Ece Temelkuran on Historical Taboos

What’s your national taboo? Or, if you prefer, what’s the most striking European taboo?

At the moment the big taboo in Turkey is press freedom. In these Kafkaesque times that are full of prosecutions and arrests, and with 106 imprisoned journalists, it seems as if no such taboo exists in Turkey. If one follows nothing else than the mainstream media, one might think that Turkey is a land of democracy and prosperity – but this is only very chic window dressing. All the fuss about Turkish democracy being a model for the Arab world is just marketing material and regarded as a joke for at least half of the population in Turkey. In last elections, 47 percent of the country voted for AKP and the rest, it seems, is now waiting to get prosecuted. The government, through a highly-politicised judiciary system, is going after those who are not in support of the AKP party.

The political oppression that Kurdish and socialist media has been suffering, was not visible until some well-known journalists, like myself and Nuray Mert, were fired from their newspapers due to political pressure from the government. At the moment the common joke in Turkey is that between them the jobless journalists can publish at least three newspapers and can establish at least two TV networks. Two names, investigative journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, have become symbolic names among the arrested journalists. They have been in jail for about a year now. All the prosecutions are done under the Anti-Terror Law, and all those who criticise the government in Turkey are facing the danger of being labelled as terrorists and ending up in jail.

Since the mainstream media chooses to step back when faced with threats from the government, Twitter seems to be the only way to learn about these political developments. Despite the dangers of being prosecuted, some journalists are gathering to discuss projects for independent news websites. As the gap between the reality and mainstream news becomes unbearable day by day, we as the journalists of Turkey are still trying to decide what to do.

Since these Kafkaesque times in Turkey did not create the noise I personally expected from European people, I now think that this situation is also taboo of sorts for European people as well.

How can this taboo be overcome?

Although the variety of technological tools to combat the oppression increases constantly, the things that must be done against the oppression are still the same as it has been since the beginning of human history: it is to speak up and then to speak up again. Meanwhile, I think European intellectuals should be in solidarity with people of Turkey in this effort because I know for certain that we are going through our loneliest times since the beginning of Turkey’s modern history. Some Turkish people would certainly interpret my remarks about solidarity as complaining about my country to "foreigners". But we now know such struggles are no longer just local, but universal.

If we could overcome the national taboo you identified ..... how would that impact the country?

Since I pointed out to the imprisoned journalists and silenced media as the taboo of the day in Turkey, most probably the political authority would be seriously shaken if the media was free to do its job. To have an idea about what would have happened if the media's opposing voices were heard, one can have a look at what happened just after Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were released from prison. Ahmet went to European Parliament to give a speech about the political oppresion on journalists which was very influencial among the European political circles. As some of us have been doing he made his voice heard by the international media that very recently started mentioning the outrageous realities of Turkey. I think what Ahmet did is a significant hint to predict what Turkey would be like if there was freedom for media. 

Moreover, since the intervention in Syria is on the agenda nowadays, I suppose, all the warmongers in today's Turkish media would have been less powerful.

Speaking of the media in Turkey, I  hereby invite European journalists, freedom of speech activists, social media figures to look closely at Turkey in the coming days. I suppose a strong professional solidarity could have exposed what we as Turkish and Kurdish journalists are going through. 

What was Europe’s biggest learning moment? What should we do with what was learned?

I think the biggest learning moment for Europe was the demonstrations in Spain and in Greece. In my point of view those were the most significant mass questioning of the financial system and the hegemony of the Capitalist mindset. What Europe learned from the moment is another question but those demonstration most certainly gave some lessons to Europe.