De bus naar Koerdistan

‘Stay on the fucking bus.’ Zo begon ik eens een lezing tijdens een journalistiek symposium in Amsterdam. Volgens mij schrok een deel van het publiek een beetje: wat zegt ze nu?! Dus die had ik meteen weer wakker, zo aan het eind van de middag na een reeks andere sprekers. Stay on the fucking bus, een beter advies is er niet voor zelfstandig werkende creatieven. Mijn bus, die zette eind 2011, begin 2012 koers naar Koerdistan. Dus daar ben ik nu, na ruim een jaar Nederland, weer terug.

Dit is mijn derde column voor Frontaal Naakt sinds ik onlangs besloot er met regelmaat te gaan publiceren. In deze column leest u waarom! Lees verder op Frontaal Naakt.

‘Ik was beschermd. Zij niet.’

Sinds de moord op haar collega Daphne Caruana Galizia, op 16 oktober 2017, zorgt journalist Caroline Muscat ervoor dat ze nooit meer dan één vliegtuigvlucht verwijderd van Malta is. Ze wil snel terug kunnen zijn om een ontwikkeling in het moordonderzoek, of de daarmee samenhangende kwesties, te kunnen verslaan. Corruptie, belangenverstrengeling, belastingontduiking en de beruchte Panama Papers, om maar eens wat thema’s te noemen. Muscat: „Het is niet realistisch te denken dat wij het laatste puzzelstukje zullen vinden dat de moord oplost. Wel zullen we er alles aan doen zoveel mogelijk stukjes te verzamelen.”

Mijn interview met Caroline Muscat, journalist op Malta, in NRC Handelsblad van 16 oktober 2018. Lees het artikel op de site van NRC.

Maltese journalist Caroline Muscat continues in the spirit of her murdered colleague Daphne Caruana Galizia

On 16 October 2017 Malta’s most important investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in Malta. Three men will stand trial for carrying out the crime but the masterminds remain untouched, rendering Malta an unsafe place for independent journalists. Journalist Caroline Muscat refuses to get distracted by that.

Continue reading my first story for Index on Censorship, published on 15 October 2018, on the website!

Turkey to ban TV series about Sultan

ISTANBUL – Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1494-1566) spent thirty years of his life on a horse, stated the Turkish PM Erdogan. But in the highly popular TV soap ‘Muhtesem Yüzyil’, ‘The Magnificent Century’, he is mainly focused on the feminine beauty in the harem. A distortion of historical facts, according to the Prime Minister, and that’s why the series has to end. A law to indeed ban the series is ready to be sent to parliament.

In the new law it will be forbidden to ‘show historical events and figures that are highly esteemed by society in a way that humiliates, belittles or distorts them or doesn’t reflect their reality’. The party of PM Erdogan, the AKP, expects that the soap series will vanish from TV in 2013. The Magnificent Century started in January 2011, and immediately caused strong negative reactions. Still, the series is a major hit.

The AKP claims it’s not the rejection of The Magnificent Century by Erdogan that has lead to the new law, but the huge amount of complaints about the series that were sent to both the party and media watchdog RTÜK.

The debate about censorship is being heated up again by the bill, also because earlier this week the channel that broadcasts the animation series The Simpsons was fined by RTÜK for blasphemy.

Slowly but surely

In Turkey, the need for reform is large – as is the country’s capacity to implement these reforms. So, how effectively does governance in Turkey serve the needs of present and future generations, asks Fréderike Geerdink.

Let’s start with the good news. Starting with the bad news would mean stating that Turkey is performing rather badly when comparing OECD countries in terms of governance and quality of democracy. The Bertelsmann Stiftung’sSustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) 2011 rank Turkey at the very bottom of 31 nations in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). This might give the impression that the country is making no progress whatsoever – and this isn’t true.

Turkey is making good progress in some economical fields and in social affairs when it comes to creating a more equitable pension system, for example. These issues contribute to the state of democratization and sustainability of a country – and that is what the SGI is about.

The SGI is a cross-national survey of governance in the OECD that identifies reform needs and highlights forward-looking practices. Whereas the Status Index examines states’ reform needs in terms of the quality of democracy and performance in policy fields, the Management Index focuses on governance capacities in terms of steering capability and accountability. The survey was done for the first time in 2009; this article is based on the 2011 report. The next edition will be available in 2014.

31 developed, industrialized nations, committed to human rights, democratic pluralism and with an open-market economy were selected. The overall winner in the Status Index to date is Sweden, followed by Norway. The overall looser, however, is Turkey mainly due to some deficiencies in terms of the quality of democracy..

Fiscal Targets

Let’s talk about the economy. Turkey hasn’t been hugely affected by the global economic crisis. The government was optimistic about its own economy, based on for example having a healthy banking system and following prudent fiscal and monetary policies over the past few years. Nevertheless, Turkey’s economy didn’t do well in the first half of 2009 and the government decided to take measures to deal with the effects of the global crisis on the economy. A medium-term program was announced in the same year, outlining fiscal targets, proposing an exit strategy from the crisis and providing forecasts for major macroeconomic variables. The purpose is to achieve a sustainable growth rate in the aftermath of the crisis and to raise society’s welfare. The program runs till the end of 2012.

Moreover, policies regarding the budget composition led to a raise in the budget share dedicated to social security spending. That turned out to be a serious step in the direction of more social equality as well as sustainability. For the first time in the history of the republic military expenditures were cut in favor of spending on health and education.

Since 2007, Turkey’s budget deficit has grown: from 1.6 per cent of GDP to 5.5 per cent of GDP in 2009. In this field Turkey is doing better than other countries examined in the SGI such as Ireland and Italy. Turkey is also in better shape than Portugal and Spain, and the country has managed the financial crisis without help from the International Monetary Fund.

Thus, regarding the question as to whether budgetary policy is fiscally sustainable Turkey scores 6.5 points out of 10: better than Germany and Austria, but slightly worse than Canada, Denmark and Australia.

Turkey is Aging Fast

Turkey’s pension policy is also making progress. It scores 6 points out of 10, leaving a whole list of countries behind it, for example Greece, Portugal, Italy, Mexico, France and Belgium. But it’s still doing a bit worse than Poland, Hungary, Austria and South Korea.

With the Social Security and General Health Insurance Law, which went into force in October 2008, the pension and health system was radically modified. The new law embraces all social groups, including those not formally employed, and assures universal access to health services on equal terms. Those under the age of 18 years are covered by the health insurance scheme without having to pay premiums.

The pension system was changed with the new law as well. And there was dire need for this: Turkey’s population may be young, but it is aging fast: In 2001, 4 million people received pension benefits, in 2010 that number grew to 7.25 million. Groups that were not entitled to any pension security before do now get a pay-out, although the payments are far from assuring a livelihood. Further reforms are needed, if only to close the financial gap in the system: the revenues by far don’t meet the expenses.

Media Freedom

In many fields where Turkey is not doing well, however, good policies on paper don’t always lead to good practice. This is true, for example, when examining media freedom and pluralism.

For example, the Turkish law restricts media owners’ shareholders rights, but Turkey’s biggest media owners have substantial investments in other sectors, including energy and construction, which undermines media independence. The government appoints the general director of the public broadcast institution which makes it possible for the government to exercise tutelage over the administration of the public media.

Media companies are split into “proponents” and “opponents” of the government. It is argued that the government has facilitated the establishment of “proponent” media organizations by providing easy credit and also by indirectly threatening “opponent” media owners by opening tax-related procedures against them.

As of February 2008, there were 24 business groups in the national print and broadcast media; two of them control the majority of the sector which leads to the dominance of certain ideas and opinions. In short, the SGI state that the current media structure has nothing to do with the principles of the Council of Europe on promoting media pluralism.

Turkey does leave some other countries behind, though, when discussing the question if the media are independent and express a diversity of opinion and if government information is accessible: Here the SGI awards Turkey 6 points(the same as Greece, France and Austria), with South Korea scoring only 4.7 points and Slovakia 5 points out of 10. Better than Turkey? Among others Canada, Mexico and Spain.

