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Freedom of the Press and Expression in Turkey

Freedom of the Press and Expression in Turkey

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Press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey have been threatened, but the United States has a vested interest in ensuring that Turkey protects its vibrant political discourse.
Press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey have been threatened, but the United States has a vested interest in ensuring that Turkey protects its vibrant political discourse.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on May 14, 2013
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1Center or American Progress | Freedom o the Press and Expression in Turkey
Freedom of the Press andExpression in Turkey
Max Hoffman and Michael Werz May 14, 2013
Te issues o press reedom and reedom o expression in urkey have or several yearsatraced a grea deal o atenion and provoked exensive debae boh in urkey andin oher Wesern counries. Dozens o journaliss criical o he governmen have been jailed, and hey nes have been levied agains media oules seen as opposing he ruling Jusice and Developmen Pary, or AKP.
Te perceived deerioraion o he siuaionhas raised concerns abou he course and characer o urkish democraic developmen.Tis brie provides poliical conex, hisorical background, and sraegic analysis o hisproblem, and oers seps ha he Unied Saes can ake o help address he siuaion.Te inenion is o broaden he discussion and improve undersanding o he issueamong a wider audience, paricularly in Washingon, D.C., in he hopes o encourag-ing greaer U.S. engagemen. Wha ollows is based on secondary research, exensiveinerviews wih urkish journaliss, ediors, and ouside expers, and working-groupmeeings in Isanbul and Washingon, bringing ogeher prominen urkish journalissand U.S. and European expers.Our goal is no o provide an exhausive exploraion o he curren sae o press or mediareedom in urkey, nor is i o provide new daa on he exac number o jailed journalissor he characer o heir alleged crimes. Tere are a number o inormaive repors haprovide hose deails and include insighs on he curren sae o press reedom in urkey.Marc Pierini, a ormer EU ambassador o urkey, has perhaps he mos up-o-dae and balanced sudy.
Te Commitee o Proec Journaliss plays an imporan role in rack-ing he exac number o jailed journaliss, monioring heir legal saus, and advocaing onheir behal; heir websie and recen repors have deailed breakdowns o hese issues.
 Te Organizaion or Securiy and Co-operaion in Europe and he U.S. Deparmen o Sae boh exhausively rack he rials o journaliss and evaluae he broader human-righsenvironmen in urkey, and heir periodic repors conain a wealh o inormaion.
By undersanding he hisorical sensiiviies eeding he curren poliical crisis in urkey,oulining he suppression o cerain orms o poliical discourse, and examining heissue in he conex o U.S. engagemen wih urkey and he wider region, a new picureemerges. Te Unied Saes wans urkey o be a capable and secure democraic parner wih whom i can engage he broader Middle Eas, and hereore i should more clearly 
 voice is concerns abou he deerioraion o press reedom and reedom o expressionin he domesic poliical conex. Given he wave o popular mobilizaion in he regionand he careul negoiaions beween he urkish governmen and Kurdish separaiss,i is more imporan han ever o preserve he democraic naure o he “urkish model,” which we discuss in more deail below.
Historical context
o undersand he curren poliical siuaion and he imporance o reinorcing demo-craic principles over he coming years, i is necessary o provide some hisorical conexo press reedom and reedom o expression in urkey.During he lae 1980s and early 1990s, journaliss were argeed and someimes killed by acors ranging rom ulranaionaliss o Islamiss, ar leiss o he Kurdish Workers’Pary, or PKK, who seek Kurdish auonomy and greaer legal and culural proecions.Curren Prime Miniser Recep ayyip Erdoğan’s AKP has successully deused much o he violence ha characerized he exreme polarizaion o urkish sociey in hose yearssince coming o power in 2003. Bu he 2007 murder o urkish-Armenian edior HranDink, sho ouside his newspaper’s oces in Isanbul or advocaing ocial recogniiono he Armenian genocide,
served as a reminder ha he violence underlying poliicalensions and reedom o expression in urkey has no disappeared.
The “Kurdish issue,” as it is delicately reerred to in Turkey, is one majorhistorical legacy shaping the current political environment and aectingpress reedom. Approximately 15 million Kurds—an ethnic and linguisticminority inhabiting parts o Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran—live in Turkeytoday,
with the vast majority being ully integrated into Turkish societyand many living in major urban centers, particularly Istanbul.Despite widespread acceptance o Kurds and their integration withbroader Turkish society, or decades the ultranationalist Turkish stateattempted to suppress Kurdish cultural and linguistic diversity, banning,or example, the use o the Kurdish language until 1991.
