Turkey Burns
Erdogan’s AKP was overdue for resistance.

Young protesters in Ankara, June 2, 2013.


Jim Geraghty

Turkey has vocal secularists who are deeply troubled by AKP’s moves; periodically these secular Turks organize large demonstrations. In 2006, the funeral of a judge slain by an Islamist turned into a massive, and more than a bit angry, rally against the current political leadership and Islamist elements in the country. Later that year, four-time Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit died, and when Erdogan showed up for the memorial service, he was booed soundly.

But the secularists and other critics of AKP haven’t coalesced behind an alternative. CHP and most of the other opposition parties have proven to be internally divided and unable to form coalitions. In national parliamentary elections in 2007 and 2011, AKP won an increasingly greater share of the the popular vote but fewer seats, though still a clear majority. They currently hold 327 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament.


Elections have been ineffective as an outlet for dissent, and the country’s news media no longer fill that role, either. As recently as Erdogan’s first term, the Turkish press was rambunctious, loud, combative, and full of diverse, dissenting viewpoints. But year by year, the Turkish government has cracked down on journalists who proved troublesome to the government, using many methods of intimidation and prosecution.

As Freedom House summarized in January:

As noted in the U.S. State Department’s most recent Human Rights report on Turkey: “The arrest and prosecution of journalists, writers, and Kurdish intellectuals and political activists, coupled with condemnatory speeches by political leaders, had a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Since that report was issued, the situation has only gotten worse. An October 2012 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists stated that Turkey now has “the disreputable distinction of being the world’s worst jailer of the press” — an analysis shared by Reporters Without Borders. . . . 

Hundreds of military officers, as well as various scholars and journalists, have been arrested and charged through trials dogged by allegations of fabricated evidence used by the prosecution. Many now face prison terms of twenty years or more pending appeal. Moreover, given that many of these officials have worked closely with the United States and our NATO allies over the years, these trials are also a blow to NATO’s overall collective capability. 

In this chilling atmosphere, the remaining Turkish press simply fell down on the job. Astoundingly, some Turkish media have either dramatically downplayed or ignored the ongoing protests:

As clouds of tear gas engulfed central Istanbul and anti-government demonstrators fought with police, billionaire Aydin Dogan’s news channel aired a documentary about penguins.

The scheduling made him and other media bosses targets of demonstrators who have turned the occupation of an Istanbul park into a challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a police crackdown began on May 31. They say the coverage, or lack of it, of the biggest nationwide protests in years reflects a media industry driven by the desire to stay on good terms with Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP. . . . 

On June 3, after protests spread to Ankara and a weekend of clashes left parts of Turkey’s two biggest cities looking like war zones, Sabah newspaper led with a story about the prime minister’s anti-smoking campaign.

CNN Turk showed a documentary about penguins on June 2, while CNN International broadcasted live from Taksim Square; this led to Twitter jokes about what it would take to get the local television stations interested in the protests: