Turkish students respond to turmoil _ the johns hopkins news-letter

yildiz yazicioglu/CC-By-SA-3.0

Turks mourn the victims of the March 13 Ankara Kızılay bombing.

Multiple terrorist attacks have struck Turkey this month. The most recent bombing on March 19 was the fourth major terrorist attack of the year. At least 42 people have been killed and 163 injured throughout the month in the attacks on Ankara, Turkey’s capital, and Istanbul, its largest city.

At the same time, there has been conflict in Turkey’s Southeast, which is populated primarily by minority Kurds. The Turkish army is fighting against Kurdish independence movements like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the United States and Turkey deem a terrorist organization, but which many call freedom fighters. This situation along Turkey’s border with Syria has further destabilized a region already in turmoil.

Additionally, the Turkish government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s moderate Islamist AKP party, has instituted a crackdown on the country’s independent press. Earlier in March, the government seized a prominent media organization, Feza Gazetecilik, its two newspapers, Zaman and Today’s Zaman, and its news agency Cihan.

Zaman is the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the 500 supporters who gathered to protest Zaman’s takeover, according to the BBC.

In addition, two well-known Turkish journalists, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, are currently on trial for espionage charges after publishing an exposé in 2014 that revealed the Turkish government had shipped weapons to opposition forces in Syria. Several members of the international community including the organizations Human Rights Watch and The Committee to Protect Journalists have criticized the restriction on freedom of the press due to these two incidents.

Freshman Teo Icliyurek, who has family in Istanbul, noted the current political climate in Turkey has created an atmosphere in which terrorist attacks are not unexpected.

“Hearing of the attacks in Ankara, first of all, I wasn’t particularly surprised. Ever since this past summer, when the Turkish airforce began carrying out attacks against both ISIS and the PKK, there has been a sense that such threats are imminent,” Icliyurek wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Icliyurek’s first thoughts were of figuring out who orchestrated the attacks.

“There were three possible options before the government made any press releases about the culprits: Daesh, the PKK and the Turkish government. The third one is a conspiracy theory of sorts but not one that would surprise me if it were the case. With President Erdogan’s power-grabbing antics, it could, objectively speaking, (though, I repeat, it is far-fetched) be an efficient way for him to consolidate more power,” Icliyurek wrote.

Senior Cinar Ark described his feelings after hearing about the attacks throughout the past month.

“It’s always a numbing feeling, to be honest. Just up until last June, the trend of Turkey was actually going towards a very good place. I was happy with the [conditions] regarding my country — the political dynamics and so on — but there was a [terrorist] incident in July of 2015, and after that it’s just been downhill, and it’s been almost weekly nowadays I hear something either in my city, Istanbul, or the capital, Ankara,” he said.

He described a function on Facebook that allows people to check in as “safe” and alert friends of their current status following an attack, called “Safety Check.” Since most of his family and friends live in Istanbul, Ark utilizes this function frequently to make sure they are safe.

Ark also noted that Western media gives more attention to attacks in Paris and Brussels but he says he is not frustrated by it.

“We actually see the same response mechanism in Turkey. If a terror attack occurs in the western part of Turkey, it’s always very big news but whenever it occurs in the eastern part of Turkey, you don’t get the same attention,” he said. “Even though we complain about that disparity regarding location, we actually employ the same hypocrisy in our own country.”

Ark stated the international community can show support for the victims of terror attacks by demonstrating they stand with them in the fight against terror.

On the other hand, freshman Aksel Kohen believes Westerners must do more to show their support through actions rather than words.

“While I wholeheartedly believe that we should provide continued emotional support to the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and Turkey, I take issue with ‘praying,” an attitude that has trended in many social media outlets,” Kohen wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “It passivizes us, keeping us from reflecting upon the political forces that have led up to these attacks. The best way to support the families of victims is to be engaged actors and thinkers who seek concrete actions to end these attacks. Unfortunately, our statements of support [have] not always come near achieving this end; They only provide us with the emotional comfort of having said something about these tragedies.”

In regards to Turkey’s obstruction of journalistic expression, Icliyurek stated that freedom of the press does not truly exist in the country.

“Turkish freedom of press is a misnomer. There is no such thing at the moment. The taking-over of Zaman comes not at all as a surprise to anyone who has been following Turkish politics before the most recent attacks in Istanbul and Ankara,” Icliyurek wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “This is all an attempt by the current President [Erdogan], as he is referred to sometimes in Turkey, to stifle opposition as he has done since he came to power earlier in the previous decade.”

Ark similarly described the current state of freedom of press in Turkey as “despicable.” He explained the current government has limited the scope of the media because they fear political opposition. Ark said he was in disbelief after the arrest of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül. However, he is hopeful they will not be convicted.

“Even though the president of Turkey [is opposed] to Can Dündar’s release, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to be imprisoned, even in this status quo. [Dündar] is quite possibly the best journalist in Turkey right now, and all of us will oppose… even the possibility of him getting convicted,” he said.