The day Erol Özkasnak made me break my phone
I cannot remember the exact date, but the Feb. 28, 1997 incidents had not begun yet and the historic process of punishment under the memorandum dated 1998 had not begun either. Despite that, I was in constant friction with the General Staff.
It was 1996, and the Kurdish issue was at its most violent stage. The General Staff was pressuring me on two topics. One was that I was not criticizing the Fethullah Gülen movement, but on the contrary, I was supporting their schools. The other was that I was opposing the official policy on the Kurdish issue.
There was a reaction to every piece I wrote. These reactions would not come directly to me, but they would be sent by journalists who had good relations with the military in Ankara or by the Ankara representatives of newspapers.
Some of them would be jocular in tone, and would say in a sarcastic way, “Brother, they will fry you, be prepared,” while others were sad as they conveyed what the commanders had told them about me.
I was left all alone. Cengiz Çandar shared the same viewpoint and was treated the same way. Not only the military but also Aydınlık Magazine had targeted both of us in an incredible attrition campaign.
I will never forget: I received a phone call one day. A reporter from daily Sabah was calling. “We were at a martyr’s funeral today. A lieutenant colonel said there were traitors among us, and then he gave your name and Çandar’s. Thousands of people booed you two. TV cameras recorded it.”
I was petrified. It was impossible for a lieutenant colonel to deliver such a speech acting alone. He must have received orders from somewhere. My fear was not the possibility of being jailed. There were many crazy people around. Someone might hurt my family. Frankly, I was worried for my life.
With so much tension, I sat down and wrote a fax message to Chief of General Staff Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı. In short, I said, “If that lieutenant colonel spoke under your orders – I don’t believe he did -- then I would like you to know that my own and my family’s life are in danger. The responsibility for an unfortunate event of that kind would fall to your institution. If he delivered that speech without your knowledge, I demand that he be investigated, and I expect a public statement from you saying you do not agree with him.”
The next morning, the general secretary of General Staff, Erol Özkasnak, called me. I was happy. I had positive feelings. On the contrary, the voice on the other end of the phone was as cold as ice. He said, “Mehmet Ali Birand, what do you want us to do?” I had to say, “What do you want to do?” I went nuts when I heard, “Who do you think you are that you can send a fax to the chief of general staff? Who are you?”
Can you imagine? In those times, according to the military’s perception, the chief of general staff was inaccessible, and should have been treated as if he were God. And I, a mortal creature, was presumptuous enough to send a fax to this person.
Özkasnak said, “Here we are having a war, and you cannot act like a U.N. observer. Do not send such messages to our chief of general staff again,” and hung up. I threw the phone at the wall in rage, under the terrified eyes of my wife Cemre, and smashed it to pieces.
In short, they were painful and difficult days.