Although Bozkurt’s history spans decades, his personal story first began to intertwine with that of Erdoğan in early 2016 when Today’s Zaman — the English language outlet of the Zaman media group — was “unlawfully seized” on March 4 and an AKP-appointed administrator was put in charge.
Karşı newspaper trial gets under way after two files merged
One-Time Top Turkish Journalist on the Coup, the Repression, and Turkey’s Future
ANKARA, TURKEY — With most of the Turkish media controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), it is hard for many people to fully understand the internal politics of Turkey. One way to break through this is by listening to Turkey’s exiled journalists like Abdullah Bozkurt.
In 2016, Turkey was shaken in the late hours of the night of July 15th by a coup attempt against President Erdoğan. While the coup — allegedly carried out by elements in the military and police loyal to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen — failed to remove Erdoğan, even after the alleged perpetrators were caught, Ankara embarked on a mission to rout any remaining elements of resistance.
Following the coup, Erdoğan issued a state-of-emergency decree that lasted for just over two years and finally ended just last month. During this period, over 170,000 alleged members of the newly-criminalized Gulen organization lost their jobs, and at least 80,000 Turkish citizens spent time in police custody.
Beyond the police and military officials directly involved in the coup attempt, Erdoğan and the ruling AKP also targeted other groups of ideological enemies, including Turkish citizens holding positions ranging from judges and prosecutors to school administrators and teachers.
There was one other target of Erdoğan, a target common among all leaders who seek total control of their countries: the press.
Erdoğan began moving against the press even before the coup, and one man who knows this all too well is Abdullah Bozkurt, an early target of AKP censorship who spoke to MintPress to explain how Erdoğan’s imperial presidency came to be and what may come next.
Abdullah Bozkurt’s escape from Turkey
To better understand what makes Bozkurt a unique source for information on the political situation in Turkey, it is important to know his history as a veteran journalist who worked for over 20 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief and publisher in various media outlets.
Although Bozkurt’s history spans decades, his personal story first began to intertwine with that of Erdoğan in early 2016 when Today’s Zaman — the English language outlet of the Zaman media group — was “unlawfully seized” on March 4 and an AKP-appointed administrator was put in charge. Following the takeover by state censors, Bozkurt was the first one fired from the office in Ankara by government caretakers who took over both the corporate and editorial management and unashamedly turned it into a mouthpiece for the government.
But this didn’t stop Bozkurt, who says that “although the takeover was a setback for journalism in Turkey, I did not give up.” Bozkurt went on to set up his own news outlet, Muhabir (Reporter), in Ankara in May of 2016 with about a dozen of his colleagues, and continued to keep writing and publishing.
Unfortunately for Bozkurt, his experience running his own media outlet was short-lived when less than two later, everything would change following the failed coup.
The coup was a pivotal moment in Turkish politics, a fact Bozkurt realized immediately, although he admits he may not have grasped how far Erdoğan’s retaliation would go, saying:
Things began to change shortly after Bozkurt returned to Ankara, however, when, according to Bozkurt, “the AKP issued a list of some 180 media outlets that were summarily shut down by the government decree in July 2016 under the pretext of battling against the coup,” including his own Muhabir. It was after this that it became clear to Bozkurt that things were going from bad to worse in Turkey — confirmed, according to Bozkurt, “when the government issued arrest warrants for over 40 journalists on a single day in late July” — which led to the journalist making one of the hardest choices of his life:
While Bozkurt is lucky to have escaped arrest in Turkey, he says, “things dramatically went from bad to worse, as the number of jailed journalists has increased as well as the shuttered media outlets,” which now number in the hundreds.
Bozkurt believes this was very intentional on the part of the AKP, he speculates that “the failed coup bid was a false flag operation by Erdoğan in coordination with his intel and defense chiefs.” While he does acknowledge there was “growing resentment in the military” at the time “that could have very well morphed into a real coup,” he doesn’t believe the official story for a few reasons:
Following his flight from Turkey, Bozkurt ended up in Stockholm, where he thought he could “hunker down” temporarily until he could return to Turkey “when all the noise settles down, chaos fades away and things calm down.”
