The media shutdown in Turkey continues – and silences the Kurdish voice

Turkish TV channel shut down. EPA/SEDAT SUNA

After a period of relative calm between the Turkish army and the PKK ended in July 2015, political tension and military confrontation have returned. Yet the current situation is suffering from a distinct lack of coverage thanks to increasing restrictions on the tools of communication.

Internet connection has been cut in the Kurdish south-east of Turkey, following the arrest on October 25 of Firat Anli and Gültan Kisinak, the co-mayors of Diyarbakir – which is the main Kurdish city of the country. Both have been charged with supporting terrorism. The internet outage is the latest attempt to silence opposition voices in the country.

The state of emergency declared immediately after the failed coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016 sparked a massive clampdown on a variety of professions. University lecturers, lawyers, judges, school teachers – anyone accused of supporting the Gülen movement – have been targeted.

The special decree issued in the wake of the failed coup gave the government emergency powers to close news outlets and confiscate their assets on grounds of “national security”. It led to the shutting down of more than 130 media outlets in July and an estimated 2,500 journalists losing their jobs.

Now all opposition voices are being targeted, including Kurdish ones.

At the opening of the new legislative year of the Turkish parliament on October 1, the president, Recep Erdogan, declared that the day of the failed coup should be considered a “milestone” and urged everyone in the country to “struggle all together in determination against the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party], FETÖ [the Gülen Movement] and DAESH [Islamic State]”.

A few days earlier, the state of emergency had been extended for three months, and 20 more TV channels and radio stations were shut down. More recently, another decree has shut down two Kurdish news agencies, ten Kurdish newspapers and three magazines – another heavy blow to the idea of a free media in Turkey.

Those targeted in the past month represented some of the last remains of a diverse and free press – including a left-wing channel and cultural magazines, as well as numerous Kurdish channels, radio stations, and newspapers.

Until recently, under the AKP government Kurdish media and cultural production had developed into a flourishing and relatively diverse sector. Unfortunately, attacks on the Kurdish press and cultural producers are now increasing again under the emergency rules.

The daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, popular with Kurdish readers, has been shut down, and some of its journalists are still behind bars, charged with supporting terrorism. The famous Turkish writer Asli Erdoğan and the linguist Necmiye Alpay, both members of the Özgür Gündem Publishing Consultant Board and both fervent supporters of peace, were arrested in August.

Eğitim-Sen, a teachers’ union sympathetic to the Kurdish cause, has had around 10,000 of its members suspended by the government from their jobs or from the union?. At the beginning of October, 15 school teachers were arrested, along with short story writer and web editor Murat Özyaşar, and Rênas Jiyan, a Kurdish language writer and poet and the owner of a publishing house in Diyarbakir. Though both have now been released, fear of being targeted as a writer or journalist remains high.

Peace at risk

What is being targeted is not only the last remaining channels for the expression of opposition views, but also the last remnants of the peace process which had been developed progressively under the AKP government since 2009 to find a solution to the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK. That conflict has caused more than 40,000 deaths.

Media clampdown in Turkey. EPA

It is in this dramatic context that IMC TV had started broadcasting in May 2011, offering another perspective on the Kurdish issue to the general audience of Turkey. Now it, too, has been closed down.

One of the key political demands of the Kurdish movement is the official recognition of the language and its use in education. Yet we are currently witnessing the arrest of Kurdish language writers and the shutting down of Kurdish language channels, newspapers and magazines. At the end of September, Kurdish theatres, cultural centres and a Kurdish language primary school were also closed by government-appointed administrators who have replaced many pro-Kurdish mayors in the south-east of the country.

These are risky times for the Kurdish voice in Turkey, which is being increasingly silenced and left unheard.

As one of the IMC TV journalists, Aysegül Doğan, commented: “Being unemployed in these days in Turkey has become something one feels proud about. In Turkey, if you are an unemployed journalist, it means that you are trying to do your work properly. What is really upsetting is not to be out of work.

"The real problems are the pressures and the price journalists have to pay for doing their job.”