The remnantso this repression remain visible, as the politics surrounding the Kurdishlanguage and culture are still hotly debated, particularly in the heav-ily Kurdish southeast, and nationalists continue to use ears o Kurdishautonomy to appeal politically to older Turks raised on strict Kemalistdoctrine. The PKK, a ar-let guerilla group labeled a terrorist organiza-tion by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union, has alsoexploited these ears to continue their decades-long struggle or Kurdishindependence and autonomy. More than 40,000 people have died in thisght since the 1980s.
Several peace initiatives have been introducedand ailed over the past decade, and violence, while down rom its peak in the mid-1990s, has continued.The AKP has worked to address some o the cultural concerns o theKurdish minority, allowing the use o Kurdish language and permittingpeaceul Kurdish political mobilization. Nonetheless, most Turks have beeneducated in highly nationalist curriculums and remember the violence o the PKK movement, and are thus deeply wary o any hint o separatism.This has led to pressure on the AKP to continue security operations againstthe PKK and to avoid concessions to the Kurds. The extreme sensitivityo the Kurdish issue in Turkish politics means it bleeds into areas such asreedom o the press. Many reporters or editors reporting on PKK activitiesor discussing Kurdish cultural or political activities have aced censorship,arrest, threats, or outright violence.In this context, shaping a lasting and peaceul solution to the Kurdish issuehas proved dicult. The past six months have seen considerable progress,however: A ceasere negotiated between the government and Abdullah
calan, the PKK’s jailed leader,
has led to a wider peace initiative and thebest chance or a settlement since the confict began.
The Kurdish issue
3Center or American Progress | Freedom o the Press and Expression in Turkey
Since he AKP’s elecoral success in 2002, he counry has seen a remarkable period o economic growh, poliical reorm, and relaive sabiliy. Tis has given he pary hechance o insiuionalize he changes i has brough o he urkish sae such as greaerlegal and culural recogniion o Kurdish and Armenian minoriies. Te pary wasormed as a broad alliance o religious conservaive paries ha were previously bannedunder urkey’s secular consiuion, members o he newly emergen Anaolian middleclass, social conservaives, and liberal elemens ha were rusraed wih he incumbenRepublican People’s Pary, or CHP.Elecoral success and economic growh has also made Prime Miniser Erdoğan one o he mos inuenial leaders in he Middle Eas. Tis clou was visible during his our o he Arab world ollowing he upheavals o 2011—he was greeed by cheering hrongsa nearly every sep. His and urkey’s populariy increased alk o a “urkish model” o democraic developmen, secular governmen compaible wih Islamic conservaism,and economic growh. Te urkish model means many hings o many people hrough-ou he region bu is undoubedly one narraive open o moderaes seeking o shape new poliical culures in he wake o he Arab Spring.
Te AKP’s rise o power was a maniesaion o rends ha began in he 1980s, whencener-righ Prime Miniser urgu Özal—laer presiden rom 1989 o 1993—oversaw he opening o new economic markes and he modernizaion o he urkish economy.Tis process had uninended consequences or he counry’s esablished elies—he ar-righ Naionalis Acion Pary, civilian adminisraors, powerul Isanbul oligarchs, andinuenial miliary leadership—who had long beneed rom he srong sae and mili-ary apparaus buil by Musaa Kemal Aaürk.
Te macroeconomic condiions, lib-eralizaion o he urkish economy resuling rom Özal’s reorms, and deepening radeies o he Middle Eas all conribued o rapid urban growh in Anaolia and he rise o an Anaolian business class, which would become a crucial consiuency or he AKP. By 2011, when Erdoğans AKP secured 50 percen o he popular voe,
more han 20 ciiesin cenral and easern urkey were each generaing more han $1 billion o rade.
Te emergence o hese new ceners o economic power in Anaolia over he pas wodecades has had proound poliical repercussions. Many among he new Anaolian busi-ness classes resened he clienelis naure o he Kemalis elie, cenered on paronageand loyaly o sais docrine, and came o closely associae wih he poliical coaliion behind he AKP’s rise and elecoral success. Te more virulenly naionalis elemens o he Kemalis camp only conribued o hese suspicions and resenmens by atemping osie dissen and reedom o expression by oulawing Islamis poliical paries and banningsymbols o culural or religious diversiy such as he headscar or he Kurdish language.Te Kemalis old guard could claim he manle o consiuional legiimacy or much o his process, deending he consiuion ha is sill in place oday—writen under mili-ary rule in he early 1980s—which limis culural and poliical liberies, requires he

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