The false claims, allegations and gossip that make up Turkey’s evidence against me - Red Notice (III)

A Turkish court last month demanded Interpol issue a red notice international warrant for my arrest due to a case involved Cumhuriyet newspaper, one of the last surviving major dailies that does not support President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has been in power since 2002.

In two previous articles (first and second) I have addressed the background to the accusations against me and the charge that I am a member of the outlawed Fethullah Gülen movement, which I unequivocally reject.

Prosecutors have also accused me of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than three decades.

The evidence against me includes an interview with a news agency, Ara News, which the indictment claims is close to the PKK and this, according to the indictment, goes to show that I support the PKK. 

Firstly, there is no evidence that Ara News was close to the PKK. The now-defunct local news outlet in its time interviewed senior U.S. military and civilian officials, including anti-ISIS coalition spokesperson Ryan Dillon and former U.S. ambassador Robert Ford. The reporter who interviewed me was Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a long-serving and respected reporter on the Middle East, who frequently speaks with government officials from the United States and other countries in the region.

One of the central points used against me relates to comments I made about Bahoz Erdal, a high-ranking PKK commander who Turkish government officials said had been killed shortly before my interview with Ara News.

The indictment states:

“Cumhuriyet’s Washington correspondent and writer İlhan Tanır made a statement about Bahoz Erdal to Ara News, an agency known to be close to the PKK … Without confirming that the PKK terrorist had been killed, he said, ‘Look at the archives—almost every year you’ll see some breaking news that Bahoz Erdal has been killed. Of course, it may be that Bahoz Erdal’s car was hit, but it’s too early to say he died.’”

The indictment goes on to quote another part of my interview with Ara News:

‘It’s worth pointing out that the AK Party government feels a need for fake victories; they feel the need to direct the day’s events, otherwise they’d have to fill the news with apologies, security vulnerabilities, military failures, and foreign relations disasters.”

This was during a period when Islamic State, the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the PKK were conducting large attacks across the country killing dozens of people. The government was having a hard time stopping these attacks and needed a victory.

What I said was that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Erdal had been killed, bearing in mind the many previous occasions that news of his death had been reported. Such rumours had done the rounds so often that we preferred to wait for confirmation before believing it.

My prediction proved to be true and by July 2016 Erdal had given interviews, before showing up again in 2017, posing with his rifle alongside other armed militants. That proved that reports of his death at the hands of Turkish forces had been false and vindicated my prediction. 

But the indictment said:

“In this way, Cumhuriyet newspaper is actually opening a way for PKK sympathisers in this country to decode their message. AK Party Deputy Burhan Kuzu called them out, saying ‘The news about Bahoz Erdal’s death was a test. Who’s with the PKK and who isn’t! They’ve been caught red-handed.’”

Here Turkish prosecutors cite a statement by a senior member of the ruling party that they say proves I am a PKK sympathiser, even though my prediction had come true and Erdal turned out to be alive. In other words, the “test” Kuzu says had been laid to catch out journalists for allegedly supporting the PKK was whether or not they believed a fake news story that he admits his government circulated.

The indictment also includes another of my reports about a teleconference organised by the White House in which three senior officials participated. This teleconference was also reported by the pro-AKP government "reporters" in Washington DC. According to the indictment, reporting what White House officials said on background is a crime. My story's title, published on June, 28, 2015: “A Warning from the US: Turkey’s PKK Operations Must ‘Show Restraint,’” has a non-compliant title and contents;

“In a teleconference with Washington DC journalists, three US senior officials discussed the operations against ISIS and the developments in Turkey in recent months.” (…)

“Several American journalists asked about Turkey’s concurrent assaults against the PKK and Turkey’s alleged attacks against YPG forces in Northern Syria. The officials said that the PKK had taken responsibility for the killing of a soldier and a police officer and started threatening more attacks; they also stated that there is no relationship between the longstanding anti-ISIS Coalition talks and the conflict between Turkey and the PKK.”

