Ongoing oppression sometimes suffocates me, columnist Kemal says

This weekand’s guest for Armchair Conversations is Lale Kemal, a columnist for Todayand’s Zaman as well as the Zaman daily.
She has also been Turkey correspondent for the UK-based Janeand’s Defence Weekly since 1991. During her work as a journalist Kemal has struggled against all forms of pressure on fundamental freedoms and rights either from the military or elected governments. Sometimes, she says, she feels suffocated by the ongoing pressure, oppression and injustices, which many also continue to face from the current government.
Kemal was born in the Ceyhan district of the southern province of Adana. Shortly after her birth, her father, Mustafa Kemal Sariibrahimoilu, was elected as a Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) deputy of Adana province at the age of 30, leading the whole family to move to Ankara. Until the military coup staged in 1980, Kemaland’s father served as a CHP deputy for four terms. Despite her familyand’s limited financial means, her parents enrolled all their six children in the private Ankara Koleji to ensure they would all receive a good education.
andquotMy father was a member of the CHP party assembly that first selected [late former Prime Minister and longtime CHP leader] Bandulent Ecevit as the leader of the party replacing ismet inandOnandu,and” Kemal recalls.
Sharing a noteworthy detail about the political tradition that dominated Turkey prior to the 1980 military coup, Kemal said the process of determining the candidates who would run for elections from the ranks of any political party was more democratic compared to todayand’s political mechanism of naming nominees.
andquotUntil the 1980 military coup, there were preliminaries in which the party delegates were able to choose their candidates in their voting districts, a situation that contributed to intra-party democracy. Thus, Parliament was the place where the votersand’ will was completely represented, compared to todayand’s Parliament in which all the deputies are first named by the leaders of the political parties and then they enter Parliament following an election. In the previous case, even if the leader of a political party was against a figure being named as a candidate, delegates had the last say on the matter. Todayand’s Parliament has no mechanism of checks and balances in terms of reflecting votersand’ will, and its power to oversee the government on behalf of voters is truly diminished. While I was writing a Court of Accounts report on the oversight of military expenditures by Parliament, which was later published by [the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation] TESEV, I again witnessed how Parliament is ineffective in carrying out this task,andquot Kemal notes.
Regarding her years at Ankara Koleji, Kemal says she was a hard-working student although she was not surrounded by high-achieving classmates and the average level of success was low.
andquotThere was a lot of joking about in the class. I remember my classmates used to tease me since my full name is Lalezar and andlsquozarand’ means andquotdiceandquot in Turkish and this would really make me upset. That is why I begged my father to talk to my teacher about the issue and ensure my classmates called me Lale not and’Zar.and’ We had a teacher who was actually a military officer lecturing on national security laws and he would claim that no one could cheat in exams during his lectures. But many of the students did in fact cheat,andquot Kemal remembers.

Kemal at the historic site of Nemrut.
After graduating with a degree in English language at Ankaraand’s Gazi University, Kemal started to work as a correspondent for the state-run Anadolu news agency. It was while she was working there that the 1980 coup took place, and she described the atmosphere at the office as extremely tense due to the pressure on journalists.
Kemal said: andquotAfter the coup, many retired generals were assigned as general managers to some key state institutions, and the news agency was not exempt from this. Our general managerand’s first action was to instruct all the female journalists to wear pantyhose even though it was summer and the weather was very hot. For some time, we female journalists were subjected to inspections at the entrance of the building to see that we were wearing pantyhose. I am sharing this memory to describe the military pressure as well as the extreme conservatism in the country at the time.andquot
While working at the agency, Kemal decided that having an education in international relations or law was vital to journalism. andquotSo, in order to address the weaknesses I had in these fields, I enrolled at the London School of Economics and Political Science [LSE], and I got a postgraduate degree there. A British Council scholarship enabled my study. To be honest, I had no ambition to find a way to stay in Britain afterwards. However, when I see the lack of an efficient democracy in Turkey even today, I regret my decision not to have tried to stay on in Britain. Sometimes, I feel I am suffocated by the pressure, oppression and injustice that I and many people continue to face from the current government.andquot
After finishing her degree at the LSE, Kemal applied to many media outlets to work as a correspondent back in Turkey since Dateline, a paper where she used to work, had closed down. She got a job as a Turkey correspondent with Janeand’s Defence Weekly, where she has been working for around 24 years now.

