Erdogan & the silencing of dissent

Will Indian journalists stand up for their Turkish counterparts, imprisoned for merely criticising the government?

WrittenBy:Anchal Vohra
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At 11am on October 31, 2016, Nazire Gursel heard the knock she had long expected. Seven policemen arrived at the Gursel house to arrest her husband, Kadri Gursel, journalist and columnist at the Turkish daily, Cumhurriyat. As the cops waved the arrest warrant, she recollects her heartbeat slowed down, even though she knew the state apparatus will come for Kadri as it begins the crackdown on independent media.

Ten others, including 5 journalists had already been picked up at 7am from the newspaper office.

This is now known as the “Cumhurriyat Op” of the Erdogan government. 

For six months, these men have remained imprisoned. Taking on the Erdogan state are 11 wives of the arrested Cumhurriyat employees. 

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They have formed a club called “Cumhurriyat Wives Club” and Gursel says they conduct press conferences together, decide on the legal recourse they must take and build awareness of the case.  


Transcript: WHAT IS CUMHURRIYAT WIVES? We call ourselves the Cumhurriyat wives. We are 11 wives. All our husbands are arrested without any reason, without any real reason. Generally we are in strong solidarity, we are supporting each other, we are trying to act together to make our husbands voice reach the world. 

Cumhurriyat is the last independent liberal newspaper left in Turkey. A Centre-Left publication, it was established in 1924 by journalist Yunus Nadi Abalıoğlu, a confidante of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the autocratic, secular leader of the Turks. Even as Erdogan’s cult rises, it is no match in popularity for the man who is considered the father of the Turks, the hero of Gallipoli in World War I and the man who built Modern Turkey. 

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Kemalist ideas are an anathema to Erdogan, an Islamist following the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Holding an opposing view could land you in prison. It is reflected in the impunity with which more than 100 journalists have been jailed under the pretext of supporting terrorist organisations such as the Kurdish Separatist Force, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan), or the instigator of the failed coup, Fetullah Gulen. 

Since the alleged coup last year, Erdogan has unleashed the law enforcement agencies on anyone who disagrees with him or the state. Turkey has arrested 47,000 people, with no end to the crackdown insight. A week after declaring victory in a referendum that gives the President sweeping powers, Erdogan’s forces arrested 1000 more people – on the suspicion of being linked to Gulen.

 Slogans in a protest calling Erdogan a thief for allegedly stealing 2.5 million votes and asserting their view that neither sharia nor fascism will prevail

Authoritarians though easily forget the power of the people they rule. Consider this – despite ruling with an iron fist, the difference between the “No” and the “Yes” vote in the referendum is marginal, and even that is disputed. German lawmaker, Andrej Hunko was sent to observe the voting in the referendum. According to him, 2.5 million illegal votes have been counted as “Yes”, and without these Erdogan would lose the referendum. 

According to Gursel, “Everyone knows the result announced is wrong. The international community needs to do something. The only thing Kadri (her husband) did was journalism.” 
A single parent, she has left all hope there would be a domestic solution. In her husband’s absence, she is running from the school to the basketball court to dance classes for her 10-year-old son, while also fighting alongside the Cumhurriyat Wives Club. 

Transcript: How is your son coping? 
It is very difficult. In these six months, he could see his father only twice. It’s a very difficult position for a 10-year-old. He has a right to see him face-to-face once a month. But only for Cumhurriyat journalists, they are using this as a way to torture. They don’t give us this right and give it only once in 2 months. But the murderers, the rapists, the pedophiles, can see their friends once a month! What a democracy. 

Erdogan is visiting the largest democracy in the world and it is highly unlikely India will raise the issue of press freedom with the President.  The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi did meet the President of Cyprus before meeting Erdogan to give a clear message – if the Turks support Pakistan on Kashmir, India will back the Greeks of Cyprus. 

As the governments equate Cyprus and Kashmir, should Indian journalists stand in solidarity with their Turkish colleagues? Albeit in varying degrees, the emergence of strongmen as leaders, whether in India or Turkey, has led to the crushing of dissent. 

Gursel shares the picture of the last family breakfast, a day before her husband’s arrest and asks, “If writing critically of the government, doing your job, separates you from your family, what have we gained as a country for the last 100 years?” 

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