ISTANBUL – In a march in the Turkish metropolis Istanbul, about forty thousand people commemorated the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated exactly five years ago on Thursday. There was a lot of anger about the verdict of the judge last Tuesday, when he classified the murder as an act of individuals, rather than as an organized crime of people with ties with the state. People cried out for justice.
Rakel Dink, the widow of Hrant, walked at the front of the march from the central Taksim square to the office of Agos, the Turkish and Armenian language paper of which Dink was editor in chief. The main protest slogan hadn’t changed in five years: ‘We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenian’. But another slogan was added; ‘Murder state, you will have to take responsibility!’
The verdict of the judge is problematic for several reasons. In the five years since the murder it became clear that those who ordered the murder had ties with people within, for example, the police apparatus, and that several people in responsible positions were informed about the murder forehand but didn’t take action to prevent it. The legal process, however, was so effectively frustrated by them and by state institutions that these ties couldn’t be legally proved. This reduced the faith in the justice system of the Dink family and of many Turks to a minimum.
Several government representatives and even president Gül have asked for patience from the public, because the legal means to convict the perpetrators are not yet exhausted. An appeal is indeed possible, but there is a chance that it will lead to the freedom of Yasin Hayal, the one perpetrator who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday: for a non-organized crime the remand can not exceed five years.
The conference on the history of the Diyarbakir region, held last November in Diyarbakir, came to an end. The final word would be for Rakel Dink, widow of Hrant. The Hrant Dink Foundation was one of the organizers of the conference. She came forward, and whereas everybody expected a speech, she started to sing. A Kurdish song. She sounded and looked so vulnerable. That song sung by this Armenian woman who grew up in a Kurdish community, brought the history of the Diyarbakir region back to heartbreaking human proportions. Many people couldn’t hold back their tears.
The life story of Rakel Dink, (maiden name Yaghbasan), is a remarkable one. She was born in a village in the southeast of Turkey, the daughter of a leader of an Armenian clan, known as the Ermeni Varto clan. Several families of the clan escaped from the genocide in 1915 and settled in the Cudi mountains, in the present-day province of Sirnak. They lived there for twenty five years, isolated from the outside world.
When they finally came down from the mountains, they found the lands they had lived on had been taken over by Kurds. They partly assimilated with them: over time, for example, they came to speak Kurdish better than Armenian, and they started dressing in traditional Kurdish clothing. But at the same time the clan life persisted: there were no intercultural marriages, and, being very religious, they kept respecting Christian traditions. That’s the society Rakel was born in, in 1959. Her father sent her to Istanbul when she was nine years old, to get an Armenian education – she was the first child to leave the lands the clan came from.
In Istanbul, Rakel lived in an Armenian orphanage. That is where she became Armenian again, rather than a Kurdish-speaking Armenian. That is where she met Hrant. They grew up together and eventually got married – her father resisted the marriage for some time because Hrant was not a clan member. They had three children.
Rakel is now the only Ermeni Varto clan member who still lives in Turkey. The whole clan moved to Istanbul some decades ago, and moved to Belgium about thirty years ago to escape the hardening stance towards Armenians in Turkey. Exactly five years ago today, Rakel became a widow.
Before her husband was brutally killed, Rakel was not very much in the foreground. She stood behind her husband. Now, the circumstances force her to be more visible. She spoke to the thousands and thousands of people who attended the funeral of her husband, and after that, she gave speeches more often. In public, at conferences, in court (of which you can read an example here). Before every court hearing, the group ‘Friends of Hrant Dink’ organized gatherings to demand justice, and Rakel would always be there. It always hurt me to see these pictures. Her face in such agony. Look at this picture, from when Hrant was still alive.
I would want to ask Rakel if she feels lonely. She is seperated from her clan and family due to the way Turkey, her home land, has treated Armenians, it’s own citizens. Her husband got killed for the very same reason. No justice has been done in the court case against the killers, again for the very same reason. There are many people who support Rakel, and today in the walk to commemorate her husband there will be thousands marching with her. Does that give her enough strength to not feel intensly lonely? Or would she never describe herself as lonely in the first place, because she is rooted in such strong traditions and in such strong family ties that she always feels connected? She is a very religious woman: till what extend does religion help her to cope, and did she ever, if only for a second, lose her faith in God?
