Cumhuriyet takeover proves Turkey's rooted nationalist alliance - former columnist

The recent board change in Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper proves the deepest alliance in Turkey is based on nationalism, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his close circle supported the takeover of the daily led by a leftist-nationalist group, Ahmet İnsel, academic and former columnist of Cumhuriyet, told Euronews on Tuesday. 

The Cumhuriyet Foundation, the owner of the 94-year-old Cumhuriyet newspaper, elected a new board on Friday, which immediately reversed the publication’s editorial policy and changed its senior staff.

Alev Coşkun, the new head of the board, played a role as state witness against the journalists of Cumhuriyet, in a trial over terrorism charges that ended in recent months with long prison sentences. 

The new board also includes Turan Karakaş, a candidate of the left-nationalist Vatan Party in the parliamentary elections held in Jun, 24, İnan Kıraç, a former executive of the Turkish Koç business group and a member of the Koç family, and Mustafa Balbay, a former deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who is known to be behind Cumhuriyet’s 2003 headline “Young officers are restless” that pointed the growing disturbance within the Turkish army against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)

The new board sacked editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, as well as two senior editors, while declining to publish on Saturday the editorial of Sabuncu and an article by İnsel, which he mailed to headquarters on Friday, before the election results were announced.

Almost 30 Cumhuriyet staff have either resigned or have been sacked since Friday. Kadri Gürsel, a renowned columnist of Cumhuriyet, remained behind bars for 11 months as part of the Cumhuriyet trials, announced his resignation on Tuesday.

Erdem Gül, the newspaper’s representative in the Turkish capital of Ankara, who, along with Cumhuriyet’s former editor-in-chief Can Dündar,  was prosecuted for revealing state secrets over a report alleging the Turkish government's shipment of arms to Islamists in Syria, is among those being axed. 

Up until 2013, Cumhuriyet newspaper was known as the stronghold of nationalist-secularists in Turkey. However, a new board was elected in 2013 and the editorial policy of the newspaper tipped towards nationalist-secularists call liberal-left or liberal. 

“There are newspapers in Turkey opposing President Erdoğan and the ruling AKP, but those newspapers display another type of ideological idee fixe,” İnsel told Euronews. “President Erdoğan and his supporters in fact are not disturbed much from this opposition which demonstrates a fixed, nationalist, and almost racists attitude regarding the Kurdish question in the country,” he said.

İnsel noted that president Erdoğan and his inner circle implicitly supporting a left-wing alliance formed by hard core secularists to take over Cumhuriyet newspaper  “may be difficult to understand from outside,”, but “proves that the most essential and deepest alliance in Turkey is based on nationalism.” 

Balbay, who also was imprisoned in 2008 and remained in jail for more than 4 years charged with attempting to overthrow the government in infamous Ergenekon coup trials, showed his high spirits following the daily's takeover on Sunday by posting a photo of him kissing the newspaper.

In 2016, Balbay criticised Cumhuriyet’s editorial policy for declining to publish his articles on the grounds that he was a member of the Turkish parliament and claimed that he was sacked on the instructions of the Gülen movement, a religious group Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt the same year.

Balbay, whose words were interpreted by many as the beginning of the Cumhuriyet trials, on Tuesday had his first article published in the newspaper after three years.