People are dying in Turkey and we are told not to talk about it

People are dying in Turkey and we are told not to talk about it

Turkey has turned into a country of suicide attacks, killings and massacres. The pressure on those who want to talk about such issues is constantly growing.

The latest instance came after a suicide attack by an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant, who killed at least 10 people on Jan. 12 in Istanbul’s historical Sultanahmet neighborhood. 

An hour after the attack, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) issued a broadcast ban following an official demand from the Prime Minister’s Office. Hours later, an Istanbul court issued a blanket ban on “all kinds of news, interviews, criticism and similar publications in print, visual, social media and all kinds of media on the Internet.”

The ruling effectively said “don’t even mention the attack in your chats with friends.” It had almost exactly the same wording as a similar ban that followed a twin suicide attack in Ankara on Oct. 10, 2015, which killed 100 peace activists. ISIL - which was described by Turkey’s then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in an interview on Aug. 7, 2014 as a group of “angry and oppressed Sunnis” and a simple result of Iraq’s sectarian policies – was also behind that massacre. It seems the courts are pretty quick to issue gag orders when ISIL is behind an attack in Turkey. 

When it comes to security operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the weeks-long curfews in some southeastern districts, and the alleged human rights violations by security officials, there are no gag orders. But you still cannot talk about these operations much. If you do, you draw the wrath of the president, the government, and their die-hard supporters, and you get told to shut up. 

That is what happened to more than 1,000 local and international academics who signed a petition criticizing the security operations. 

Although it was not a text I fully approve of – as it makes no reference to the armed militants of the PKK taking the fight to civilian and residential zones – the signatories certainly did not deserve to be slammed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for speaking their minds.

In a speech to Turkish ambassadors during a lunched on on Jan. 12, Erdoğan condemned the Sultanahmet attack for about 40 seconds, before moving on the petition issue.

“This crowd, who call themselves academics, accuses the state through a statement. Not only this, they also invite foreigners to monitor developments. This is the mentality of colonialism,” he said, claiming that the country was facing “treason” from “so-called intellectuals.” 

“Hey, you so-called intellectuals! You are not enlightened persons, you are dark. You are nothing like intellectuals. You are ignorant and dark, not even knowing about the east or the southeast,” Erdoğan said. 

His remarks fueled an already launched campaign against the academics. Convicted crime lord Sedat Peker – a hardline nationalist-turned-AKP-supporter – also posted a message telling the academics that “We will spill your blood and shower in it.” (The ever-enthusiastic prosecutors and courts were still silent on this issue as of yesterday afternoon.)

A similar story took place a few days before, when a woman called Beyaz Show, a popular program on TV station Kanal D, to talk about civilian deaths in the southeast.
“People are fighting hunger and thirst, in particular the children. Please be sensitive and do not remain silent,” she said. “Don’t let people die, don’t let children die and don’t let mothers cry.”

Although she did not even say the perpetrators were the security forces, she was declared a “terrorist” and an investigated has been launched into her, the show’s host, and its producer, on claims of “terrorist propaganda.”

It is a fact that civilians are dying during the operations. According to the recent report by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), 32 children, 29 women and 24 elderly people are among the 162 civilians killed in the clashes since August 2015, when the military curfews and intense security operations against the PKK militants first started. According to official numbers, more than 100 members of the security forces and over 300 PKK militants have also been killed in the same period. 

Civilians, tourists, children, women, militants, police officers and soldiers are dying in this country. Not talking about it, or turning a blind eye, will not change this fact.