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16 January 2018
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The Washington Spectator, picked up by Newsweek
In January 2011, then–prime minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan descended upon the southwestern Turkish coastal town of Fethiye to talk the public’s ear off on subjects ranging from the importance of stricter alcohol and tobacco laws to the importance of keeping up with the “modern” world.
I attended the lecture, which was held at an outdoor venue close to the town’s seaside promenade. Security measures included relieving all guests of their pens and other potential dual-use items, resulting in a heap of writing utensils, lighters, and pieces of fruit outside the event’s entrance.
Six years later, as now–President Erdoğan sets his sights on Leadership for Life—who said tyranny wasn’t modern?—the mountain of confiscated pens has acquired greater retroactive significance in light of the Turkish government’s ramped-up war on the press. In the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, the assault on the media—not to mention the rampant detention of academics, human rights workers, pro-Kurdish politicians, and other perceived enemies of the state—has reached spectacular new levels.
Though the blame for the coup has officially been pinned on Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic preacher and former Erdoğan ally who is based in the United States, the government’s general aim seems to be to kill as many birds as possible with one stone. And a seemingly eternal state of emergency is helping make that dream a reality.
The statistics often defy comprehension. In an April essay for The New York Times Magazine, Suzy Hansen offered a rundown of some of the casualties of the post-coup-attempt purge: “Fifteen universities, 1,000 schools, 28 TV channels, 66 newspapers, 19 magazines, 36 radio stations, 26 publishing houses, and five news agencies have been shut down.”
In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Turkey “account[ed] for nearly a third of the global total” of imprisoned journalists. Last September, Reuters observed that among the television channels shuttered for allegedly disseminating “terrorist propaganda” was one “which airs Kurdish-language children’s cartoons.”
A July 2017 Reuters dispatch explained that “Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for newspaper staff” at Turkey’s Cumhuriyet paper, who were “accused of targeting Erdoğan through ‘asymmetric war methods.’”
The crime in question involved less-than-loving coverage of the government crackdown and other matters. As The Guardian has noted, Cumhuriyet “also embarrassed the national intelligence service by revealing that it had transported weapons to rebels in Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid in 2014.”
In Erdoğan’s Turkey, apparently, engaging in critical journalism is considered more warlike than, say, helping to fuel an unimaginably bloody conflict in Syria. Furthermore, there’s clearly no better way to combat asymmetric warfare than by throwing a disproportionate number of journalists in jail.
Luckily for the government, there are numerous cooperative Turkish media outlets to compensate for the traitorous ones. Perusing Turkey’s massively popular Posta newspaper this summer, for example, I found plenty of valuable information on subjects like Adriana Lima’s holiday in Bodrum, the number of kilos gained and lost by Turkish celebrities, and the annual incomes of the respective Kardashians. Amid all the bikinis and colorful photographic bombardment, it was easy to miss the tiny box with a two-sentence report on the more than 100,000 Turkish civil servants .sacked since the coup. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR or Newsweek.