An anonymous letter delivered to a news portal has warned that two columnists who are critical of the government, namely Murat Belge of the Taraf daily and Aydın Engin of the Cumhuriyet daily, face risk of assassination, the Taraf daily has reported, as both journalist associations and journalists have denounced the reported assassination plot.
The letter, left on Monday at the entrance of the building housing T24’s office, said a “decision has been made” regarding Belge, who is also a columnist for T24, and Engin. The letter said assassins have also been assigned and that the date of the assassinations is to be determined later.
“I, as a patriot, find it very wrong,” read the unsigned, handwritten letter published on T24’s website.
Speaking to Taraf, Belge said the threat appeared to be aimed at intimidating columnists critical of the government. “I don’t think this is coming from pro-coup circles or nationalist-fascist ones,” Belge told Taraf. “I have been writing columns criticizing the government since the Gezi protests. I think they are trying to intimidate columnists and stop publication of critical material. That’s why they are making threats like this.”
Speaking to the Cihan news agency, Engin stressed that the letter should be taken seriously and said he has filed a criminal complaint, demanding that those who have reportedly planned the assassination against him and Belge, as the letter has claimed, be found, as well as demanding a bodyguard from the prosecutor’s office as of Wednesday.
Yusuf Kanlı, head of the Press for Freedom of Journalists Association, who spoke to Today’s Zaman, condemned the assassination plot claims and said the government for its part should take all necessary measures to protect the threatened columnists, adding, “The threat should be taken seriously. As a journalistic organization, we condemn the alleged plot. This is the outcome of hate speech and polarizing policies carried out by the political authorities against the country’s intellectuals. In addition, some media outlets [in reference to pro-government ones] also continually target and point fingers at some members of media outlets which do not share the similar opinions to themselves.”
Some journalists have accused the government’s eminent figures and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of inciting hatred and hostility within the society due to the hateful rhetoric used by some government figures. Still others have highlighted extremist groups which act on the basis of hate against Turkey’s minorities, especially Armenians, that were revealed after an Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated outside the office of his Agos newspaper in broad daylight on Jan. 17, 2007 for his opinion that Turkey should recognize the Armenian genocide claims.
Armenians commemorate the relocation — during the First World War in 1915 under the Ottoman Empire rule — and they describe it as genocide.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Turkish-Armenian journalist and Taraf columnist Hayko Bağdat also reacted harshly to the incident, saying: “Such threats and intimidation are not something new for intellectuals. Many intellectuals and journalists were threatened in the process when Dink was murdered. At that time, I and many people warned that the Dink murder was a threat to the entire society, not only Armenians. Those state officials who allegedly had a role in the murder were not punished at all. On the contrary, they were promoted. The deep illegal structures nested in the country are permanently encouraged. These illegal structures then find a reason to surface when the country’s atmosphere is chaotic. The 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide is approaching [in 2015]. These cells might be active before the anniversary.”
Nazlı Ilıcak, a Bugün daily columnist, also told Today’s Zaman that the tense political atmosphere which was created by the government resulted in the assassination plot against the two columnists.
“I have never witnessed such a tense atmosphere in both the media and Turkey in general. Erdoğan is responsible for the tension. He fostered the enmity among the people, polarizing them as well. Whether the threat or assassination plot is real or not, the point where we have got to now is the result of the tense political climate. Those who aim to harm the state benefit from a chaotic atmosphere like this. The main purpose of the plot is to destabilize the country. These dark structures serve this purpose at all times,” Ilıcak said.
Government pressure on journalists make them open target
Speaking with Today’s Zaman about the letter regarding the planned assassination plot, Derya Sazak, former editor in chief of the Milliyet daily, emphasized that the threat should be given much importance because the Dink murder came after many threats like the current one were ignored and downplayed.
“In his final columns, Dink mentioned serious threats like these but the state did not move to reveal the source of the threat. Then he was killed. So these types of letters should be examined carefully and the source of the threat should be identified. So many intellectuals and journalists were killed in Turkey that any hint or threat [of the same] should be cracked down on. The political authority’s hostile attitude recently against intellectuals is a fact. The then-Erdoğan-led government caused the dismissals of many journalists due the pressure that it applied on the media outlets. But I do not think that it [the government] may wish the dissident intellectuals be killed in addition to its intimidation practices,” Sazak commented.
The Greens and Left Party of the Future founder and leader Ufuk Uras also accused politicians who use a hateful discourse during their speeches for the assassination plot against the two intellectuals, going on to elaborate, “For a long time, intellectuals have been targeted and there are a certain illegal circles who eye such a chaotic atmosphere for their future horrible activities.”
Bringing up the fact that Belge and Aydın are among the founders of his party, Uras went on: “All people with a conscience and all social democrats should show solidarity with the two columnists. They pay the price of a systematic targeting by the political authority. They are targeted for opposing an authoritarian type of governing of Turkey, a feature or characteristic of being an intellectual. Both intellectuals recently joined a campaign which was initiated last week criticizing the hateful discourse in the curriculum in middle and high schools prepared by the Ministry of Education. In my opinion, they have been targeted because of the campaign. Alongside them, many other intellectuals such as Vedat Türkali, Taner Akçam, Cengiz Aktar and Orhan Pamuk also participated in the campaign.”
Another intellectual, Cengiz Aktar, also denounced the assassination plot claims by saying, “Turkey has failed to settle old scores with its dirty past. We live in a society which denies and stifles mistakes. The polarization attempts reached its peak but the situation is getting complicated in terms of trampling on the rule of law. Those who are involved in crime get away with it. As the murder of Dink has not been solved yet, everyone should be careful regarding any similar risk.”