September 1, 2015

The raid on İpek Media

Emre Uslu

The same day that the İpek Media Group documented Turkey providing weapons and supplies to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), it was raided.

While not a single security raid against any group that supports ISIL has taken place in Turkey, just talking about ISIL has turned out to be dangerous. One could almost say Turkey has turned into the Republic of ISIL, with all sorts of secretive laws aimed at protecting ISIL. In the meantime, anyone daring to speak of the ties and relations between the government and ISIL -- or al-Qaeda -- is treated like a leper.

There is little doubt that the raid on İpek Media was prompted not only by its most recent ISIL-related stories, but by its general publication policies. At the same time, it's vital to remember that for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, three topics in particular are sensitive, and that therefore, Ankara wants to see special punishments meted out for publications writing about ISIL, al-Qaeda, and any of the illegal operations in which the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is involved.

Ever since he brought Hakan Fidan to the helm of MİT, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used the organization like his own personal tool. Inside and outside of Turkey, there are widespread suspicions that MİT has been involved in illegal operations aimed at overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. These suspicions include the sense that assistance has been offered to groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL to try to topple the Assad regime.

And in fact, the world is talking now not only of the economic relations between Ankara and ISIL and al-Qaeda, but also of help MİT may be giving to gather militants from the Balkans and the Caucuses and bring them to Syria to fight.

At the same time, journalists who have been writing about MİT talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) aimed at pushing the AKP to victory in elections -- and about what this means in terms of the truncated peace process -- have been under heavy pressure from both Erdoğan and MİT. In fact, even the slightest written criticism from a newspaper on this front can elicit extraordinary levels of pressure from Ankara, with writers and journalists immediately being declared traitors to Turkey.

In the meantime, there are also efforts to demonize publications that dare to write anything about the corruption ties involving the Erdoğan family and its close circles. Some of the topics that tend to elicit the most pressure from Ankara include anything linked with Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab and the billions of dollars that he's overseen; the shoeboxes of euros; bidding tenders; villas; the vast amounts of wealth accumulated by AKP families; the Erdoğan offspring, who over the past decade, appear to have amassed more ships than those in the fleets of Turkey's naval forces, and so on. The moment such articles or exposes come out, pre-arranged prosecutors and judges are put on the case to ensure that those responsible are scared off the topics, or at least warned not to continue further. If and when such articles are printed, if the writer is from the mainstream media, he or she loses his job, and if the writer is from the opposition media, a full scale raid on his or her workplace can be expected.

The third arena that elicits a forceful response from Ankara is anyone who proffers support to the three groups that have already been declared enemies by the AKP: Gezi supporters, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the Kurds, and anyone from or who supports the Gülen group, a civil society movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Just recently, the Koç Group admitted that since the Gezi protests of 2013 occurred, it has been threatened for its stance during that period. In the meantime, take some time to recall that even the Çarsı group -- a social group of football team supporters -- were taken to court and accused of being coup supporters. As for Gezi, anyone who speaks warmly of it is declared a traitor, while media groups that write about it are threatened. Academics who touch on this topic are thrown out of their jobs; sometimes, they aren't awarded full professorships or doctorates.

In the wake of the most recent election, there was a sudden attempt to demonize the HDP and the Kurds; overnight, people who have no link whatsoever with terror were portrayed as having direct links.

But without a doubt, the greatest taboo these days for the AKP is the Gülen group. And since the Gülen group is so widely dispersed, even among traditionally AKP voters, it is perhaps the group feared most by the AKP. What the AKP wants to do is successfully push the Gülen group out of society. Because if the ruling party were to allow the impression to spread that the Gülen group was simply a normal, conservative group, it would be facing perhaps the greatest alternative to its own power and rule. That is why the AKP is pushing hard to create a chasm between its own threshold voters and Gülen group supporters; by building a phantom wall separating these factions, the AKP thinks it is neutralizing a network that could chip away at its own base.

As the İpek Media Group is an organization that has, up until now, not only dared to speak about these untouchable areas but successfully criticized them, the AKP now wants to seize control of it. In the wake of the Gezi protests, in particular, the İpek Media Group began to fill the space emptied by the ineffective, mainstream, centralized media, opening its arms to not only opposition, but even non-opposition factions. And so, as it began to resemble what a true central media platform should look like, İpek Media was raided by an AKP determined to silence it and defang it.

I strongly condemn the underhanded pressure being placed on the media in Turkey these days. It has no aim other than to stop people from learning the truth.

Published on Today's Zaman, 1 September 2015, Tuesday