[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
I was chatting with a foreign journalist a few days ago, and she said she was desperate to hear “an objective analysis” of what is happening in Turkey. “I am really sorry for you,” I said, in return, “for there are probably no objective Turks in the world.”
I was exaggerating a bit — but not much. For the mind-boggling complexity of this country’s politics is not just hard to get. It also polarizes its interpreters, and forces them to look through completely contradictory lenses.
So, I will suggest you to read every Turk, including me — and even every “Turkified expat” — with a grain of salt. And try to figure things out for your self.
Now, with that in mind, let me tell you how I see the much-discussed “witch hunt” on Turkey’s secularist media by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government and its presumed allies.
A few facts first. Some 22 national newspapers are printed in Istanbul every single day, reflecting an amazing spectrum of ideological diversity: hard-line Islamists, moderate Islamics, moral conservatives, neo-Marxists, liberal leftists, illiberal leftists, “Ataturkists” and even the Maoists. They all have their voices.
At least half of these 22 papers represent a very critical editorial line against the current government. Most of their columnists, and even their headlines, bash the prime minister and his party almost everyday. The same is true for television and the Internet: you have dozens of proudly anti-AKP channels. And that is very good. That’s what you should see in free country.
Yet, since 2007, a few journalists have been detained and put on trial as a part of the “Ergenekon” probe. Two of them, Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, have been in prison now for many months.
I have written several times that they should be set free, for I don’t support the common Turkish procedure of keeping people in prison while trying them — unless they are serial killers or something.
But please note that those two journalists are not arrested for criticizing the government. They are arrested for having covert meetings with some hotheaded generals who evidently made plans to overthrow the AKP government.
If this sounds fantastical to you, I would suggest looking back and seeing how previous coups in Turkey, especially the “post-modern coup” of 1997, was realized through an active cooperation with the military and its ideological allies in the media. The latter paved the way for the generals by publishing false news that provoked fear in the public about the elected government. In other words, that media, to borrow a term from Noam Chomsky, “manufactured consent” against democracy.
With this past in mind, and police intelligence documenting “a new coup effort” in its hands, the AKP could not have refrained from backing the Ergenekon probe politically. It was a matter of not just law, but also survival. Probably, it still is.
Last week, a new “wave” came from Ergenekon prosecutors, who arrested Soner Yalçın, a famous pundit, and searched the office of his website, “Oda TV.”
First, a few words about Yalçın: He is referred to as a journalist, but I would rather call him a conspiracy theorist. As a Maoist-turned-Kemalist, his books are full of speculations about how the CIA is mastering almost every evil in Turkey. His bestseller, “Efendi,” was worse, for it promoted paranoia about how Turkey’s “covert Jews” infiltrated everywhere. According to Rıfat Bali, a member of Turkey’s Jewish community and an expert on anti-Semitism in this country, Yalçın’s book simply “len[t] itself to Nazi-like racist and exclusionary demonstrations against persons because of their alleged origins or suspected beliefs.”
So, for me, Yalçın is a delusional ultra-secular/nationalist. His Oda TV is worse; for it has launched hate campaigns against liberal and conservative intellectuals, with blatant insults and even sexual libels.
Yet, of course, none of these makes neither Yalçın nor his website criminal. Having an ideology that borders fascism, and promoting it aggressively, is distasteful. But even that should be free in a free country.
That’s why I refused to join my colleagues who regarded Yalçın’s arrest as good news. I also believe that his Oda TV should survive as it is — a fringe propaganda outlet.
But I also refuse to join the commentators who see this affair as an attack on media freedom. For Yalçın is accused not only for what he wrote, but, more importantly, his apparent connections with other members of the Ergenekon network. The accusation, in other words, is that he was among the group of people who intentionally worked to lay the ground for a military coup.
I admit that there is a gray area here: Not everybody who is a delusional ultra-secular/nationalist and friendly with Ergenekon members is a criminal. But they are the ones the prosecutors might see as suspects, and question accordingly.
My only objection is to the fact Yalçın will be tried while in custody. That helps neither the Ergenekon case, which is very important for Turkish democracy, nor the way it is perceived in society.