Rakel Dink tops the list of people in Turkey that I would love to interview. But she doesn’t give interviews. Not until the court case against the murderers of her husband is over. The case came to an end this week. But the verdict denies what everybody knows: the state was behind it, and it got inspired by the state ideology that doesn’t accept anybody who doesn’t fit the one size fits all identity of being a (Sunni) Moslim and a Turk.
The lawyers of the Dink family are determined to push through and go as far as they can to get the truth out and the perpetrators punished. I wonder how many more years before the case can really be closed. I wonder what the outcome will be, and if and how it will help reshape Turkey. Will it eventually give Rakel the feeling that justice is done? To her husband and herself, to her community and the country she too is a daughter of? For now, the questions remain unasked, unanswered. I wish her all the strength she needs.
Dutch woman Maaike Dekkers (32) is married to Veli, a Turkish man. They have two sons, Semih (3) and Kaya (2). Until recently they lived together in Turkey, but last June Maaike returned to the Netherlands. With her children, but without her husband.
‘Veli knew what I gave up in the Netherlands, and why I had such a difficult time in Turkey. ‘Then why don’t you go back to the Netherlands?’, he once said. ‘But I don’t want to go without you!,’ I replied. He meant that I could go to Holland for a week or so, just to gain some strength and energy, but to me it slowly became clear that that would not be enough. One week in the Netherlands would just not be enough to get our life back on track again.
It started eight years ago. I was 24, and on holiday in Turkey with my mother. In Side, a tourist town on the south coast, I met Veli. We were instantly attracted to each other. He was a waiter in a hotel, and I found him different than all the other guys working in tourism. He was not macho, but shy, and he didn’t flirt with all the women like the other men.
He very soon declared his love for me. I was careful though: in such a touristy town women come and go the whole long summer, as I was aware of course. But I did really like him, and during the holiday I just enjoyed his attention.
After coming back to the Netherlands I couldn’t get him out of my mind. We stayed in touch, and I noticed I felt more for him than just some summer butterflies. He was kind-hearted and I’m attracted to that, and he turned out to be very curious. He has no education at all because there was no money for that in his family, but he’s very intelligent. He taught himself German and English, he was interested in many things, open to everything.
I decided to go back to see if there could be more between us. I hesitated at the last moment: I had fallen while horse-riding, my arm was broken and I was not sure how he would react to that. But he showed his most caring side. Did everything for me. Then it became clear to me: he is serious in his feelings for me. That’s why I could let go of my scepticism about holiday love, and give room to my butterflies for him. I kept going back, about six times in two years. Things were good between us, uncomplicated.
I was looking forward to building a life together
But the better we were together, the more difficult I found this long distance relationship. I wanted to be with him. Also, I really liked life in Turkey: less rushed and planned, and on the south coast the weather is always sunny.
When I visited Veli, I did see that life was different in summer than in winter. From May till October he worked hard, always as a waiter in the same hotel, while in the winter he only had irregular temporary jobs, for example in construction. But I thought we could manage with that. And anyway, if I moved to Turkey, I would of course work as well. In the Netherlands I worked in a children’s day-care centre and I had an extra job in a bar to finance my trips and phone calls to Turkey, and I was confident this experience would lead to a job easily. Also because I know my languages: English, German, Dutch and some French.
After almost two years of traveling, six years ago I quit my jobs and left the Netherlands. I had so much faith in Veli and me, and I was so much looking forward to building a life together. Still, I was of course aware that I had no idea what it would be like to not be just visiting Turkey, but to actually live there.
I had everything my heart desired
The first summer was hard. When I arrived, there were no more jobs available ; all summer job vacancies were filled. Veli worked long hours, I knew nobody and my Turkish was very bad. We lived in a village, and as soon as Veli left for work, neighbourhood women came to our house. They rang the bell, I opened the door and the next moment they would be straight into the living room, opening cupboards and drawers. One woman sometimes left her children with me when she had to go to work. I had no idea how to handle the situation, I felt so lost.
But after some time, the tide turned. I got to know some English people who owned a horse riding school. I could work there, even though I didn’t have a work permit. A dream job: I love children and horses. On their land there was a small house where Veli and I could live very cheaply. A paradise: it was far outside the village, we had a lot of space around us, we could grow our own vegetables, the natural surroundings were beautiful and I was outside most of the day.
