March 12, 2016
The latest Turkey Book Talk podcast is with Mustafa Gürbüz, the author of “Rival Kurdish Movements in Turkey: Transforming Ethnic Conflict” (Amsterdam University Press).
Apologies for the delay in dropping this latest pod. I’ve had a technical nightmare.
Download the podcast or listen below.
Here’s another interview I did with him from last year about his research on the outlawed Kurdish Islamist militant group Hizbullah.
Finally, reposting my recent podcast with Frederike Geerdink discussing the Kurdish issue.
February 5, 2016
This week’s podcast is with Frederike Geerdink, author of “The Boys are Dead: The Roboski Massacre and the Kurdish Question in Turkey” (Gomidas).
We chat about her time as a journalist in the Kurdish-majority city Diyarbakır, her deportation from Turkey last year, and the troubled history/present of the issue in the wake of the collapse of the peace process last summer.
Download the podcast, or listen below:
Here’s my review of the book at Hürriyet Daily News.
Added bonus: I’ve dug out this interview from last year with sociologist Cem Emrence, co-author of “Zones of Rebellion: Kurdish Insurgents and the Turkish State” – quite a thought-provoking book.
October 24, 2015
My interview this week was with Professor Michael M. Gunter, author of “Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War” (Hurst).
The slim book charts the Syrian Kurds’ rise to international profile since 2011, taking in their modern history under Ba’athist oppression, their development of “national conscience,” and ties between the PYD in northern Syria and the PKK in Turkey.
Download the interview in podcast form.
Here’s the text of the interview at HDN.
And here’s my review.
September 17, 2015
I’ve written a piece for New America’s Weekly Wonk newsletter about the current mess in Turkey. Unfortunately it’s not very optimistic:
“Turkey has been rocked in recent weeks by a fresh wave of violent clashes between its security forces and the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). After each PKK attack on security forces, politicians and the media stress that Turkey stands “united” against terror, but rarely has the country been more bitterly divided…
“The situation now seems to be spinning out of anyone’s control … Turkey desperately needs unifying statesmen to rise above the political fray. Instead, it is heading into yet another needless and divisive election campaign. President Erdoğan faces a personal fight for his political survival. The AKP’s senior figures, enjoying legal immunity so long as they remain elected officials, are paranoid in the face of what they see as a stark choice: office or jail.
“With the stakes so high, what should we expect from the November elections? What if again no single-party winner is produced, forcing fresh coalition talks? Turkey’s major parties are essentially based on expressions of identity politics, so voters tend to shift allegiances very little. But Turkey is also a very unpredictable country, and the violence currently shaking it may also shake voter behavior in ways currently unclear. Do Turks agree with Erdoğan that only a strong AKP under his thumb can resolve the current unrest? Or do they think this instability is being cynically manipulated by the AKP? Can an election even take place in environment of such bloody instability? Whatever the answers, the fact that such questions are even being asked makes it difficult to be optimistic about Turkey’s short-term future.”
Read the whole thing at New America.
July 25, 2015
As a result my interview and review this week are sadly topical. I spoke to Cem Emrence, who co-authored a new title on the history of the Turkey-PKK conflict, “Zones of Rebellion: Kurdish Insurgents and the Turkish State.” It is a slim but rich book, elaborating a complex theory of path dependence that has limited the options of both the Turkish state and the PKK over three decades and ultimately led to stalemate.
And something completely different: In next week’s Times Literary Supplement I review a new English selection of the great Sait Faik’s stories. It’s only available in print form so you’ll have to seek out an actual real physical copy of the TLS if you’re interested in reading it.
The dust has almost settled after the fallout from daily Milliyet’s controversial publication of the “İmralı leaks.” The paper’s reporting of leaked details of the meeting between imprisoned PKK head Abdullah Öcalan and a parliamentary delegation shook the media agenda two weeks ago, and was widely condemned by government officials as an attempt to “sabotage” the ongoing peace process. In fact, the episode has not had this effect, but it has managed to expose the fragile state of media freedom in Turkey once again – it’s regretful that such bold government criticism of the media has become increasingly familiar of late.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led the reactions from the front, repeatedly singling out Milliyet in the days following the leaks. “If that’s how you’re doing your journalism, shame on you! The media will say [the same thing] again: The prime minister is attacking us. But whoever tries to spoil the process in the media is against me and my government. There cannot be limitless freedom,” he said, before calling on the media only to report “in the national interest.” Of course, given Erdoğan’s past record on such matters it’s not surprising to hear him once again hitting out at media coverage that he considers inconvenient. However, the apparent emotion behind the outbursts on this occasion is probably related to the fact that his personal political destiny depends to a large extent on the success of the current peace talks.
Rumours circulated that sackings and resignations from Milliyet would follow the leaks, but editor-in-chief Derya Sazak wrote a robust defense on the Monday following Erdoğan’s words: “If the story is accurate, which it is, we print it. We do not take the prime minister’s words upon us.” Nevertheless, the criticism evidently had an effect, as veteran writer Hasan Pulur’s column did not appear on the same day, and it was also widely reported that the paper’s owner wanted government critics Can Dündar and Hasan Cemal to be removed on the prime minister’s order. Indeed, Cemal has not appeared in Milliyet for two weeks since the İmralı leaks, although no official announcement has been made. Dündar and Cemal are perhaps surprising names for Erdoğan to target, as – despite often being critical of the ruling AKP – both have expressed their support for its current peace process.
