David Lepeska
Nov 03 2017

Erdoğan’s dark road to glory

Two weeks ago an Ankara court held a hearing on the annulment of the Immigration Office’s ban on my entry into Turkey. I was barred from entering the country in April 2016, and 18 months later my appeal was finally being heard.

A lawyer friend travelled from Istanbul and presented my case: the reasons for my deportation were not provided at the time, as the law requires; and the Immigration Office has failed to provide any grounds for the ban, referring only to the National Intelligence Agency’s decision to declare me a threat to national security, for which it has yet to give a reason.

The judge will make a decision in the coming weeks, but I am not holding my breath. The state of emergency, in place since the coup attempt last July, gives Turkey’s judiciary considerable leeway in cases linked to security. But even without it, the outspoken are an endangered species.

Just this week Turkey detained half a dozen journalists, reportedly for links to a journalism organisation that allegedly funded by Western news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal. Speaking of that outlet, a Turkish court recently sentenced WSJ reporter Ayla Albayrak to prison for a 2015 article about Turkey’s conflict with the Kurds (Albayrak was in New York at the time and remains free, if unable to return to Turkey).

Writing about the plight of the Kurds tends to bring down the heavens; Ankara’s disdain for even-handed coverage of the Kurdish conflict is precisely why the pool of foreign correspondents in Turkey is shrinking fast. It is what likely got me the boot (I cannot know for sure as they have not told me).

The list of foreign journalists kicked out of or detained by Turkey seems to grow by the week: Der Spiegel’s Hasnain Kazim, French journalist Olivier Bertrand, WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum, New York Times’ Rod Nordland, Die Welt’s Deniz Yücel, Stern Magazine’s Raphael Geiger, the BBC’s Jiyar Gol, independent Dutch journalist Fredericke Geerdink, photographer Mathias Depardon, Sputnik’s Tural Kerimov, German reporter Volker Schwenck —the list goes on.

“It feels like the place just drained of journos,” said Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio, who recently moved from Istanbul to the United States for reasons unrelated to the press crackdown.

That includes Turkish journalists as well. The Committee to Protect Journalist counts 81 reporters imprisoned in Turkey, more than any other country in the world. 

Arrest of some 50,000 Turkey's citizens as part of a vast post-coup purge continues.

Activists and rights defenders are in the same leaky boat. Last week saw the detention of a group of human rights lawyers in Izmir, days after the trial of a group of Amnesty International rights defenders. Also last week prominent businessman and civil rights activist Osman Kavala was detained at Istanbul airport. He has since been charged in connection with the coup. But his real crime is surely the considerable work he has done to bridge divisions between Turkey and the Kurds.

With so many journalists and activists imprisoned, exiled, scared stiff or on trial, Turkey is a state nearly free of government criticism. It is hard to notice what is no longer there, but international and local coverage of Turkey has markedly decreased.

As a result we have only limited knowledge of an array of urgent stories: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s wave of mayoral replacements, the continued imprisonment of Turkey’s most charismatic politician not named Erdoğan, the real story behind the ongoing Turkey-U.S. diplomatic spat, the dubious trials of Amnesty activists, journalists, and others, the evisceration of academia, corruption in connection to major construction projects, Ankara’s questionable Syria policy, and of course the war in Turkey’s southeast.

These have all been covered of course, and all credit to the activists and journalists still hard at work in the danger zone that is today’s Turkey, but deeper continuing coverage would surely tease out new insights. 

Even as an anti-Erdoğan tide may have begun to swell (or perhaps because of it), every day brings Turkey’s president closer to his dream of a state unencumbered by dissent, a place where he keeps citizens from making the informed decisions that might lead to his political demise.