Graveyard of Political Parties

Another interesting question that SGI discusses is if the Turkish state protects political liberties. A striking description of Turkey here is that the country is the graveyard of political parties. It was so in the past, and it is today. The Constitutional Court has banned 25 parties since it was established in 1961. Outlawed parties are usually accused of pursuing Kurdish nationalist or Islamist politics. In 2008, the court stopped just short of outlawing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Furthermore, Turkey still uses a 10 per cent election threshold for parliamentary representation. This represents the most significant legal obstacle to fair political representation. Smaller groups are not represented in the parliament, and also in other ways they are often not taken seriously. That becomes clear when examining the anti-discrimination policies of Turkey.

Article 10 of the Turkish constitution states that “all individuals are equal without any discrimination before the law, irrespective of language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such considerations.” Besides that, however, there are no laws to fight discrimination, affecting mostly ethnic and religious minorities, disabled persons, persons with non-mainstream sexual orientations, women and elderly people.

How deeply discrimination against, for example, gays and lesbians is rooted in society became apparent when the Court of Cassation ruled against the closure of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transvestite and transgender “Lambda Istanbul Solidarity Association”. And it added a statement saying that the association should not “encourage lesbian, gay, bisexual, transvestite and transsexual behavior with the aim of spreading such sexual orientations.”

Good Outlook

However, let’s end on an encouraging note: Firstly, when examining how effectively the Turkish government develops strategic policy solutions and fosters dialogue in the process, Turkey scores rather well: SGI ranks it on place 19 of 31 nations in the OECD – ahead of Belgium, France and South Korea, for example.

Secondly, comparing the SGI 2009 and 2011, Turkey made improvements in all fields in the survey except security policy. Also regarding the quality of democracy Turkey’s score rose slightly. Yet several minor improvements in areas such as economy and employment, social affairs and environmental and education policies have been achieved, particularly with regard to improving the sustainability of public budgets and creating a more equitable pension system. Turkey is making progress, albeit slowly.

You can find this article on the site of SGI News here.

A paper of four pages

He’s being looked at as he turns into the street, leaning on his hand cart laden with sunflower seeds. Bandage around his head, unsteady on his feet. He coughs. The people in the street laugh. Damn, there he is again!

Diyarbakir, capital of the Kurds, south-eastern Turkey. Don’t ask what year it is, it could be 1992, 1995,or even 1998. For newspaper boy, or more precisely newspaper man, Yakut Yilmaz, the years are totally interchangeable. The number of times he takes out his hand cart and hides his real merchandise under a pile of sunflower seeds, uncountable. Sometimes he hits the road with a head injury, sometimes with damaged arms or legs, for years even with only half his teeth. For him only one thing counts: deliver the paper to whoever wants to read it.

——

Tuesday 20 December 2011.

‘Ah, there you are. Come, let me open the door, and then we can start the investigation.’ It’s not a daily routine that an army of policemen gathers in front of the office of Özgür Gündem in Ankara. Nevertheless, editor in chief Hüseyin Aykol isn’t surprised at all: from the paper’s very beginning in May 1992, nineteen years ago, there hasn’t been a quiet moment. Court cases, fines, journalists and distributors arrested, murders, bombs even. So a search of the editorial office – what can he do?

The policemen obviously expected something other than a cooperative editor in chief. After the policeman in charge has checked Aykol’s identity, the editor in chief gets handed the keys to the new lock. It has just been installed, replacing the old one broken when the anonymous-looking steel door was forced open.
Behind that steel door on the first floor in the right-hand back corner Ozgür Gündem’s Ankara editorial office is situated. Editor in chief Aykol works alone there: the central office is in Istanbul. To the left of the hallway a bigger space: the office of Dicle Haber Ajans, DIHA in short, a Kurdish news agency named after the Dicle, the river Tigris in English. Their room too is being searched, and their books, papers and computers are being taken away.

Nine of his journalists are in custody

In the meantime, the phone starts to ring again and again. Izmir is calling, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Urfa. Aykol hears that all over the country in the early morning journalists of Kurdish media are being dragged from their beds, and offices and houses are being searched. While Aykol sees the equipment he needs to publish tomorrow’s paper disappear off to the police station, he hears that part of his team is no longer available: nine of his journalists are in custody. They work for the daily paper and for some magazines of the same publisher.

A total of 44 journalists are taken into custody that day. Most of them work for DIHA, Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) and the only Kurdish language paper in Turkey, Azadiya Welat (Free Country), others for smaller Kurdish media. Among the arrested are also a few people of the distribution agency used by Kurdish media.

