A letter to Ahmet

What is happening to freedom of speech in Turkey today? This is a question that the writer Çiğdem Mater raises in this letter to her friend and colleague, Ahmet Sik, who was arrested on March 3. She writes about the difficulties encountered while freely discussing matters such as corruption and harassment.

July 7 2011 Çiğdem Mater

My Dear Ahmet,

As I write you this letter, your book, which has taken the country back to coup days, and the witch-hunt that was created around it, has resulted in Turkey’s biggest digital civil disobedience formed over the Internet. For the last couple of hours, Twitter and Facebook, the two great powers acknowledged as among the causes of the Arab Spring, is enabling us to share your book with all over the world. In other words, we have come to a point, which we could not even dream of a couple of years a go. We are now organizing over the Internet, expressing ourselves through the blogs, expanding and becoming more and more crowded with Facebook and Twitter. How nice!

Ahmet Sik

On March 3rd this year the Turkish police did several raids against six journalists, among them the author and journalist Ahmet Sik. During the raids they seized computers, notebooks, notes, documents and computer hard drives were copied, all in an apparent battle about the confidentiality of journalists' sources. The reason behind his arrest is that he has written an anti-regime book – a book that has not even been published yet. In the book he charts the links between the police and the Islamist-oriented “Gülen Movement” which supports the ruling AKP government – and which also has links to several high-ranking police chiefs. 

Of course, nice for us but not for you … You were dragged right into the middle of a case, which, for people like you and I, is one of the most important cases in Turkish history. That deep darkness, which slaughtered our friends, and took away our mates and brothers, is now trying to swallow you. We will not let this happen.

Let’s talk about the last four years of this beautiful country for those, who don’t know how we arrived here, to sharing your book over Twitter …

It was 19 January 2007. It was a Friday. A Friday on which we did not know that we would soon be turning into the characters of Marquez’s novel, Red Monday. I for example, was getting prepared to go to Kenya to follow the World Social Forum as a journalist. I had a flight at 7 p.m. I was very excited to be going to Africa for the first time. I kept talking nonstop. My telephone rang at 3.03 p.m. It was my lover. He told me to sit down somewhere. I did not understand, but I listened to him and perched on the edge of my office chair. He was speaking hesitantly. He said it at last: ‘They have shot Hrant.’ I was paralysed. I didn’t know what to say, I ran to my friends’ room. I uttered it … ‘They shot Hrant,’ I said. I believed it as the words came out of my mouth. I got dressed and ran with my friends to Agos Newspaper, which was not even a kilometer away from my office. Dear Hrant was lying in the middle of Istanbul, in a way we all knew, but could not put into words; lifeless … He was lying in front of the newspaper he had set up with his own endeavor …

Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink … Hrant Dink, the voice of the Turkish Armenians, who were almost exterminated in the incidents of 1915. Hrant Dink, the executive editor of the Agos Newspaper, the voice of the Armenian community … With his huge smile and embrace, Hrant Dink, the darling of his acquaintances.

Hrant Dink had opened a very important door for all of us. The Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, which was first published in 1996, and whose 15th anniversary we celebrated this month, offered both an opportunity to meet with the Turkish Armenian community, whom we have been ignoring for the last 90 years, and also served as a heavy slap on the face of that deep silence that followed the 1980 coup. The Armenians had begun to raise their voices and say ‘we are here.’ Moreover, they were not engaging in any identity politics, but were merely reminding Turks and Kurds, with whom they shared this land, their presence in all areas of life. Hrant Dink and Agos was not just the newspaper of Armenians. It became the newspaper of the oppressed peoples, religions and identities. After a while, that thin 16-page weekly newspaper published in a tiny office, and the big man sitting in the executive editor’s seat, started posing a danger for the dominant, for the deep state and militarism that the Republic of Turkey inherited from the Ottoman Empire era. Hrant Dink was talking about the Armenians, who were killed in 1915, about the genocide, about the fact that it was time to reconcile the two communities … He had found out that the adopted daughter of the founder of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal - war pilot Sabiha Gokcen - was an Armenian orphan and published this in his newspaper. This was very dangerous for the dominant ideology because it was realistic. He was taken to court, he was accused of insulting Turkishness, fascists staged demonstrations in front of his newspaper, organised attacks were directed at him at the courts he stood trial; but he did not become silent. The task to “silence” the danger was given to a 17 year-old child from a small town of the formerly Greek and currently nationalist city of Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. Ogün Samast came to Istanbul and killed Hrant Dink on one of the busiest avenues of Istanbul in the middle of the day. We stood aghast … We were lost for words …

Do you remember that day Ahmet? You were there, weren’t you? You were among the people, who ran through the streets of the city and arrived at that pavement in front of Agos Newspaper where we saw our brother Hrant for the last time lying on the ground, weren’t you? I seem to indistinctly remember biting our lips and looking at each other.

And then, five days later, we bid farewell to Hrant Dink in the biggest funeral service witnessed by this land. More than one hundred thousand people in Istanbul listened to the voice of their conscience and walked behind an Armenian in silence. The inexistent grievance for the Armenian people, who were exterminated and subjected to ethnic cleansing in 1915, surfaced with Hrant Dink. We could grieve over Hrant Dink. We walked the streets chanting, “we are all Hrant, we are all Armenian.” You and I both knew that it was not easy to voice such a thing on this land.

Hrant Dink’s image lying on the pavement set us on a path, which has no return. We held meetings that lasted for hours, days … I remember you standing in a corner at all of those meetings. I remember the moments when we could not hold our temper, when we looked at each other, I remember the tension and moments that we raised our voices.

