Ilhan Tanir is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has covered U.S. politics and U.S-Turkish relations for Turkish national newspapers and online publications for more than a decade.
Tanir was a columnist for Hürriyet Daily News from 2009 to 2013 and a correspondent for the Turkish daily Vatan from 2009 until 2014. He then reported for the BBC Turkish Service and the Cumhuriyet newspaper.
In January 2017, Tanir launched the bilingual Washington Hatti news website which focuses on Turkish-U.S. relations and draws on contributors, writers, and editors from around the world.
Tanir writes extensively on Turkish domestic politics, Turkey-U.S. relations, as well as issues related to the wider Middle East and Eurasia region. He has also reported from Syria several times since the war began there in 2011 and is a frequent commentator on Turkish and Western television news networks.
Tanir received his master’s degree from George Mason University and is a graduate of Ankara University’s prestigious Political Science School.
21 NOvember 2018:
Why a Turkish court asked Interpol to issue a red notice for my arrest 1
When I woke up on the morning of Oct. 16 this year, I knew immediately from the alerts on my phone of dozens of mentions of my name in the media that there had been a big development in one of the cases in Turkey against me. But the development was so far from what I had been expecting that it seemed almost surreal. An Istanbul court had requested Interpol issue a red notice arrest warrant for myself and my former chief editor at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dündar.
Since childhood I had always associated red notices with blockbuster cases against notorious criminals. Yet here I was, a Washington-based journalist who has never made a living outside writing, reporting and media-related projects since I began filing stories more than a decade ago, a period that the alleged charges against me span. What could I possibly have done to compel Turkish authorities to demand Interpol make such a move?
I have not killed anyone, run a cartel, robbed a bank or done anything else to warrant a global manhunt. The Turkish government is pursuing me for my activities as a journalist, and is charging me, like many other journalists back in Turkey, with membership of and associations with two different terrorist organisations and claiming I have used my platform in the media to attack and undermine the state.
I have always held one principle of journalism in particularly high esteem; journalists should report the news, not become the news. I am uncomfortable becoming the focus of this particular drama and have dragged my feet over publicly addressing these absurd claims as long as I could. But that changed with the Interpol red notice. Having faced many questions about the nature of the charges against me, I want to present a response in writing.
I should tell you first without a doubt that this is a purely political case in which the aim is to silence and punish me like the dozens of journalists now rotting in Turkey’s jails. If I had obeyed the Turkish government and muted my critical reporting and tweets, or take the side of the government, as a Turkish embassy official politely suggested to me in early 2015, I would have been just fine. No government mouthpiece would have gone after me, and no indictment would have been launched.
The Turkish government has repeatedly said that only those people who criticised it after corruption cases were unsuccessfully brought against some of its leading members in December 2013 were the enemy, and that even if someone had close ties to the Gülen movement, accused of bringing the charges, before that date, it would not be counted against them.
Between Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, a major shift in the narrative of Turkish politics took place in as prosecutors launched corruption investigations into ministers and their relatives and the simmering conflict between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its erstwhile allies in the Gülen movement began to play out in the open.
The AKP said the Gülenists had launched the investigations in an attempt to unseat the government. There are many reasons to believe the AKP officials have a point here, regardless of how serious the corruption charges were. Their point, though, still remains to be proven by independent courts and the link between the Gulenists and those investigations need to be proved. As an editor with Ahval, I am keen on covering and publishing any development, which may shed light on that episode.
The investigations were dropped when police and judiciary officials involved were removed from office and arrested.
The Cumhuriyet indictment is more than 400 pages long and I take my place in it alongside more than a dozen other journalists thanks to the time I spent reporting for the secularist daily between January 2015 and July 2016.
Around 20 pages of the indictment refer to me, and these include about 35 tweets out of nearly 76,000 tweets I posted at @WashingtonPoint from 2009. In not one of these tweets, did I praise U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen or his movement, unlike AKP government officials, journalists and media mouthpieces were doing at the time.
In the indictment, I am accused of being a member of the Gülen movement as well as making propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed Kurdish armed organisation recognised as a terrorist group by the United States, Turkey and the European Union. I am also accused of “undermining the Turkish government”.