They were detained as part of the so-called ‘KCK operation’. KCK is the union of communities in Kurdistan, an umbrella organisation of Kurdish organizations in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. PKK leader Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali, leads the KCK, and Murat Karayilan, PKK commander in the mountains on the Turkey-Iraq border, is on the board. Since 2009 thousands of politically active Kurds have been detained for ‘being a member of an illegal organization’. Among them mayors and civil servants of municipalities that are governed by the BDP, students, academics and human rights activists. The journalists allegedly formed the ‘press group’ of the KCK.

Why did you attend that press conference?

There is no evidence against the thousands of KCK suspects. Indictments are full of (illegally) wiretapped phone conversations the subject of which might be the time a meeting starts and who determines its agenda, or somebody not being able to come because of illness, or that somebody will have to bring some food to the meeting. All secret language, according to the prosecutor, in which ‘tomatoes’ are really ‘explosives’. As well, books found at the suspects’ homes or offices are used as evidence.

Legal activities are brought forward as evidence of ‘membership of the KCK’, the reports of interrogations show. Why did you visit wounded protesters in the hospital? Why did you attend that press conference? Why did you shout that slogan?

By both those involved as well as independent international and Turkish human rights organizations the KCK trials are considered some of the biggest show trials in Turkish history.

——

Saturday, 3 December 1994.

The fire is almost out. This time, thinks Aykol as he approaches the Istanbul editorial office of Özgür Gündem on foot and sees the smoke coming out of the building, they have succeeded. Our work will stop. The paper survived arrests, killings, publication bans and fines, but bombs, let off simultaneously at the offices in Ankara and Istanbul, that is too much for the resilience of the paper. He walks around numb among the curious crowd gathered to watch the flames. He doesn’t recognize anybody he knows. Aykol is, just like anybody else, kept at a distance.

Hüseyin Aykol in his office in Ankara. The painting was made by one of his journalists in prison and sent to him. Click to enlarge.

The magazine Hedef (Goal), owned by the same publisher as Özgür Ülke, is being printed that same day, 3 December 1994. If he’s quick, he suddenly thinks, he can get the news about the bombing of Özgür Ülke into it before it’s printed. After that’s being done, he doesn’t know what to do. A few hours later his colleague Gültan Kisanak finds him. She gives Aykol an address on the phone: ‘get there, we are setting up the paper’.

The afternoon passes in a sort of blur. Without thinking almost. They work hard. And the next day, there is a paper. A paper of four pages. The leading banner: This fire will burn you too! The report:

Our newspaper, which the most authoritative representatives of the state targeted and sought any excuse to close down, was one of the most important items on the agenda of the National Security Council gathered on Wednesday. The things that were said during this meeting where the decision was taken to close down our newspaper appeared in the press without mentioning the name of our newspaper. National Security Council’s decision as to what was to happen to our newspaper had become apparent 3 days later and Ozgur Ulke was bombed.

It’s indescribable what Aykol feels when he sees that paper on sale at the kiosk.

—————

Saturday, 3 December 1994.

Yakut Yilmaz lets himself down onto the red tiled pavement, right in front of the distribution office of Özgür Ülke in Diyarbakir. His legs can no longer carry him. It’s icy cold this early December morning but he doesn’t feel it. He is crying. The paper. The paper has been bombed. One question keeps running through his mind in a panic: how on earth are people going to find out the truth now?

To him, the truth is Özgür Gündem. The paper, which has had fourteen different names over the years because of publication bans and fines and is now being published again under its original name, started in 1992 as the first one to report on the Kurdish issue. Kurds officially don’t exist in Turkey, their language is forbidden, like any expression of Kurdish culture. In the Turkish media nationalism reigns supreme, problems in the south-east of the country, mainly inhabited by Kurds (‘mountain Turks’), don’t get any attention.

With division, you won’t win the war

The coming into existence of papers like Özgür Gündem and several weekly and monthly magazines of the same publisher, is directly connected to the establishment of the PKK in 1978 and the first attack by the group in 1984. The PKK was a Marxist-based separatist group in those days. The goal was to be reached with violence, but also with a growing Kurdish conscience. The last Kurdish uprising in Turkey was in 1938 in the province of Dersim and was brutally suppressed, the assimilation of the Kurdish people is in full swing and many Kurds are not even aware of their identity, let alone of the marginal position of their segment of society.

