Does Turkey arrest “defenders of democracy”?

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Does Turkey arrest “defenders of democracy”?

2016-09-22 12:19 BST
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Letter signed by Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee and 52 others champions journalist Nazli Ilicak and writer Asli Erdogan as “defenders of democracy”

Journalist Nedim Sener being escorted by Turkish gendarmes

On 11 September 2016, an open letter signed by Nobel Prize-winning authors Orhan Pamuk and J.M. Coetzee along with 52 other writers, academics and publishers was published in The Guardian. The letter described Turkish journalist Nazli Ilicak and Turkish writer Asli Erdogan (no ties to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) as “outspoken defenders of democracy”.

“We as writers, academics and defenders of freedom of expression are particularly disturbed to see colleagues we know and respect being imprisoned under emergency regulations. Journalists such as Şahin Alpay and Nazlı Ilıcak and the novelist Aslı Erdoğan have been outspoken defenders of democracy and opponents of militarism and tyranny of any sort,” read the letter.

Who Is Nazli Ilicak?

Nazli Ilicak is a Turkish veteran journalist who wrote columns for various Turkish mainstream newspapers for decades, authored books and also hosted several TV shows in Turkey. The 72-year-old was detained after a coup attempt in July launched against the democratically elected government of Turkey due to allegations of being a member of a network dubbed by the Turkish government as the “Fetullahist Terror Organization” (FETO**), which is suspected of launching the failed coup.

Ilicak was known in the past decade for her specific relationship with a Gulenist*** police intelligence chief, Ali Fuat Yilmazer, who was suspected of ties to the murder of Turkish journalist of Armenian descent Hrant Dink in 2007. He was arrested several times as part of four investigations including the investigation into the murder of Hrant Dink and the two distinct investigations into the establishment of a parallel state in Turkey. The trials continue.

Nazli Ilicak’s controversial relationship with Ali Fuat Yilmazer was questioned in the Turkish media. Journalist Cem Kucuk claimed on a TV show that Ilicak was involved in some of the illegal actions attributed to Yilmazer by advertising the intelligence chief on her column and TV shows and defending those actions. When Kucuk asked Ilicak (40:51) whether she arranged a meeting between Ali Fuat Yilmazer and Turkish media mogul Aydin Dogan, Ilicak replied “Yes, I did but Aydin Dogan rejected to meet with Yilmazer later on and the meeting did not happen.”

Nazli Ilicak had strong belief in the Ergenekon trials which were conducted by Gulenist police and judiciary cadres to prove the existence of the so-called Ergenekon Terror Organization (ETO), which a top court in Turkey ruled in April 2016 never existed. She maintained her stance on “Ergenekon” even after the court ruling that it does not exist. Journalist Nedim Sener was imprisoned on grounds of “aiding ETO” and was released after a year in prison. He was accused by Ilicak of defaming Ali Fuat Yilmazer since Sener wrote in his book that Yilmazer and other officers did not take the necessary action to prevent Hrant Dink’s assassination.

Nazli Ilicak called upon Nedim Sener several times to meet in a TV show but Sener’s response has always been negative. When asked in an interview why he rejects Ilicak’s calls for confrontation on TV, he said “What disgusts me is that she wrote a book to whitewash the Gulenist policemen, acted like their lawyer.” The book Sener referred to, written by Nazli Ilicak, was named “Is There the Cemaat [Community] under Every Stone?” (Her Taşın Altında The Cemaat mi Var?).

Daily Turkiye columnist Yildiray Ogur drew attention in his article titled “If not every stone…” to the excessive work required to write such a book replete with minute details from official documents: “She [Nazli Ilicak] cared to find thousands of pages of summary proceedings, prosecution testimonies, tens of thousands of pages of criminal charges, court rulings, official reports, private correspondences; she read them one by one, accessed newspaper archives dating back to the ‘90s, sifted through thousands of pages and wrote the 336 page The Cemaat book.”

The rift between Nazli Ilicak and Nedim Sener continued on Twitter too. After Ilicak retweeted a columnist with the Turkish Left – a magazine notorious for its death threats to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and for its calls for coup, and whose editor-in-chief was also reported to have ties to FETO – in which Sener was accused of being a partisan of the Turkish government, Sener tweeted “The solidarity between Nazli Ilicak and the Turkish Left columnist which made a cover calling for a coup says everything”.

Ilicak’s tweets during the failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016 angered many protesters, including her son Mehmet Ali Ilicak. “If our nation was really loyal to democracy, it would not allow an ‘Islamism’-tinged fascist-wannabe regime to settle down on the country,” she tweeted. “What a rage! You are effacing all of the virtues you taught me since my childhood. A coup just happened in the country and Nazli Ilicak is hemming and hawing. You say such and such. Shame! If you are looking for a pretext, was not it found for all coups? You yourself had to oppose the coup gorgeously before anyone!” Mehmet Ali Ilicak replied to his mother.

Nazli Ilicak reportedly said in her prosecution testimony after she was detained on 26 July 2016 “I also understood that these people [Gulenists] are not innocent when I saw that a coup was launched, that the coup plotters offered the chief of staff to talk to Fetullah Gulen, that they were discovered to carry $1 banknotes, that they commanded to open fire on the police and the people, that the national assembly was bombed. I also think that I was wrong. I am sorry that I newly understood that this structure in fact is not religious, oppressed but is an organizational formation.”

Who Is Asli Erdogan?

Asli Erdogan was a columnist with the pro-PKK* Ozgur Gundem which was recently shut down temporarily over terrorism propaganda. The daily was infamous among the people of Turkey for its explicit support for PKK militants and their attacks. Ozgur Gundem not only spread PKK propaganda, it also gave columns to PKK commanders Bese Hozat, Duran Kalkan and Mustafa Karasu. Please click here for more detailed information.

*The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a Marxist-Leninist militant organization – listed as terrorist group by Turkey, the US, NATO and the EU – that seeks to impose its ideology on Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southeast.

**FETO, led by US-based cult leader Fetullah Gulen, is the suspected launcher of the 15 July coup attempt in Turkey, whose members are commonly reported to have infiltrated the Turkish state for decades.

***Gulenist is a term employed to address the loyalists of Fetullah Gulen who have long infiltrated the state institutions in Turkey.