But the noise and chaos never did die down and Bozkurt ended up setting up shop in Sweden where he now leads the Stockholm Center for Freedom, an NGO where, as Bozkurt puts it, “journalist colleagues and [himself] set up to track rights violations in Turkey, monitor court cases of journalists and document wrongdoings with a view of creating a record for a future accountability when the rule of law hopefully comes back to Turkey one day.”
Until then, Bozkurt has pledged to keep up his mission in exile, which poses dangers of its own when one’s opponent is Erdoğan.
The long arm of the AKP
While the “Erdoğan government silences critical, independent and opposition journalists by jailing them at home,” there is a separate set of dangers for critics of Turkey who flee to Europe.
As many Turkish expats can attest, once you have been accused of being an enemy of the AKP, the government will attempt to bring you back to Turkey. These extraditions range anywhere from legitimate legal processes, through Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, to kidnappings in even the most remote corners of the world — such as the most recent attempt in Mongolia. Turkey has even taken to sending intelligence agents to allied countries where Turks commonly seek asylum, such as Germany, to infiltrate local immigration systems.
Luckily for Bozkurt, he has remained safe from these brazen tactics, but that doesn’t mean he has been exempt from “various other forms” of intimidation by the Erdoğan government, as he described:
Beyond harassing his family, Bozkurt said, he is also subject to “routine threats from Erdoğan’s thugs all the time” including “from pro-Erdoğan people in the Turkish diaspora community in Sweden.”
Bozkurt is also publicly demonized by “the government propagandists” who replaced the real journalists in Turkey, who “openly call [for Bozkurt’s] assassination by Turkish intelligence on public TV programs,” which Bozkurt says is a result of his reporting that has “been exposing the clandestine and unlawful activities of the Turkish intelligence.” This assault by the media even includes “official government news agencies,” which “float [Bozkurt’s] picture in a wanted poster … Wild West style … on [their] homepage and social media accounts from time to time, calling me a terrorist and fugitive.”
“The goal” of all this, according to Bozkurt “is to silence you, even in exile,” because it is the only place the AKP doesn’t control the media. Bozkurt said of the current media situation in Turkey:
Yet Bozkurt refused to quit, because, as he says, “if you do, then they will win. I don’t want that” — which is why he has continued to report on the intrigue and corruption of post-coup Turkey.
Turkey after the coup
Bozkurt believes there were multiple motivations behind the false-flag coup operation, but high on the list was the excuse it provided Erdoğan to step up purges that did not start with the coup but began after Erdoğan’s 2011 landslide election victory, during which Erdoğan received almost 50 percent of votes … “and felt confident enough that he had harnessed enough power to make his move in turning Turkey into Islamist/neo-nationalist authoritarian regime,” Bozkurt says.
The purges were meant to vacate key positions in the government and have “taken a toll on the civil service, law enforcement agencies and military, with the positions later filled by AKP loyalists or just left empty.”
One branch of the government to be hit especially hard was the Turkish Air Force, “which is the backbone of the Turkish defense doctrine,” according to Bozkurt. This was detrimental to the Turkish military in the opinion of many experts, including Bozkurt, who explained that the Air Force “was decimated when experienced pilots were purged summarily.”
The purges went so far that, according to Bozkurt, “even the F-16 plots who provided wing protection for Erdoğan’s presidential plane on the night of the coup … as well as those F-16 plots who crippled the Akinci air base where putschists allegedly set up … were all declared as terrorists and purged as well,” which Bozkurt says “reinforces the belief that this was not a real coup attempt at all.”
This internal restructuring was repeated in almost every area of the public sector which had any influence over the government and is why the military was so crucial. Since Turkey has a history of the military deep-state staging multiple real coups when a civilian government goes too far left or right, it was important to not just replace specialists like pilots, but also to nix the top brass.
