Needless to say, Ece Temelkuran is one of the most controversial names nowadays in Turkey. She has been writing since she was 19 years old. Ms. Temelkuran has published many books including, ‘Muz Sesleri’, (The Sounds of the Bananas), ‘Oğlum Kızım Devletim: Evlerden Sokaklara Tutuklu Anneleri’ (My Son, my Daughter, my State: The Mothers of Detainees from the Household to the Streets), ‘Biz Burada Devrim Yapıyoruz Sinyorita (We are having a Revolution here Senorita’). In her latest book, ‘Kayda Geçsin’ (On the Record’), she says: ‘I do not like the word, “hope”. I prefer the word “persistence” to “hope”. I still persist even if I do not hope anymore’. As Research Turkey, we talked about hope, persistence, the Arab Spring, authoritarianisation and being a dissident in Turkey with Ece Temelkuran.
“If you declare you have power in the Middle East, that power will be tested”
A Short Summary of the Interview:
“The Arab Spring is really a spring, but not in the sense it is covered by the international media. It is a revolution in the sense of human texture it has. For the first time, the Arabs’ started speaking up and the Arab streets became visible not only in the Arab politics but also in the world politics.”
“It is not the case that Turkey is getting more interventionist nowadays. The AKP was enthusiastic about interventionism from the start; they wanted to send the Turkish troops to the Iraq War. This was prevented thanks to the anti-war coalition plus one honourable deputy from the AKP.”
“Right now, a new model is imposed on Turkey. I am concerned that this model would create a country which is as authoritarian as Russia; whose economy looks like China; and whose mind-set is similar to the Dubaian people. With slogan of ‘one flag, one nation and one state’- the slogan used in the 2007 elections-, the process of authoritarianization is clearly finalized in Turkey.”
“The project imposed on Turkey is not ‘Islamization’, but ‘creating an obedient and conservative nation’.”
“The AKP is engaged in a top-down “social engineering”. In the past, the Kemalist parties have adopted authoritarian principles as well. However, what’s ironic about the AKP is that while they declare a war against the Kemalist state -as in the case of Ergenekon trials- they adopt an almost Kemalist like jargon and they do not hesitate to intervene even more intensively.”
“It is not me, but the prosecutors and counsels of the Ergenekon and KCK trials who do not take those cases seriously. The indictments are pretty weak in terms of language, and there is a serious problem of injustice with the case. A completely new notion of law enforcement has been constructed in Turkey. A crime is “created” and arranged within the indictment. That is the core problem.”
“The AKP could not manage the Kurdish opening. What we need is a Turkish opening, not a Kurdish one simply, because we need to convince the Turks. They should have warmed up the Turks for this, however they did not. First they irritated the Turks, and then they outraged the Kurds with the KCK trials etc.; so they ended up creating an environment in which people strangle each other.”
“Actually I do not criticize the AKP that harshly. I am just against one simple thing: there cannot be an authority that cannot be criticized whatsoever. However, now, this is the case. In the past, it was the military; now, it is the AKP.”
“I have a high opinion about the AKP’s opening up to Middle East. They have healed the mental health of the Turkish people regarding this issue. The self-esteem, which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has provided to the average person in Turkey, is priceless.”
“The AKP’s economic success is amazing. I have never seen a party that knows politics as good as the AKP, they know mass politics splendidly. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan organized the rage arisen due to economic crises and interventions very well.”
“If you declare that you are powerful in the Middle East, your power will be tested. Now my concern is that Iran will be testing our strength.”
“The AKP has a plan, but the opposition does not. AKP sets the game so-called politics in Turkey. The opposition parties just watch or wait for AKP’s words. Against this background, talking about opposition does not make much sense.”
“In Turkey, no one from a particular camp would be willing to destroy someone from the other camp. The reason is that, existence of a camp is the raison d’être of the other. They just attack what’s in the middle – non-marginal is not desirable. Hrant Dink is the most significant example. They cross-fire at those who are moderate.”
“I just want to be into literature, since all these events and the whole process made me upset and tired.”
