While the city is wrapped in pure whiteness of snow, the dark and evil details of a military takeover plan, Sledgehammer are pouring on us through the daily, Taraf. By now, Taraf has become notorious with its anti-military stance and with leaking the documents on coup d’état plans and misdemeanors of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). The newspaper should be given credit for its significant breakthroughs in some of its investigative reporting. For instance, it revealed that four soldiers died when a hand grenade exploded in the hands of one of the privates. The grenade was given to the private by a lieutenant with its pin pulled out and ready to explode at any time, just to punish the soldier for sleeping during his night watch. After Taraf published the excerpts from the hearings of the military court, that lieutenant got arrested. Also Taraf revealed that there have been serious misdoings of security forces causing fatal consequences in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern provinces during the fight against the PKK. We could have never known those horrifying details because the Turkish Armed Forces have always been an untouchable institution in Turkish history. TSK has been presented the man on the street with symbols, marches, intimidating rituals and uniforms. We have been raised by respecting and trusting our military. We had never thought otherwise. In that sense, we definitely owe to Taraf for showing us that no institution is exempt from criticism and the military should stay within its barracks and should not get involved in politics.
On the other hand, there are some valuable advices I keep telling myself for years. Those are the lessons I learned during my four-decade of existence: First, nothing is clear cut and simply defined in this country. This does not mean believing in conspiracy theories or being an idiotic skeptic. The easiest thing is to label a person, a group or a publication, i.e. liberal, Islamist, conservative, traitor, coup supporter, Kurd sympathizer, and it goes on and on. The biggest challenge is to keep one’s distance to all the groups and analyzing the issues in a cold-headed and rational way.
If we go back to Taraf, I believe that just simply being an antagonist of the military does not prove a newspaper’s “independence,” particularly in the context of a power struggle between the AKP and the military. It is hard not to forget Taraf’s not being critical of the Finance Ministry’s Putinesque tax investigation of the Dogan Media Group, or of the takeover of ATV-Sabah or falsely accusing the TV channel, NTV of complicity in a plot against Muhsin Yazıcıoglu, an ultra right-wing politician who died in a helicopter crash in March, 2009. Taraf is tough in taking on the military. However they tend to be extremely mild when it comes to printing some other issues such as criticizing the ruling party, corruption issues and Fethullah Gülen circle.
In the framework of Sledgehammer plan, Taraf recently published two sets of lists of journalists (mostly columnists). The first list of names belonged to 36 journalists the army planned to arrest during the alleged coup. The other list of 137 names belonged to the journalists who would potentially support the coup. There was no indication of the potentially useful journalists’ connections to the Turkish Armed Forces. As anticipated, there came a big discussion after the publication of those lists among the columnists. Some of them who are on the arrest list boasted as being the “defenders of democracy.” The ones on the supporters list mostly kept quiet except a few of them objected to be on the same list with hard line army supporters. Unfortunately, a handful of intellectuals had the integrity to show their reaction with an outcry. Once again easy labels, aggressive accusations, naming names began to fly in the air. And once again the society was deeply divided into camps. And Taraf has done it again. Some of the respected journalists are still trying to clear their names from the muck while some of them are trying to cash in on their undeserved fame. I still wonder ruining the careers, ventilating hostility in the society, printing without checking with the subjects of the issue is the right way to go or if I put it more simply, is it journalism?