future; others simply curse their own existence…’
What could I say to them?
My own personal memory was burdening enough.
I had worked for along as a news ombudsman (reader editor) to do corrections and oversee ethical breaches of a newspaper, Sabah – now a government mouthpiece, a Pravda – when my crtitical columns – which was supposed to be untouchable due to its nature – twice censored during Gezi protests.
Part of the reason was that I had found it entirely improper that Sabah was demonizing international media, such as Der Spiegel and Deutsche Welle, for their coverage.
When I exposed the media owners’ destructive role vis a vis journalism in an article for the New York Times, I was unlawfully fired, with zero severance.
With a minimum income as a free-lancer columnist with daily Today’s Zaman, I co-founded, in late 2013, Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) to develop projects for media integrity and help unemployed colleagues. Then, from 2014 on, one media outlet after the other, that had offered space for free speech and analysis, had to shut down. The more one reported on power abuses, erratic policies in Syria and, most dramatic of all, on top level corruption, the risky the minefield became.
I lost my column and income when Today’s Zaman was brutally seized, and, fasten your seatbelts, its digital archive totally, entirely deleted.
As of the summer, it was clear that there would be no more room in the sector, for any free-minded journalist to be hired. So, even if the number of 150 plus journalists were nullified by a miracle tomorrow, none of us, in defence of a media integrity, would be ‘allowed’ to conduct our profession.
My arrest order, naturally, now, comes as a bonus.
I am left speechless.
And, very, very bitter that I am forced to a self-exile, in Europe, ripped off from my crying, beloved country, with an addition to my professional badge, ‘endangered species’.
All I have known is to write, talk and enlighten the public the best I can.
That’s what I intend to continue.
Here, with this blog.
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