The Full Text of the Interview:
‘Political and Human Scenes from Britain’
Ms. Temelkuran, thank you very much for accepting to give an interview for the Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey). You have been in Britain for a while. You made certain speeches. You attended Hay Fest as a litterateur. You also witnessed 60th Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign (Diamond Jubilee). What are your impressions?
The Diamond Jubilee ceremonies illustrated once again the persistence of British people against adverse weather conditions. Besides this, the most entertaining note for me was the BBC announcement regarding the concert given in front of the Buckingham Palace. During the performances in the day, the children from Africa, that was a part of the Commonwealth, sang. BBC announced them as ‘the children from the sister lands’. And I asked to myself: “What kind of a fraternity is this? Once upon a time, you had exploited these people and now you make these children to sing and celebrate the jubilee.” In Britain, their aristocracy seems so naïve and humble from the outset, but this ‘fraternity’ issue was quite interesting.
What are your impressions based on your speeches where the audience was generally populated by the Turkish and Cypriot immigrants who identify themselves as British right now? Do you think that the political atmosphere in Turkey is replicated in Britain amongst these people? Or do you gather that you are in a different political culture?
Yes, I noticed the polarization in Turkey here as well. During the speeches at University of Oxford and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), I was insistently told to bear in mind the sensitivities of the Turkish majority. There was a strange perspective suggesting that I should arrange my speeches regarding this point. It was really worrisome to experience this.
‘The Arab Spring is a revolution in the sense of human texture it has’
You, at the same time, follow the Arab world closely. How do you analyse the “Arab Spring”? How do you evaluate Turkey’s position during the process? Within the context of your novel, ‘the Sounds of Bananas’, could you please comment on the “Arab Spring”? Is it really a spring?
It is a real spring. But, as you know, we can live through the winter without seeing the summer. It is a spring but not in the sense it is covered by the international media. It is not a revolution in this sense. It is a revolution in the sense of human texture it has. The Arabs started speaking up and for the first time Arab streets began to be visible not only in the Arab politics but also in the world politics. For the first time, the Arab people speak for themselves to the Western world. In another sense, there occurred a different revolution in which the image of “Arab” has begun to change in the West. While the Westerners previously perceived the Arabs as potential terrorists, now they consider them as potential revolutionists. That’s the gist of the revolution. When I was writing “The Sounds of the Bananas”, I was in Beirut. I always argue that Beirut represents the sub-conscious of the Arab world. Not only because of the fact that people used to go to Beirut to drink and relax, but also because of the fact that the city is a place where the political activity is future-oriented. In ‘the Sounds of the Bananas’, I argue: ‘the wound is the liveliest part of the body, thus we should move into the wound”. Everyone living in the Arab world estimated such an event, but they were not clear about timing. It happened this year and the last year. Therefore I feel that I am foresighted.
So, you do not take the whole process as initiated and promoted by the foreign influence. You do not agree with the idea that it was planned, supported, and promoted by the foreign forces?
No, never. I mean, the events may overlap with the interests of the Western powers. Honestly speaking, the Western powers attempted (and still attempt) to manipulate these uprisings. For example, Hillary Clinton’s frequent visits to Tunisia (the country where there is no petroleum) although there is no reason to do so, this makes me worry. But no, those protesters did not go out due to a phone call from Washington. On the other hand, the question of to what extent this revolution belongs to them. Yes, I am also worried on this. In both Egypt and Tunisia. I do not even talk about Libya; I do not consider it as a revolution.
Why do not you consider Libya a revolution?
Since the Libyan case is quite complicated. I mean, I had conversations with the people who had first-hand experience in Libya. When I was in Tunisia, I also passed through the Libyan borders, and this led me to conclude that the Libyan case is quite complicated. It is crystal clear that the foreign intervention was quite high in Libya. We do not know exactly what happened there. Of course, we cannot argue that the foreigners came and organized everything but it is quite complicated to talk about. I cannot compare it with the cases of Egypt and Tunisia.
