How to lose a job with a peacenik tweet
Most of those who know Turkey’s human rights community probably also know Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu. He is a medical doctor from the city of Kocaeli, and has been a devoted human rights activist for decades. For years, he was the head of Mazlum-Der, a human rights group founded by pious Muslims, as Dr. Gergerlioğlu himself is. He is also the founder of the “Kocaeli Peace Platform,” an initiative to promote reconciliation in the much-divided Turkish society and to support the “peace process” the government had tried to settle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the pro-Kurdish terrorist group.
Sadly, that “peace process” has been dead since the summer of 2015. Turkey is rather going through an escalated conflict between security forces and PKK militants. However, Dr. Gergerlioğlu is within the small minority who has not yet abandoned himself to the militarism that dominates the public scene, but is instead still hoping for peace.
To make this case better, Dr. Gergerlioğlu posted a tweet on Sept. 9, 2016. The tweet first presented a dramatic photo: There were four Kurdish women, probably mothers or spouses, sitting behind two coffins. One of the coffins was covered with the Turkish flag, which suggested that the deceased was a “martyr,” or a Turkish soldier killed in action. The other coffin, however, had a flag that most Turks are quite averse to seeing: The flag of the PKK, with its red star over yellow and green. So, this was a “PKK martyr,” as the people we call “terrorists” are called in their own milieu.
Under this photo, Dr. Gergerlioğlu wrote two short sentences: “You can look at this photo and understand why this war has no meaning other than destruction: Mothers are the same, flags are different!”
In other words, Dr. Gergerlioğlu pointed to a fact that every reasonable person knows: Turkey’s never-ending war with the PKK is killing people who are in fact quite close to each other. There really are cases of one son of a family joining the PKK, while the other son joins the army. And they can become “martyrs” in their own paths. This really is a war of brothers.
In fact, this was the narrative of the current government itself, when it was trying to sell the “peace process” to society. President Tayyip Erdoğan, who was then prime minister, had coined the famous slogan, “let the mothers not cry,” by referring to the mothers of not just Turkish soldiers but also PKK fighters.
But well, in Turkey, when times change, the acceptable rhetoric changes all well. Since the government vowed to “destroy all terrorism” by force, anything that resembles the “let the mothers not cry” rhetoric is now politically incorrect. In fact, it is legally incorrect as well.
Dr. Gergerlioğlu discovered this problem soon after his tweet. Nationalist accounts on social media began condemning him for “terrorist propaganda.” Soon a prosecutor in Kocaeli opened an investigation about him again for “terrorist propaganda.” Meanwhile, the governor of Kocaeli announced that he was suspended from his job, because of “his writings and posts on social media.”
I hope Dr. Gergerlioğlu will be cleared of all of these absurd charges and get back to his work. But I am not sure whether that will be the case. I also think that this incident is indicative of the political psychology that has dominated Turkey in the past few years and which only intensified after the failed coup attempt. It is a psychology that imposes a passionate nationalist narrative on every citizen, only to demonize the ones who beg to differ. It is a psychology, I must say, that makes Turkey’s near future look quite grim.