Firing Turkey’s Ece Temelkuran: The Price of Speaking Out

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Temelkuran has played a leading role on social media in defending 11 journalists who are currently on trial in Turkey for supporting illegal “terrorist” organizations. (Photo: Sedat Suna)

By: Matthew Cassel

Published Friday, January 6, 2012

For the first time in her nearly two-decade-long career, journalist Ece Temelkuran is without a job. The feature reporter and columnist, currently in Tunisia, writes regularly about the plight of Turkey’s ethnic minorities. She was fired from her staff position at the Haberturk daily on Thursday after publishing articles critical of the Turkish government’s handling of the massacre of Kurds on December 28 at Iraq’s border.

Turkey has long been feted by mainstream Western media as a bastion of secular democracy in a wider and largely Muslim region ruled by despots. However, critics argue that this image is allowing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become increasingly authoritarian. In recent years, journalists who report on stories not fitting within the government narrative have been targeted.

Ninety-seven media professionals are currently in prison according to the Turkish Union of Journalists. In addition to this, The Economist magazine recently reported that 47 lawyers, more than 500 students and some 3,500 Kurdish activists are in prison. A recent survey by the Associated Press found that more than one-third of the world's convicted "terrorists" are in Turkey.

Temelkuran has played a leading role on social media (she started the hashtag #freejournalists on Twitter) in defending 11 journalists who are currently on trial in Turkey for supporting illegal “terrorist” organizations.

After beginning her career as a correspondent in 1993, Temelkuran became a feature reporter in 2000 for Turkey's Milliyet daily. In 2009, she left Milliyet to take a job at the nascent Haberturk, another major daily in Turkey. On Thursday Temelkuran received a phone call while in Tunisia that she had been dismissed from her job at the newspaper.

In addition to covering Turkish affairs at home, Temelkuran has reported extensively from the Middle East and Latin America.

I spoke to Ece Temelkuran on Thursday by phone about her career, her dismissal and the current state of journalism in Turkey.

Matthew Cassel: When you're not reporting around the world what types of stories do you generally write about inside Turkey?

Ece Temelkuran: The Kurdish issue, Armenian issue, women rights, social issues...Not the most popular subjects, especially the Kurdish and Armenian issues.

MC: Why aren't they popular issues in Turkey?

ET: Because since the establishment of Turkey [in 1923, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire] Kurds have been treated as second-class citizens and there has always been a lack of political and individual rights for them. There is deep and wide racism against Kurds in Turkey and there is the armed PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] movement and anything that goes under Kurdish issues is considered terrorism. So it's not surprising Turkish media doesn't cover the issue, and if they do they represent the government's point of view.

MC: Do you feel that you've always been able to write what you want to? Have you ever been censored?

ET: I haven't been censored, but when I reported from Kurdistan in northern Iraq, even mentioning the name 'Kurdistan' was taboo. And when I wrote about tens of Kurdish children being tortured in 2003 people were outraged. There has always been pressure on journalists who write on the Kurdish issue.

But pressure on media has never been like this. Now it's fear of being imprisoned, and once you're in prison no one can get you out. [Journalists] Ahmet Sik and Nadim Sener have been in jail for 11 months, they didn't even know until 6 or 7 months [after their arrest] what the charges [against them] are.

Since there is government propaganda to legitimize these prosecutions, it's very hard to get around this. The propaganda machine is huge. Not only nationally but internationally.

MC: Did your firing come as a surprise?

ET: Not really because the stand I took about the arrested journalists and the massacre [of 35 Kurdish civilians on Turkey's border with Iraq] was too strong for the mainstream media to handle. Because the prime minister, a few days ago just after the massacre, [threatened] ones who use [the term] 'massacre,' and I've been using it on twitter and social media.

MC: That sounds like Turkey's recent warnings to France after its senate voted to recognize the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a "genocide." Why is language so important for the Turkish government?

