Kurdish, Turkish Journalists Call for Dialogue

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Kurdish and Turkish journalists met in Istanbul on Saturday to discuss the role of the media and put forward suggestions for eliminating misconceptions and prejudices that exist both among Iraqi Kurds and Turks.

Although there is a border between Iraq and Turkey, we are closely dependent on each other; thus, every development in Turkey has a direct effect on northern Iraq.

Aza Haseeb Ali, former minister in the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq

More than 60 journalists from both Turkish and Kurdish magazines, television channels, and newspapers convened on Saturday for a one-day meeting organized by the Medialog Platform, an entity affiliated with the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) that works to arrange opportunities for members of the media to discuss new projects and exchange opinions.

In his opening speech, JWF President Mustafa Yesil highlighted the Abant Platform’s February 2009 meeting in Arbil, Iraq, as a first and significant step taken to establish dialogue between Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals. He expressed the opinion that the Turkish perception of northern Iraq and the Kurds living there started to change after this event.

Aza Haseeb Ali, a former minister in the Kurdish government, emphasized that because of the talks, the negative view of Turkey had diminished when compared to the past. Ali also drew attention to the Turkish schools that have been operating there since 1994, and he praised the opening of Isik University in the region.

“Although there is a border between Iraq and Turkey, we are closely dependent on each other; thus, every development in Turkey has a direct effect on northern Iraq,” Ali said.

State-oriented media: a hurdle to reflecting developments impartially

Yavuz Baydar, a columnist for Today’s Zaman, criticized the devastating effect military interventions have had on media freedom in Turkey but added that over the course of 20 years, Turkey’s taboos have begun to be abolished. “But we have a very long way to go to achieve a well-established democracy in Turkey,” he stated.

Commenting on the attitudes adopted by the Turkish media, Mete Cubukcu, a veteran journalist with an interest in the Middle East, referred to two different approaches in media/state relations. “Either the state follows the media and makes some changes according to the reaction of the latter, or the stance of the media towards developments is shaped by the state,” Cubukcu explained. “Unfortunately, the Turkish media have not been able to free themselves from state policy and its concerns.”

Cubukcu added that during the 1990s, the Turkish media took a provocative stance towards the Kurdish issue and generally associated northern Iraq with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “However,” he emphasized, “after the start of the normalization process with northern Iraq, the media altered its line in accordance with the change in state policy.”

Drawing attention to the factors affecting the Turkish view of northern Iraq, sociologist and journalist Ali Bulac maintained that Turkey’s national security concerns and the threat of separation in the country have been the main influences on perceptions about northern Iraq.

“Northern Iraq in general was seen as a distant region which was very unstable and which constituted a threat to Turkish unity and whose leaders were unreliable. This negative approach, which is Orientalist, still prevails to some extent in Turkey,” noted Bulac, underlining that “Kurdistan” is a reality that is accepted in the Iraqi Constitution. “But it is hard to accept this in Turkey,” he said.

Acknowledging that there are fears among Turks over a Kurdish separatist movement spreading in southeastern Anatolia, Mustafa Akyol, an author and journalist at the Star daily, condemned the military interventions that played on this fear in order to maintain military tutelage in Turkey.

Nevzat Cicek, another journalist, criticized his colleagues who now oppose the government’s attempts to resolve the Kurdish question and applaud past military interventions.

While discussing the difficulties reporters face when getting news from northern Iraq, Cicek said, “It is much easier to be informed about Brazil. Turkish reporters do not know where the Kandil Mountains are — this is a big problem. I suggest a group should be set up to provide news flowing from Kurdistan to Turkey.”

Remarking on how Turkey has been viewed by Kurds in northern Iraq, Bakir Karim Mohammad Salih, the chairman of the Mukriyan Foundation, noted that the history books of the Saddam era told the Iraqi people that the Ottoman Empire was a colonial state which exploited Arabs and Kurds in Iraq and attempted to assimilate them.

Salih referred to the action being taken to secure minority rights and the use of the mother tongue, pointing out that there are Arabic newspapers in northern Iraq where the population is composed mostly of Kurds. “We don’t see it as a danger,” he said. He also claimed that if Turkey can resolve its Kurdish problem, relations between Kurds in Iraq and Turkey will reach a peak, and this will contribute to Turkey’s rising influence in the region.

Fareed Saber Qader, the president of the Kurdistan Strategic Studies Center, noted there is no need for Turkey, a NATO member, to see northern Iraq as a threat. “The United Kingdom managed to forge friendly relations with its former colonies. Keeping in mind that the Ottoman Empire had never pursued a policy of colonialist expansion, Turkey should also have intensified ties with the countries founded in the Ottoman Empire’s territories,” said Qader, highlighting the significance of the resolution of the Kurdish problem in terms of the northern Iraq autonomous administration and Turkey. Although military operations and the stance of the Turkish army towards Kurds may result in a negative image of Turkey in the eyes of Iraqi Kurds, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) persistent efforts towards democracy in Turkey have influenced the Kurds in the region.

The editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, Bulent Kenes, also cited the lack of democracy and the military’s role in politics as the main reasons behind several of Turkey’s problems. “There is no Kurdish question in Turkey, there is no Armenian or devout Muslim problem in the country. What we have been suffering from is the role of the military in the civilian arena, which we are now challenging,” he said.

Cengiz Candar, a columnist at the Radikal daily, dismissed assertions that resolution of the Kurdish question is not possible through the initiative and emphasized that it is a long process that includes ups and downs. “It has started, and I believe the process is irreversible,” he added.