“This cannot go on” said a journalist friend, referring to the oppression of the media, of Kurdish politics, the silencing of society and rising authoritarianism in Turkey. In return I asked: “Do you mean ‘It is impossible for it to go on like this’ or ‘I will not let it go on like this’?” Because, as I still think, it CAN go on like this, if nothing is done to stop it.
After five years of massive political detentions without a single verdict, 600 students in prison, and a paralyzed opposition, the authority is not showing any signs of stepping back. But for the first time in the last five years, journalists and intellectuals opposing the government are planning to stand up again as they mend their broken wings and take care of the artificial disputes among themselves. The era of hesitation is finally over.
Nowadays, everyone I speak to in Istanbul is planning to start up an opposition press project. Unfortunately in this piece I can neither mention the names of the well-known media figures, nor give the details of those projects.
The owners and the contributors of the projects don’t even talk about their plans on the phone – as any follower of Turkish events knows by now that all our phones are tapped – and also it would be ridiculous to spoil the surprise by revealing it in this article. But one fact should be known: In order to realize these projects, intellectuals and the journalists are going through some hardcore political discussions and in some cases serious confessions. They are trying to get rid of the confusion that is manufactured and provoked by the political authority.
When the AKP government came to power with promises of democratization and demilitarization of Turkish politics, it won the hearts and minds of some prominent opponent intellectuals. And some were abstainers. During the first term of the AKP government, the most vocal opposition came from Kemalists who defended the military’s strong-hand in politics, which made it impossible for leftists to collaborate.
Among the opposition the split began in the early days of the AKP government. Back then the liberals did not see the rising conservatism as a danger, whereas Kemalists emphasized the lost cause of secular society. While the main issue against AKP was rising conservatism during the their first term in government, in the second term the leading discussion became about the rising authoritarianism, thanks to the massive political court cases and concerns about freedom of expression. During this period, opposition figures were relatively silent in case they were accused of being Kemalists and defenders of military intervention in politics.
The propaganda machine of the government was working in full force to label the opposing figures as “Kemalists,” which in that context meant “fascist”. The intellectuals were excommunicated from “circles promoting democracy” with this discrediting stigma. At one point the fear among the most prominent intellectuals became so unanimous that they were thinking twice before criticizing the government because they would have been automatically labeled as being against democracy. The intimidation became a kind of intellectual terror. The women and men of letters were keeping silent in order not to get their names in government supporting media registered as “traitors to democracy.” It was not only confusing for the public but was also an indication that the political authority was after them. This atmosphere created massive hesitation that led to an intellectual silence.
It was the symbolic cases and detentions of intellectuals and journalists that made many choose to overcome that hesitation. The cases of journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener and the detention of publisher Ragıp Zarakolu and academic Büşra Ersanlı were the “enough is enough” point. If the reaction then was a murmur, now it is a genuine speak-out as they start to make plans about the new media. Since the TV screens and the newspapers are full of obedient voices, the journalists and the intellectuals are looking for new platforms on which they can raise their voices. Despite the fear of political oppression and lack of capital support, they know that they at least will have the prominent figures who have been left out of the existing press regime and the people who are fed up of watching and reading the “Sir, yes sir!” media.
If things go well, in September or in October at the latest, not only the public in Turkey but the world at large will learn more about Turkey. But for now we have to hushhh!