How do you consider the Gaddafi murder? Do you think that it was an atrocity or do you think that it was the karma? Or is that a matter of geography?
No, it is not because of the geography but there is a certain standard of violence that people are accustomed to. People react in accordance with this standard. I guess this was valid in this case. Whoever thinks that the violence in Turkey or Britain is less severe is so mistaken.
‘The Arab World and Turkey’
How do you evaluate Turkey’s attitude during the Arab Spring? At the beginning Turkey was a bit reluctant, I guess?
Yes, but who was not? Hillary Clinton said, ‘we are in uncharted waters’. Truly, it was such a position that we were in ‘uncharted waters’. In the past, world leaders were used to addressing the leaders in the Arab world. The Arab streets were not taken into account. I wrote an article when Prime Minister made his Davos speech in 2009. I said that the Arab world and the Arab streets love Erdoğan. I also added that those Arab streets, however, are not of significance. It was really the case two years ago. But after two years those streets promoted an uprising and a resistance.
How do you evaluate Turkey’s foreign policy on Syria? Turkey seems to be adopting an interventionist attitude recently.
No, actually the AKP was enthusiastic about interventionism from their start. For instance, the party wanted to send Turkish troops to the Iraq War. They were supportive about the invasion of Iraq and the approval of memorandum allowing American troops to pass through Turkey, just like they are now. This was prevented thanks to the anti-war coalition plus one honourable deputy from the AKP. However, no one says “no” to the war now-at least the media is not conducive to this. Moreover, there is no anti-war political opposition. There is no other political option – as strong as the AKP- that would stand against the war. Now, history repeats itself. I think they strive to become a regional power. On the other hand, I am not quite sure whether Turkey has a fully-fledged policy on Syria. I think, everyone, including the government, is confused and they do not know that on what basis they should act. They change their position in line with the conjuncture. I hope there would not be any problems in the future because the Syrian case is quite different than the Iraqi Case.
You attended in Turkey the “Doha Debates” which were also broadcast by the BBC. In those meetings, you argued that Turkey could not be a model for the Arab world. Regarding this point, what kind of reactions did you receive from your Arab or Western colleagues?
Honestly speaking, it was well-received. The average Arab man might have been influenced by the Turkish soap operas and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s “one minute” egress at Davos in 2009; however, the intelligentsia are aware of the fact that Turkey is not how it has been presented from the outset. Therefore, I claim that ‘especially the Arabs should take into account the suggestions coming from their own streets, but not from the Turkish ones’. Arabs should listen to themselves not to Turkey. Normally, the Arab intellectuals around me welcomed this view, because this is the reality. I think that a country with some 100 journalists imprisoned right now should not be a model for the Arab countries struggling for freedom.
Were you surprised when Prime Minister Erdoğan made a speech on “laicism” in Egypt? Do not you think that this was the manifestation of “the Turkish model”?
No, but immediately after this speech, the reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood –almost implying “this is none of your business” was surprising. It is annoying for the Egyptians that Turkey emerges as a model. It is because of the fact that the Egyptians perceive themselves as the mother of world civilizations. If there would be a model for the Arab world, this should be the Egypt. Therefore, this debate should have strained them.
How is Turkey seen in the eyes of the Arab world? When we look at the coverage of the issue in the Turkish media, it seems that Erdoğan is very popular in the Arab world and Turkey is regarded as a hero.
Honestly speaking, this is a bit exaggerated. I was the first journalist who pointed out to the popularity of Prime Minister Erdoğan in the Arab world. I took the photos of billboards in Beirut and in Tahrir, in the region that is controlled by Hezbollah in particular. But first of all, it is not the way it is told. Secondly, Turkey seems to be a heaven looking from that perspective. For the first time, I really miss Turkey. It is not easy to survive in the Arab world. Moreover, despite the fact that the authors critical of the system have troubles in Turkey, relatively speaking, there exists a degree of freedom. The Arab world entered into a new and great path. If they proceeded in a short time, there would be better conditions in the future.