First off, Gulenists are known as virulently anti-PPKK and anti-Kurdish nationalists. Gulenist judges and police chiefs, for years, blamed for much of the pressure on the political wing of the Kurdish nationalists. Accusing me to have some of kind of associations with both of them who were on the opposite sides of the Turkish politics during those years simply silly.
I have been living in the United States for almost 20 years since I was a fresh 23-year-old graduate from Ankara University and arrived in the United States for language school training, then went on to do a master’s degree. The leader of the Gülen movement, Fethullah Gülen, has been living in the United States since 1999.
During all the years I have been living in the United States, I have never visited the place where Gülen lives in Pennsylvania, never met him there, nor anywhere else, nor had any contact with him, nor the leadership of his movement, unlike the many AKP officials who used to regularly visit the reclusive preacher.
I made several attempts to reach Gülen for an interview, but each of the half dozen requests I sent through official and unofficial channels was turned down. To be clear, I am neither a member of the group, nor its messenger. On the contrary, I see it as a cult, and a dogmatic, backward-looking movement that is extremely detrimental to Turkish democracy. The amount of damage Gülen has done to Turkey in his delusional quest to reshape the country has been surpassed only by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government. And yes, Turkey’s secular Kemalists did not do a very job in the preceding decades either.
I wrote about the corrosive curse of the Gülen movement as early 2009 when it was the strongest and closest ally of Erdoğan’s government and was critical of its activities during its heyday when it hosted powerful U.S. lawmakers and Turkish officials alike.
As for the PKK allegations, the indictment cites a single interview I gave to the pro-Kurdish ARA News agency, which has also published interviews with numerous current and former U.S. officials, including the spokesperson of the anti-Islamic State coalition, Colonel Ryan Dillon. I will further explain this absurd accusation in my next instalment.
There is no need to take my word alone on the matter. Since the Turkish prosecutors spent much time writing the indictment against me, let us see on what basis they are spending public funds to go after a journalist.
The indictment accuses me of “taking aim at the president personally” and continues:
That’s right. I have been accused of citing “unnamed senior officials” criticising the president personally and undermining the government.
I do not hide my belief that Erdoğan’s policies are the root of many of Turkey’s current problems. If this is the sin I am accused of, I happily accept it. It is a journalist’s job to stick to the facts and tell the truth as he or she sees it. I continue to do this today. When I make a mistake, I do my best to correct it as soon as I can.
When it comes to accusing me of citing unnamed high officials, this goes beyond the funny to the absurd. The AKP’s media mouthpieces base their stories on unnamed senior Turkish officials every day, the recent leaks detailing the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi being an eminent example. Why should I even have to defend myself against such a spurious charge?
The indictment continues with my report for Cumhuriyet on March 6, 2015, when I wrote an article on investor confidence in Turkey and another on the abject state of U.S.-Turkish relations. I have included the sections quoted in the indictment in full for my readers’ consideration:
The following section is the excerpt taken from the second article I have been indicted for, “Turkey-U.S. relations at an all time low”:
I don't have anything to defend these news stories. There is nothing to defend. These are news stories and I continue to write them. But I am quoting them here so you can see what kind of indictments written by Turkish prosecutors these days.
I will continue my defence against the unfounded accusations and allegations in my next installments. Source
Turkey uses climate of paranoia to attack critics – Red Notice 2
In my last piece I wrote about Turkey’s demand that Interpol issue a red notice - an international warrant for my arrest - on charges of trying to undermine the state and criticising the president in my writing.
The charges are in line with others faced by hundreds of other journalists, peace activists, academics and human rights defenders jailed in Turkey or forced to flee the country in the knowledge that they will not receive a fair trial.
There is one accusation against me, however, that requires special attention.
Since military officers linked to U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen are accused of trying to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016 - and we now have a vast array of evidence showing Gülenist involvement in the coup attempt - accusations of links to the secretive Islamist religious organisation have been hurled at everyone from main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to pop legend Sezen Aksu.
