A lawyer joke? Not in Turkey!

A lawyer joke? Not in Turkey!

The newly elected president of the Edirne Bar, Özgür Yıldırım, 33, has recently expressed concern about the image presented about attorneys in Turkish series and movies. In some of the scenes that caused him worry, attorneys were depicted as people following in the footsteps of bad guys or any people, on demand. In some, attorneys were scolded by the police and prosecutors and were looked down upon during investigations. According to Mr. Yıldırım, these scenes harmed the image of the profession. He was, therefore, going to ask prosecutors to initiate criminal action against the perpetrators.

What better manifestation of typical traits prevalent in this country? To begin with, it shows an inability to distinguish fiction from reality. After all, here is a land with a strong tradition of initiation of criminal cases by prosecutors against writers for sentences uttered by heroes or heroines. These relied on the criminal code’s various provisions from insulting Turkishness to defaming the military, the government and the like. These investigations claimed many victims from Elif Şafak to Orhan Pamuk to Yaşar Kemal, all famous writers from Turkey.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the Turkish justice system that plays its part in this; people do, too. Often they protest TV series and films. Whether in the case of “sensitive citizens” against the depiction of Ottoman Sultan Süleyman and the harem life in “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (Magnificent Century), corrections officers over “Parmaklıklar Ardında” (Behind Bars) or nationalist groups for the series “Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki” (As Time Goes By), people are offended when they feel that what they hold dear (historical characters, their job, their political conviction) is portrayed unfavorably. While this may be read as a sign of lack of humor and laughed away, it also shows that the images presented or actions taken by characters in these series are perceived as real and not as part of an imagined reality. For the international reader, it may come as a surprise that a professional organization like the bar engages in similar action.

What is more, the statements by Mr. Yıldırım demonstrate intolerance of the way fictional characters are presented by a writer. In a true lawyerly fashion, he has threatened legal action to stop it. This not only mimics typical state behavior that tries to outlaw disliked ideas; it is also a manifestation of another typical state behavior that distrusts citizens’ ability to freely form their opinions whether based on fiction or reality. It therefore tries to control and manipulate “the reality” and demands that even the fictional version conforms to its version.

While the legal profession is, by nature, close to the state and its functions, this should not amount to an imitation of authoritarian state behavior. However, in Turkey and in many European countries, the legal profession or, more precisely, attorneys, were established as a profession by state action whereas in Anglo-Saxon countries the legal profession or bar associations were bottom-up organizations. In a way, having been established via state action and relying on stately functions conditions bars to advocate views and manners that are close to the state. This partly explains the phenomenon.

Additionally, unlike marketing people and politicians, lawyers are not in the habit of finding out what clients actually think about them. Justice Barometer, a survey carried out by Istanbul Bilgi University, found that only 18.5 percent of Turkey’s urban population has ever used the services of an attorney. The main reason for that was that three-quarters of respondents thought that they could handle the matter on their own and that almost half of them felt that legal services were expensive. In other words, people in Turkey do not even have enough experience of legal services or understand their value to actually form an image of them. Where they do, they think it is expensive. Mr. Yıldırım should better concern himself first with policies that could increase the use of legal services.

İdil Elveriş is a faculty member at Istanbul Bilgi University.