Trucks to remain a headache for Erdoğan
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is back hounding a media organ, this time daily Cumhuriyet, and Can Dündar, its editor-in-chief, for publishing footage about three Syria-bound trucks that were stopped by the gendarmerie near Adana in January 2014. It turned out at the time that the trucks belonged to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). They were searched on a local prosecutor’s order after a tip-off indicating they were carrying weapons.
The government later claimed that the consignment was aid to Syrian Turkmens beleaguered by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The claim that many people take seriously, however, is that the trucks were laden with ordnance for a radical Islamic group that was making headway against the Syrian army at the time. The claim also gained a boost with the court testimonies of gendarmerie officers who have since been arrested for intercepting the MİT trucks. These testimonies, leaked to the media, indicate that the trucks were carrying weapons and not humanitarian aid. Cumhuriyet’s footage, taken while the trucks were being searched, also shows military hardware. The government says the video is a fabrication, while Erdoğan is angry that the footage was made available to the public. A legal investigation has been initiated against Cumhuriyet and Dündar on the instigation of Erdoğan and the government. The claim is that Cumhuriyet and Dündar engaged in espionage and incitement to rebellion by publishing the footage. Erdoğan recently said, on the state-owned channel TRT, that he had instructed his lawyer to move against Cumhuriyet, and added that he would not let Dündar get away with this. He said Dündar “would pay a heavy price” for publishing the footage. Erdoğan’s remarks not only beg the question why he made this a personal matter, but also highlights once again the kind of pressures the independent portion of the Turkish media is under.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that it was not anyone’s business what the MİT trucks were carrying. If, however, they were secretly transporting weapons to radical Islamic groups in Syria this is everyone’s business. The way Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are approaching the subject only serves to heighten suspicions about the whole matter.
The prosecutors and gendarmerie officers, most of who have been indicted now, were in fact doing their jobs. No one informed local officials that MİT trucks were going to pass that way and should be given free passage.
In addition to this, there was a tip-off that the unmarked trucks were carrying weapons. Those who tipped the prosecutor off may have had ulterior motives, but any prosecutor or gendarmerie officer that did not act on this information would have been involved in a serious dereliction of duty. By the same token, if a paper publishes information that may be detrimental to the government but which the public should know because of the backlash a secret and illegal government decision might have in terms of national security and public safety, it is also doing its job. The hounding of Cumhuriyet and all those who report on the MİT trucks is set to continue, posing an embarrassment for the government. Try as it may to clamp down on reporting on this topic, it will fail in this endeavor. As far as Erdoğan is concerned, all he will have achieved in the end with his angry and vindictive approach to reporters and newspapers that are only doing their jobs is not only make sure that Turkey remains high on the list of countries where the press is under official pressures, but also ensure that the doubts about the trucks in question will continue to linger.
Erdoğan says he will not let Cumhuriyet and Dündar get away with it. It remains to be seen if he and some members of the government he was heading when the trucks were intercepted will ultimately manage to get away with it.