Applause for Ergin

Applause for Ergin

Being back in Bonn feels great, even if relations between Turkey and Germany are not at their best nowadays. Why is it so? It is because of the “genocide” resolution in the Bundestag. Also, the past resolution statements of the Turkish leadership have made things even worse. Could journalists help overcome this situation? How could they when polarization, lambasting someone and the politics of tension has long since become the favored sport of the Turkish government?

In Bonn, there will be a very important meeting. A very dear friend, Hürriyet Editor-in-Chief Sedat Ergin, will be presented Deutsche Welle’s prestigious Freedom of Speech Award on June 13. The award is presented to personalities who exemplify human rights and free speech. Ergin is not only the editor of a newspaper – considered to be the flagship of the Turkish media – that has been attacked scores of times over the past year by angry crowds provoked by pro-government agitators, but he himself has been one of over 2,000 Turks accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Following a complaint by the president’s lawyers, a legal process was launched against Ergin in December 2015 and since March, he has been on trial on the grounds of insulting Erdoğan.

This week, the Journalists Association Press for Freedom published a 600-page report on freedom of expression and freedom of media violations, vividly documenting that Ergin shared the fate of hundreds of journalists in Turkey who are exposed to high risks every day in the struggle to maintain independent journalism and press freedoms.

The contentious Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalizes insults of the Turkish president, prime minister and foreign heads of states or government, is often said to be in contradiction with global norms and international law. Particularly in view of European Court of Justice rulings, even very strong criticism of a president should not be considered an insult. Under Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, if there is a contradiction between local and international law, international law is applied. Thus, there is a very strong basis for the claim of “illegality” in the slander cases.

Turkey must be able to leave behind such oddities and progress toward acquiring European norms and values headed by the notion that free speech is the fundamental pillar of free society and thus democratic governance. Democracy is indeed a very difficult game to play. Due to hegemonic aspirations, utopic visions of bringing back long-dead imperial heritage and paranoid fears of giving an account for massive corruption, misuse of office and narcissist moves, the game of democracy cannot be played. Turkey deserves to have a democratic government that firmly respects the supremacy of law, separation of powers and, of course, free speech and media. Those are the very norms many people in this land understand in terms of Turkey’s European vocation, although this has, unfortunately, started to become seriously impaired nowadays.

All that being said, every great nation has a glorious past with great achievements, many victories and outstanding successes. Obviously, the very same great nations must have had very bitter defeats, made moves that cannot be judged with today’s perceptions and tasted very bitter failures. Turkey must be proud of its history and its ancestors. It cannot be the business of any parliament to decide what might have happened at a certain time in history. Such issues must be left to historians to explore and emerge with conclusions that everyone should respect. Especially when it comes to unverified Armenian claims, it was none of the business of the German Bundestag to make a decision. What hurt the Turkish leadership and the nationalist-conservative segments of Turkish society most was the support of all 11 ethnic Turkish deputies, particularly Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir, for the controversial legislation. More so, the “genocide” recognition coming from a country condemned for the Holocaust was considered by the Turkish government as a disgrace.

Starting a few days before the voting but especially since the voting day, Turkey has been flooded with virulent examples of hate speech, including a statement questioning the Turkishness of the blood in the veins of Özdemir, who was disowned by villagers in Tokat’s Kaladere village. How will Germany be punished by NATO ally Turkey? What will Turkey’s counter move be? What measures can Turkey indeed take against Germany, one of the major powers of the European Union, a club with whom Ankara has been in EU accession talks in a process which will apparently continue forever.

Should Turkey join the European Union or should it not is a question that need not be answered for now. As British PM David Cameron “wisely” put it on a TV show, “It is not remotely on the cards that Turkey is going to join the EU any time soon. They applied in 1987. At the current rate of progress, they will probably get round to joining in about the year 3000.” However, Turkey acquiring norms, values and standards that constitute the soul if not the flesh of Europe is long overdue. This has been a process dating back more than 200 years and it is not related to whether Turkey physically becomes a member of a European club. Would it take another 1,000 years to achieve that as Cameron claimed? Or, was Cameron an optimist as Turks might never succeed because a Christian Europe will never agree to admit a country with a predominantly Muslim people with a rather strong conservative Islamist culture?

The ultimate impact of the “genocide” legislation on bilateral ties is not yet clear, but it would not be fortune-telling to say that whatever might be the “punitive actions” Ankara takes against Berlin, relations between Germany and Turkey are strong enough to produce a bounce-back. When and how remains to be seen.

Applause to Ergin. Turkey and Europe need such courageous journalists in these difficult times.