A major problem with the accusation is that, in the paranoid atmosphere that now dominates Turkey, the label tends to stick whether there is evidence for it` or not. There is a famous Turkish saying that goes “if you call a person stupid 40 times, the person will be known as stupid”.
When the Turkish mass media calls a journalist or activist a member of what the government calls the Fethullahist Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY), or a supporter of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the accusation is parroted repeatedly, it gives rise to questions over whether there could be some hidden link, especially considering the secretive way the Gülenists operate.
The accusations are also dangerous. Simply being linked to the movement can end a job or career, or result in a jail sentence. The government has not shied away from using the accusation of Gülen links to punish critical voices, even when it is patently absurd. A prime example is the case of Ahmet Şık, a journalist who was once jailed for exposing crimes committed by the Gülenists and then later, after their fall from grace, imprisoned again on charges of membership of the movement.
As I have previously said, I unequivocally reject all allegations of ties to the Gülen movement and repeat that the indictment against me contains not one shred of evidence of any link. Given its record, it is still not that surprising that Turkish authorities have decided to request a red notice.
It is important to remind readers that Erdoğan’s government was the Gülen movement’s greatest ally in Turkey and around the world until late 2013, and pro-government columnists, commentators and media outlets for years heaped praise on the group’s activities.
It was the pro-government media that in the years leading up to 2013 supported prosecutors and police chiefs affiliated with the Gülen movement as they took legal action against perceived shared enemies.
Most of my tweets used in the indictment as evidence are from that period, a time when Erdoğan was Gülen’s biggest ally, and some of the ruling party’s top politicians openly praised the reclusive preacher. None of my tweets in the indictment or elsewhere include a word of praise for the movement or its activities, however. Needless to say, prosecutors selectively ignored and failed to include in the charge sheet any of my tweets criticising the movement. Yet somehow, while the politicians who called Gülen a “spiritual guide” remain in government, my posts are supposed to be proof that I am the member of his flock.
The summary at the end of the indictment reads:
The indictment notes that I worked for the Haberdar news website, one of many closed by the government after of the coup for allegedly being a Gülen media outlet.
I did write for Haberdar for less than a year in 2015 and 2016, just like I wrote for New York-based Posta212 between 2012 and 2014, and wrote for the Istanbul-based Diken.com.tr in 2014, just as I wrote for BBC Turkish as a freelancer between 2013 and 2015. I always had to write for two or three outlets due to insufficient and late payments from the newspapers that I worked for – Vatan, from 2009 to 2014, or Cumhuriyet, from 2015 to 2016. During that time, Haberdar was a legal outlet, and my writings included articles criticising the Gülen movement and others that criticised the government.
Writing for Haberdar was not illegal before the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, but suddenly became illegal the next day. In breach of all universal legal standards and forms, the prosecutors have charged journalists like me who wrote for the outlet retroactively.
This does not strike me as the action of a government seeking to protect itself from the malign influence that the Gülen movement’s clandestine activities doubtlessly pose. Rather, the Turkish government is exploiting the paranoia evoked by the movement to suppress critical voices, criminalise journalism and label journalists as terrorists. It is the same motive that has led to a summary and unwarranted ban in Turkey on the news site I currently work at, Ahval.
The Gülen movement became much stronger in Washington around the year 2007, just as it was expanding in Turkey and just as I began filing reports from the U.S. capital. In those years, the group opened many organisations, think tanks and businesses. As a journalist, I followed them closely, and often critically. Not a single column, or even a tweet written by me praised the group in those years.
On the other hand, as a journalist, it was impossible to work in Washington or anywhere else and not attend the group’s events, which in those days were heavily supported by the Turkish government and attended by Turkish officials.
In fact, while the Erdoğan government was supporting the group, I was holding U.S. officials to account for failing to condemn the Turkish government for jailing journalists and activists between 2009 and 2012 at a time when Turkey’s leaders were closely allied with the Gülen movement.
It is now widely accepted that many of the high-profile arrests in that period were made by Gülenist police and at the behest of Gülenist prosecutors. There is little doubt left that these Gülenist officials were the chief driving force behind the conspiratorial Ergenekon trials, which led to the jailing of hundreds of military officers.
