Turkish court extends detention of Cumhuriyet journalists

Turkish soldiers stand guard outside the Silivri Prison and Courthouse complex during trial of 17 writers, executives and lawyers of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper in Silivri near Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 September 2017

Turkish court extends detention of Cumhuriyet journalists

ANKARA: A second hearing in Istanbul on Monday extended the detention of five journalists with Turkey’s leading opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet.
They are accused of helping the Gulen network — which is believed to have masterminded last year’s failed coup attempt — the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). All three are branded by Ankara as terrorist organizations.
After a 13-hour session, the court ruled to keep the journalists in prison until the next hearing on Sept. 25, when the court is expected to give its verdict on the basis of expert reports and eyewitness accounts.
The journalists have been in pre-trial detention for almost a year. The first hearing was held on July 28 in Istanbul, where seven of the newspaper’s staff were freed after 271 days in prison.
“The reason I’m here in front of you isn’t because I ‘helped a terror organization while not being a member.’ It’s because I was an independent, critical, questioning journalist, and because I’ve never compromised my work as a journalist and always insisted on doing my job correctly,” Kadri Gursel, editorial adviser at Cumhuriyet and board member at the International Press Institute, told the court.
“Whatever the verdict, my conscience is clean. And if there’s even a little bit of justice left, I know I’ll be freed.”
Some members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have begun moderating their stance on the case.
AKP deputy and former Education Minister Nabi Avci said on the day of the trial that it is not “a right thing” to take the Cumhuriyet case together with other coup cases.
Laura Batalla, secretary-general of the European Parliament Turkey Forum, told Arab News that extending the journalists’ detention is yet another attack on press freedom in the country.
“The European Parliament has repeatedly condemned the arrests of journalists, and has voiced its concern over the decline of media freedom in Turkey in several resolutions,” she said.
“Press freedom and respect for democratic values are at the core of the EU’s enlargement process. These values must be upheld in order for the accession process to proceed, which remains the EU’s most powerful instrument to bring Turkey and the EU closer together.”
Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament and part of a delegation of observers following up on the trial, said she is disappointed but not surprised by the extension of the journalists’ detention.
“The charges against them as purported supporters of terrorism, and their alleged affinity to the Gulen movement, were refuted again in court,” she told Arab News.
“Cumhuriyet belongs to the most ardent critics of the Gulen movement, and it represents secular and liberal values.”
Burak Cop, associate professor of politics at Istanbul Kultur University, told Arab News that the trial mainly focused on the newspaper’s editorial policies rather than allegations of supporting terrorism.
According to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), 171 journalists are behind bars in Turkey.

Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

Updated 1 min 26 sec ago

Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

  • Up to 1.5 million Armenians were wiped out by the Ottoman Empire beginning on April 24, 1915, a reality Turkey continues to deny
  • The day will be commemorated around the world today as a growing number of countries recognize the atrocity

DUBAI: More than 100 years on, Armenians and experts alike remember the brutal atrocities and forced exodus from what is now Turkey, which left up to 1.5 million Armenians dead.

April 24 marks the start, in 1915, of the Armenian Genocide. “Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” said Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once. She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Every Armenian family has similar stories, said Kechichian. “We pray for the souls of those lost, and we beseech the Almighty to grant them eternal rest,” he added.

“We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace,” he said. “Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, said: “The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world. On April 24, the genocide will be commemorated all over the world.”

On that day, the Ottoman government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.

Ordinary Armenians were then turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.

Ottoman killing squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1922 when the genocide ended, from 2 million in 1914.

Many were deported to Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Today they are scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the US, France, Argentina and Lebanon.

To date, only 28 countries have officially recognized the tragedy as a genocide. The only Arab country that has done so is Lebanon, although a bill is pending in Egypt’s Parliament to do so as well, while Muslim clerics in Iraq have called on Turkey to end the denial.

“The other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments have practiced, even though the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty,” Kechichian said.

“Denial translates into a second genocide, albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet.”

For some 3,000 years, Armenians had made their home in the Caucasus, with Christianity their official religion. During the 15th century it became a part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were Muslim.

Soon enough, Armenians were viewed as “infidels,” having to pay higher taxes than Muslims and with very few political and legal rights.

Despite this the Armenian population thrived, causing great resentment among their Turkish neighbors.

And shortly after World War I began, atrocities against Armenians started taking place, with crucifixions, drownings, live burnings and mass murders.

Some children were kidnapped, converted to Islam and given to Turkish families. Meanwhile, women were raped and forced to join Turkish “harems” or work as slaves, and Armenian properties were seized.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first major calamity that hit an entire nation in the 20th century,” Kechichian said.

“Although the term genocide wasn’t in use at the time — it was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ — the Polish attorney applied it to the Armenian case.”  

Turkey still denies the persecution of Armenians after World War I. But Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international scholar in Saudi Arabia, said: “We know that the genocide happened. The Ottoman Empire in that era conducted many massacres against many people, including Arabs and Armenians.”

He compared the situation to that of Turkey today, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We still see that he wants to have his empire again,” Al-Shehri said. “He thinks he’s the sultan of that empire.”

Al-Shehri also drew a parallel with Iran and the Persian Empire. “They (Iran) want to control the whole region, so they’re living with that era in their mind and (trying) to apply it on the ground,” he said.

“This is the difference between us and them — they don’t want to leave countries alone, and this is what we’re facing with Iran.”

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, said the Armenian Genocide remains a “contentious” issue because of “the acrimonious debate over how to define genocide, particularly from the Turkish point of view. Ankara doesn’t recognize genocide because of many reasons, all of them extremely poor.”