The PKK is changing that. The organisation doesn’t hide in its training and base camps in Syria and Lebanon, but sends representatives to Kurdish regions to win support and recruit new fighters. In that way it manages to get into the veins of Kurdish society – and become the leading Kurdish power. Whoever wants to turn the newly won Kurdish identity into, for example, political or journalistic action, can do that only with implicit support of the PKK. Division among Kurds is forbidden. With division, you won’t win the war.

And the war is intense. The state approaches the violence of the PKK purely as a terrorism problem – a Kurdish issue after all doesn’t exist. It’s hard against hard. And not only between the PKK and the Turkish army. The army burns down hundreds of Kurdish villages, forests and agricultural lands in an effort to rob the PKK of its hide-outs -and supply points. The villagers can choose: leave, or become ‘village guards’, in other words help fight the PKK with arms supplied by the state.

Özgür Gündem reports from the Kurdish perspective

A stream of refugees to the cities – Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Adana, Izmir – starts. The Yakut family flees from the hamlet of Kulboga to Baglar, a district in the heart of Diyarbakir. Within a few years Baglar becomes over-populated, the unemployment and poverty are overwhelming.

Anyone who is politically active in those years and supports the PKK or is suspected of supporting it, will inevitably end up in trouble. Jitem, the secret death squads of the army, carries out hundreds of extra-judicial executions and dump the bodies in wells, rivers and valleys. Thousands of Kurds are being locked up – the prison of Diyarbakir, where the torture is so severe it often leads to death – is one of the most notorious in the world. The PKK is killing too: it doesn’t only fire on military targets, but also civilian ones and gets rid of opponents within its own ranks.

Özgür Gündem reports these matters from the Kurdish perspective. From the PKK perspective. The PKK doesn’t directly interfere with the content of the newspaper, but the paper always gives consideration to its message. And very directly too: if the PKK has something to share with the world, then they deliver their statements to the paper and like-minded magazines, which often publish them in their entirety.

So the term ‘mouthpiece for the PKK’, as Kurdish media are often described by the Turkish state, is somewhat justified. At the same time the term reduces the papers to nothing more than that. Unfairly, because Özgür Gündem surely engages journalism, brings news and backgrounds that can’t be read anywhere else and gives the Kurds the voice they never had in Turkey.

If only he had been healthy

For Yilmaz, Özgür Gündem is the truth. But it’s not only for that reason that he keeps on distributing the paper. They can arrest and torture him hundreds of times, but they can’t stop him. And if he is in pain, if he has an attack of epilepsy, worsened by the beatings, occurs and he just falls down on the street, if he doesn’t succeed in escaping from the police in the small backstreets of his city and he is flogged again, he thinks of the fighters in the mountains. He reads about them in the paper. They are having a hard time. He isn’t.

If only he could have joined the PKK. If only he had been healthy. Then they wouldn’t have rejected him when he stepped forward to fight. A PKK fighter with epilepsy, he knows it can never be, but still… They urged him to keep supporting the Kurdish struggle in the city. He takes that task seriously and won’t disavow it under any circumstances.

One of the PKK fighters he often thinks of is his brother and fellow newspaper distributor, Nihat. He swapped his job in the city for a life as a guerrilla in the mountains, just like nine other young men from the Yakut family.

————–

Mevlude quarelled with her sons sometimes. Nihat, her oldest, distributed papers and dragged his younger brother Yilmaz along with him. What was wrong with Yilmaz’ job at a leather company? Why did he, an epileptic, have to deliver newspapers too? More often than not they came home damaged, if they came home at all, but rather spent the night in a police cell. And what were the piles of newspapers doing in her house? What were they doing that was apparently bothering the police so much that they entered the house by force every now and then, turned everything upside down and banged her sons with their heads against the wall until they bled?

Nihat has told her about what’s in the paper. She can’t read herself, especially not Turkish, since she speaks only Kurdish. The backgrounds, the history, the uprising, the politics, she doesn’t really understand. But Nihat convinced her that he is doing it all for the freedom of their people. That he will continue doing that and that nobody, not even his mother, can change his mind.
So now Mevlude supports her sons. When they leave the house in the morning to distribute the papers, she throws water after them. It protects them against misfortune.