Veli’s situation also seemed to improve, because the hotel planned to stay open during the winter, so he would have work and health insurance the whole year round. That’s when we got married. When friends asked when I would come back to the Netherlands, I said: ‘I don’t think I’ll come back.’ I had everything my heart desired.
From one day to the other, we couldn’t make ends meet anymore
The situation seemed stable enough to seriously consider having a family. We didn’t have much money, but that didn’t need to prevent our children having a good childhood, did it? There were many poor families, but they had a good life anyway, it seemed to me. In retrospect that was far too romantic a notion. Before you actually have children, you don’t know what it feels like to be a mother and what kind of things you will find important.
When I got pregnant, I immediately noticed I missed my family more than ever. My family-inlaw was hardly there for me. Turkish families are close, it’s said, but Veli’s family only showed up when it suited them, not when I needed them. My parents were not there when Semih was born because he was born a few weeks prematurely. When Kaya was born, only my mother could come, because my father was sick and not allowed to fly. Friends in Holland sent me presents, like baby clothes and Dutch sweets, but none of them arrived.
As if that wasn’t enough, our financial situation changed drastically. My job at the riding school ended suddenly: the owners hadn’t arranged things properly and were thrown out of the country. The hotel where Veli worked decided not to open during winter after all. From one day to the other, we didn’t even have enough money to pay our daily expenses. We couldn’t make ends meet without financial support from my family. For me, it was hard to find work: jobs are never part-time here but always six or seven long days a week, and getting a work permit is very difficult.
Do I want them to have a future like their father’s?
Children are not unhappy when there is not much money. I still believe that, but since I’ve been a mother, I have let go a bit of that Turkish mentality. The mentality of ‘tomorrow is a new day’. That attitude suits me, but not when it concerns my children. No health insurance for six months a year, that’s not okay, is it? Veli would say: ‘Come on, don’t be so negative, nothing bad will happen’. But I found that irresponsible and just wanted to have things arranged properly. The Dutch way, so to speak.
I also thought of the future of Semih and Kaya. In Turkey, if you don’t have money, you can’t send your kids to a good school. Do I want them to have a future like their father’s, without education, with only insecure jobs in tourism with no prospect of a better life? No, I want them to have more opportunities.
I felt increasingly lonely. I couldn’t go anywhere, because I had no transport and the village was too far away to walk. The children, colleagues and horses of the riding school were gone, and I was home alone the whole day with two little children. Veli was home in the mornings and returned from work only late at night. I was always eating alone with the kids, I always put them to bed alone, and when Semih and Kaya were asleep, I would sit alone on the couch. In winter it was the same, because in Turkey men and family come first. I always felt I came second, while I had given up everything I had in Holland, and had to manage as a young mother without my family.
I wanted to fight – one more time
That’s the situation we were in when Veli said: ‘‘Then why don’t you go to the Netherlands?” That was about a year ago now. But how could I go back? Going with the whole family was no option, because for that you need a minimum income and of course I didn’t have that. And without Veli? Maybe there was no other way, but I couldn’t make the decision yet. We loved each other, we had a family and I wanted to fight for that. One more time.
I stayed, but a few things needed to change. I wanted two mornings of child care for Semih so I would have a bit more time for myself. Veli would have to contribute more to bringing up the kids and he would have to seriously search for a more stable winter job.
For some time he seemed to make an effort, but soon our life returned to the same pattern. The importance of a stable life, a stable income, taking care of the family together, he just didn’t see it. In Turkey you are not automatically brought up with that, largely because financial security is just out of reach for many people. Veli himself grew up in a poor family, so for him that’s much more normal than for me as a Dutch woman.
Besides, it didn’t get through to him that I was reaching my limit. That I would really go away if my demands were not met. At least, I think it didn’t get through to him. I’m not sure what was going on in his mind. That bothered me as well: he’s not very talkative. And I only really noticed that when times got rough.
He didn’t try to change my mind
When I told him I had reached my limit and that I would go to the Netherlands with the children, said he understood me. That he was sad he could no longer make me happy. No, he didn’t try to change my mind. Like I said: he didn’t realize what was happening. He put his head in the sand, also in the weeks before my departure. But this is vague for me too, because our talks about this remained superficial.
