Ahmet Altan, a critical journalist and a prominent novelist with millions of copies sold, is one of the most influential authors in Turkey. He is also renowned for his political stance against the military establishment in Turkey, which held sway over the country for years.
This is a legacy he inherited from his father Çetin Altan, who spent many years in prison for expressing his opinions.
Ahmet Altan strived to see the collapse of the military tutelage in Turkey as an author and a journalist. During these years, he staunchly endorsed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to implement EU reforms.
After the breakdown of the military tutelage regime, Erdoğan filled the void left by the generals, instead of proceeding with the aspired reforms. This is why the conflict between Ahmet Altan and Erdoğan arose.
Altan faced successive arrests when Erdogan concentrated power in his own hands. He was arrested and released several times.
His latest detention came following the controversial July 2016 coup attempt, in the wake of which Erdogan was able to gain total control over the country. Altan was imprisoned for 38 months.
First, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Later, the sentence was converted to 10 years and 6 months’ imprisonment and Ahmet Altan was released pending appeal.
Devlet Bahceli, the head of the country’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Erdogan’s fervent ally, was the first to lash out at his release. He accused Ahmet Altan of working against Turkey.
Ultra-nationalist groups and actors of the military tutelage period also opposed Ahmet Altan’s release. They campaigned for his rearrest.
Altan’s freedom lasted only 7 days and he was arrested and sent to prison again.
Was the request of the nationalist front the reason for Altan’s rearrest? He did not keep quiet after he got out of jail and praised a young man named “Selman” in his article. Could that be the reason?
Selman and his paper flute
Turkey jailed more journalists and authors than any other country in the world for three years in a row. The Erdogan regime has released some journalists after holding them in prison for a few years. Those who are released prefer silence to avoid being rearrested. They even quit journalism and writing.
Erdogan is not pleased with being branded as “the world’s worst jailer of journalists”. It is more convenient for Erdogan to be able to silence journalists through the fear of being imprisoned rather than arresting them.
However, Altan did not follow suit. From the moment he got out of prison, he began to speak out and write. Although there is no newspaper to publish his articles in Turkey, major newspapers in the world, like the Guardian, opened their pages for him.
It was not customary for Erdogan to see Altan’s articles in the newspapers.
But Altan did more and wrote an article titled “I’m free but my friends still languish in Turkish jails” telling about his cellmate who turned out to be the imprisoned nephew of Fethullah Gülen, the US-based cleric declared by Erdoğan as an arch-enemy.
All relatives of Fethullah Gülen who have the same surname as him are in Turkish prisons. Bearing the surname “Gülen” on one’s ID became one of the greatest crimes in Turkey following the coup bid. Gülen’s relatives are either in prison, hiding out from police or in exile abroad.
The same applies to his relatives whose stances are not aligned with that of Gulen.
Altan was held in prison in the same cell as the young director Selman Gülen, the nephew of Fethullah Gülen.
Ahmet Altan wrote in his article about Selman, who was arrested right after his marriage and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, saying that he was like a son to him only using his first name “Selman”.
The story of the flute Selman fashioned out of paper and prisoners’ emotions aroused by the tunes impressed everyone who read Altan’s article.
Altan wrote that Selman had no visitors. The story of Altan and “his son in custody” was a sad one.
Everyone who read the article began to wonder who Selman is.
The Oda TV news website, led by Soner Yalçın, an infamous author who is known for his xenophobia and extreme nationalism, disclosed Selman’s surname a few days later with the headline “Selman, praised by Ahmet Altan, turns out to be the nephew of the terrorist leader Fethullah Gulen”
And then Ahmet Altan was rearrested.
Nevertheless, the great author successfully ignited the discussion he wanted to start before being handcuffed again.
Turkey prisons were full of thousands of “Selman” who did not commit any crime, detained over their dissent against Erdogan.
Each time there was a big sociopolitical change, the Turkish Republic has opted to demonize a group as a means to survive.
This “demon” was sometimes Kurds, sometimes non-Muslim minorities, sometimes Alevis and sometimes religious Muslims. Some were killed, some had their property looted and some were mobbed.
The demonized group today is the Gülen movement. Only a few fearless intellectuals are willing to hear the screams of the tens of thousands in prison over being a Gulenist.
Ahmet Altan is the leading figure among them.
Perhaps that is why he chose the title “I Will Never See the World Again” for his latest book.
Self-censorship draws ire as Turkey lifts Wikipedia ban
Turkey has lifted the ban on Wikipedia after a two-year block. However, the post that angered Erdogan seems to have been deleted from Wikipedia.
July 15, 2016, was one of the most important and influential moments in the history of Turkey. That night a failed coup attempt took place, which Erdogan named it “a gift to us from God.” Subsequently, Erdogan gathered all powers in Turkey into his own hands.
Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopedia, added Erdogan’s name after the July 15 coup attempt in the “Dictators’ Self-coup List.”
Then the Erdogan regime banned accessing Wikipedia in Turkey on April 29, 2017. Banning anti-Erdogan websites from broadcasting is a common practice in Turkey.
As of October 2019, the number of websites banned in Turkey is 288 thousand 310.
Wikipedia was the largest website added to this list.
After two years of struggle by Wikipedia lawyers, the Supreme Court ruled for the lifting of the ban on Wikipedia.
With two detained members and Erdogan-appointed sitting members, The Supreme Court surprised everyone with such decision.
However, the truth is ultimately laid bare.
Erdogan’s name had been removed in Wikipedia from the list of leaders, who attempted self-coup.
With this change in the section, that annoyed Erdogan, 13 people’s names remained in the list of “The Post-Cold War Section” of “The list of those who had taken a coup against himself.” Maduro was added to the list with the update, and Erdogan was removed.
Wikipedia’s self-censorship is not new for Turkey. Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), is the Turkish state agency for monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning radio and television broadcasts, and RTÜK started overseeing Netflix in 2019 in Turkey, citing obscene content. Netflix initially opposed it but then agreed due to threats of shut-down.
Twitter is also in cooperation with Turkey on censorship, and thousands of Twitter profiles were blocked to access.
Online publications or other broadcasts encounter access barriers due to swift bans if they introduce question marks with regards to the July 15 coup attempt. This includes the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement: “July 15 coup was a controlled coup.”
What is self-coup?
A self-coup is a form of putsch or coup d ‘état in which a nation’s leader, elected to power by legal means, renders the national legislature powerless or dissolves it and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances. After the self-coup, the leader annuls the nation’s constitution or brings a new system by completely changing the former one. At the same time, he suspends the civil courts.