“I feel like a Jew in Nazi Germany” - author Perihan Mağden
Perihan Mağden is one of Turkey’s most read and most talked-about writers. Her writing is at times biting and ironic, and she has never been shy about being critical of everything from Turkish society to the government.
Like all dissident journalists, writers, and thinkers, she is under the same pressure as the mainstream media. Numerous charges have been laid against her, including insulting public officials and threatening the unity of the Turkish state. Even in court, she felt the pressure, and said of that time: “Never in my life have I felt like my arms and wings were so broken.”
When asked how she is doing now, she said she is relatively fine. “Instinctively, people don’t want to live at the bottom of a well. But people can find a way to adapt and be content in order to survive.”
She said it was a small consolation that her close friend, fellow journalist and author, Ahmet Altan, had remained strong in pre-trial detention since July 2016, but it was small consolations like these that allowed her to carry on living.
Mağden said she felt ambivalent about writing another book. Whenever she sits down to write, she knows she risks getting into trouble. When lawsuits can be opened against her even in normal times, she has no desire to ask for more trouble in this current atmosphere. Nowadays, she said she felt estranged by her own columns, her own language, and felt useless. “I’ve been living like a mouse these days.”
“Here is what I think: In Nazi Germany during World War Two, weren’t there a few Jews here and there who survived until the end of the war? I think they absolutely lived in secret. Today I feel like those same Jews who lived in Nazi Germany.”
She wonders if it is media or politics that has brought the country to this point. “If you’re estranged by your own columns, if no one is writing anything good, is it because of the political situation or because of the media’s attitude? It’s like the chicken or the egg.”
She said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had devised an excellent strategy for himself by creating his own media, and then silencing that media in order to fill it with his own wishes and ideology to establish himself as the ruler. “We are under siege. Everyone is yearning for something. In the mainstream media, they write like diplomats. But not like normal diplomats. They write like diplomats for the AKP,” she said, referring to Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party.
In her last column, Mağden wrote that Turkey’s best brand was the “Unity Benz.” “We are Unionists. In the Unionist spirit, you cooperate with the pious and others.” The result of this, she said, is that Turks have no better friends than Turks.
In light of recent debates about the legacy of the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, following Erdoğan’s recent, more pro-Kemalist statements, Mağden said it was as if each side was attempting to co-opt the ideas of the other.
“It’s as though the fervent secularists, the fanatic Kemalist aunties, and the Republican cheerleaders all of a sudden got religion. At a certain point in the AKP’s rise to power, they started saying ‘However pious you are, we’re even more pious. We’re also in this religion.’ However satisfied they were as Kemalists, they’re just as satisfied as Muslims. Now the AKP has started doing the same thing. Islamic ideology has stealthily taken over in the name of secularism.”
Since the detention of several journalists from the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper, including Ahmet Altan, Can Dündar, and Kadri Gürsel, the arrests and detentions of other journalists have begun to go unnoticed, as have the closure of other media outlets. Altan is accused of using his column to send subliminal messages to the plotters of the July 2016 coup attempt. Mağden said Altan’s detention was a matter of vengeance.
“If someone says this ridiculous lie, ‘You didn’t care when my colonel died and he died because of you,’ you have to take a stance against it. But the CHP has only shown solidarity with Cumhuriyet newspaper. What can they do? They can’t even help Enis Berberoğlu, their own MP.” Berberoğlu was arrested in June of this year for his role in releasing photos of alleged Turkish intelligence vehicles delivering weapons to Syria.
To protest Berberoğlu’s arrest, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition CHP, marched from Ankara to Istanbul in the summer. Mağden was jubilant, and said she felt like hugging Kılıçdaroğlu. However, she said, nothing has changed as a result, and nothing will.
The crackdown since last year’s failed coup, blamed on U.S.-based preacher and erstwhile AKP ally Fethullah Gülen, has caught up many people, including reporters for his former newspaper, Zaman. The Gülenists finally split with the governing party when prosecutors linked to the movement launched corruption investigations into ministers and their relatives in late 2013.
“Why are all Zaman writers Gülen followers? And in light of that, what’s a Gülen follower? If there is such a thing as a Gülen follower, then they are the ones in power because for many years, there was a very close collaboration with them. Are there any good Gülen followers? One prosecutor involved in the 2013 corruption case against the AKP said, ‘The corruption scandal is not the only thing. There was a lot before that,’ which means that they must have taken over the whole AKP. We are in a legal quagmire. In the old days, even though I found our justice terrifying, at least we had justice. Today we are in a scary place.”
Previously, Mağden, like many others, wrote that Turkey was headed for civil war. However, she does not think that is the case today. “What I see is that everyone is just passive-aggressive. Nobody wants to put themselves or their property in danger. Every action is like Spongebob. When two sponges crash into each other, what happens? They dribble a bit.”
When asked why there was so little demand from the public for their right to receive the news, Mağden said that this is one of the reasons she does not write anymore. “People are governed as they deserve, which is a very fascist point of view. But this is the situation we are in.” She said people were mostly consumed with superficial, everyday matters, and that they seemed to want nothing more. She said Turkey was starting to seem like the United States. “I’ve written this a few times: We are not Europe, we are Little America. The Americans and Trump are no different from us. They choose between Pepsi and Coke, and they vote for him. The nation is furious with Trump right now, but what do they do? They burp out a few jokes.”