I have not regretted my decision after I made up my mind. I was all done in. I had been fighting for our relationship and our family for years, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m a mother, I want stability for the children, and I made this decision for them. That only works if I’m one hundred percent behind it and totally devote myself to a new start in the Netherlands.
And I really didn’t hesitate. I still loved Veli, but my feelings had also cooled down because I got so little back from him. I noticed it at the airport too, when we said goodbye. That was dramatic, of course there were tears, but I wasn’t so much sad for myself as for Semih. Kaya didn’t know what was happening, he was too small, but when we passed through customs, Semih understood his father wasn’t joining us and he couldn’t stop crying.
To be honest: I’m blossoming
Veli misses us terribly; in the beginning he came home from work crying every night. All of a sudden his house was empty, and reality hit him hard. Of course, I’m also sad, but for me it’s different. It took me months to make this decision. I’m trying to get my life back on track. I have a small contract at a children’s day-care centre and work an average of three days a week. The boys and I live in the attic of my parents’ house, where we have two big rooms. I’m trying to find a house, and I want a more stable job so that I don’t need welfare anymore. There have been problems with my citizenship. In short, I’ve immediately landed right in the middle of organized, bureaucratic Dutch life. And I have the boys, for them of course it’s a big change too.
To be honest, I’m blossoming. I ride horses again, I sometimes go biking with the boys into the polder, I see friends, I work. People tell me I’m radiant again. At the same time, I miss part of myself. I still love Veli, I still love Turkey. Nobody in my family, none of my friends knows what life in Turkey is really like, what it was like for me and why I also miss the atmosphere, the sun, the Turkish lifestyle. Only Veli knows that part of me. And he is not here.
Was it a good decision to take the children away from their father?
Veli wants to come over, but I’m not pushing that. It’s not possible yet, because I still don’t make enough money to get a residence permit for him. We want to try to get him to Holland for three months before the tourism season starts again in Turkey, to see how he likes it here. He’s been here before, he found it ‘nice’, but I’m sure he can’t adapt here. In Turkey he has energy and is an active man, in the Netherlands he loses all his energy and becomes not my husband, but my third child. He can’t deal with change so well. He doesn’t fit in here, he fits in in Turkish life.
I feel that I am drifting away from him. I love him, but it also hurts me that he made so little effort for us. Of course I sometimes ponder in my bed, when I have time to reflect on this period in my life: was it a good decision to take the children away from their father? Will the boys ever hold this against me? How often are they going to see their dad? I don’t know, I can’t look into the future. But I take into account that we won’t make it as a couple, and that in the future we will both just be the parents of our children.’
ISTANBUL – A Turkish ultranationalist has been sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday for ordering the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Yasin Hayal and nineteen others were however cleared of terrorism charges.
Dink was assassinated in front of the office of his newspaper in Istanbul on 19 January 2007. He was controversial among nationalist Turks, because he called the mass killings of Armenians in the First World War ‘genocide’.
There is great bewilderment and anger among the Dink family and their lawyers. The murder is now classified as an act by individuals, while it is commonly believed that behind it was Ergenekon, a shadowy gang of bureaucrats and military personnel that is classed as terrorist and connected to the state. Fethiye Cetin, one of the lawyers for the Dink family, said in a statement: ‘This ruling means a tradition was left untouched: the state tradition of political murders.’
The murderer, who was 17 years old when he shot Dink, was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment last year.
ISTANBUL – Almost five years on there is still a lot that is not clear about the shadowy network that ordered the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. However a start has been made in dealing with the ‘deep state’, the ‘state within the state’ that is widely held responsible for the killing. Thursday marks five years since Dink was shot by a young nationalist.
Today such a murder is no longer possible in Turkey, according to prominent human rights activist and lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz. ‘I’m sure of that. The atmosphere has changed since the probe into Ergenekon started’.
Ergenekon is a gang of highly placed people inside the state apparatus that defends the state by any means, and protects itself against prosecution. The ‘deep state’ is responsible for dozens of murders.
The murder on Hrant Dink, on 19 January 2007, was one of the last Ergenekon killings. In April 2007 three employees of a Christian publishing house were murdered in the city of Malatya, most likely also by Ergenekon. Cengiz: ‘That was the last Ergenekon murder. After that the investigation into the deep state started and since then actually some murders have been prevented.’