Although many government-supporting voices in the media unsurprisingly joined Erdoğan in condemning Milliyet’s “sabotage” attempts, there were many others defending the principle of media independence. In her daily Habertürk column, The Economist’s Turkey correspondent Amberin Zaman described Milliyet’s responsibility to print the İmralı meeting details as being a journalistic duty in the public interest:
“A journalist’s job is to find the truth and then inform the public; to protect the citizen from the state … By publishing the İmralı minutes, did Milliyet give Turkey’s enemies advantageous operational information? No. Did it put the sources’ lives at risk? No. Was sharing the talks between Öcalan and the BDP something that would injure the national interest? No. In the end, Milliyet was only doing journalism.”
In an interview with daily Akşam, Alper Görmüş – the editor-in-chief of political journal Nokta when it was closed down under military pressure in 2007 – also said Milliyet was right to print the leaked minutes, stating that he too would have published them if he was in the same situation.
“The principle criterion of journalism is honest reporting. The fact that no party has refuted Milliyet’s story on the ‘Imrali transcripts’ and that almost all of Turkey’s newspapers quoted the story the following day show that it was true … The public has been informed truthfully about a process that it has an interest in learning about. This is honest and proper journalism …
“The media has no mission to side with the political power. It should stand by the truth. A contribution to the process of a solution can only be realized by writing the truth and the facts, not by hiding them or by exercising self-censorship.
“Indeed, governing a country and practicing journalism are different things. In a country where those who govern try to teach journalists how to do their job and where journalists attempt to govern, it cannot be possible for democracy to stand on its feet.”
A thoughtful response to the events also came from Today’s Zaman’s Yavuz Baydar, who again returned to the effect of media ownership structures on press freedom in Turkey – one of the most crucial (but less discussed) aspects of the issue:
“Jail and detention have been the focus with regards to Turkey, but the real threat to the media remains (under an old, well-known dark shadow of the power) owner-induced censorship and self-censorship, including being banned from writing on specific subjects.
“Whether one denies it or not, ownership issues dominate the freedom and independence of our media today. If we in emerging democracies need to defend both of these issues, we need new ownership models.”
In the same paper, Orhan Kemal Cengiz bemoaned the more immediate issue of direct government pressure on the media with respect to Milliyet’s İmralı leaks:
“Yes, it is true; the publishing of these leaked notes has damaged the peace process … But it is a level of damage which is absolutely nothing when compared to the damage that would occur to our democracy and freedoms if our media suddenly starts censuring itself out of fear from ‘what will the government say?’ every time it encounters a newsworthy and important document it wants to print.”
Actually, the situation is rather more urgent than Cengiz suggests. The fact is that the damage that “would” come from self-censorship has already been occurring for quite some time.
November 7, 2012
The hunger strikes of 682 Turkish prisoners are entering their 57th day. The way that they – and the broader issues related to them – are being reported by media outlets known to be close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) clearly reflects the direction that the government’s Kurdish policy has recently taken.
With the government’s “Kurdish initiative” apparently having run out of steam, the conflict between the Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has become increasingly bloody over the last 12 months, and chances for a political solution seem to be ever more remote. The latest bloody incident in south-eastern Turkey took place in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province on Nov. 4, when a car bomb targeting a military vehicle killed 11-year-old boy Faris Demircan and wounded 26 others. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the PKK is widely thought to be behind the blast.
On Nov. 5, the Gülen-affiliated Cihan news agency reported that pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Hakkari deputy, Esat Canan, tried to visit the family of the deceased to offer his condolences, but was refused entry to the family home. However, no sources were referenced and no quotations on the incident from the family were included in the report. What’s more, no other news agencies mentioned this and local media in the area reported quite the opposite, saying that Canan had in fact been welcomed in to “share the pain.”
Those known to be close to the government, or the Gülen movement, were the only national newspapers to feature Cihan’s story. Zaman included it as their main front page story, under the headline: “Family of 11-year-old Faris respond to the BDP: ‘You killed our child, how dare you come here’”.
Star included the same story on its front page, alongside news claiming that local traders in Şemdinli were closed in protest against the incident. The headline read: “Şemdinli’s shutters closed against the PKK.”
Strongly Islamist daily Yeni Şafak carried a front page headline declaring: “BDP driven from the door”, included under which was a subtle subtitle: “God damn them.” Popular pro-government daily Sabah also featured the same story at the bottom of its front page under the headline: “You murdered my son.”
BDP deputy Canan has written a formal letter of complaint – which I have read (anybody interested can contact me) – to Cihan news agency about its “baseless” report. In the letter, he says that his visit was in fact accepted by the family of the deceased, and he claims that Cihan’s news was written without any examination of the area and without any correspondent on the ground. He demands a retraction and an apology, warning that he will exercise his full legal rights to pursue the case if he does not receive one.