Another piece of "evidence" showing my alleged association with the PKK is from an article I wrote on 12 August 2015, titled “A Strong Stance from the US: Attacks on YPG Are Unacceptable”:

“A senior State Department official in Turkey who has been closely following events told Cumhuriyet, ‘We have made it clear that an attack by Turkey on the YPG in Syria is unacceptable for us.’ When reminded of Sinirlioğlu’s claim that the US had carried out strikes on the PYD, the official started laughing as if to say ‘What else?’ ‘Strikes against the YPG aren’t even on the table.’ When asked if there was a communication problem, the official said, ‘These are complex issues. Turkey wants us as an ally, and we want to work together with them. For the sake of preventing harm to Turkish civilians from attacks by the PKK, we want the top officials to be as careful as possible.’”

In the Turkish prosecutors' world, reports like these show my support for a terror organisation. I do not think I need to do any defence for these articles I wrote as they speak for themselves.

The indictment goes on to develop its accusations that I have links to the Gülen organisation, referred to in the indictment as “FETÖ” and the “parallel structure”: “It is understood that suspect İlhan TANIR’s connections to FETÖ are not limited to those outlined above, and that his activities abroad are intended to sway international public opinion about the state’s operations against the organisation.”

The prosecutors were unable to provide any credible evidence of such a link in the previous pages of the indictment. Here they continued with “evidence” that included my participation on a panel organised by the esteemed Georgetown University in March of 2016. Apparently, an invitation from one of the most important educational institutions of the United States to join a panel to discuss Turkey can be cited as evidence against me. The pro-AKP newspaper Akşam called the panel “A Traitorous Alliance”. The indictment reads:

“Fugitive parallel state member Emre Uslu, former CHP deputy Aykan Erdemir, and Cumhuriyet newspaper Washington Correspondent İlhan Tanır held a joint panel against Turkey in the U.S. This is the biggest proof of the treasonous alliance between the CHP, Cumhuriyet newspaper, and the parallel structure. Emre Uslu, a former police officer and parallel structure member who escaped abroad and is now a fugitive, former CHP Deputy Aykan Erdemir, and Cumhuriyet newspaper Washington Correspondent İlhan Tanır held a joint panel against Turkey in the U.S. At this panel, held in Washington at Gülen-supporter Georgetown University, they discussed the sanctions that the U.S. and EU should impose on Turkey.”


I indeed participated in that panel. However, far from showing support for the Gülen movement, my only remarks on the night when asked about the Gülen movement was calling on them, months before the attempted coup, to apologise for pursuing wrong policies and making mistakes that had damaged Turkey.

The indictment also refers to news items based on screenshots that circulated on the internet, which were said to show a hacked Twitter message between Said Sefa, the owner of the Haberdar news outlet, and another user identified only as ilhan. The screenshot shows Sefa saying he had been offered money from unnamed U.S. persons as funding for news outlets, and the other user responded casually that the offer was not a bad one. Authentic or not, in which world does this screenshot count as evidence of anything?

Two “news” items from different outlets on the messages are cited in the indictment. Another newspaper article quoted in the indictment is an article attacking me by a columnist named Oray Egin, a man known for writing gossip columns that are taken seriously by no one. Egin made unsubstantiated claims that have nothing to do with any of the accusations and some laughable attacks on me that I do not have the space or patience to refute here. What is more, the indictment does not follow up to ask any accusation over this gossip column either.

The indictment goes on to cite some 35 tweets from my account, starting with one posted on Oct. 28, 2011, in which I quoted remarks by Gülen on issues related to the PKK and former President Abdullah Gül.

I continued over the years to cite Gülen’s remarks from various outlets in some of my now nearly 76,000 tweets. The indictment cites my tweets such as “12 April 2012: "Important analysis by Kadri Gursel: "Critical statements from the Gülen Movement" ...". At the time, top government officials, including Erdoğan, the then prime minister, were lavishly praising the movement.

In none of the tweets that the indictment quotes do I praise the leader of the movement or the movement itself. Why? Because I didn't trust the Gülen movement then, though I refuse to indiscriminately label all its members terrorists. 