——–

Yilmaz Yakut. Behind him portraits of Kurdish journalists who were killed. Click to enlarge.

Yilmaz is still alive. There have been a few close shaves. The police threatened so often to kill him if he didn’t stop distributing the paper, but they didn’t succeed.

Also in March 2006 Yilmaz had a narrow escape. There are clashes lasting for days between the police and the inhabitants of Baglar. It’s one of the areas where Yilmaz distributes papers, and clashes or no clashes, he delivers them. He gets arrested and his family only sees him again four days later, when he faces a judge. He is in a worse state than ever before. His jaw is broken and dislocated, his head is bleeding, there is blood coming out of his ear. His clothes are drenched in blood.

Yilmaz is set free. Mevlude and her sons take him to hospital. When he has recovered enough, they take him home. She feeds him with yoghurt and crushed biscuits.

Nihat is dead. They only heard ten months after he lost his life in a battle with the army, in November 1998. His remains were never buried, just left in the mountains. Another eight members of the Yakut family who joined the PKK didn’t survive. Of them, only Hikmet and Ihsan have an official final resting place. The tenth Yakut that fought with the PKK, Beyazit, was arrested and is serving a long prison sentence.

————-

10 September 2012.

Nine months after the mass arrests, the trial against 44 Kurdish journalists starts. The biggest trial against press freedom in the history of the Turkish republic.
For Hüseyin Aykol, December 1994 and December 2011 are indissolubly connected to each other: both the bombs and the trial are meant to silence the Kurdish press. In the bombing one colleague died, but over the years 76 people working for the paper either as a journalist or distributor were murdered. Özgür Gündem had many publication bans, the last in March this year. Also the millions of liras of fines sometimes forced the paper to close down temporarily.

To ‘eliminate’ Özgür Ülke

The ones that tried to silence him and his colleagues are still the same. At the end of November 1994 it was Prime Minister Tansu Ciller who signed the document of the National Security Council to ‘eliminate’ Özgür Ülke, in the wording of the eventually revealed document. And now, in 2012, it was Prime Minister Erdogan who admitted to having a deal with the judiciary to silence politically active Kurds: ‘If you deal with them judicially, we will do what’s necessary in parliament’.

But they are not successful. Also on 12 December 2011, the day after nine Özgür Gündem journalists were taken into custody and computers and other stuff were seized, the paper was back on the newsstands. Just like on 4 December 1994, the morning after the bomb. Other independent papers put their equipment at Özgür Gündem’s disposal and in no time they made a paper. A paper of, just like then, four pages.

————–

‘Hey, Yilmaz, are you there again?’ Yilmaz’ colleagues call out when he arrives at work. ‘You don’t have to come in to work, you know that don’t you?’ They get him a chair, he’s so unstable on his feet that they can hardly bare to look at him. Yilmaz smiles, and says: ‘It’s my job. I take that seriously, you know that.’ His dentures and his badly healed jaw make it hard to understand him these days. He drinks the tea his colleagues give him.

‘It’s good to see you here’, says colleague Tahsin. ‘Just as it was good in the old days to see you come around the corner again with your hand cart with its secret stash of papers. But please, take a rest, you deserve it’.
But Yilmaz is unstoppable. When he finishes his tea, he gets up. He walks to the depot of the parks and gardens department of the Diyarbakir municipality, gets a watering can, fills it with water and sprinkles the lawn. His colleagues are watching from a distance, shake their heads and smile.

He owes it to his people

Delivering papers was no longer possible. Oh it was sweet to be able to distribute them openly after in 2002 the state of emergency was lifted in the whole of Southeast Turkey and distributing the paper was no longer illegal. But his epileptic attacks have become so serious that it would be irresponsible to carry on. What if he had a seizure outside his own neighbourhood, where people may not know him and wouldn’t know what to do? His colleagues at the parks department know exactly what to do, they keep an eye on him.

Yilmaz’ job basically only exists on paper. The Diyarbakir municipality, for many years governed by pro-Kurdish party BDP, has a special programme for people who became disabled while contributing to the Kurdish struggle. Yilmaz was eligible. The parks and gardens department hired him. He doesn’t really have to show up, and his illness and handicaps also hardly allow him to. But Yilmaz comes in on the days he feels well enough. He waters the flowers and picks the weeds. He owes it to his people. That’s how he feels.