I was not on good terms with the Gülen movement members in those years due to my criticism of their activities in the Hürriyet Daily News and Vatan newspapers. As a result, I never participated in a single one of the group’s trips, nor did I ever go to or praise the group’s famous Turkish festivals that were visited by top Turkish officials, including Erdoğan and every one of his ministers.
I repeat, I have not been hosted by the group in any way in all the years I have been a reporter in Washington besides the publicly advertised panels and conferences that I went by myself to cover. Meanwhile, the various organisations set up by the Gülen movement were footing the bill for journalists from the state-run Anadolu news agency and other pro-government outlets to come to the United States and visit its projects there.
In the end, after decades of operating in the shadows, Gülen was unable to transform his movement from a secretive organisation to a transparent one. He missed his brief window of opportunity to do so, between 2010 and 2013, when Turkish government officials, starting with the then-president, Abdullah Gül, and the then-prime minister, Erdoğan, were publicly defending the movement. At that point, its members had nothing to fear from identifying themselves and going public.
If Gülen had lived up to his reputation for intelligence, he would have pushed for his movement to integrate into society with transparent structures. He did not do that for a variety of reasons. Firstly, his movement had been successful until that point, and the power and success blinded him and the leaders of the movement. His movement’s tactics of infiltrating state institutions and using them to push its own agenda had been more than a success story, and he saw no reason to change them.
In those years, Turkish diplomats were ordered to assist the Gülen movement’s activities abroad. Domestically, too, state officials were ordered to assist the movement in all its needs. Gülen made incredible strides towards his ultimate goal of clandestinely seizing Turkish government institutions.
If I had to guess why Gülen shifted from secretive operations to all-out warfare with the Erdoğan government, I can only imagine he zealously believed his sect would be assisted by cosmic powers to defeat its enemies.
The activities of Gülen’s followers within Turkish institutions, including the military and police, are undeniable due to the vast array of evidence against them.
But I do not approach the Gülen movement indiscriminately, call it FETÖ, or label all its members terrorists. I do believe that the majority of the volunteers of the group, the average Gülenists, apart from the hard core and its leaders, are not terrorists and I do not believe they should be prosecuted without any evidence tying them to the coup or clandestine activities within the government. The core of the Gülen movement, on the other hand, as many revelations have shown, worked within the Turkish state and its institutions as a parallel structure.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan’s government was aware of the Gülenists’ activities and busily set about embedding its own loyal cadres within the same institutions. But I do not believe the government was fully aware of the extent of the Gülenists’ power.
I will continue my defence against the unfounded accusations and allegations laid out by Turkish prosecutors in my next and final instalment. Source
The false claims, allegations and gossip that make up Turkey’s evidence against me - Red Notice 3
A Turkish court last month demanded Interpol issue a red notice international warrant for my arrest due to a case involved Cumhuriyet newspaper, one of the last surviving major dailies that does not support President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has been in power since 2002.
In two previous articles (first and second) I have addressed the background to the accusations against me and the charge that I am a member of the outlawed Fethullah Gülen movement, which I unequivocally reject.
Prosecutors have also accused me of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than three decades.
The evidence against me includes an interview with a news agency, Ara News, which the indictment claims is close to the PKK and this, according to the indictment, goes to show that I support the PKK.
Firstly, there is no evidence that Ara News was close to the PKK. The now-defunct local news outlet in its time interviewed senior U.S. military and civilian officials, including anti-ISIS coalition spokesperson Ryan Dillon and former U.S. ambassador Robert Ford. The reporter who interviewed me was Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a long-serving and respected reporter on the Middle East, who frequently speaks with government officials from the United States and other countries in the region.
One of the central points used against me relates to comments I made about Bahoz Erdal, a high-ranking PKK commander who Turkish government officials said had been killed shortly before my interview with Ara News.
The indictment states:
The indictment goes on to quote another part of my interview with Ara News:
This was during a period when Islamic State, the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the PKK were conducting large attacks across the country killing dozens of people. The government was having a hard time stopping these attacks and needed a victory.
