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Turkey

My Europe: Writing from a state of emergency

Turkish journalists have been detained for their independent reporting, ahead of the international book fair in Istanbul. It takes courage to be a journalist in Turkey, writes Cigdem Akyol.

"There is no significance to being a journalist in Sweden or Finland," said Can Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, the Turkish newspaper in President Recep Erdogan's crosshairs. "But it's significant in Turkey. Anyone can pursue journalism in normal times. Now is the time for true journalists to show what they can do." Dundar's statement is one all reporters can get behind. 

Whereas there were hopeful stories to report prior to the 2013 Gezi Park protests, now our reporting is mostly about crises. Since the 2013 protests, we have been reporting on the gigantic corruption scandal revolving around the struggle between Erdogan and his former crony, and now enemy, Fethullah Gülen. We have been enduring an ongoing wave of terrorism by alleged jihadists from the so-called Islamic State, as well as the Kurdish worker's party, the PKK. We have witnessed the end of the peace process between Ankara and the Kurds alongside the jailing of democratically elected Kurdish representatives. We have experienced a coup attempt and the unending purge sparked by its failure. In no other Western country are there as many journalists in jail as there are in Turkey. Turkish reporters are arrested and detained, and media outlets closed, on an almost daily basis.

The government monitors everything

Journalists working in Turkey are constantly monitored by the government. It is also keenly aware what foreign correspondents are saying. Everything is read, watched and listened in on. When Erdogan became prime minister in 2003, Reporters without Borders ranked Turkey as 116 out of 180 countries on its list of press freedom. Now Turkey has slipped down to place 151. In 2015 alone, 774 journalists were fired for their unfavorable reporting, according to the Turkish social-democratic opposition party, the CHP. The state has become even more repressive since the July 15 coup attempt, arresting more than 140 critical journalists. Reporters Without Borders has called Erdogan an "enemy of press freedom."

Türkei Protest gegen Verfolgung von Journalisten der Zeitung Özgür Gündem (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna)

Protestors shout slogans as they hold the copy of Ozgur Gundem Newspaper front page (the title says: We will not bow) at the headquarters of the Ozgur Gundem Newspaper in Istanbul, Turkey, 17 August 2016. Ozgur Gundem Newspaper was closed by a Turkish court after being accused of regularly promoting PKK propaganda.

The government is increasingly selective about who is and is not allowed to report. Foreign correspondents are also under more pressure, facing difficulty entering the country, harried or denied press credentials from the responsible government authority. No work permit is issued without journalist obtaining a little yellow plastic accreditation card. The difficulty in obtaining this card, issued by the Turkish Directorate General of Press and Information, has meant that many foreign reporters have been forced to leave.

A country in fear

President Erdogan is not bothered by external criticism. "It doesn't matter to me if they call me a dictator or anything else. It goes in one ear and out the other," he said recently. This has been seen as further evidence of his growing authoritarianism. He has succeeded in turning Turkey into a state of fear. Even children can find themselves behind bars for posting critical comments on Facebook. Turkey is becoming a country where books that are critical of the government are banned from bookshops. And while the government announces useless measures against terrorism, people are living in fear of attacks by the IS . Turkey was put as number 135 out of 162 on a list of most peaceful countries by the Global Peace Index in 2015.

Türkische Journalisten fordern Pressefreiheit (Picture-Alliance/dpa/P. Zinken)

At a demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy in Berlin on 04.11 2016, a protester holds a sign saying 'freedom of the press for Turkey'

Erdogan's core supporters, mainly religious conservatives, do not see any of the negative headlines because Erdogan controls most of the media and they like his rhetoric in which he labels people as enemies. They want to be a part of Erdogan's hyper-centralized system that fills public institutions with his sympathizers. They laud him whenever he denounces the foreign press as "agents" and "spies."

There is no hope here

"You have been producing untruthful news for days," said Erdogan, berating the press to thousands of his supporters in Istanbul in 2013. "You have shown the world a different Turkey, but you are left alone with your lies. This nation is not the nation you have presented to the world." His followers cheered him as they always do at such events, chanting: "Let them crush us."

Since then, many journalists have been crushed: fired, arrested and threatened. These are times where it really means something to work as a journalist in Turkey. It is just not so easy at the moment to find any optimistic stories to write.

Cigdem Akyol, 38, is a German journalist with Turkish-Kurdish roots. Her parents came as guest workers to Germany in 1973. She lives in Istanbul.

 

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