For all of the history of modern Turkey until Erdoğan, the top positions in the military were occupied by the secular Kemalist establishment, which has existed in the military since it was founded. Kemalists — followers of the military leader and founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — long kept civilian governments in check whenever they got too radical, and especially when they began to question Turkey’s membership of NATO and cooperation with the Atlanticist community.
All of these military leaders are now gone, however, and, while Erdoğan has done more than any previous Turkish president to limit the military’s control over politics, Bozkurt worries that the new generals pose their own dangers.
Among these, according to Bozkurt, is the possibility that the new Turkish military could move away from Turkey’s Atlanticist tradition as many of the new leadership “came mainly from a neo-nationalist group that is closely affiliated with the pro-Russian, pro-Iran gang led by Dogu Perincek.” Perincek is the leader of the Patriotic Party, a Eurasianist left-nationalist party that “is staunchly anti-NATO and anti-West.”
While Bozkurt’s argument that NATO — the organization that toppled legitimate governments of countries including Libya, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, — is actually somehow democratically superior to the Eastern powers is up for debate, there are still problems for Erdoğan as he attempts to move his alliances east.
One such problem is that the AKP and Patriotic Party don’t actually represent enough of Turkish society to fully staff the state, which means the AKP has also had to seek out other Turks on the political fringe to fill lower positions.
Another problem that springs from this patchwork coalition backing the AKP is that some segments of the Islamists mentioned by Bozkurt oppose countries like Iran and Russia.
The AKP under Erdoğan arguably seeks to be the leading branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the political wing of Salafi extremism, which is why Ankara’s proxies in Syria primarily consist of members of groups like Al Qaeda. While the U.S. backs the Brotherhood or AQ in some instances, as they have in Syria, sometimes this can backfire as Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels accused of attacking NATO troops in northern Syria can attest. These forces also oppose Shi’a Islam and Russian intervention in the Middle East, which will cause complications for Erdoğan, since a large part of his political strategy is religious pandering.
There are also sections of the ultra-nationalists in Turkey that have historic distrust of Russia stemming from the days of the Ottoman Empire. While these groups, like Erdoğan’s electoral coalition partners in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), don’t like the U.S. ordering Turkey around, they’re also wary of Moscow and could impede Erdoğan’s attempts to shift east.
These various factions present a huge problem for the West, which depended on the old Turkish military establishment to defend the NATO alliance and is now seeing that establishment disappear. In their place are new anti-Western military leaders who now reflect the majority opinion of Turks, causing concern for leaders from Brussels to Washington. It was already extraordinarily difficult for Washington to plan policy around Turkey before the most recent diplomatic spats, but with multiple factions vying for influence with conflicting aims, the challenges for the U.S. are likely to grow.
Some analysts like those at the Atlantic Council argue the new surge in anti-American opinion is mostly just political theater. Bozkurt, however, isn’t so sure. While he agrees that bashing the West “works wonders for Erdoğan” politically, he says also that “Erdoğan is committed to act against NATO.”
Bozkurt says that even though some analysts may be unsure of the extent to which Erdoğan may be willing to go, he chalks this up to Erdoğan “knowing he has limitations in [confronting NATO] so openly and bluntly.” Yet Bozkurt argues there is still evidence that this is Erdoğan’s endgame, an assertion he bases on “a 2010 confidential investigation into Iran’s clandestine activities in Turkey that revealed “that [Erdoğan] was bent on taking on NATO when he feels confident and gains enough power to do so.” At the time, Erdoğan was telling his associates that he went along with a new NATO radar base in Turkey’s Malatya (Kurecik) unwillingly and would reverse the decision when he packs enough power. Bozkurt summed up:
Unfortunately for Erdoğan, he can no longer lie in wait for his moment to pounce on NATO, as he has now managed to draw the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who is already straining the alliance.
Turkey and the U.S.