ET: Because terminology creates political and ethical responsibility. Then if you use term 'massacre,' the prime minister might have to apologize for the massacre, which he doesn't want to. Rather he wants to blame media. And that media was silent for about a half day after the incident. None of the networks gave the news until prime minister’s official statement about massacre, but that wasn't enough. He only wants to see his thoughts [printed in the newspapers].

MC: Why were you fired?

ET: The last two articles I wrote might be perceived as 'too controversial.’ One was called "Sir, yes Sir!" referring to the prime minister. The article ended "So you give the orders my commander but I'm not listening to you anymore. We are the rest of this country! We are not listening to your orders anymore!"

The last article was about how 19 of those killed were kids between 12 and 15. He made this speech about Uludere [the border town where the attack happened] massacre, which was outrageous, and he blamed journalists. And I wrote an article repeating the number [of dead] ridiculing the prime minister’s cruel attitude in a bitter way.

MC: Are you the only person writing like this in the mainstream media?

ET: There are a few others, and all of them called me today to say that ‘we are coming as well to the land of unemployment, just wait for us.’ They say, 'we are writing our articles as if we're writing our last articles.' Everyone is pessimistic about the coming days.

MC: Why are they targeting veteran journalists like Nadim Sener and Ahmet Sik?

ET: Because they were writing books about the Gulen movement [Islamists believed to have close ties to the AKP] getting organized in police department and intelligence services. They took the manuscript of Ahmet's book, The Army of the Imam (which has since been published online). Nadim's book [on how the Gulen movement is organizing in the police and state intelligence] is unpublished.

They were reporting on different things, especially criticizing the government and revealing the bad practices of government.

MC: Who was Hrant Dink?

ET: He was an Armenian journalist and had his own paper. He was a vocal journalist about Armenian rights and oppressed minorities. And he was shot dead in the center of Istanbul in his neck. Nadim has been writing books about him. He wrote about police negligence in the investigation into Hrant's killing. Hrant was a dear friend as well. Since he wished me to write a book on Armenian issue before his death I dedicated my book Deep Mountain to him. He helped me a lot.

MC: Did Dink's killing change journalism in Turkey?

ET: Armenian issue was already a taboo for mainstream media but after his death we learned that we shouldn't talk about Armenian issue more. His funeral was historic though, because 100,000 attended and they all chanted, "We are all Armenians." Armenians have always been despised by the nationalist Turks, so that funeral was a turning point in modern Turkish history.

MC: Did it create fear among you and your colleagues?

ET: It wasn't the only [attack on journalists], and it didn't stop there. After that came the mass arrests, there have been many incidents that created fear among journalists.

This time [the attacks are] done under name of 'democracy,' or as AKP supporters call it 'advanced democracy.' This time it's hard to get the things out there and say we've been oppressed. When there was a coup and fascist generals in power with their uniforms it was easier to say who were the bad guys. Now it's more complicated because fascism didn't show up in uniforms this time. That's why international media has taken too long to understand what's really going on in Turkey.

MC: How has Turkey managed to maintain that democratic image to the outside world?

ET: Through international and national propaganda. Mainstream western media is serving their own governments' foreign policy interests. So they wanted to see this model of Muslim democracy, which looks good from outside and has freedom of people, ‘bon pour l’orient’ (French for “good enough for the orient”). It's not good enough, neither for people in Turkey or the rest of Middle East.

To the Western world it tries to show democracy, and to the Eastern side it tries to show its Muslim side. Obviously it’s not a democracy anymore. As for the Islam, I am not an expert but such cruelty cannot come from religion.

MC: Do you think Turkey is losing that democratic image?

ET: The image is changing for sure.

Today, I was surprised to see the news on the front page of The New York Times, and I think finally our colleagues around the world are coming to their senses about Turkey. They're no longer being deceived by these lies of 'AKP democracy.'

MC: Over the past year, you've reported from pro-democracy uprisings in a number of Arab countries. Do you see similarities between the repressive forms of government that people have been rising against and your own government in Turkey?

ET: Now there are rising numbers of people that think Prime Minister Erdogan is acting like Bashar Assad. After the Uludere massacre they've been referring to his previous statement about Bashar Assad, “a president who kills his own people is not legitimate anymore.”