What I said was that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Erdal had been killed, bearing in mind the many previous occasions that news of his death had been reported. Such rumours had done the rounds so often that we preferred to wait for confirmation before believing it.
My prediction proved to be true and by July 2016 Erdal had given interviews, before showing up again in 2017 , posing with his rifle alongside other armed militants. That proved that reports of his death at the hands of Turkish forces had been false and vindicated my prediction.
But the indictment said:
Here Turkish prosecutors cite a statement by a senior member of the ruling party that they say proves I am a PKK sympathiser, even though my prediction had come true and Erdal turned out to be alive. In other words, the “test” Kuzu says had been laid to catch out journalists for allegedly supporting the PKK was whether or not they believed a fake news story that he admits his government circulated.
The indictment also includes another of my report s about a teleconference organised by the White House in which three senior officials participated. This teleconference was also reported by the pro-AKP government "reporters" in Washington DC. According to the indictment, reporting what White House officials said on background is a crime. My story's title, published on June, 28, 2015: “A Warning from the US: Turkey’s PKK Operations Must ‘Show Restraint,’” has a non-compliant title and contents;
Another piece of "evidence" showing my alleged association with the PKK is from an article I wrote on 12 August 2015, titled “A Strong Stance from the US: Attacks on YPG Are Unacceptable”:
In the Turkish prosecutors' world, reports like these show my support for a terror organisation. I do not think I need to do any defence for these articles I wrote as they speak for themselves.
The indictment goes on to develop its accusations that I have links to the Gülen organisation, referred to in the indictment as “FETÖ” and the “parallel structure”: “It is understood that suspect İlhan TANIR’s connections to FETÖ are not limited to those outlined above, and that his activities abroad are intended to sway international public opinion about the state’s operations against the organisation.”
The prosecutors were unable to provide any credible evidence of such a link in the previous pages of the indictment. Here they continued with “evidence” that included my participation on a panel organised by the esteemed Georgetown University in March of 2016. Apparently, an invitation from one of the most important educational institutions of the United States to join a panel to discuss Turkey can be cited as evidence against me. The pro-AKP newspaper Akşam called the panel “A Traitorous Alliance”. The indictment reads:
I indeed participated in that panel. However, far from showing support for the Gülen movement, my only remarks on the night when asked about the Gülen movement was calling on them, months before the attempted coup, to apologise for pursuing wrong policies and making mistakes that had damaged Turkey.
The indictment also refers to news items based on screenshots that circulated on the internet, which were said to show a hacked Twitter message between Said Sefa, the owner of the Haberdar news outlet, and another user identified only as ilhan. The screenshot shows Sefa saying he had been offered money from unnamed U.S. persons as funding for news outlets, and the other user responded casually that the offer was not a bad one. Authentic or not, in which world does this screenshot count as evidence of anything?
Two “news” items from different outlets on the messages are cited in the indictment. Another newspaper article quoted in the indictment is an article attacking me by a columnist named Oray Egin, a man known for writing gossip columns that are taken seriously by no one. Egin made unsubstantiated claims that have nothing to do with any of the accusations and some laughable attacks on me that I do not have the space or patience to refute here. What is more, the indictment does not follow up to ask any accusation over this gossip column either.
The indictment goes on to cite some 35 tweets from my account, starting with one posted on Oct. 28, 2011, in which I quoted remarks by Gülen on issues related to the PKK and former President Abdullah Gül.
I continued over the years to cite Gülen’s remarks from various outlets in some of my now nearly 76,000 tweets. The indictment cites my tweets such as “12 April 2012: "Important analysis by Kadri Gursel: "Critical statements from the Gülen Movement" dune.milliyet.com.tr/aulen-hareketi ...". At the time, top government officials, including Erdoğan, the then prime minister, were lavishly praising the movement.
In none of the tweets that the indictment quotes do I praise the leader of the movement or the movement itself. Why? Because I didn't trust the Gülen movement then, though I refuse to indiscriminately label all its members terrorists.
