Democratic Opening, Martyrs and Journalism

 Cemil Cengiz*

The leading political party of Turkey, AKP (Justice and Development Party) has launched a series of solutions to the problems concerning the Kurdish minority in Turkey under the title of “Democratic Opening” by November 2008. Whilst the project was called “Kurdish Opening” at the earlier stages, the Government announced that the Democratic Opening was the first part of the “National Unity and Fellowship Project”(1) which is a wider project that aims to provide more civil liberties for all society in Turkey.

As the mass media is known to be the fourth power (some cases in Turkish history showed it was even the first, for more see ‘February the 28 Post modern coup’), the Government’s first guests to whom they would give some information about the project and ask for suggestions about the Kurdish problem were journalists. To think in a rational way, the very first people to persuade were journalists since they have the power to convince society. Thus, Besir Atalay, Interior Minister and Coordinator of the Democratic Opening, invited a number of journalists who were believed to be “reasonable” people. Later, Devlet Bahceli who is the leader of opposing Nationalist Party labelled the journalists as “12 evil men” a term which the media highlighted more than the opening itself. Meeting with the journalists did not achieve the government’s purpose because of the intense pressure put by the opposition parties and some media groups.

“…the mass media is known to be the fourth power(some cases in Turkish history showed it was even the first, for more see ‘February the 28 Post-modern coup’),…” 

In order to instill morale into the society, on 27th of May 2009, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, “Whether you call the problem the ‘Kurdish issue’ or the ‘South Eastern issue’ this is the most important problem of Turkey. The later we leave it to resolve the problem, the harder it will get.” The same day, in Hakkari, which is a city located in the south-eastern region of Turkey, 7 Turkish soldiers were killed over a mine blast. The following texts are snippets of the story about the blast from three of the leading Turkish broadsheets after the incident:


7 Martyrs in Cukurca

The cruel attack occurred at 23:30 yester- day. The mine placed by the terrorists was remotely blasted while an army lorry carrying soldiers to the operation point was passing over it.


Mine trap: 6 Martyrs in Cukurca

6 soldiers were killed over the mine that was placed by PKK terrorists was remotely blasted while the soldiers were carried to the operation point near Iraqi border. ‘…the mine was previously placed into a trench by PKK terrorists ’


6 Martyrs in Cukurca

‘According to the sources, the terrorist organisation (PKK) blasted the mine they previously planted into the road while a group of soldiers were walking over it.’

‘According to the district officials, the soldiers were going on foot while the attack was done. ‘

‘Martyr Private Ozkan Dumlu laid to the rest amid tears…’ ‘Private Adil Yildiz died a martyr over blast had 55 days to discharge’

All the three newspapers above saddled the PKK with the responsibility of the mine blast without verification. Turkish community and the mass media are familiar to see new martyr news in the media because the Turkish Army has been fighting against the PKK terrorists for more than 25 years. This situation caused a specific presupposition in the minds of the public that in case of an incident resulting the death of a Turkish soldier, community would directly say he was killed by the PKK. In addition, a short while after the incident, TSK, Turkish Armed Forces stated that the attacks were carried out by a group of PKK terrorists that crossed the Iraqi border. This official statement and presuppositions were enough to convince the mass media.

A few days before the blast, Turkish PM Erdogan had stated that he could make an appointment with Ahmet Turk who is the former leader of the Kurdish Party, DTP. It was important news because Erdogan had previously refused to meet DTP officials be- cause they did not explicitly deny their relation to the terrorist organisation, PKK. One day after the blast, Erdogan stated that he cancelled the appointment due to the mine blast and added ‘Every time you decide to step forward, mines start blasting’. Mean- while, the majority of columnists, newspapers and TV channels implied that a Kurdish Opening would not help the resolution of problems and was not needed when an armed conflict was going on. So this situation forced the government to halt the opening process and change the agenda. How- ever, about three months after the incident, a sound recording of the dialogues of some military officials who were charged in the region was anonymously uploaded to YouTube. The sound file involved a series of telephone conversations between the generals stating that the mine that killed 6 Turkish soldiers belonged to the Turkish Army’s inventory and that it was ‘forgotten’ that it was planted in the region. After the news had broad repercussions in the mass media, public prosecutors launched an investigation into the allegations. However, the most important and fragile process, the Democratic Opening was significantly influenced in a negative way because of the impetuous attitude of the mass media towards the government’s new plan.

Although a longitudinal analysis of framing the ‘martyr news’ by the Turkish media should be done to put the case clearly, this one sample adequately shows how much the mass media is able to nearly stop a vital process in Turkey. The situation raises questions about whether the mass media should take a particular side in an ongoing clash or whether what is expected from journalism is only to inform society about incidents. What I personally believe is that the first thing to democratize in Turkey is journalism and give enough of confidence to journalists to independently write what needs to be known without being obligated to be ‘his master’s voice’ of the official sources.

* Cemil Cengiz is an MA student at Brunel University and a freelance journalist.

1. Further information: The Book of Democratic Opening (Prepared by the Govern- ment/ Turkish) http:/ / demokratik_acilim_kitabi.pdf

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