MC: Have activists, journalists and others who want change in Turkey been inspired by the Arab uprisings?

ET: They [demand change] already, but when they do they've been attacked violently. Every demonstration that happened after elections has been suppressed by tear gas. Especially by Kurdish people, they've been violently suppressed and attacked. Now and then they do protest, but the opposition in Turkey has been divided into too many parts, they're too split to create an alternative [to the AKP].

MC: You've already lost your job, are you worried what else can happen to you when you return to Turkey?

ET: I am freaking out, it's not the imprisonment necessarily, but now I feel like I have this stamp of persona non grata by the government. I am afraid I might be unemployed for a while because no newspaper would employ me because of that stamp. And if they did I'd be really surprised.


Ece Temelkuran is just a cooperator in my opinion, provoked, encouraged and used against her own country. She has no sense of love towards her own country is it normal? She is a tool of western imperialism, i am sure she will be supported very soon and will find a job in a more sharp media, For those who donot know the matter: The word kurd is 1 st used by the end of 19 th century, the people who are under this group is 4 langaugewise different groups who never understand each other, in a way like india situation, there are kurmanji like barzani, sorani like talabani, zaza and gorani, for example the tribes of barzani and talabani cannot communicate in same language, zaza is another group and language. Ece is blind to see these fact on behalf of her masters who push her into arena. Of course noone is lawyer of evil and we donot want bad things to happen in our country.This kurdish matter is just enough, 95% of people in this country is against these extremist kurdish fascists and there is no tolerence from the public. Ece Temelkuran in my opinion is mentally ready to blame her own country for everthing. Please someone must tell us what happened all of a sudden and we forcibly exiled our armenian population which has been living under Turkish rule of different administarions since 1000 years. Arent the French who behind the curtain armed Armenian gangs who killed millions of women elderky and children, and arent the French guilty, to support Armenians declarein 1920 so called Kilikia Christian Armenian Republic while they were forming just 15% of area population in adana at that time, and while we were dying in 7 fronts of WW1 in defenseless countryside. why nothing happened 1000 years and what happened all of sudden. Please think logical. In my opinion cooperators may earn money but loose honour, like Ece Temelkuran has no face to survive in the society, society is not just the narrow strip of people around her. i am sure she is prepared for a higher medal or prize. But no prize of foreigners is more valuable than love of her own people,

With due respect, and without intending to interfere in the internal affairs of Turkey, it is overwhelmingly evident to me that you, Madam / Sir, know absolutely nothing about Kurds, their history, culture, language, and a host of other relevant issues. In this day and age of instant communication and instant access to a wide range of free scholarly material on the Internet, it is no longer acceptable to describe an ethnic group, be they Kurds, Turks, etc., in the careless and haughty manner as you do in your above comment. Sadly, there is always a tendency to look down on ethnic minorities almost everywhere on this planet (this has certainly been the case as regards the Turkish people who after the WWII settled in relatively large numbers in various parts of Western Europe, mostly as migrant workers - notably in Germany and the Netherlands), disregarding their history, culture, language, etc. Inevitably, this gives rise to intercommunal frictions and very avoidable confrontations and ultimately distrust amongst people. Why should any of us be disrespectful of others, when just showing a little bit of understanding and due respect to our fellow human beings can do wonders (aside from being the right things to do)? Please make an effort for understanding Kurds better, and your effort will be rewarded many times over in terms of a better relationship with your Kurdish compatriots. From my personal experience I do know for a fact that what the Kurdish people of Turkey are deeply resentful of are exactly the kind of issues that so unmistakably shine through your relatively brief but hubristic comment here above.

Are u serious?! Turkey is an extension of westrern imperialism! I must admit that I am not qualified to judge the lady's patriotism, but to label her "a tool of western imperialism" for courageously defying a pro-imperialistic government is preposterous!

Thanks god, there are still brave journalists like Ece Temelkuran in Turkey. May be there aren't many but they are the guarantee of democracy and humanism in Turkey. I was so sad since Ece fired but thanks to Al Akhbar Newspaper we can read her again.

