Firing Turkey’s Ece Temelkuran: The Price of Speaking Out
Turkey has long been feted by mainstream Western media as a bastion of secular democracy in a wider and largely Muslim region ruled by despots. However, critics argue that this image is allowing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become increasingly authoritarian. In recent years, journalists who report on stories not fitting within the government narrative have been targeted.
MC: Do you feel that you've always been able to write what you want to? Have you ever been censored?
ET: I haven't been censored, but when I reported from Kurdistan in northern Iraq, even mentioning the name 'Kurdistan' was taboo. And when I wrote about tens of Kurdish children being tortured in 2003 people were outraged. There has always been pressure on journalists who write on the Kurdish issue.
But pressure on media has never been like this. Now it's fear of being imprisoned, and once you're in prison no one can get you out. [Journalists] Ahmet Sik and Nadim Sener have been in jail for 11 months, they didn't even know until 6 or 7 months [after their arrest] what the charges [against them] are.
Since there is government propaganda to legitimize these prosecutions, it's very hard to get around this. The propaganda machine is huge. Not only nationally but internationally.
MC: Did your firing come as a surprise?
ET: Not really because the stand I took about the arrested journalists and the massacre [of 35 Kurdish civilians on Turkey's border with Iraq] was too strong for the mainstream media to handle. Because the prime minister, a few days ago just after the massacre, [threatened] ones who use [the term] 'massacre,' and I've been using it on twitter and social media.
MC: That sounds like Turkey's recent warnings to France after its senate voted to recognize the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a "genocide." Why is language so important for the Turkish government?
ET: Because terminology creates political and ethical responsibility. Then if you use term 'massacre,' the prime minister might have to apologize for the massacre, which he doesn't want to. Rather he wants to blame media. And that media was silent for about a half day after the incident. None of the networks gave the news until prime minister’s official statement about massacre, but that wasn't enough. He only wants to see his thoughts [printed in the newspapers].
MC: Why were you fired?
ET: The last two articles I wrote might be perceived as 'too controversial.’ One was called "Sir, yes Sir!" referring to the prime minister. The article ended "So you give the orders my commander but I'm not listening to you anymore. We are the rest of this country! We are not listening to your orders anymore!"
The last article was about how 19 of those killed were kids between 12 and 15. He made this speech about Uludere [the border town where the attack happened] massacre, which was outrageous, and he blamed journalists. And I wrote an article repeating the number [of dead] ridiculing the prime minister’s cruel attitude in a bitter way.
MC: Are you the only person writing like this in the mainstream media?
ET: There are a few others, and all of them called me today to say that ‘we are coming as well to the land of unemployment, just wait for us.’ They say, 'we are writing our articles as if we're writing our last articles.' Everyone is pessimistic about the coming days.
MC: Why are they targeting veteran journalists like Nadim Sener and Ahmet Sik?
ET: Because they were writing books about the Gulen movement [Islamists believed to have close ties to the AKP] getting organized in police department and intelligence services. They took the manuscript of Ahmet's book, The Army of the Imam (which has since been published online). Nadim's book [on how the Gulen movement is organizing in the police and state intelligence] is unpublished.
They were reporting on different things, especially criticizing the government and revealing the bad practices of government."
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