Attacks on Turkish democracy and the press

Attacks on Turkish democracy and the press

It appears the mine explosion which blew up the armored patrol car in the mountainous Dağlıca region near Turkey’s border with Iraq on the afternoon of Sept. 6 could be a trap for a bigger ambush by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Because of the clashes between PKK militants and security forces, further extended by a terrible storm, an official figure for the causalities could not be announced by the Turkish government up until the afternoon of Sept. 7; some 16 troops were murdered.

The attack was the most deadly one since the PKK resumed its acts of terror after the June 7 election in Turkey, following a pause of some three years for dialogue between the Turkish government and the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, as initiated by President Tayyip Erdoğan in 2012 when he was prime minister. Feeling betrayed Erdoğan condemned the PKK for storing weapons for future use during that time, instead of abandoning them due to the dialogue.

The dialogue was paused before the election, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) lost its parliamentary majority, which also risked Erdoğan’s goal of using extended executive powers through a shift from a parliamentary system into a presidential one through a constitutional change. He made his desire for a shift clear by asking for an ambitious 400 seats out of 550 in the Turkish parliament. He put the blame of the failure on the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) success in the elections; if they had not exceeded the 10 percent hurdle, with Kurdish votes from the eastern and southeastern regions bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran, the AK Parti could have maintained its government.

But the success of the HDP was not enough for the ambitious plans of the PKK, which launched armed attacks for Kurdish independence in 1984 resulting in the deaths of some 40,000 people so far. The PKK first announced the de facto ceasefire was over and then resumed its attacks in mid-July as coalition talks by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were just beginning.

Those talks by Davutoğlu failed and Erdoğan announced a reelection for Nov. 1. But the security situation, as the Dağlıca attack has shown, is getting worse, together with worries about ballot box safety, especially in the east and southeast, where the PKK is active, threatening Turkish democracy.

Collateral damage on media

Whenever governments tend to give weight to security policies, press freedom is among the first to suffer, which is what we unfortunately observed once again on the night of Sept. 6. Because of the manner of the breaking news coverage on President Erdoğan’s remarks about the necessity of 400 seats for a more stable administration while he was reacting to the PKK attack in Dağlıca, daily Hürriyet was accused of trying to manipulate him. Soon after, some 200 protestors gathered in front of the Hürriyet headquarters in Istanbul, chanting pro-Erdoğan slogans and chanting against Aydın Doğan, the founder of the Doğan Media Group, which Hürriyet is a part of (along with Hürriyet Daily News). The group, led by Abdurrahman Boynukalın, the former head of the AK Parti’s youth branch and now an MP, soon went beyond using their right of peaceful protest and started attacking the building with stones and sticks, damaging the entrance.

This was the last link in a chain of political pressure, verbal and now physical, on Hürriyet, the most influential mainstream paper in Turkey, and Doğan for the past few years, especially through unprecedented financial pressures in 2008-2011 and after the June 7 election. 

It is worth mentioning that Boynukalın, while delivering a speech after the protest had turned into an attack, said they were going to make Erdoğan the strong president he wanted to be, no matter the outcome of the Nov. 1 election, adding then there would be no place for the Doğan Group, like the PKK and other “terrorists.” 

Independent media in Turkey is now facing a double responsibility: To continue to cover and report the news at a critical juncture when Turkish democracy is under attack as inclusively and objectively as possible, while also trying to maintain its integrity against all kinds of political and financial pressure.