’We will not leave this world to tyrants’

P24and’s Founding President veteran journalist Hasan Cemal spoke on Saturday at a symposium at Boston College, in Massachusetts.
Here is the full text of Hasan Cemaland’s speech: His name was andcetin Altan. He was 88 years old. He was one of Turkeyand’s leading writers. A journalist. A novelist. A breaker of taboos. Writing was the only thing he cared for in life, and he wrote what he knew to be true. Throughout his life he defended freedom of expression and independent and critical thinking, putting these essential building blocks of democracy above all else. Last month, as he was dying, he said, and”This is not the world I dreamed of, the Turkey I dreamed of.and” These words still sadden me. Just like that heart-rending sentence in the novel Ports of Call by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf: and”The future I hoped for was already gone.and” I think itand’s the same for me. Perhaps it is clear now, the future I had hoped for may never come. I am 71 years old. I have been an active journalist for 47 years. Journalism is the only job I have ever known. I have witnessed military coups. I have seen my newspaper being shut down several times. I have lost friends to political murders. Many of my colleagues spent time in prisons, many were subject to torture. In other words, I have had my share of heartache. But, as a journalist, the heartache I felt at the end of last month was like none I had felt before. I witnessed a television channel (Bugandun TV) and two dailies (Bugandun and Millet) raided by order of the state. On that day, law was razed to the ground. Freedom was desecrated. Media independence was held in complete disdain. The right to property was hijacked. Because government lackeys, accompanied by the police, invaded the newspaperand’s editorial department. They wanted to silence us, the journalists. They wanted to cast a shadow over our world. Let me explain. Imagine yourself in the editorial department, the very heart of the newspaper. The latest edition of the Bugandun newspaper lies on the meeting table only a few copies were printed and the paperand’s distribution was obstructed by order of the state. The headline is striking:
SEIZURE BY TRUSTEES! The government lackey, named as the and’trusteeand’, holds up the newspaper for all to see: and”This newspaper is a disgrace!and” Then he turns his attention to the headline, SEIZURE BY TRUSTEES, and asks: and”Do any of you share this opinion?and” One journalist speaks up: and”Yes.and” Trustee says: and”Take his name.and” The journalist continues: and”The newspaper is our honour.and” Trustee: and”This is your honour…?and” He adds: and”What insolence!and” He turns to a policeman in the newsroom and says: and”Take him away!and” And then continues: and”I donand’t want to work with people who describe a court decision as a seizure.and” This was a clear example of andlsquostate terrorismand’. I do not want to live in a world where newspapers and television channels are so shamelessly terrorised by state pressure, I do not want to live in a world subservient to despotism. As someone who has been a journalist for so many years, who has headed newspapers and spent his life in the nerve centres of newspapers, I put myself in the shoes of that young colleague of mine at Bugandun. And I imagine that editorial meeting, that sacred assembly for journalists. I imagine the pomposity of that andlsquohonourable trusteeand’ spouting edicts and giving orders to the police, a man placed at the head of that table by order of the state, at the will of the Sultan in the Palace. This image fills me with despair. This is not the world I dreamed of. In my world, there is no place for Tayyip Erdogan, or more accurately, for the Sultan in the Palace. Even if he did receive 49 per cent of the vote in the general election on 1 November, there is no place for him in my world. Because in my world there is democracy. There is the rule of law. There is freedom of expression. There are human rights. There is an independent media. There is a free media. There is an independent judiciary. There is separation of powers. There is gender equality. There is a respect for differences. There is a multitude of voices. There is zero tolerance of corruption, bribery and theft. That is my world. The world of Tayyip Erdogan, the Sultan in the Palace who recieved 49 per cent of the vote on 1 November, is nothing like my world. It is these democratic values, and particularly andlsquofreedom of expressionand’, that make up my world. It was George Orwell who defined freedom as the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. In Turkey today, the world in which I live is not like the world described by George Orwell in this sentence. Those multiple voices in Turkeyand’s world are, day by day, being reduced to a single voice. Because the Sultan in the Palace, Tayyip Erdogan, only wants his own voice to be heard. He is a tyrant who is in love with his own voice. And so he silences the voices of opposition and criticism in a planned and systematic way. Just recently the offices of Turkeyand’s biggest newspaper, Handurriyet, were physically attacked. Not just once, but twice. And the ringleader of these attacks was an MP of the leading AK Party and the head of youth organization of the party, a member of the Sultanand’s inner circle. He faced no repercussions. On the contrary, he was rewarded. At the AK party convention held just a few days later, he was elected as a member of the conventionand’s steering committee. During the last election campaign, he even posed in photographs together with Prime Minister Davutoilu. And thereand’s more. He said that this attack on Turkeyand’s biggest newspaper had put an end to the newspaperand’s andlsquoimmunityand’. He went even further. He admitted that he regretted not having waited outside the houses of the newspaperand’s editor in chief, as well as an important columnist and television presenter, to beat them up. During this same period , a columnist close to the Palace made this threat to the same journalists: and”We could crush you like a fly if we wanted to.and” A politician, who was made an MP by the Sultan in the Palace and who served as aisor to Erdogan during his time as mayor of Istanbul, gave the following warning to the owner of Handurriyet: and”Weand’ll pull out your teeth, weand’ll pull out your fingernails.and” No teeth or nails were pulled out, but a few days later the columnist and television presenter Ahmet Hakan was attacked outside his house by a group of assailants, breaking his nose and a rib Now I ask you this. Would you want to live in a world like this? I imagine you wouldnand’t. And nor do I. This is not my world. This is the world of the Sultan in the Palace. I come from a worldandhellip andhellip where a journalist was arrested and her mobile phone and computer seized because of a single tweet. andhellip. where a prime minister has declared social media to be a social menace. andhellip. where Twitter and YouTube were banned by government fiat. andhellip. where all a prime minister has to do is pick up the phone for a news item to be spiked, or a journalists fired. andhellip. where a prime minister can scold a newspaper owner down the phone about an article he published to such an extent that he reduces the man to actual tears. andhellip. where a prime minister declares those who hold different opinions from his own to be traitors. I come from a world… andhellipwhere the prime minister appointed as Minister of the Interior his own undersecretary, a man who gave this order: [and I quote] and”Break down that journalistand’s door and throw him in jailandhellip If the prosecutor complains, throw him in jail tooandhellipand” I come from a world… andhellip where a prime ministerand’s undersecretary can say, and”Shut down that journalistand’s website! So what if thereand’s no court order? Weand’re the ones who make the laws, my friendandhellip Iand’m talking about the will of a party that received 50 per cent of the vote. Donand’t worry about it excuse my language but screw the lot of themandhellipand” I come from a world… andhellipwhere those who defend the rule of law andndash including the head of the Constitutional Court andndash are attacked for opposing the rule of the majority, even when that means shutting down Twitter and YouTube. I come from a world… andhellipwhere the head of the countryand’s largest business organisation, TanduSiAD, is labelled a traitor for defending the rule of law as essential to business confidence. Andandhellip The prime minister has even accused the Central Bank governor of treason for not lowering interest rates. Once again I want to point out that this is not my world. This is the world of the Sultan in the Palace, who goes by the name of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He believes that democracy simply means a majority at the ballot box. He has not learned that getting the most votes is not a licence to violate democratic values, nor to force the surrender of the judiciary, nor to ignore the separation of powers, to trample on freedom of expression, to destroy free and independent media, nor to subjugate civil society. The main qualification for journalists is the ability to ask questions. Questioning is a way of life for us. And for this reason we are not particularly popular, especially with politicians. For example, in Turkey, President Erdogan refuses to meet with journalists who may ask him any uncomfortable questions. It has been years since he held a real press conference. He can only be in the presence of journalists (I call them the court jesters) whom he knows will play by his rules. But journalists will continue to ask questions. No tyrant can divest journalists of this democratic right. I realise that I have been talking for a while. So in short… In Turkey the fundamental values of democracy have been under attack for some time. And they are receiving blow upon blow. The source of these blows that hold the rule of law in complete disregard is the Sultan in the Palace, or Tayyip Erdogan, who continuously violates the constitutional oath he took as president. I did not tell you all this in order to complain. We live in different countries, but on the same planet. This is a world where oneand’s troubles are not only his own oneand’s troubles do indeed trouble the other. When we know what each one of is living through, it helps us to work jointly toward making this small planet a better place. I cam with this hope. I have made this speech today with this hope. Because I still have hope in this world, if not in individual countries. Now, can you tell me what I, as a journalist of 47 years, should do in such a world, in the Turkey of today?.. The following words by the Peruvian novelist Vargas Llosa stick in my mind: and”The situation of the writer is one of constant rebellion, the role of deviland’s aocate.and” He continues: and”andhellip just as we did today and yesterday, we must continue to move forward in society, saying andlsquonoand’, rebelling, demanding the recognition of our right to think differentlyandhellip … showing that dogma, censorship and arbitrary rule are the mortal enemies of progress and human dignityandhellipand” Yes, we must continue moving forward. But for how long? I am 71 years old. I have been an active journalist for 47 years. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, I spent a month writing about that leather ball. I remember one particular day very clearly. I was taking a train to Berlin for a match. While browsing the Daily Telegraph, I read an interview with a journalist who was celebrating his 75th year in the job. Next to the article was a black-and-white photograph of the journalist sitting by the window of a train, writing. During the celebration dinner someone asked him: and”Why, at the age of 93, do you still switch on your computer every day?and” He answered by quoting the famous Housman poem: andlsquoand’Up, lad when the journeyand’s over, thereand’ll be time enough to sleep.and” Let me say one final thing: We will not leave this world to tyrants.


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