For example, in another post of mine that was cited in the indictment, I tweeted a news item related to pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtaş from Vatan Newspaper, where I was working at the time: “14 April 2012: "Heavy criticism from BDP leader Demirtaş, the relationship is tense: "@GazetevatanCom: "is there a prosecutor who can question Gülen?” : bit.ly.lyIEUR" http://www.gazetevatan.com/-Gülen-i-sorgulayabilecek-savci-var-mi---443610-gundem/”
Why would a prosecutor cite this tweet in my indictment? In the tweet I simply quoted Demirtaş saying the AKP government was protecting the Gülen movement and Fethullah Gülen and that, as a result, no prosecutor had the courage to question him.
Here are six other following tweets presented as my link to the Gulen Movement, without comment:
Or take the last tweet cited in the indictment, in which I announced on Twitter that I would shortly discuss the extradition of Fethullah Gülen with Can Dündar on the news channel artitv: “30 April 2014: "I will soon be discussing with Can Dündar on @artibirtv whether F.Gülen will be extradited to Turkey. I will share some details about this."
Without being able to show one single tweet in which I praise the movement in a period when the AKP government officials had openly and lavishly praised it, the indictment concludes that “with such shares, (Ilhan) appears to be constantly trying to advertise the news about the head of FETO/PDY, and it is seen that he tried to defend the organisation on social media."
Since the indictment fails to show a single tweet out of 76,000 in which I praise the group, the prosecutor instead accuses me of advertising news about the movement. If anything, it seems the prosecutor has simply tried to furnish the indictment with meaningless tweets that mention Gülen in order to bulk out its page count.
The indictment also falsely claims that I had worked at Zaman, a newspaper known as an affiliate of the Gülen movement. This accusation is apparently made up by testimony from court witness Hüseyin Gülerce, a former editor-in-chief and long-time columnist at Zaman, who was long known as the movement’s unofficial spokesman. I have never met Gülerce, nor even communicated with him, it is impossible for him to know me, and just to repeat, no, I have never been a reporter at Zaman, or any other Gülen-affiliated media outlet.
Another false accusation claims I held an account at Bank Asya, a Gülen-affiliated bank that operated legally until 2015. The indictment says: “İlhan Tanır had accounts at Bank Asya and the account belonging to Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu showed activity until recently, as understood from the document from the Ministry of Asset Management of the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey (TSMF).”
I have never had an account with Bank Asya, and nor have I needed one - I have been living in the United States since 2000. As a matter of fact, I do not remember ever entering a Bank Asya branch in Turkey or anywhere else in the world. Again, there is no evidence that I have a bank account apart from the claims in the indictment, which are totally false.
These are the main accusations Turkish prosecutors laid out against me. For a few irrelevant tweets, discussions with a news site and university, and some easily refuted false claims, the prosecutor wants to give me seven-and-a-half to 15 years in jail.
These are the kinds of accusations the Turkish government uses against its critics, labelling them terrorists and starting manhunts through abuse of the Interpol system - all this to make the lives of its critics harder. My case is only one example from the tens of thousands of people who have been accused by this government and, if they are not lucky, will be forced to rot in jail for years before even seeing a courtroom. Source
Turkey asks Interpol to issue red notice for journalists Tanır and Dündar
A Turkish court on Tuesday requested Interpol issue red notices for the arrest of journalists İlhan Tanır and Can Dündar, Turkish news site Duvar reported .
Interpol is not obliged to issue red notices in response to such requests and countries are not obliged to act on them.
The Istanbul court made the request because Dündar and Tanır, both currently outside Turkey, have appeared to testify to the court, Duvar said.
Washington-based Tanır is the editor of Ahval’s English language service, while Dündar is the former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper.
A Turkish court in May 2016 convicted Dündar on charges of disclosing state secrets after he reported arms shipments to Syrian rebels by the Turkish intelligence service. Dündar left Turkey in June 2016 while appealing his conviction.
Dündar said on Twitter he had been travelling to several European countries freely and accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of trying to abuse Interpol to target opponents.
"Can a person sought with red notice travel like this? Erdoğan thought he could use Interpol as his police team. Interpol is aware of it. They no longer take Turkey's red notice applications seriously," Dündar tweeted. Source