From the news desk

Zaman editor speaks out about Turkey’s media clampdown

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Following the military coup attempt in July of this year, the Turkish government has been thrown into the spot light. The coup attempt, which was quickly foiled by the citizens of Turkey, caused many critics to question the possible role that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have played within the coup plot. Critics also called to the fore the continued suppression of media freedom following the 2013 investigation of fraud.

Speaking to VOC this week, the ex-news editor for the Turkish paper, Zaman, Abdullah Bozkurt explains that Zaman was the largest newspaper at the time that government closed in on media houses in December 2013.

Bozkurt, who is currently living in exile, says that the closure of public papers was in response to an investigation conducted by the judiciary that incriminated the then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, members of his family and his political business associates.

The investigation revealed a web of fraud in video footage, photographs and wiretaps, which was sanctioned by the courts.

Bozkurt says that while Erdogan previously praised the very same newspapers when the papers supported him in 2002, he now denies their credibility.

“We became a target by publishing these stories, an Erdogan in public rallies would tell crowds not to read these newspapers and that it was not credible,” Bozkurt stated.

Prior to the clampdown on independent media, Bozkurt explains that Zaman was selling 1.2 million copies daily, which after the clampdown decreased to approximately 800 000.

He says that the paper did, however, generate interest after it began publishing details of the investigation, increasing readers by about 200 000.

In addition to the dramatic decline in readership, following the government’s criticism of the paper, Bozkurt notes that many advertisers, who feared that their licences would be revoked, pulled out of the paper.

“But our readers stood by and we still had a formidable amount of readers that put our newspaper in the lead.”

By the time the paper was officially seized, on March 4, 2016, Zaman was selling 630 000 copies daily. As distinct to Zaman, he says that the paper spoke to the heart of the country, and covered issues of both national and international importance.

Bozkurt asserts that the paper’s success was directly linked to the fact that it covered issues faced by all Turks in all cities, not only covering stories in the big cities, which most papers were renowned for.

“We decided that the public deserves to receive the newspaper, and we were able to supply even the remote areas. And I think that is why they targeted us, but also to send a message to the rest of the media; by going after the big guys, all the others folded in,” he adds

The heart of the corruption 

At the heart of the corruption, Bozkurt explains is Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-born Turkish businessman.

He says that he Zarrab acted as a middle-man for the Iranian government, specifically the Iranian revolution government, who found it increasingly difficult to trade oil on the black market in light of trade sanctions.

In order to ensure a safe passage of money, Bozkurt says that the smugglers required secure access to the Turkish financial system, which without the support of the Turkish government was impossible.

“This guy bribed Turkish ministers and four ministers had to resign after being exposed. But, without Erdogan’s blessing it would be impossible.”

Bozkurt notes that numerous pictures prove that Zarrab met with president Erdogan and the ministers in question.

He further notes that the investigation also revealed the involvement of a Saudi citizen, Yasin al-Qadi, who at the time was listed by the United Nations as an al-Qaeda financer.

He says that both Zarrab and al-Qadi, who were previously monitored by Erdogan, were subsequently protected after Erdogan fired all the investigators, including chief of police, as well as members of the judiciary who were later charged and imprisoned.

“The government then began targeting individual journalists and after that did not work, they came after all media outlets that were publishing these stories,” Bozkurt notes.

Erdogan’s alleged involvement in the 2016 military coup attempt

While the Erdogan government has blamed Fethullah Gulen and his Hizmet supporters for the military coup of July, 2016, Bozkurt explains that it has not been confirmed which faction is behind the uprising.

He says that only bits of the investigation have been revealed and due to a gag order prohibiting media from reporting on any leaks of the investigation or criticism, only speculative accounts have been reported on.

In light of the names of a number of the generals who were apprehended as part of the coup plotters, Bozkurt asserts that due to their ties with the Gulen movement it should not be ruled out that the coup may have been called for by Hizmet supporters.

“But, without the blessing of a chain of command it would be very difficult to conduct a coup within a military structure,” he continued.

Despite Erdogan’s assertions, Bozkurt notes that details of the presidents account does not add up.

He says that Erodogan, who gave in several live interviews following the coup attempt, on four different occasions, gave different timelines of when he first learnt of the attacks.

“At first he said that he was alerted at 4 o’ clock by a relative, then he said it was at 8 o clock, and then 9.30 ….that raises more question marks.”

Bozkurt notes that compared to previous military coups that took place in Turkey, in which coup plotters conducted their plans in the late hours of the night, this coup was conducted during prime time, 10pm.

He also questions why nothing was done to stop the coup from being carried out since intelligence agencies affirmed that they were made aware of the plot at 4pm.

“My hunch is that this was planned way in advance within the command structures. It was blessed by the force commanders and the chief of General Staff. But, for some reason the government was made aware of that and intervened, but the balls were already in place,” he said.

Bozkurt asserts that adding to the confusion is the fact that a common trend in all coup attempts is the apprehension of the political leadership, which will aid with controlling the police force, intelligence and the government.

Given the circumstances surrounding the coup attempt, he says that the coup appears to have benefitted Erdogan’s seat in office.

Who is Fethulhah Gulen? 

Bozkurt explains that the Muslim cleric, residing in self-imposed exile in the United States, was part of the democratic base, which was led by Erdogan.

The party’s establishment came at a time when Turkey’s economy was severely weakened.

While previously enjoying good relations with Erdogan, the cleric became increasingly critical of the corruption that was uncovered in the 2013 investigation and called for all perpetrators to be held accountable.

He further showed concern that the religion of Islam was being abused by the Turkish regime to further political gains.

Gulen was also critical of Erdogan in 2011, when the Turkish government began meddling in the Arab revolutions, specifically Turkey’s involvement in the battle to topple the Assad regime in Syria.

Gulen attempted to engage all stakeholders in a bid to avoid the use of military force within the territory, but to instead continue to discuss a viable political settlement.

“I think Gulen and the group of Syrian clerics tried their best, after they advised that if the revolution escalates into armed conflict it will be bloodshed that no one will benefit from,” Bozkurt stated.

Bozkurt asserts that these events propelled Gulen into a position of foe within the Turkish regime.

Erdogan’s seat of power

Bozkurt explains that following the investigation, all judicial and legislative powers have collapsed, leaving Erdogan controlling the manner in which the country operates.

He says that while the exact number is not known many critics of Erdogan and his regime have been detained, curtailing any public criticism of the president or the government.

“114 journalists are in jail as of today. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists report stated that 199 journalists were jailed [worldwide]. Turkey at the time only imprisoned 14, China leading with 49. Today, turkey has surpassed them.”

In a nation that consists of numerous ethnicities, including Kurds and Alawi’s, Bozkurt says that the Erdogan has used the divisions to further his interests.

“The fail coup attempt provided Erdogan with a perfect opportunity to unite the nation; he rather opted to deepen the divisions,” Bozkurt asserted.

For the full interview, listen here:



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