‘I am concerned that Turkey will be a country as authoritarian as Russia; whose economy looks like China; and whose mind-set is similar to the Dubaian’
You also made research on the Latin American countries. In your book named “We are having a Revolution here, Senorita!” you reported your observations from the revolutionists’ point of view. Those revolutionists were talking about how they resisted against the interventions of CIA, IMF and counter-guerrilla. You had documented all these comments. When we analyse the last debates regarding the authoritarianism and the systemic change towards—mainly Presidential systems—do you observe any differences or similarities between Latin American countries and Turkey?
There is a saying on Latin America: “It is too close to America, too far from the God”. I hope Turkey will not experience the same conundrum; the condition that is too close to America and far from Allah. The culture of resistance in Latin America has its deep cultural and religious roots. Latin American people are quite different. They have a contentious and rebellious spirit especially regarding their rights.
Since you have pointed out to the characteristics of Latin American people, I would like to ask a question about the Turkish people, which you frequently make this point nowadays. You claim that at the very moment, there is this project of: “regenerating and re-defining the nation” in Turkey. You argue that we now have a more conservative and submissive society which can easily be manipulated. What exactly do you mean by this?
Yes, you are right, this is my argument. Right now, a new model is imposed on Turkey. I am concerned that this model would create a country which is as authoritarian as Russia; whose economy looks like China; and whose mind-set is similar to the Dubaian people. Everyone labels this model as “Islamization,” but I perceive it as a project of ‘imposed obedience’. I think this is much more dangerous for Turkey. Now, people, who used to express their ideas, are hesitant to talk. This silence is only reminiscent of the word “obedience” not “consensus” for me. Therefore, there is a discrepancy between Turkey and Latin America in this sense. On the other hand, people still try to express themselves and resist but in each and every time they are oppressed by the un-proportional use of force.
It is frequently underlined that in the Latin American countries, with a Presidential System, does not work properly and it allows the emergence of dictatorial regimes. It is also emphasized that the operation of this system in the countries seems quite difficult. Have you ever thought about such kind of a comparison, while we are debating the issue of presidential system?
It is almost consensual amongst the experts that the presidential system is not favourable in any country except for the US since there is always the danger that system can turn into a dictatorship. It is not clear what we will experience in a presidential system where the rule of law and democratic norms are not institutionalized. The Prime Minister is a charismatic and strong leader. Maybe, he is the most powerful politician after Atatürk. Therefore under his presidency the presidential system might well turn into a system that guided by the principle of “one flag, one nation and one leader”, which is reminiscent of the AKP’s motto during the election campaigns.
You strongly criticized Prime Minister’s balcony speech after the elections. You claimed that the media could not analyse this clearly; there was a quite different meaning into those speeches. Furthermore, you pointed out that the new regime in Turkey was completed with this slogan:“one flag, one nation and one state” used in the 2007 elections. Could you please elaborate on this claim?
I think, with this slogan, the process of authoritarianization is clearly finalized in Turkey. Furthermore, the Prime Minister newly added the discourse of “one religion” to this rhetoric. However, he stepped back and he said that it was a slip of the tongue. Although he used this phrase two or three time previously. I suppose the whole thing is quite clear.
‘The AKP is attempting to engage in a top-down “social engineering”’
How do you evaluate Turkish-EU relations?
Most probably, the EU perceives Turkish-EU relations quite differently. What we see from Turkey is different since Minister Egemen Bağış makes his points more often than not in Turkish. He sometimes talks behind the EU’s back. As a result of the last financial crises, there emerges a discourse among the ruling elites in Turkey suggesting that “the Europeans should come and learn how to run economy from Turkey”. I think whatever we are spending now is nominal. I hope whoever argues this would not come to terms with that. I think the EU prospect is abandoned.
When France proposed and passed the so-called ‘Armenian Genocide Bill’, it was also claimed that this bill was ratified due to the ‘jealousy’ felt towards Turkey.
