Uzay Bulut: Turkey’s All-Out War on Kurds and Media

By Uzay Bulut
Originally published by Gatestone Institute

Since August, Turkey has been bombing and destroying its Kurdistan region in the same pattern: The Turkish government first declares curfews on Kurdish districts; then Turkish armed forces, with heavy weaponry, attack Kurdish neighborhoods and everyone living there. Much of this slaughter is presumably due to the Kurds having gained a large number of seats the latest elections — thereby preventing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from attaining the super-majority he sought in order to change the Constitution and become “Sultan” for life, to rule as an autocrat. Kurds are also now asking for their right to rule themselves in their native lands, where they have lived for centuries.

Curfews in 19 Kurdish towns (from August 10, 2015 to the present) have penned Kurds in and enabled Turks to murder them more easily. So far, according to the Diyarbakir Branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD), in the past few months, 170 civilian Kurds have been killed. Of these, 29 were children, 39 were women and 102 were men. At least 140 people were wounded; some have lost eyes, legs or arms; others are the victims of brain trauma.

On January 20, Turkish police opened fire at a group of civilians who were holding up white flags as they tried to remove the dead and wounded from the street in Cizre, one of the Kurdish towns under Turkish military siege. The Turkish police murdered two people from the group and wounded 12 others.

On Jan. 20, Turkish police in Cizre opened fire at a group of Kurdish civilians who were holding up white flags as they tried to remove the dead and wounded from the street. The Turkish police murdered two people from the group and wounded 12 others.
Refik Tekin, a cameraman of IMC TV and an award-winning journalist, was among the wounded but kept filming the attack even after he was shot. He is now in a hospital.

“The state implements a policy of subjugation on the Kurdish demand for a political status. It has become clear once again that this problem is not about ditches [which some Kurdish youths have dug, over objections by officials, to try to stop the progress of the Turkish troops]. The state attempts to annihilate the Kurdish demand for political status by using the ditches as an excuse,” said Raci Bilici, the head of the Diyarbakir branch of the Human Rights Association.

As the military siege and attacks in Turkey’s Kurdistan intensify with each passing day, the Kurdish media are under a new wave of repression — through arbitrary arrests, psychical violence or blocks on their website content.

On January 1, police used water cannons and tear gas against local people marching from central Diyarbakir to the district of Sur to protest the curfews. Meanwhile, masked Turkish police detained Baran Ok, a cameraman of Kurdsat News Channel. Ferat Mehmetoglu, the local representative of Kurdsat, kept trying to explain to the police that Baran Ok was his cameraman. Disregarding Mehmetoglu’s pleas, the masked police drove off at high speed. At one point, after Mehmetoglu had gotten in front of the police vehicle, he barely avoided being run over when the officers drove off with his cameraman.

Meanwhile, the Dicle News Agency (DIHA) alleged that it obtained a restricted and official document, signed by the local Tank Battalion Command (part of the Turkish armed forces). The document instructs the Turkish armed forces operating in Kurdish towns and offers impunity: “No personnel shall forget not even for a moment that any personnel’s restraint from using arms for fear of prosecution might have very grave consequences, result in martyrs on our side; endanger the survival of the state and nation, [and] help traitors, terrorists and enemies of the state feel more powerful,” it said in part.

A day after DIHA covered this alleged document; its website was blocked for the 28th time by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (TIB).

On January 5, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Ferhat Encu, in a parliamentary motion, asked Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about the document. He has not yet received a reply. No Turkish authority has so far either confirmed or denied the existence of such a document.

Kurdish journalists are also exposed to physical violence. On January 5, the special operations police forcibly gathered 37 people from their homes and took them to an indoor sports hall. One of them was Nedim Oruc, a journalist who had extensively covered the military assaults against the Kurdish town Silopi.

At first, no information could be obtained about Oruc who, according to DIHA news agency, had been battered, dragged on the ground and kidnapped by police in an armored vehicle. As a result of the public pressure brought to bear by the Twitter hashtag #NedimOrucNerede Where is Nedim Oruc), Silopi Security Directorate admitted that Oruc was in custody. He is now in Sirnak Prison.

The same day, the police raided a student dormitory and houses in the province of Van. The all-female, pro-Kurdish Jin (Women’s) News Agency reporter and university student Rojda Oguz and many other students were arrested. Rojda is now in Van prison.

“The Turkish public has a right to information from a variety of sources and perspectives, but the government is clearly trying to stifle pro-Kurdish news outlets with these arrests,” said Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on Turkish authorities to release Nedim Oruç and Rojda Oğuz without delay and to stop harassing and obstructing journalists.”

On January 9, the “Women for Peace” group staged a demonstration in Izmir’s Bornova district to protest the recent military siege and attacks against Kurdish districts. Police detained the Evrensel reporter Eda Aktas, along with 12 others, while she was reporting on the protest — on the grounds that the press statement of the protesters violated the article 301 of the penal code, which makes it illegal “to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions.”

On January 5, in Silopi, three female Kurdish politicians — Sêvê Demir, Pakize Nayir, and Fatma Uyar — were murdered by state forces.