Turkey recently drew the ire of President Trump following a demand by Washington to release imprisoned U.S. pastor, Andrew Brunson. Brunson, who was detained in the months following the 2016 coup, has been the recent focus of heightening tensions between Ankara and Washington. Bozkurt agrees with most analysts in Turkey that “Brunson’s affair is only a symptom of deeper troubles that have been mushrooming between the two allies for years,” and are likely to continue as long as the AKP is in charge:
Another source of tension brewing since well before the 2016 coup was the status of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who resides on a compound in rural Pennsylvania. Gulen is alleged to be behind the coup and has been said to be associated with most of the targets of the post-coup purges.
At one point Erdoğan allegedly offered to trade the U.S. Brunson for Gulen, but Bozkurt doesn’t think Erdoğan really wants Gulen back in Turkey. On top of this, Bozkurt says, is the fact that the ‘evidence’ against Gulen provided by Erdoğan basically amounted to “a collection of conspiracies and political statements that accused not only Gulen but also U.S., Mexican and Brazil officials of an international plot that targeted Erdoğan.”
Rather than Gulen being a priority, Bozkurt says he is really just a “usual scapegoat” who likely became a target of the AKP because his organization’s missions ran counter to Erdoğan’s project:
Bozkurt also sees Gulen as a method for Erdoğan to take the focus off other legal matters he would like to see go away.
One case in particular that has been a source of conflict between the U.S. and Turkey is that of Reza Zarrab, who exposed “Erdoğan’s secret deal with Iran in circumventing sanctions…in December 2013.” The deal was revealed in Turkish courts, prompting the AKP to respond with a purge of the police force and judiciary in late 2013.
Zarrab exposed a scheme to trade Turkish gold for Iranian oil through shell companies managed by Halkbank, a majority state-owned bank. The case never panned out in Turkey — as Erdoğan pardoned all parties involved, including Zarrab — but was later picked up in the U.S., where Zarrab was arrested. Zarrab turned state’s witness for the U.S. and further exposed the extent of the sanctions-busting scheme, which directly implicated Erdoğan.
The Halkbank case caused problems for Washington, especially with President Trump in charge, as he wages his campaign against Iran. Thanks to Zarrab, the U.S. now knows Turkey was doing business with Iran before former President Barack Obama even began to negotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal and rapprochement had begun between Washington and Tehran. This causes concern for the new administration in Washington that Ankara can’t be trusted to help enforce new sanctions as Trump seeks to re-apply pressure on Iran.
Another matter causing Washington to question Turkey’s loyalty when it comes to Iran and Russia is Turkey’s recent attempts to purchase the Russian S-400 missile-defense systems. The systems are incompatible with NATO systems, and the U.S. claims they could leave the new F-35 stealth fighter vulnerable to Russian intelligence. Turkey was set to receive several of these F-35s as a member of the 11-nation group project that built them, but the delivery was recently blocked by Congress.
This has all played into recent escalations, which have resulted in U.S. sanctions on Turkey and Erdoğan accusing Washington of waging an ‘economic war.’ Bozkurt conceded that the “sanctions threats by the Trump administration might have played a catalyst role in worsening the economic outlook of Turkey, but did not start [the economic problems] in the first place.”
The war of words does concern Bozkurt, who believes that “there is no alternative to the NATO alliance for Turkey’s national security needs,” but that, “the problem is that Erdoğan’s personal interests do not overlap with the interest of Turkey.”
This means that to a large extent, the future of Turkey is deeply intertwined with the future of Erdoğan. Nobody can be sure of what that may entail tomorrow, let alone in the next few years. Especially as Erdoğan recently made a major leap in capacity to pursue his agenda in recent elections where he was granted new powers as president. Bozkurt says the new powers have “essentially side-lined the Parliament.”