A year has gone by … During this one year, we took the streets any time we could. On the 40th day, on the 100th day … And then we gathered in front of the courts, not knowing that this would later become a ritual. I remember you in front those courts, always with your camera. You had been fired from one of the most powerful mainstream newspapers - Radikal Newspaper – because, in an attempt we had never witnessed before, you had filed a lawsuit for your employee personal rights while you were still working. Your next stop was Nokta magazine. You were among the team that enlivened the legendary magazine of the 80s. You published the Coup Diaries[1] - whose extent we still don’t know – a couple of months after Hrant Dink was murdered. Your magazine was raided. This time, we rushed to support you. We still did not know that we would be spending the next couple of years in front of courts and newspapers, just to extend our support … Nokta Magazine was shut down, and in a short time, you, as a journalist who had sued Turkey’s largest media group, realized that the doors of other media were also being slummed in your face. You began to teach at one of Turkey’s first private universities, Bilgi University. At the same time, you set up an Internet news site with the students, and continued journalism outside the mainstream media.

As you were working with journalist candidates at the university, we arrived at the first anniversary of Hrant Dink’s death. On 19 January 2008, thousands of people gathered in front of Agos Newspaper to commemorate our brother, to whom we had bid farewell as a huge crowd a year ago. At the time, we were not aware of what would happen in the country in just a couple of days. Thousands of people, who felt the pain of the previous year’s murder deep in their hearts, came together on a cold winter day to commemorate Hrant Dink. We did not know that the same crowds would be gathering again in the following years. And we did not know the Turkey we would wake up to after a few days …

One morning, we found out that operations had been carried out in various cities of the country throughout the night. Tens of people, among whom were Kemal Kerinçsiz, Sevgi Erenerol, retired brigadier Veli Küçük, who were known as the provocators of the process which led up to the killing of Hrant Dink,[2] had first been detained within the framework of Ergenekon[3] investigation and had then been arrested. This investigation soon entered into our personal dictionary.

Since January 2008, hundreds of people have been detained in various Ergenekon waves. In related cases, individuals, who were said to be working in connection with Ergenekon in the public sector and universities, were sent to prison. The Ergenekon hearings are being held for months now at a court building built at a special prison established at the coastal town of Silivri near Istanbul. The Ergenekon chart, which has divided the country into two, is on the agenda of the media and the public each and every day. For many of us, the Ergenekon Case served as a method to break free of the darkness of the deep state in Turkey.

Although you were not actively practicing journalism, Ergenekon interested you as it interested anyone, who had an interest in this country’s democratisation process. Apparently your journalist instincts were also stimulated … Together with Ertugrul Mavioğlu, your friend from Radikal Newspaper, you wrote two huge books about Ergenekon: “Ergenekon’da kim kimdir” (Who is who in Ergenekon) and “Ergenekon’u anlama kılavuzu” (A guide to understand Ergenekon case). These books were actually the most serious evidence demonstrating where you stood regarding this case.

A short while after the publication of the books, in February 2011, in another Ergenekon Operation, which we could not calculate how manieth, the home of journalist Soner Yalçın and the nationalist/neo-nationalist web site Oda TV’s office were raided. Right after the raid, police leaked to the media that they had found information about you at the office. Your book, İmamın Ordusu (The Army of the Iman), which you were still writing and which was not really known to anyone, was found in Soner Yalçın’s computer. İmamın Ordusu was about Fethullah Gülen’s Congregation, the Fethullah Gülen Congregation’s organisation within the security forces and you had no idea how your draft had reached Soner Yalçın’s computer. You still don’t … Right after the operation, you wrote two articles about your opinions regarding the incident and talked about your book. But I guess, even you did not know that things would come to this.

On the morning of 3 March, at around 7 a.m. we jumped out of bed with the sound of the ringing telephone. A common friend was calling to inform us about the police search that was going on in his house for the last hour. We hurried to his place and waited outside until the search, which took hours, ended. We became more and more crowded and in the end, around noon, as you were being taken away in a police vehicle, we could only extend our support by applauding you. You were kept at the police station for two days and were then referred to the court. In the early hours of Sunday 6 March, standing in front of the court, we this time watched you being taken in a police wagon, to next to those you had been against all your life, next to the darkness of this country, to the prison …

After that, these eyes witnessed your unpublished book about the Gülen congregation being confiscated from house to house, from office to office. Something, which had not happened even in the coup days in this country was happening, an unpublished book was being confiscated. And thereby, we saw that the congregations, which from time to time pretend to be against the deep state, were in fact as powerful as the deep state.

Ahmet, we of course know that you have nothing to do with those, who took our brother Hrant from us, who were involved in the murders of the Kurdish provinces in the 90s, who slaughtered your friend journalist Metin Göktepe, who are responsible for thousands of people who went missing in Turkey since the 1970s, who represent a continuation of the Union and Progress mentality of 1915, those, who are personally responsible from these crimes or who are related with the perpetrators of these crimes. May I finish with Hrant Dink’s son Arat Dink’s response to the letter you wrote to him, the Ocak family and the Goktepes from the prison? Have we learned our enemy from the state, so as to ask it who our friends are?”

Exactly like Arat, I embrace you my brother.
Çiğdem Mater

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[1] The coup plans found in the diaries written by Retired Admiral and Former Navy Commander Özden Örnek have put a stamp in Turkey’s political history and proved once again, how Turkey, whose recent past is filled with coups, had a near escape from militarist coups.

[2] The mentioned persons had orally and pysically abused Hrant Dink both in front of his newspaper Agos and in front of courts, when he was standing trial for insulting Turkishness under article 301. The had organized various meetings and demonstrations. It was known that they were working together but the fact that they were part of such a wide network was only revealed through the Ergenekon operations.

[3] Ergenekon: The legendary motherland and the epic of creation of Turks