Ece says the truth about Turkey. the commentator who here argue against her are those who have the same convictions with the turkish government which is already the reason of what Ece says in this interview. they are the supporters of government's politics. but people who are aware of what really happens in turkey, they know that Ece has right.

turkish gov. easly puts in prison by fallacious and so-called evidences those who criticize gov. politics or gulen movment. in turkey, if you say something you must be careful!

government has just replaced the kemalists and now reacts like them, in an islamist way. it has problems with kurds, other minorities, non-islamists, leftists, etc.

this gov. seems to react againt military and militarists forces, but in fact gov. has no problem with militarist thinking, what it really wants is a new military with the islamist intentions, so it will have no problem with an islamist militarist org. that's just the question of colors.

in the other hand, turkey is going to be a police-state more and more, what the military had done before, the gov. does it now with the police. And once it conquers the military, the totalitarian state will be complete. this is what the islamists do all over the world.
these are islamist, we know them...

why nobody mentions that those people who wrongly bombed outside of Turkish border were smugglers..they were not entirely innocent..of course they should not been died in that way..sometimes happens such mistakes..howmany times US planes bombed civillians n iraq and afghanistan??!! why nobody talked on the matter in a that way..
bitterly critisizm of akp in Turkiye become a fashion for the people who wanted to be different and famous on front of others..
also i relaiezed some commentators use small letters while writing Turkey and Turkish (like turkey and turkish)> why do you do this? do you think that you disrespect Turkiye or tTurkish citizens?? you guys are soo funny.. :

There are millions of people from different origins living in Turkey. We mixed a lot during centuries in this region. It's not just Turks, Kurds and Armenians! There're also Laz (Blacksea region), Albanian, Circassian, Rum, Azerbaijani and others. So, for example, when somebody ask me where I am from, I am not telling that my grandfather is from Albania. I was born on this lands, I grew up and "I'm Turk". This means that "I am a Turkish citizen". The sentence of ATATURK "Proud of being a Turk!" is definitely mean it! In such a globalizing world, separation into pieces, hating each other, grouping and polarization is nonsense! YES, there is a problem of inequality of opportunities in different parts of this country, like many other countries. The government should solve these problems (education, health, employment etc.) and people should come together to be stronger and have an effect on government about these. But, however, YES, there is TERRORISM. Because that land has OIL. Thus, by excuse and coverage of these problems, PKK (terror organization, a fact) and SOME of the Kurds are willing to have an independent country to have better conditions (-in fact- to have power and oil). PKK is not representing the whole Kurdish people. It's a pragmatic and damaging organization (they hijack and threat Kurdish people to join them as guerrillas). So, Turks and Kurds should come together with a stronger brotherhood to solve the problems as nationalism for both just causes more crime. The real problem here is that we're losing intellectual freedom with poorly laws, and many innocent people are in the jail. Even talking about it is an offence. This is no democracy. This is a fear culture. They try to make Turkey a fear country. But half of the country is aware what's going on (I hope at least). We should try again and again with courage to make people aware more and change the things. So, I appreciate Ece Temelkuran for her courage as we're all against the injustice. It may be takes time, but people will step forward sooner or later because the time is passing continuously. We have to go forward, this is a fact.

Bashar Al Asad not killing his own citizens.Since the beginning there is armed gangs firing to the soldiers , security personnel and to the citizens as well !

Bunlar din tüccarı ece hanımda tacir gazeteci olsaydı sorun yokdu.

PM's wife is not Kurd, She is an Arab...

Some people in Turkey count the Arabs and Persians as Kurds. That's because of the lies they have been taught at primary schools. Advising them to update their operating system...

By the way, Is Ece defending the civil rights and Kurds in Turkey or the terrorist Ergenekon organization and their lawyers?

She's not clear!...But I can see her greeting the super powers of earth!..

Aren't you rowing in the space dear?

exaggerating Ece! there are such problems in every country. you don't need to be more royalist than the king!