The connections between Ergenekon and the perpetrators of the Dink murder were never confirmed. The trial against the suspects has been constantly frustrated by the deep state, which still has a lot of influence behind the scenes. Documents have disappeared or were held back and key figures were never called to testify or otherwise held to account.
Tuesday was the last hearing in the court case. After five years some judicial procedures can not be prolonged. Cengiz: ‘It is a great pity that the case has come to a premature closure. It would be good for the fight against the deep state if all the structures and responsible people behind it were brought out into the open.’
The case can continue if the prosecutor finds new evidence. But he is not known for trying his very best to get to the truth. Cengiz: ‘Ergenekon is also suspected of planning a coup, and the prosecutor is concentrating on that, not on the murders Ergenekon committed.’
Cengiz was threatened himself by the deep state some years ago. Is he still afraid? Cengiz: ‘I’ve never been afraid. There was a real danger, but I don’t feel that anymore.’
It’s going well with the visitor numbers of this website. Since it was launched in 2007 the numbers have grown from 15 (my parents and a handful of friends and colleagues) to 30,000 a month now, and 50,000 if I include the Dutch version. I am reaching an ever-growing public in not only my home country, the Netherlands, but also in Turkey, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and several other countries.
I am ultra happy that my plan to come to Turkey as a freelance correspondent turned out so well. I have managed to write for a wide range of media about a wide range of subjects, mainly focusing on politics, human rights and women’s lives. By publishing them all here and by adding blog posts, I drew people to this little corner of the Internet, and made them visit again and again.
I am far from done with reporting about Turkey. I will keep doing what I have been doing for the last five years (yes, there’s an anniversary situation here!), but I also plan to dig deeper. Into the Kurdish question, to be precise. I’m not going to reveal all my plans here, partly because they are so huge they make me nervous, but this coming year I will focus on researching in many different ways. In the end, a book will come out, that I will write in Dutch and plan to have immediately translated to English. But it’s going to be multimedia, so there’s more to it than a book!
And, to be blunt: I need funds. Funds to create time to focus. Funds to hire translators and other professionals to assist me. Funds for travelling. Funds to buy books. I will apply for funds for journalists, but I’m pretty sure that is not going to cover all the stuff I need to do and pay for. As well, regular funds can’t compensate for the normal (read: direct money earning) working hours I will miss because of working on this project.
That, my dear reader, is where you come in. You can financially support me! Any contribution is very much appreciated, and will be – promise – spent wisely and with care. Of course I will write about my work in progress here. For the rest, I can’t give anything in return right away. But in the end, it will lead to a thorough and fair, both political and personal journalistic work. Just like you are used to getting from your favourite correspondent.
Curious about what this will lead to? There is only one way to find out! Help me make this possible! You can make your donation via Paypal (and no, you don’t need your own Paypal account for that) and start the easy procedure by clicking the button underneath. Or, if you live in the Netherlands, by transferring any amount to ING Bank account 3700084, in the name of FH Geerdink in Hengelo (my home town, where my parents still live). Want to transfer from abroad? IBAN: NL27INGB0003700084, BIC: INGBNL2A.
On 28 December 35 civilians died in an air strike of the Turkish army. The victims came from the villages of Gülyazi and Ortasu, in the district Uludere in the southeastern province of Sirnak.
In two weeks time, I wrote seven stories about it. Some of them are based on what I saw and heard in Gülyazi, where I went a few days after the massacre. The articles were written partly for media I work for, partly for this website. I sweep them together here, to give you an idea of what happened, in chronological order.
On 10 January, Turkish NGO’s Insan Haklari Dernegi (Human Rights Association) and Mazlum-Der published a report about the Uludere massacre. They did not get access to any of the authorities. They published a list of questions that urgently need answers, and state that the UN and the Council of Europe should investigate what happened.
This will never happen. Ever since Turkey’s war of independence, that lead to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Turkey has a deep rooted suspicion against any foreign interference. The government will never allow anybody from outside dig into its affairs. Especially not when it has no intention of the truth ever coming out, like in this case. Already very soon certain documents concerning the massacre were labelled ‘classified’ – with which the covering up began.
My conclusion: the truth about Uludere will never be known, and those responsible will never be punished.
