Ertuğrul Günay
Nov 05 2018

From Tercüman-ı Ahval to Ahval News: 150 years later

One hundred and fifty-eight years have passed since the first publication of Tercüman-ı Ahval, the Ottoman Empire’s first private newspaper, but not much has changed in the realm of free thought and speech in Turkey since.

“Considering all of the legal duties put upon people living within a society, these people will certainly consider it their vested right to express their opinions, both verbally and through writing, in the best interests of their homeland.”

“If documented proof of this claim is required, the political newspapers, published by civilised nations whose minds have been opened through education, will provide sufficient proof.”

These words belong to Şinasi Efendi, a famous writer of the time who, along with Agah Efendi, was responsible for Tercüman-ı Ahval, which began publication Oct. 22 1860.

In this piece of writing, which has come to be known as the “Tercüman-ı Ahval Preamble” in Turkish literary and press history, Şinasi tries to explain that in return for the legal duties and obligations people are expected to uphold, the freedom to express their opinions should be considered one of the rights of citizenship.

Ottoman society had until that point been unfamiliar with freedom of the press, thought, and communication, as well as with publications such as newspapers and magazines. In this context, the struggle to express oneself is right, understandable, and even necessary.

In addition to Agah Efendi and Şinasi, prominent intellectuals of the time such as Ahmet Vefik Pasha, Ziya Pasha, and Refik Bey wrote for the newspaper in order to open the closed structures of Ottoman society and enlighten minds.

There was another newspaper in circulation in the Ottoman Empire at the same time as Tercüman-ı Ahval called Ceride-i Havadis, established in 1840 by a British man named William Churchill. It received significant material support from the state, and was often distributed for free due to its lack of credibility and interest in the newspaper.

Tercüman-ı Ahval was temporarily shut down in 1861 after publishing “Maarife Dair Bend-i Mahsus,” a piece attributed to Ziya Pasha and highly critical of the education system. It was able to continue publication, albeit with similar interruptions from time to time, until 1866.

Despite the passage of more 150 years, the environment of our press has not changed very much. There are many publications that resemble Ceride-i Havadis.

One hundred and fifty years later, we are still trying to explain the importance and necessity of free thought, free speech, and the free press in order to secure a pluralistic society and promote development and progress.

Just like Tercüman-ı Ahval, which continued publication through difficult periods, Ahval is also part of the drive for maintaining pluralism, freedom and objectivity within this environment.

This is why I try to write for Ahval when I have the opportunity; I share the spirit of the deceased Ziya Pasha.

Ahval has completed its first year of publication despite difficult conditions, and numerous restrictions and barriers. I wish Ahval many more years of maintaining an editorial line supporting pluralism, freedom, peace and democracy.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.