The AKP is attempting to engage in a top-down “social engineering”. Just like each and every engineer, it should be admiring the artefact it had created. They think that it is quite legitimate to distract the Turkish society by this way. The AKP government is really lucky in terms of the international conjuncture that serves its best interests. Being devastated by the Iraqi case, the US was in search of a project. America was questioning how they could have a more liberal yet more obedient Middle East. And AKP came to the rescue at the right moment. I frequently raise those criticisms yet what I mean is not that certain Western powers try to make those Middle Eastern people obedient through antagonisation. Everyone might have his or her way to an ideal world and might try hard to get to this world. Yet the crucial question is whom you make pay for this… I mean… If this is the case, that is, the fact that such a huge number of people are imprisoned in Turkey is the way to their peaceful world. This is a huge and bloody bill to pay. The AKP’s vision is authoritarian and what it does is the social engineering.
This authoritarian approach to governance is widely criticized in Turkey. What about the other political parties besides the AKP? Have not they introduced similar policies in the past? Is not it true that every party aims to impose their own perspective onto the public?
No doubt about that. The AKP’s deadliest sin is to construct a society that cherishes such an authoritarian approach. Every single action taken by the AKP reinforces this. At the end of the day, the AKP does have a grassroots movement. It has local organizations and community homes. They actually take into account the demands of the people, and they act accordingly. However, now they are manipulating the demands of the people in an ever-increasing manner. After the release of Sırrı Süreyya Önder’s movie “Beynelmilel”, I visited Oxford for a speech. It was argued that the British thought that what the movie was critical was the military coup. That is not correct; the movie does not actually criticize the military coup. The movie actually criticized the public, who legitimizes and normalises the military coup. That is being more royalist than the king himself. The actions taken are not simply against the public will. At certain periods in the past, a part of the society has been aimed to be restructured. The Kemalist parties have adopted authoritarian principles as well. However, what’s ironic about the AKP is that while they declare a war against the Kemalist state, as in the case of Ergenekon case, they adopt an almost like Kemalist jargon and they do not hesitate to intervene much more intensively.
‘I am not the one, who is not taking the Ergenekon and the KCK trials seriously, but the prosecutors and counsels of these cases are’
What is your position about the arguments on latest Ergenekon operations and KCK arrest? In the past, you frequently criticized the Kemalist mind-set in Turkey. Who is being arrested now, is it the Kemalists or is it the supporters of the military? Are they terrorists, gangs, or a group of people attempting to overthrow the government through illegal means? If so, who are they? Why are the legal proceedings taking so long?
I once wrote an article titled, ‘How happy is the one who says “I am Anatolian”’. Back then I was heavily attacked upon, yet no one defended me. Yes, I have heavily criticized the Kemalist mind-set not just back then, but also when I was sued by the Chief of Staff. Somehow these are all forgotten. Despite the fact that I had already criticized those issues back then, I am accused of not taking the Ergenekon case seriously, trying to blur the case, and disregarding the existence of the ‘deep state’ as I point out to the inconsistencies and injustice attached to the Ergenekon case now. During one of my speeches, someone from the audience came up and said something like that. I replied that ‘it is not me blurring the case – it is already blurred’. To begin with, the indictment is pretty weak in terms of language. Second, there is a serious problem of injustice with the case. Therefore, my opinion is that, the prosecutors and counsels do not take this trial as seriously as they should. I feel that they underestimate the notion of ‘deep state’. I think that the ‘deep state’ is a crucial issue which is very powerful at different capacities. If this jurisdiction does not have the guts, the capacity, and legal proficiency to expose these different capacities, they should not have initiated this trial in the first place. A completely new notion of law enforcement has been constructed in Turkey. A crime is “created” and arranged within the indictment. That is the core problem. This approach will not only damage the ‘deep state’ but everyone.
How did the society end up this way? As you criticize the AKP, a part of the society supports your position critical of the AKP. Then you start criticizing Kemalism as well, so they abandon you. Then you start criticizing some notions that another group within the society thinks highly of; so they become your enemy. Have our grey areas faded away?
