A genuine democracy fighter: Bulent Kenes

I almost felt compelled to write about the “Bulent Bey” I know since he has proven that he is a real fighter for democracy and freedoms for all, at a time when media freedom is under unprecedented pressure. He fought, and will continue to fight if I know him, against oppression with all his power, endless motivation and relentless effort as a journalist. While many people preferred complacency, he did not avoid speaking up for his principles — and even faced and continues to face prison time. The pressure and smear campaign against Kenes is not over. He is currently being sued in multiple cases that target his basic right to freedom of expression and is looking at the prospect of eight years in prison.

I met Bulent Bey after I returned from the US, as someone who was trying to figure out what to do with life. As I was an enthusiastic journalist he offered me a job at Today’s Zaman, but I chose to work in the public sector. I must have been a journalist at heart though, since during those days I could not help but think of a career in journalism rather than government. Over the years, until I officially started as a correspondent for Today’s Zaman, Bulent Bey always welcomed and provided a space for my op-eds, just like he did for everyone else.

Bulent Bey, given his never-ending appetite for reporting, has been a demanding boss, which only worked to the advantage of the paper’s content. A colleague once directed my attention to the fact that we never saw Bulent Bey taking a tea or coffee break in our downstairs café, which is a regular haunt for almost everyone else at the paper. If he was not reading or writing, he would be thinking of new stories, often multiple ones at the same time, with which to enrich the content of the paper. Our only disagreement could have been over the workload he expects from his team as he provided us with the freest space one could ever find in a newsroom in Turkey. I have to admit that with his stories from his Bocazici University years he made me regret that I chose Bilkent over Bocazici. He is also probably one of the very rare men in Turkey who has almost no interest in soccer.

As an editor-in-chief, Kenes turned Today’s Zaman into a venue where free voices of Turkey could express themselves. In terms of the spectrum of its columnists, Today’s Zaman must be the most diverse paper in Turkey. Many critical voices, as authoritarianism gained momentum in the country, found a haven for their views in Today’s Zaman in the absence of any other outlet to make these fine voices heard by the outside world.

Bulent Kenes is not going anywhere. The Turkish media will continue to benefit from his vigor, courage and intellectual integrity for years to come. However, I believe his wife and kids will be happy to have some more time with him after this decision, even though it is forced by the grave circumstances in the country. As someone who stepped into journalism with his encouragement, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank him for his leadership, his immense contribution to Today’s Zaman and for doing so much to prop up freedom of expression in Turkey.