On January 10, in Izmir, when the Kurdish Congress of Free Women (KJA) organized a protest to commemorate the slain politicians, the police attacked the protestors, and detained 35 — including Dilek Aykan, the co-head of the Izmir branch of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The police also prevented Serfiraz Gezgin, a reporter from the Kurdish DIHA agency, and Hatice Erhan, a reporter from the left-wing magazine Kizil Bayrak, from filming the police crackdown. Other journalists just barely stopped police from detaining Gezgin and Erhan.

For months, the Turkish armed forces have been using hospitals and schools as military quarters, threatening, and even murdering medical personnel, and forcing thousands of Kurds to flee their native lands.

The state violence in Turkish Kurdistan escalates daily: On January 10, Turkish soldiers murdered 12 Kurds at close range in the province of Van. The office of the governor of Van announced that 12 PKK members were killed in the province. Photos of the slain Kurds were shared on the social media, apparently by Turkish security forces. A YouTube account called “Special Operations Team,” for instance, published a video entitled “The carcasses of the PKK – Van/Edremit” showing the bodies of slain Kurds, with upbeat music playing in the background.

Reporter Bekir Gunes, and cameraman Mehmet Dursun, working for IMC TV, were trying to follow up on news concerning the murders, but were prevented from doing so by the police. Both were taken into custody and released 11 hours later. “Our only aim today was to share what had happened in Van with the public in a healthy way,” Gunes wrote on his Twitter account. “Today it was not us, but the people’s right to information that was taken into custody. We will not be silent.”[1]

According to the 2015 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders, Turkey, out of 180 states, ranked 149.[2] “Turkey’s ‘underlying situation’ score,” it wrote, “covering such areas as cyber-censorship, lawsuits, dismissals of critical journalists and gag orders — actually worsened, showing that freedom of information continues to decline.” [3]

Lately, pressures on free speech and free press have been gaining new momentum in Turkey. The latest victim was a Turkish comedian and television host, Beyazit Ozturk (“Beyaz”) known for being apolitical and pro-establishment.

Beyaz found himself in the midst of violent threats after a teacher from Diyarbakir phoned into his popular live chat show and called for an end to violence in the region. She said: “Children are dying here. All of these bomb sounds, bullet sounds… People — especially babies and children — are struggling with a lack of water, with starvation. Please show some sensitivity. See us, hear our voice, extend your hand to us. Please let no more people die. Let no more children die.”

Beyaz thanked the caller, said that he too supported her message of peace and asked the audience to applaud her.

Kanal D [Channel D], the mainstream TV channel broadcasting the show, issued a statement saying they were tricked into allowing the caller on. The television channel’s officials added: “Dogan TV and Kanal D have always been on the side of the state from day one.”

The Turkish ministry of national education started an exhaustive hunt to find the caller. They said that no teacher with that name admitted to having called the show.

The teacher on the phone had not even said who killers were, but for some unfathomable reason, the Turkish nationalists, including state authorities, appear to have taken the remark personally, and interpreted it as an “insult to Turkish security forces” and “terrorist propaganda.”

Beyaz thereupon received a negative reaction from Turkish nationalists, and even death threats on social media. Many Twitter users and pro-government media outlets accused him “of allowing PKK propaganda on his show” and “not showing the required reaction to the caller.”

A popular hashtag said: “Beyaz! Apologize from the Turkish Police!”

A masked individual, allegedly a special operations police officer, posted on YouTube a video entitled, “We will not forget,” threatening Beyaz for allowing a caller from Diyarbakir to say on his show that children are dying.

In the end, Beyaz appeared on Kanal D again, apologizing:

“I am a son of a police officer. Whatever the entire Turkish nation thinks about that place [Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast], I also have the same thoughts. Of course, with all our hearts and souls, we want the terrorist organization to lay down its arms and this issue to be resolved as soon as possible. May Allah make it easy for all of our security forces in the southeast. We are on the side of our state and our nation.”

Finally, the police found the “criminal.” Ayse Celik, the art teacher who phoned in, is now being prosecuted for “making propaganda for the terrorist organization”. Eleven lawyers in the province of Antep who declared their support for the Celik’s message are also being prosecuted for “terrorist propaganda.”

This is the level of political and social pressure that a TV personality — who has had nothing to do with political activism throughout his entire career — is exposed to, in response to the most innocent and humanitarian wishes for peace uttered by a caller on his show. Imagine the enormity of the pressure on Kurds and journalists who try to expose the real crimes Turkey is committing against its Kurdish minority.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara

[1] On January 10, which marks the Working Journalists Day in Turkey, Murat Verim, a Kurdish reporter of Dicle News Agency (DIHA), was detained following a police raid on his home in Mardin’s Dargecit district. On January 12, gendarmerie special operations forces attacked Mursel Coban, a journalist and photographer, as he was reporting on the funeral of the youths murdered in the Sur district of Diyarbakir. Coban said that the police beat him and tried to detain him, while threatening him with “disappearance.”

[2] In 2014, Turkey ranked 154 in the list. “Turkey’s rise in the index must be put in context,” wrote Reporters Without Borders. “It was due above all to the conditional release in 2014 of around 40 imprisoned journalists who nonetheless continue to face prosecution and could be detained again at any time.

[3] In another mass arrest on December 20, 2011, 58 people (many of whom were Kurdish journalists) were taken into custody in a police raid on their offices or houses in 8 provinces.

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