You tell me. I’m in so much trouble. Write it down exactly that way, because that’s exactly what I’m going through. There is a schizophrenic language and it terrifies me. There are five sets of sentences that they have memorized, and they won’t keep you alive unless you voice those same sentences; even if you’re actually airing the very same ideas underneath. People have really gone insane, and I’m very serious about that and also very scared. This state of insanity can end up in anything; it has no boundaries it is all about hostility, hatred, and fury. I leave Istanbul for three months and I feel terrified when I return, because the people have become bizarre. Not just politically, but they have become strange also in the daily instances of life. There is a solid state of fury. What is that fury for? I think this is a reaction. Since everything is changing too fast; people are dazed and confused. The education system suddenly changes, health system suddenly changes, and the political system suddenly changes into a presidential one. Now a completely new understanding is on where everyone is taking sides. For example, when I wrote an article criticizing the attempt to intervene in Iran; someone from the “Taraf” newspaper allegedly criticized me by an article that implied I am working for Iran. This is unbelievable.
You have lots of articles on Kurdish rights and human rights in Turkey. You have been granted the “Ayşe Nur Zarakolu Freedom of Thought Award.” What is your opinion on the latest KCK operations?
It is definitely ironic that Ragıp Zarakolu is among them. I cannot wait to see what the outcomes of this intimidation will be. In the KCK trial, there are even people arrested because of name similarities. Instead, of handling these trials one by one, let me say just one thing: Turkey is being restructured through these trials. I feel urged to say that, these attempts will not prevail. Simply because they aim to bring everyone on their knees. They do not even have a concrete project; they simply aim to conquer and rule. This will not work. Such an attitude will always have drastic consequences. A reaction will arise and its generally a reaction full of hatred. This will not work by any means. I feel miserable because they inspired a lot of false hope by introducing the “Kurdish Opening”. Even I have partially supported this initiative and I said that we do not need a Kurdish opening but a Turkish one; because we need to convince the Turks to also engage. The Kurds do not have much to listen. They should have warmed up the Turks for this, however they did not. First, they irritated the Turks and then they outraged the Kurds with the KCK trials; so they ended up creating an environment in which people strangle each other.
‘The AKP acted impatiently and they wanted everything to happen immediately in cases of the Kurdish and the Middle East openings’
Do not good things happen in Turkey as well? For instance, as you point out in your book ‘Deep Mountain’ regarding the Armenian issue, it was not even possible to talk about the Armenian issue in this country. Throughout the AKP era, a considerable number of initiatives have been taken on the Armenian and Kurdish questions. Although there are many criticisms as well, many economists speak of financial accomplishments. End of military patronage, steps taken in terms of the EU accession and so on, aren’t these all positive improvements? Why do you criticize the AKP so harshly?
Actually, I do not criticize them that harshly. I am totally against one simple thing: there cannot be an authority that cannot be criticized whatsoever. However, now, there is an authority which cannot be criticized at all. In the past, it was the military, and now it is the AKP. Life was risky for me in the past, because I have been writing on the Kurdish and Armenian questions. Life is risky for me now, too; because I continue criticizing, and my life is still difficult. If I still feel nervous; it means that not much has changed for me. On the other hand, I have a high opinion about some actions the AKP has taken; and I have always stressed it out that way. Like the Middle East issue; i.e. opening up to Middle East. They have healed the mental health of the Turkish people regarding this issue. The self-esteem, which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has provided to the average person in Turkey, is vastly important. However, their actions have been indecisive. Now, there is this policy of “zero problem with neighbours”. But, what happened? Currently, we do not have a single neighbour with whom we are not troubled. The situation is clear. They have not acted decisively in that context.
What was the AKP’s mistake within those initiatives? Were they not well-applied, or was there a mistake with the methods chosen?
They acted impatiently and they wanted everything to happen immediately. However, not everything can happen right away. These are very serious issues but they acted indecisively. The issue of the PKK members coming in from the Habur Gate, for instance. We all knew that it would end up in such a rage. However, they did it, and they did not back it up. This approach simply does not work.