By Bozkurt’s estimation, with his new powers:
Bozkurt believes the largest impediment to Erdoğan’s agenda “is the economy, which is mainly dependent on the EU market both in terms of investment and export market,” for which Erdoğan is already trying to compensate:
While all of this is a big gamble on Erdoğan’s part, Bozkurt left me with a final word of warning, saying that he believed that if “push comes to the shove, Erdoğan is even willing to torch the country with a provocation of civil war in order to weather the approaching storm.” It is to be hoped things don’t come to that but, for Turkish citizens who oppose the AKP, electoral options are basically off the table and the idea of a civil war is horrifying in a state controlled by one man.
Top Photo | Turkish journalist Abdullah Bozkurt, who was forced to leave Turkey. Kjell Vowles | ETC
James Carey is journalist and editor at Geopolitics Alert. He specializes in Middle East and Asian affairs.
Republish our stories! MintPress News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.
14 May 2018:
Turkey’s intelligence agency tapped journalist as asset in CNN Turkish affiliate
OPINION | ABDULLAH BOZKURT
The use of Turkish journalists as assets and media outlets as cover has long been a policy of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) in order to obtain confidential information from sources, put reporters’ talents to use as operatives and run clandestine information campaigns for various missions and purposes.
This risky policy, employed discreetly for decades, has morphed into a blunt and abusive instrument intensively put to use by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government has turned the secretive spy organization into his private detective agency. The transformation accelerated after the appointment of Erdoğan’s close confidante Hakan Fidan, a pro-Iranian Islamist, as head of the spy agency in 2010. One of the main changes Fidan made after he started running MIT was to bring Nuh Yılmaz, an op-ed contributor for the Sabah daily, a newspaper that is owned and operated by Erdoğan’s family, to the agency as press advisor, on Aug. 15, 2013.
The position of press advisor, which used to be a low-key job at the agency and involved nothing much more than press scans and media reviews, was given new life when Yılmaz was brought aboard. Most of the defamation campaign against Erdoğan’s critics and opponents as well as Turkey’s disinformation war against international partners and allies is being coordinated from there.
Yılmaz being parachuted into the agency without much experience in the intelligence field drew criticism within the organization. The position of press advisor was also elevated by Fidan, who ordered him to report directly to his office as opposed to the past tradition of the press officer being responsible to one of the deputy undersecretaries of the agency. Let’s recall that Yılmaz had also worked as the Washington, D.C., representative for several pro-government media outlets including CNN Türk, ATV, Kanal 24 and the Star daily.
In October 2017 Yılmaz was reassigned to another post in the intelligence agency. During his four years of running the press section at MIT, he delivered what was expected of him by recruiting more journalists as assets and planting new people in various media outlets, mostly run by pro-Erdoğan business associates. The Sabah daily and its many bureau chiefs at home and abroad were selected specifically to cater to the needs of Turkish intelligence in collecting information, engaging in illicit activities and even resorting to espionage.
More information has recently come to light that links Yılmaz to what appears to be one of the high-value assets developed by MIT in CNN International’s Turkish affiliate, CNN Türk, which was owned by media mogul Aydin Dogan before its sale in March to Erdoğan lackey Erdoğan Demirören, owner of the Demirören Group. Her name is Hande Fırat, the CNN Türk bureau chief in Ankara and TV anchor who made a name for herself after talking to Erdoğan via FaceTime during which conversation the Turkish president called on his supporters to take to the streets to show their support against the coup attempt.
The whole episode appears to have been carefully designed to give an impression that Erdoğan was under duress and had great difficulty accessing the networks, when dozens of media outlets were at his disposal at any given moment. Fırat’s links to Turkish intelligence were first revealed by two senior MIT officials, Erhan Pekçetin and Aydın Günel, who were captured by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq’s Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah on Aug. 4, 2017.
Although the pro-PKK Fırat news agency (ANF) published partial video footage along with the confessions of the captured MIT officials, I initially approached the story with caution, given the source. However, I have recently talked to two intelligence experts who are intimately familiar with these two captured MIT officials and knowledgeable about the modus operandi of Turkish intelligence. They both independently verified the information that was provided to their captors by Pekçetin and Günel as accurate.
