Journalism Shouldn’t be a Crime in 12017

by    /  January 5, 2017  / No comments

More than 140 journalists are currently held in Silivri Prison in Istanbul, Turkey. Image via: Wikimedia Commons.

A roundup of the free expression news from Turkey at the beginning of the New Year.

Happy 12017

Dear Earthlings, let’s add 10,000 considering the favorable climate change that paved way to agriculture etc. Thus we can have a richer notion of history, and focus more on our “known” but underappreciated connection to Nature. I hope 12017 will be more fruitful in terms of the positive human contributions for the future.

Prior to last month, I didn’t know that a similar proposal had been made two decades ago by the Italian-American scientist and historian Cesare Emiliani, who considered that the Göbeklitepe remains were 12,000 years old. I still prefer to focus on the climate but accept his pioneering move.

“Journalism is NOT a crime!”

This was the slogan of the protesters who wanted to gather in front of the Silivri Prison outside Istanbul, where more than 140 journalists are currently kept. The demonstrators did not constitute a large number, but they were highly representational: the International Press Institute, PEN Turkey Centre and several other associations were present, along with presidents and other leading members. Wolfgang Martin Roth, the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of the Austrian PEN Centre, was among the concerned human rights activists in solidarity. Blocked by the armed forces vehicles, the group moved to the town square, where they managed to read their statement, interestingly surrounded by the mild presence of a police team.

  1. Wor(l)ds in Danger, a column by Tarik Günersel
  2. Tarık Günersel is a poet and playwright.
  3. He studied English Literature at Istanbul University. A self-exile after the military coup in 1980, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia with his wife Füsun and their daughter Barış, teaching English.
  4. He worked at Istanbul Metropolitan Theater during 1991-2014 as a dramaturg. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March.
  5. His translations into Turkish include works by Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Arthur Miller. His works include The Nightmare of a Labyrinth (mosaic of poems and stories), and How’s your slavery goin’?
  6. Tarik Günersel
  7. His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. Ex-president of PEN Turkey, he was on PEN International Board during 2010-12.
  8. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.
  9. He has written the libretti of Selman Ada’s operas. He has recently cooperated with the Israeli composer Daniel Galay: “Dancing Anna Frank” was first performed in Tel Aviv in December 2016. He has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays.

The symbolic gathering on the December 10 had international coverage. Then, a terrorist attack overshadowed it. In the heart of Istanbul, after the soccer match between my favorite team Beşiktaş and visiting Bursaspor, a car full of ammunition was exploded from afar; the attack killed at least 44 people and wounded 150. The day after, it was claimed by TAK, which is related to the PKK. Counterproductive in terms of the various problems of our Kurdish citizens, the massacre has led to widespread anger and protests. A Czech member of the European Parliament argued that Europe should no longer be a place where the PKK could function comfortably. Upon the negative international reaction, that organization is reported to have removed the claim from their website.

Erdoğan keeps misusing such acts of terror to push forward his agenda aiming a constitutional change that will legalize his de facto situation.

According to an article in the November 20 edition of the Cumhuriyet, World Children’s Rights Day was celebrated by Mersin Women’s Platform with a festival; or, rather, that was the program. When the kids began to sing a song in Kurmanji (similar to Mandarin in China, Kurmanji is the major dialect spoken by most Kurds in Turkey). But the right-wing MH Party mayor objected, saying the song was in a forbidden language-–although it no longer had been for decades. The intervention marked the end of the festival.

The still Erdoğan-led Sunni sectarian AK Party has formed a de facto coalition with the right wing Turkish nationalist MHP, for the presidential regime. The social-democratic CHP opposes the radical change in the regime. Independent polls show that only one-third of the voters support Erdoğan’s desire.

At present, the officially hegemonic mentality considers technology good but science and philosophy dangerous. After all, scientific thinking and philosophy encourage questioning beliefs, traditional assumptions and authoritarian mechanisms. To mention one little example, a teacher has been warned and punished because of showing a documentary about evolution. But the official reason is not “evolution,” a fact in the history of life hated and denied by the creationists all over the world; it is misusing the class time, doing something which is not included in the curriculum.

Please let us not misinterpret the sponsorship of our dear authorities: they host and feed us; “prison” is a misnomer. Those of us who are hosted are now even accompanied by a group of musicians free-of-charge: Grup Yorum. Numerous concerts of the group had often been forbidden especially during the past year. Several times harassed, the group members kept performing with the support of their fans in spite of threats. Their guitars have been broken, but not their self-esteem and courage keep firm.

The Turkish authors Necmiye Alpay and Aslı Erdoğan have been released but they have not yet been acquitted. This time another friend, journalist Ahmet Şık, has been arrested!

The New Year Massacre in Istanbul

ISIS claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack to the night club Reina, where 39 people, more than a dozen from other countries, lost their lives. So even celebrating the new year has become an issue of freedom!

My “unpoetic” poem below was born in this kind of context. (That the number below is 39 is entirely coincidental.)

39 Friends

on trial threatened depressed

arrested targeted sentenced

in exile fired cerebral hemorrhage

beaten defrauded slandered

in hospital released bankrupt

raped often cries unable to write

gone crazy run over committed suicide

heart attack hiding appeal rejected

paralyzed detained child killed

acquitted kidnapped spouse in prison

murdered refugee uses antidepressants

in coma hopeful taken somebody to court

hacked medical error survived an attack

blocked no news under torture

The End -of this year

About the Author

Poet, playwright, actor, and director Tarık Günersel worked at Istanbul City Theater as a dramaturg. His works include Breaths of Infinity (a mosaic of poems) and My 300th Birthday Speech (short stories). His Becoming consists of his aphorisms and various ideas from world wisdom. His plays include Billennium, Nero and Agrippina, Sociology of Shit, Threat and Virtually Yours. He has written four libretti for the composer Selman Ada: Ali Baba & 40, Blue Dot, Forbidden Love, and Another Planet. His translations into Turkish include works by Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Savyon Liebrecht. His presentation of World Poetry Day to PEN International in 1997 led to its adoption by UNESCO. As the former president of PEN Turkey Center he was elected to PEN International Board in Tokyo from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the collaboration of several intellectuals from around the planet.

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