SMUGGLING – At the end of December 35 people lost their lives in a bombardment by the Turkish army. Seventeen of them were less than 18 years old. They were smugglers, who brought diesel and sugar from Iraq to Turkey. There is a war going on in the area between Turkey and the PKK, a forbidden Kurdish movement. That makes the smuggling risky. Why do these kids smuggle, if it is so dangerous?
Seyvan (11) has already joined the smugglers once on their trip to Iraq. First three hours through rugged mountains to cross the border, then three hours back. ‘It was very difficult’, he says. ‘Luckily on the way up I was allowed to ride a donkey. On the way back that was not possible, because then the donkeys are loaded with goods.’
He didn’t want to go again for some time, but now that so many boys and young men have died, everything is different and he has no choice. His 13 year old brother Bedran was one of the boys that died in the bombing. Seyvan: ‘Now I am the oldest boy at home. If I don’t go smuggling, we won’t have enough money to live on.’
Smuggling is an absolute necessity for survival in parts of southeast Turkey. The area is inhabited by Kurds, a minority that does not have the same rights in Turkey as ethnic Turks. Thirty years ago the armed Kurdish group PKK started a violent campaign against the state. Ever since then there has been war between the PKK and the Turkish army, especially in the mountains around the border with Iraq.
Because of the fighting, other means to earn a living have disappeared. People can’t go to their fields anymore, because large areas of the land have been declared a military exclusion zone. Herding sheep is dangerous: there are land mines in the area. Companies don’t want to invest in the southeast because it’s not safe enough, so there are no factories either.
From smuggling you can earn around 700 lira per month, and that’s just enough to make a living in a village. Children join in the smuggling starting at about thirteen years old to make up the 700 lira family income, and sometimes a bit extra for schoolbooks, or a laptop. Özer (19) often went smuggling when he was between 13 and 15 years old. Now he is studying tourism in a city in the region. ‘But in my holidays I still go smuggling’, he says. ‘If I don’t go, my parents won’t have enough money to pay for my studies.’
It’s always scary, he says, to go into the mountains. ‘You can be shot at by soldiers. They know we smuggle and they allow it because they know we have no other source of income, but sometimes they shoot anyway. Luckily never anything happened to me.’
In a few more days the official mourning will be over and the smuggling will start again. Sinan is only eight years old but he will go too. He doesn’t have a father anymore, and his 13 year old brother Sivan died in the bombing. It is now his responsibility to provide for his family. He is very quiet, and only shrugs his shoulders when he is asked if he is scared. What can he say? He has no choice, there is no other work.
Just outside the village is the graveyard of Gülyazi. All the graves of men and boys who died are in one field. It looks very colourful: there are cloths over the grave stones in the Kurdish colours green, red and yellow, and orange, pink, red and yellow plastic flowers have been stuck into the ground. The names of the dead are painted on the grave stones: the real stones haven’t been made yet. The graveyard looks out over the beautiful snowy mountains where the drama happened.
Semire (16), sister of Seyvan, sits down at the grave of her little brother Bedran. ‘I am so sad that Seyvan has to go smuggling now’, she says. ‘I would prefer to go in his place, I’m older. But smuggling is work for boys, not for girls.’
Semire helps her mother with housekeeping. Because of a lack of money she had to quit school. ‘I remember what Bedran said when they went off smuggling late in the afternoon; he would return home around 11 at night. I fell asleep, and when I woke up in the morning, I heard people crying and I saw that Bedran wasn’t there. Then I immediately knew he wouldn’t come home again.’
Denderleeuw – ‘We won!’ An employee of the Kurdish channel RojTV, broadcasting under a Danish license, enters the newsroom with a phone in his hand. He is on the line to Denmark, where the judge just announced the verdict in a case against RojTV, which is accused by the Turkish government of being a terrorist channel. Then everybody cheers: ‘We won!’ Shortly afterwards some people do a Kurdish folk dance, they sing, tears are flowing. RojTV will go on.
Five minutes earlier it’s very silent in the newsroom of RojTV, a satellite channel with millions of viewers in Turkey, surrounding countries and Europe. Everybody nervously awaits the verdict of the Danish judge. Under pressure from Turkey, the prosecutor has opened a case to get RojTV closed down for having ties with terrorism. More precisely: with the Kurdish PKK movement , which is still fighting a bitter war with the Turkish army, from bases in the North of Iraq.