‘AKP knows mass politics splendidly. Tayyip Erdoğan organized the rage arisen due to economic crises and interventions very well’
You are originally from Izmir which is related to my next question. In the year 1930, the people of Izmir supported Fethi Okyar, leader of Free Republican Party, even against Mustafa Kemal. Then they supported the Democratic Party and the Justice Party. After September 12th, they supported Turgut Özal. Why cannot the AKP succeed in Izmir – although it voices a liberal and rightist discourse just like those parties? Is it just because it emerged from the tradition of ‘National Outlook’?
That is partly the reason, for sure. In addition, the lifestyle the AKP proposes does not concur with those in Izmir. This intimidates the people there; I think this is the foremost reason.
Do they fear that their lives will be subject to intervention?
Yes. They feared something like that will happen, and this concern is seriously growing.
How do you evaluate the fact that the AKP triumphs in one election after another? I think the people who are occasionally critical of the AKP neglect this question and its analysis. I realized in the meetings that your anti-AKP audience repeatedly asked pretty critical questions, however, they have not asked you the above question; they have not discussed the AKP’s electoral victories.
You are right, their economic success is amazing. I have never seen a party that knows politics as good as the AKP. They really know how to do politics; I’m not putting it in a pejorative way. They know mass politics very well. Tayyip Erdoğan organized well the grassroots rage – rage of the lower classes, rage of the religious people, and rage of the average man and so on. We would normally expect a left-wing party to do that; however, it was not the case in Turkey due to historical reasons. The AKP gave people hope; while the leftists were trying to figure out what to do. Inspiring hope and designing solid projects tremendously important. It does not matter whether it is right or wrong. Back in 1977, Ecevit got all those votes just by saying: ‘land belongs to who tills it; water belongs to who uses it’. What did Tayyip Erdoğan say? He said: “We will exercise political power in Turkey in such a way that will live the way you like’. He inspired hope to a significant portion of society; he organized the rage arisen due to economic crises and interventions very well. He still continues to inspire hope through new slogans. In the year 1998, I travelled to Anatolia for a journal article and I interviewed SME owners throughout Anatolia. Back then, it was evident that the AKP would come to power. Entrepreneurs in Anatolia desired to live in a different way; similar to the bourgeoisie in Istanbul with a European lifestyle. The AKP organized this part of the society as well. They identified the emerging social structures very well. In addition, they enjoyed a considerable amount of international support and well-managed it. They acted very patiently and now they aim to set their own play; especially, in the Middle East. If you declare that you are powerful; your power will be tested. Now, I fear that Iran will be testing our strength.
‘AKP sets the game so-called politics. Opposition parties just watch’
How do you evaluate the performance of opposition parties in Turkey? It is the AKP’s success that they won definite political power as the single-ruling party three times in a row. Is it also the failure of opposing parties?
In Turkey, the AKP sets up the games so-called politics. Opposition parties just watch. Against this background, talking about opposition does not make much sense.
At this point, I’d like to remind you that prior to the elections you were quite optimistic about Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Yes, but rather than being optimistic, I was trying to imply that Turkey needs a social democratic party. Politics will not work through such an imbalanced power structure. That’s why I think it is important to support a social democratic party within a multi-party system. However, it is very difficult for any other party to function effectively as long as the AKP sets the political agenda. The AKP has a plan; whether you like it or not. If you antagonize with them without having your own plan and if what you are doing is only criticising whatever they do, then you will look tremendously unattractive. I think that’s what the CHP is suffering from right now.
Do you think it is possible for the other opposition parties to leap forward?
I don’t think so. The political environment is so heavily dominated by the AKP that I do not see such a possibility.
In Turkey, there have been several huge protests and marches, just like in Tahrir, which shows that there is a sign of grievance among the society. Why can’t the political parties transform those movements into a political struggle?
The pure reason is that everyone in this country has their share of sins. For instance, the CHP has a past full of sins, and they do not clearly declare that they have turned away from their sins. For instance, regarding the Kurdish problem, they have made a lot of mistakes as well as they have done some good. I guess people do not have any faith left in them anymore. I feel that the faith of many has diminished, if not lost altogether.
Do you think the Republican Rallies were societal opposition movements as well? Or, were they different?
