Some of you may have noticed that Saturday’s Guardian carried an article written by the Turkish President marking the one-year anniversary of the attempted coup, in which he whitewashed Turkish war crimes in a quite remarkable fashion to proclaim his defence of ‘democratic values’. Here you’ll find our full response to this article, an edited version of which has been sent to the Guardian letters editor:
It is deeply, deeply disturbing to read an article published by the Guardian in its Saturday paper and online by the autocratic leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In recent years, Erdoğan has presided over increasingly brutal crackdowns on the Kurdish communities in the country’s south-east, including the 79-day military curfew in Cizre from December 2015 which saw at least 100 civilians killed according to human rights groups. Turkish collusion in Islamist terrorism – from the tragic bombs in Suruç and Ankara in 2015 to providing weapons, ammunition and safe transit to Syria for Islamist groups including Daesh – demonstrates their duplicity in their claims to fight terror, claims which merely act as a cover for increasingly repressive controls and military attacks on predominantly Kurdish areas.
In this context, would the Guardian have published B.J. Vorster proclaiming the Apartheid regime’s respect for democracy, liberty and fundamental rights? Unfortunately, this appears to be the latest in a recent trend of the Guardian’s soft reporting of Turkey, with barely any reporting of Turkish incursions into Syria and Iraq (for instance, the bombing of Sinjar and Qaraçaox in April and its current bombing of Afrin). Surprisingly, the aborted trial earlier this month of Figen Yüksekdağ, co-chair of the third largest political party in Turkey (HDP) whose legal immunity as a parliamentarian was revoked in order to prosecute her, was not covered at all by the Guardian, nor the expelling of international observers which was followed by the arrest of Amnesty International activists, including their Turkey director. Amnesty had reported critically on the Turkish state’s use of Article 299 of the Penal Code which establishes carceral sentences for insulting the President.
If the newspaper’s sympathies cannot extend to the Kurdish minorities in Turkey and Syria – including those sacrificing their lives in the fight against ISIS, some of whom have been killed by Turkish bombs – perhaps professional solidarity could kick in. The Guardian’s financial plea at the bottom of their articles emphasise its commitment to keeping journalism open. By contrast, Turkey is ranked number 155 out of 180 countries for press freedom; its war on free speech spiked suddenly after the attempted coup last year which Erdoğan implausibly claims in his Guardian column was met with a democratic and liberal response. In reality, the state of emergency has allowed the state to eliminate dozens of media outlets, imprison dozens of journalists without trial, and embark on widespread censorship of online social networks, in the words of Reporters Without Borders using security concerns ‘as grounds for an unprecedented purge’.
If the Guardian prides itself on open and honest journalism, providing a platform for a despot with blood on his hands to whitewash a murderous and repressive regime using incredulous accusations and bare-faced lies is offensive to its readers, to the free speech advocates in Turkey facing jail and censorship, and to the victims of Turkish state aggression and war. The title of Erdoğan’s Guardian article may have stated that Turkey is ‘defending democratic values’, but the article omitted his expressed desire to ‘chop off traitors’ heads’ made at a speech in Ankara marking the anniversary of the attempted coup. Erdoğan’s AKP has continually used NATO, the EU and support from western governments to mitigate its war crimes – European governments have chosen to look the other way in exchange for Turkey’s absorption of refugees fleeing war in Syria. One important aspect of this is Erdoğan’s public relations offensive in order to promote the apparent “secular” and “democratic” nature of Turkey as a rarity in the Middle East. Instead of falling for this propaganda for which the Guardian has been deployed, readers should look to the democratic and egalitarian revolution taking place in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava) and support the struggle of the Kurds fighting Daesh in order to establish in the region stability, democracy, and rights for women.