For example, in another post of mine that was cited in the indictment, I tweeted a news item related to pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtaş from Vatan Newspaper, where I was working at the time: “14 April 2012: "Heavy criticism from BDP leader Demirtaş, the relationship is tense: "@GazetevatanCom: "is there a prosecutor who can question Gülen?” :"ülen-i-sorgulayabilecek-savci-var-mi---443610-gundem/”

Why would a prosecutor cite this tweet in my indictment? In the tweet I simply quoted Demirtaş saying the AKP government was protecting the Gülen movement and Fethullah Gülen and that, as a result, no prosecutor had the courage to question him. 

Here are six other following tweets presented as my link to the Gulen Movement, without comment:

17 April 2012: "Bad news for Gulen's schools coming from Tennessee - a new limit to the (number of) Turkish teachers allowed to work ..."

24 April 2012: "One more statement from the Hizmet (Gulen Movement): F.Gulen's counter approach to the coups... GYV:"

11 May 2012: "Gulen movement opened a new page with regards to Turkey's lobbying, especially as it had repaired the (Turkish government’s) ties with Congress in places where schools are present."

"Following the articles published at NYT/IHT two weeks ago, the tone of this program will be an important turn for the Movement's US life"

"60 Minutes is one of the oldest & most effective US news programs. I know that they have been working on a program on the Gulen Movement for 6 months"

"On Sunday, one of the most watched US new programs "60 Minutes" will do a segment on FGulen and (his) schools in US. I informed (readers) about this months ago"

Or take the last tweet cited in the indictment, in which I announced on Twitter that I would shortly discuss the extradition of Fethullah Gülen with Can Dündar on the news channel artitv: “30 April 2014: "I will soon be discussing with Can Dündar on @artibirtv whether F.Gülen will be extradited to Turkey. I will share some details about this." 

Without being able to show one single tweet in which I praise the movement in a period when the AKP government officials had openly and lavishly praised it, the indictment concludes that “with such shares, (Ilhan) appears to be constantly trying to advertise the news about the head of FETO/PDY, and it is seen that he tried to defend the organisation on social media."

Since the indictment fails to show a single tweet out of 76,000 in which I praise the group, the prosecutor instead accuses me of advertising news about the movement. If anything, it seems the prosecutor has simply tried to furnish the indictment with meaningless tweets that mention Gülen in order to bulk out its page count.

The indictment also falsely claims that I had worked at Zaman, a newspaper known as an affiliate of the Gülen movement. This accusation is apparently made up by testimony from court witness Hüseyin Gülerce, a former editor-in-chief and long-time columnist at Zaman, who was long known as the movement’s unofficial spokesman. I have never met Gülerce, nor even communicated with him, it is impossible for him to know me, and just to repeat, no, I have never been a reporter at Zaman, or any other Gülen-affiliated media outlet. 

Another false accusation claims I held an account at Bank Asya, a Gülen-affiliated bank that operated legally until 2015.  The indictment says: “İlhan Tanır had accounts at Bank Asya and the account belonging to Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu showed activity until recently, as understood from the document from the Ministry of Asset Management of the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey (TSMF).”

I have never had an account with Bank Asya, and nor have I needed one - I have been living in the United States since 2000. As a matter of fact, I do not remember ever entering a Bank Asya branch in Turkey or anywhere else in the world. Again, there is no evidence that I have a bank account apart from the claims in the indictment, which are totally false.

These are the main accusations Turkish prosecutors laid out against me. For a few irrelevant tweets, discussions with a news site and university, and some easily refuted false claims, the prosecutor wants to give me seven-and-a-half to 15 years in jail. 

These are the kinds of accusations the Turkish government uses against its critics, labelling them terrorists and starting manhunts through abuse of the Interpol system - all this to make the lives of its critics harder. My case is only one example from the tens of thousands of people who have been accused by this government and, if they are not lucky, will be forced to rot in jail for years before even seeing a courtroom. 

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