Kemal in front of a palace in Egypt while covering former President Sanduleyman Demirelandrsquos visit there.
h2h2 h2and’LSE was an eye opener for me in terms of understanding democracyand’h2 Sharing her observations regarding the high standards of democracy in Britain, Kemal points out that she bitterly noted a lack of a well-functioning democracy in Turkey.
andquotDuring the years at LSE, I further understood why Turkey has constantly failed to develop. The Turkish educational system is based on ideological divisions and does not encourage students to investigate because they are instilled with stereotypical knowledge. All efforts aimed at encouraging creative thinking are systematically prevented. In a striking instance, I remember how the idea of the military coup staged in 1960 was deemed as positive in the school curriculum. This part of the curriculum was removed only a few years ago,andquot Kemal recalls.
Kemal continued to elaborate on the differences between fully democratic countries and Turkey by saying that when she visited, for instance, many European countries, she felt envious since the Turkish people were deprived of the right to experience a full-fledged democracy.
andquotI have always questioned why the young people of the country are not being encouraged to have innovative ideas or be involved with research and development. An answer to this question of mine and a better understanding of the problem can be found in a book written by Daron Acemoilu and James A. Robinson titled andlsquoWhy Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty.and’ Also, I had a chance to visit some Central Asian countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. I witnessed oppression by the state in those places,andquot Kemal stresses.
h2and’I have always been against military tutelageand’h2 Highlighting that she is the daughter of a politician who witnessed military coups in Turkey and their devastating effects on its society, Kemal went on: andquotI know how all these military interventions in politics prevented the process of democratization in the country. The TSK [Turkish Armed Forces] has always been uncomfortable with my stance against the militaryand’s influence over politics. I was constantly profiled by the TSK. It was so unusual to criticize the TSK during the militaryand’s dominance over political life. When I took a stand directly against the military pressure, they assumed I was the daughter of a lower-ranking military officer in the TSK as only an oppressed military officerand’s daughter could level such criticism.andquot
Lale Kemal worked for various dailies including Cumhuriyet and Yeni Binyil before joining the Zaman group. She also worked as Ankara bureau chief of the Taraf daily before joining Zaman. She wrote a book titled andquotKurt Kapaninda Kisir Siyaset: Gizli Belgelerle Boru Hatti Bozgunu,andquot shedding light on Turkeyand’s alleged mistakes in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan [BTC] pipeline project. She was awarded the Bandulent Dikmener juryand’s special award for this book.
It was followed by another book written in English on the Turkish defense industry. Kemal then contributed to an almanac published by TESEV in 2005 with a chapter on the TSK, the Gendarmerie General Command and the Turkish Coast Guard Command. andquotThe command echelon of the TSK at the time profiled all the contributors to the almanac, including me,andquot Kemal says.
h2and’I was tried because of Ahmet iikand’h2 Kemal was previously tried on the pretext of violating the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which prohibited andquotinsulting the Turkish state, its officials or Turkishnessandquot — an article that was often used as a tool for punishing authors, scholars and journalists — for criticizing the police and the gendarmerie.
andquotI underwent an investigation since [journalist] Ahmet iik, by whom I was interviewed, did not keep his promise to show me the transcript, in which I harshly criticized some gendarmerie and police figures concerning the murder of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, before it went to print. I told him that I would talk to him openly provided that he showed me the text beforehand, so that I could change any wording that could be regarded as an insult. In fact, there were some words that I used during the interview that I would never use in a written statement, and iik published them without sending the text to me for revision. His stance proved how he is careless and unprincipled in doing his job. After a two-year trial I was acquitted of the charges, but the process hurt me,andquot Kemal says.


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