Fırat later wrote a book detailing what happened during the night of the coup from her own experience but tried to cover up the role of the intelligence agency in the plot. Her efforts were part of an MIT-coordinated plan to whitewash the intelligence agency and portray Yılmaz, her contact at the agency, in a favourable light. She was not so discreet in her attempts to do so, however, both in her book and later during her testimony on Nov. 16, 2016 before the parliamentary commission that was set up to investigate events leading up to the coup. For example, when asked by a commission member how to explain Yılmaz’s tweet on July 16, 2016 at 2:57 a.m. stating that Chief of General Staff Gen.
Despite her best efforts, Fırat’s book also exposed some contradictions. For example, she wrote about her conversation with Yılmaz at 10:10 p.m. on the night of July 15 after some troops blocked the traffic in one direction on the Bosporus Bridge. She asked the MIT official what was going on, and Yılmaz responded that he had no knowledge of the developments. The same man who claimed to have no idea what was happening posted a message on Twitter hours later that the putschists’ attempts had been thwarted.
In an interview with Alem FM Radio in late July 2016, Fırat also admitted that she had talked to Yılmaz, who earlier told her about reported clashes at MIT headquarters before the Turkish president appeared on FaceTime. It was also reported that the two had a meeting on July 14, a day before the failed coup was launched, possibly to fine tune the plan of connecting Erdoğan to the TV network.
Fırat is now bureau chief of the Hürriyet daily in Ankara and manages a political commentary program, “Night View,” on CNN Türk. She is certainly not the only one developed as an asset by Turkish intelligence, and there are many others who work ostensibly as journalists. I will reveal some other names in due time when it’s important to shed light on their conduct.
Worse, there is no discernible concern in many media outlets in Turkey, especially among those that are owned by businesspeople who curry favor with the government to obtain lucrative contracts and tenders. However, such practices complicate Turkish journalists’ efforts to perform their duty to inform the public based on fact-based reporting. It also makes them a target of foreign governments and nongovernmental entities and may very well lead to hostile actions against them. The abuse of the journalism profession by the Erdoğan government for intelligence operations puts the safety of honest working reporters at great risk. Source
12 February 2018:
Journalist recounts flight from post-coup crackdown in Turkey
Abdullah Bozkurt, the former Ankara bureau chief of the closed-down Today’s Zaman daily who now lives in exile in Sweden, recounts in an interview with Global Journalist the story of his flight from a crackdown in Turkey following a failed coup attempt in July 2016.
What follows is the full text of the interview by Global Journalist published on the Index on Censorship site on Feb. 12, 2018:
“In hindsight, there were many clues that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government was making preparations to eliminate Turkey’s independent media even before it launched a massive crackdown in July 2016. But perhaps the biggest tip-off was the March 2016 police raid and seizure of Zaman, Turkey’s largest daily newspaper.
“At the time, Abdullah Bozkurt was bureau chief in the capital Ankara for the paper’s English-language edition, Today’s Zaman. On March 4 of that year, Bozkurt found himself struggling to put out the newspaper’s final edition – even as he watched on live television as police in riot gear fired tear gas and water cannons on protesters and stormed Zaman’s headquarters 220 miles (350 km) to the west in Istanbul.
“Shortly before court-appointed trustees seized control of the newspaper’s computer system, Bozkurt wrote the headline for the last cover of Today’s Zaman. ‘Shameful Day for Free Press in Turkey,’ it read. ‘Zaman Media Group Seized.’
“Zaman had been in Erdogan’s crosshairs for some time for its sympathies with the Gülen movement, an opposition group affiliated with a U.S.-based Islamic cleric that Erdogan has branded a ‘terrorist’ organization. It had particularly angered the government for its aggressive coverage of a 2013 corruption investigation that led to the arrests of three sons of ministers in then-prime minister Erdogan’s government, Bozkurt says.