I partially see them that way. People got panicked. They really thought that the AKP would transform Turkey into a different country. That movement had a militarist aspect. However, I feel upset because everything I have written about the whole thing was somewhat misunderstood. The majority of the people over there were the ones supporting Türkan Saylan. They shouted ‘neither sharia nor a military coup’. However, that platform has started to be represented not by those people, but by a different group, let’s say, by the supporters of Kemal Kerinçsiz. That’s how everything became worse.
‘Being a dissident in Turkey…’
You argue that in Turkey, there’s an on-going black propaganda against critical journalists. You are suggesting that they are deemed as marginal and passive; they are systematically attacked. Who runs that propaganda? What do they aim for?
Yes, let’s call them “the surrounding powers”. They are deliberately located into newspapers and the visual media. In addition, I believe that there is a ‘digital army’ among the social media workers. A huge lynching is going on. A war is declared against any opposition. There is an environment of struggle, in which every possible tool is utilized to marginalize the opposition. It’s really difficult to fight against that. The conscience of the people has blackened. I write one particular article, and things quickly went out of control just because of an editorial mistake; then people start talking in the worst possible way. That wears one out, and I know it because I am worn out, and this is a deliberate operation to wear people out. It has been such an intense attack for the past year that one’s mental health is affected. Actually the harassment began before I got fired. Some journalists started a self-assigned mission to attack me, and some others supported them – just to gain popularity. The harassment continued after my dismissal. Just like Nuray Mert wrote, “We figured out that Ece was the mother of all evil”. It really felt that way. I was one of the most widely-read female authors in Turkey, and I was very powerful. They would not put up with someone so popular to be so powerful. I have been a journalist since I was 19 years old; I’ve seen a lot of things, a lot of social conflicts. Yet what I’ve seen the most –and what has hurt me the most- is that no one from a particular camp would be willing to destroy someone from the other camp. The reason is that existence of a camp is the raison d’être of the other. They just attack what’s in the middle and being non-marginal is not desirable. Hrant Dink is the most significant example. They cross-fire at those who are moderate.
Your position in Habertürk newspaper has terminated. Nowadays, there is an on-going debate on journalism. How do you perceive the status of journalism?
We need something new, I mean, a new tool to communicate. We shall see, as that seems to be our only shot for now.
So, you mean there is an attempt to publish a new journal or newspaper?
Yes, we will see. I hope that everything goes okay. But I guess this will not be a newspaper as such. It will be an online platform. I cannot comment more on this. It is under construction.
Now, time to talk some literature, especially regarding your book “the Sounds of Bananas.” How do you feel about the book within this conjuncture? What kind of reaction do you receive? Now, it is translated into Arabic. What kind of reactions do you receive from the Arab world?
Two great reviews in Arabic have been out. The readers like the book. The publication also overlapped with the lift of the visa requirement between Turkey and the Arab countries. Beirut turned into a place increasingly visited by ‘the white Turks’. So, I do not visit Beirut anymore. There are too Turks around. It looks like Istanbul.
We found out that you are working on a new book. What is it about?
The story again takes place in the Arab world.
My final question relates to your identity both as a litterateur and a journalist. You generally write out socially sensitive pieces. If you were living in your imaginary ideal society, what kind of pieces would you like to come up with? Would you still be writing critical papers?
That’s a question which genuinely hits me at the heart. At this moment, I do not want to write anymore. You are the first one I am telling this. This is my first public declaration. I was planning to declare it through Twitter, but I just want to be into literature, since all these events and the whole process made me upset and tired.
Thank you very much for this interview.
I thank you.
© 2012 ResearchTurkey. All rights reserved. This publication cannot be printed, reproduced, or copied without referencing the original source.
Please cite this publication as follows:
ResearchTurkey (September, 2012), “Interview with Journalist and Author, Ms. Ece Temelkuran: “Talking about Turkey: Hope, Persistence and Future”, Vol. I, Issue 7, pp.6-19, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (http://researchturkey.org/dev/?p=1840)