RojTV covers what’s going on in Kurdish areas. Uncensored: funerals, demonstrations, bombardments, arrests. It’s been, to say the least, an irritant for the Turkish government and population for years. The very existence of RojTV and the fact that it is able to broadcast without any trouble from Belgium with a Danish licence, is in Turkish eyes the ultimate proof that Europe doesn’t take Turkey’s ‘fight against terrorism’ seriously.
According to broadcasting coordinator Ferda Cetin, of course RojTV has nothing to do with terrorism, he explains before the verdict is out: ‘We show the daily realities of Kurdistan. And that just doesn’t involve peaceful picnics.’ And the uplifting, sometimes even aggressive music, why is that necessary? Cetin: ‘If there is reason to be angry, we also express that in the music that accompanies the news. That matches the emotions of our viewers.’
Before the judge speaks, the journalists at RojTV have no idea how the verdict will turn out. They trust the Danish judge because, they say, they don’t have ties with the PKK, so nobody can prove these ties exist. On the other hand: the pressure from both Turkey and the United States is enormous. ‘The question is’, says journalist Cahit Mervan, ‘whether the Danish judge will make a political decision, or whether he dares not do that.’
The judge decides RojTV can continue its broadcasting. ‘Democracy does exist!’ one of the journalists cries out in the newsroom after the verdict. The group dancing gets bigger and moves to the studio, from where it goes straight on air. The inhabitants of the sleepy town of Denderleeuw, close to Brussels, probably have no idea what’s going on in that building next to the big Carrefour supermarket.
The verdict is there: RojTV, the Kurdish TVchannel broadcasting from Belgium with a Danish license, will not be closed. Good news! A victory for the freedom of speech. Having said that, I deeply wish for RojTV to disappear naturally, or at least to radically change.
I have the same wish for many Turkish TVchannels. They all glorify violence.
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched RojTV, but I have. I have friends in Diyarbakir and when I visit them, RojTV is the channel being watched. There are news broadcasts, nature and music programmes, the boring weather stuff, in short, just what you expect on a TV channel. All spiced up with some good old-fashioned PKK glorification. Groups of PKKfighters strolling through the mountains, images of guerillas who died in battle, historic footage of PKK leader Öcalan leading meetings, all accompanied by patriotic Kurdish music and flag waving.
I have to say I was kind of flabbergasted when I heard that a campaign on Twitter supporting RojTV has the slogan: ‘The voice of peace, RojTV’. They claim RojTV promotes peace, for example because it broadcasts in all languages spoken in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran: (several dialects of) Kurdish, Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Armenian and English. That’s great, and I mean it, but does that make it a voice of peace? The armed struggle is glorified, and however you look at it, an armed struggle is not peaceful. Dot.
Then again, I’m also flabbergasted when I hear Turkish officials speak about why they find it so important to close down RojTV. It’s promoting terrorism, they say, spreading hatred, etc. I prefer not to use the label ‘terrorism’ because I believe it’s a political term, but yes, violence is being glorified. But if that is a problem, shall we then also close down a few Turkish channels? Look at any Turkish news channel when the army has wiped out some PKK camp, or when a soldier has died: the army’s violence is being glorified, the funerals of soldiers are over-dramatized and repeated again and again, accompanied by patriotic music and flag waving. Just like on RojTV, but with other music, and another flag.
Both RojTV and Turkish channels are voices of violence. Via satellite dishes, they reach millions of people in Turkey and its wider region and in Europe. They are a perfect reflection of what is going on in Turkey: a bitter, long-lasting conflict, causing loss of precious human lives on both sides. Both RojTV and Turkish channels are symptoms of these conflicts. If you criticize RojTV, you can’t refrain from criticizing Turkish media as well. If you forbid RojTV, than take Turkish channels off the air too.
But of course, closing TVstations down for what they broadcast is never a good idea. It violates the freedom of speech, one of the most basic human rights. The trick is to nullify the reason why they apparently feel the need to glorify violence. If the Kurdish question is solved through political means, I bet RojTV will change, and Turkish channels too. But the stations have a responsibility of their own too. They could actually contribute to peace. By reducing nationalism, but most of all by stopping the glorification of violence, the flag waving, the nationalism.
The licence of RojTv has not been withdrawn. I strongly agree with the judges’ decision. And I deeply hope RojTV has the courage to change.