Interview with Ece Temelkuran

This article was first published under the headline, “Firing Turkey’s Ece Temelkuran: The Price of Speaking Out” on Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar English. Because a reader in Saudi Arabia informed me that Al-Akhbar’s website is blocked in that country I am reposting here in full:

Journalist Ece Temelkuran (image: Sedat Suna)

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.

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