For this article use was also made of these two books:
* Ape Musa’nin kücük generalleri (The little generals of Ape Musa), by Nihat Hikmet Senol, Aram publishers, 2008.
* Susturulamayanlar (The ones that can’t be silenced), by Hüseyin Aykol, Aram publishers, 2012.

Trial of 44 journalists starts

ISTANBUL – In the Turkish city of Istanbul the trial of 44 journalists working for Kurdish media has started. They are accused of ‘membership of an illegal organization’.

The journalists were detained last December and 35 of them have been in jail ever since. They are being tried in the so-called ‘KCK trials’, in which thousands of Kurds are being prosecuted for membership of the KCK, an umbrella organization of Kurdish groups in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

There has been a lot of criticism of the case from the start, including from international human rights organisations. The case against the journalists, they state, is politically motivated and meant to silence Kurdish media. The evidence against the defendants is very weak.

There is not much progress expected at the first hearing. Most of the suspects will want to defend themselves in Kurdish, but the judge won’t allow that.

Will Turkey release other journalists too?

The international attention for worsening press freedom in Turkey has been enormous the last couple of months. That had everything to do with the arrest of Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, two well known in investigative journalists. This Monday both gentlemen were released after more than a year imprisonment. Good news for them personally, bad news for their dozens of colleagues who are still in jail.

Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener were behind bars because they were supposedly the ‘media wing’ of a network within the state and the army that allegedly wanted to topple the AKP government of PM Erdogan. How ridiculous that accusation was, was already clear because of the fact that both journalists were actually writing revealing articles and books about networks within the state. During the hearings as expected no evidence whatsoever came to the table. De case is however nto closed yet: Sik and Sener weren’t acquitted, only their remand was ended.

Established media order

Because of the subjects they wrote about – like the controversial islamic Gülen movement, and the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink – Sik and Sener could count on the support of their colleagues, first mainly in Turkey and later also abroad. They were and are part of the established media order, have many well known friends in the media who in their turn again easily got attention from the foreign press.

The result: world wide attention for press freedom in Turkey, and PM Erdogan was confronted with it often. Great, because that meant not only a lot of attention for Sik and Sener, but also for the reason why there are dozens of journalists in jail in Turkey: terrorism laws that are too vague and broadly interpretable. The network that Sik and Sener were supposedly part of, is qualified as terrorist. The same goes for the PKK and the related organisation the KCK, with which many Kurdish journalists in jail have alleged ties with. In Turkey, ‘writing about’ means ‘having ties with’. Its like locking up a crime journalist because he has ties with organized crime.

PKK smell

Seen in this light, it’s very smart to release Sik and Sener. It’s a guarantee that the attention for the bad record of Turkey when it comes to press freedom, will disappear like snow in the sun. Now there are no more journalists jailed who can count on the unconditional support and effort of their Turkish colleagues. Who will go to every hearing to tweet like crazy and poke up the fire again for national and international media.

Most journalists in jail are Kurds. They don’t write about subjects that excite their Turkish colleagues. On the contrary: for the majority of Turks, also for journalists, there is always this suspect PKK smell to Kurdish journalists, even if their only weapon is a pen. Kurdish journalists don’t have well known, influential friends, and they are not based in modern Istanbul but in far away cities like Diyarbakir, Van and Hakkari. No Turkish journalist travels there to make an uproar around a court hearing, no international medium gives space to the fate of journalists who don’t appeal to their imagination.

With the release of Sik and Sener the hype around press freedom in Turkey is over. Bad luck for the outcasts of Turkish media, who will not taste freedom any time soon.

Turkish journalists missing in Syria

ISTANBUL – Since five days two Turkish journalists are missing in Syria. The Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Davutoglu is trying to get more information about the two from the Syrian authorities. Turkish media report that today.

Journalist Adem Özköse and camera man Hamit Çoşkun crossed the Turkish-Syrian border a week ago from the Turkish province of Hatay, where Syrian refugees are entering Turkey in large numbers. They wanted to go to the nearby city of Idlib to make a documentary. Since five days no contact could be established with them.