“’Initially, they started calling in public rallies [for people] not to purchase our newspaper,’ says Bozkurt, in an interview with Global Journalist. ‘Amazingly, at the time our circulation went up because we were one of the few media outlets in Turkey that were still covering the corruption investigation…later they started putting pressure on advertisers. That didn’t work out either because our circulation was quite high’.”
“After Zaman’s closure, Bozkurt briefly opened his own news agency. A few weeks later, on July 15, 2016, a faction of the military attempted to overthrow Erdogan. The coup was put down in a matter of hours. But in its aftermath, Erdogan unleashed a nationwide purge.
“Bozkurt was among those who chose to flee rather than face arrest. Ten days after the failed coup, he left for Sweden. The day after he left, the offices of his fledgling news agency were raided by police. Police later searched the home of Bozkurt’s 79-year-old mother and detained her for a day. Bozkurt’s wife and three children later followed him.
“In Sweden, Bozkurt received threats via social media and a Wild West-style ‘wanted photo’ of him was published by pro-Erdogan newspapers and the state-run news agency. The government has brought anti-state charges against 30 of his former Zaman colleagues, seeking as much as three life sentences in jail.
“Bozkurt, 47, now writes regular columns for the news site Turkishminute.com and works at the Stockholm Center for Freedom, a rights group focused on Turkey.
He spoke with Global Journalist’s Denitsa Tsekova about his last weeks in Turkey and his exile. Below, an edited version of their interview:”
Bozkurt: I was based in the capital, Ankara, but our newspaper’s headquarters was in Istanbul. The storming of our newspaper happened in Istanbul, we were watching on TV. We were on the phone talking to our colleagues in Istanbul, trying to find what’s going on, what we can do. The police were coming into our Istanbul’s newsrooms, ransacking the place, and shutting the internet service. It was up to me and my colleagues in the Ankara office to write the stories. We were actually printing the last edition of Zaman from Ankara. I was the one who drew the headline in the English edition and we managed to get out the last free edition. In the Turkish edition, we managed to finish and print the first one, but the second and the third edition couldn’t make it to the printing place. It was interrupted by the police and the government caretakers who took over the company.
GJ: There were protests after the closure of Zaman. What happened?
We knew it might be very dangerous because the government uses very harsh measures often rubber bullets, pepper spray and pressurized water against peaceful protesters. We didn’t want to put them on the risk.
Around 400 people showed up and they were beaten and targeted brutally by the police who stormed the building.
GJ: What was the last article you wrote for Today’s Zaman?
I talked to many people in the government and some from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Something was very, very off because the government planned to build a lot of prisons in Turkey under the disguise of a modernization plan.
However, when you look at the numbers, it didn’t really match. We didn’t need that many new prisons in Turkey, but the government was making a projection that the prison population would increase.
When the European officials asked the justice ministry on what basis were they making this projection, they did not have a response.
In hindsight, I could understand it was because they were preparing a new mass prosecution in Turkey and they needed more prisons to put these people away. Even the prisons we have now are not enough; people are living in very crowded cells. After the coup, the government even granted amnesty for some 40,000 convicted felons… just to make space for the political prisoners and journalists.
GJ: How did you decide to leave?
It was a rash decision, I didn’t even know to which country I would go, so I had to go to Germany first and then to Sweden.
My mother was getting old, she has some health issues and I wanted to be there for her. But it wasn’t up to me. Sweden was a stopover for me, I wasn’t planning on staying permanently.
GJ: Were you getting threats?
But after the massive crackdown after the coup attempt, I thought it’s no longer safe for me. I moved out alone, I didn’t even take my family, because I thought they will stay in Turkey and I can hang around abroad and then come back to Turkey. That was my plan.
GJ: Was your family directly threatened?
It was part of the intimidation campaign to go after family members, including my mother. She is a 79-year-old, she lives alone but sometimes my sister helps her out. Police raided her home in my hometown of Bandirma in December 2016, searched the house and placed her in detention for a day. She was questioned about me.
Why does she deserve that? They want me to shut up, to be silent even though I feel safe abroad.
GJ: What will happen if you go back to Turkey?