Even though indo not completely agree with her, it is a shame that she has lost her job. The fight between kurds and turks cover loads of complicated issues which are more than human rights; there is petrol, being a power in the region.

Ece answer this: how can be a discrimination against Kurds(or treated as second class as you say) in Turkey as you falsely claim when minister of finance is Kurd, when the second party's president who is the candidate to be the PM of Turkey is also a Kurd, when current PM's assistants are Kurds, there are tons of examples of the people that are running Turkey are Kurds but not PKK terrorists..! During the election campaigns the assistant of PM's offices(who is Kurd) were bombed by PKK! PM's wife is a Kurd! There is no problems with Kurds nor any discrimination against them as you claim. The problem is the terrorists, are you one of them to make such irrelevant claims?

What exactly do you mean by 'irrelevant claims'? How can someone be that blind not to see discrimination against Kurds going on for 80 years? Discrimination against Kurds does NOT mean that non of them gets place in higher statue jobs in the country. We are here talking about Kurds of east of the country; with no money, no education. Even in the constitution it clearly states the discrimination: "Ne mutlu Turkum diyene. (Proud of being a Turk)" Do you know what that easily realized sentence mean? It means this country is country of Turks and no place for others. This is just racist. As long as you continue saying that, terror will last. The problem is not terrorists; the real problem is that Kurds also support those terrorist and the reason is clear; you treat them as a second class citizens. The real problem is people like you who never admits the facts and continue seeing Kurds as enemies.

i can answer this instead of ece... you can have a pretty normal life as a kurd in turkey as long as you don't define yourself as a kurd. i am not of kurdish origin, i am also denying the need to define myself in terms of my race. but to claim that kurds are not discriminated in turkey, one has to be blind. 35 kurdish people died, 19 of them under the age of 18, and the whole western (or turkish) part of turkey celebrated the new year with fireworks and parties as if nothing has happened. when a border post was attacked by pkk, when israel attacked the blue marmara ship, when earthquakes hit remote countries we were all mourning, all the show was rightfully canceled. this time the (human made) tragedy hit again our own land, our own children... we weren't even properly informed of it in the first 12 hours, and then, it was just an operational mistake...
as in the case of van earthquake, when some tv-moderator questioned their right to proper help due to their origins and some idiots sent boxes full with stones to van, since the kurdish demostrators are famouos with throwing stones to robocops.
the discrimination starts when you stop feeling the suffering or pain of your neighbours. it is this unspoken approval of the bombing decision in the minds of turkish public based on the possibilitiy that these 35 people really could be members of pkk. if you have a look in the comments to related news in the main-stream media, you will understand what i mean by this. what i referred as unspoken approval reveals itself there in pure clarity.
discrimination doesn't have to be a written law like "you can not be pm if you are kurdish". it is however, hidden in erdogan's election tour talks highlighting the opposition leader's religion and race as an insult. this form of a "under-the-belt" discrimination is much more dangerous than an open one, since the thing you have to fight against is purely abstract. it is in people's brains. you cannot change it as easily as you can change the constitution...

Very simple: as long as you don't claim your Kurdishness as a separate identity in Turkey, you are fine. These people you list there don't, so they are fine. Kurdish identity problems are not "either or" as you so simplistically state, it is not either PKK or the government. Claiming one's identity does not necessarily mean one supports PKK. So Ece Temelkuran's statements are not wrong, but yours are a dirty identity politics argument. And needless to add, also very nationalistic. Sorry.

Throw the mud and it might stick.. You can not cover the Sun with mud Ece.. Just relax, it is all good!.. The only way to make thing look bad is to lie and lie and lie and that is exactly what you are doing.. let it go..

Ece Temelkuran' is brave and fearless.. Turkey needs journalists such alike.She may be targetted, even imprisoned for doing her job. But no authority could ever imprison her free-mind.. Free journalists, free yourself!!!

You have thousands up thousands of grateful people in Turkey (both local and foreign) following you...If the national papers will not give you a job, then something will come through for you. Your voice will be missed in the paper.

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