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Discrimination alla Turca militare

Are you familiar with the strange notion in Turkey called "accreditation?"

I am not sure what the term means in other countries, but here it refers to the military’s customary method to discriminate against certain segments of the media. The generals divide the newspapers and TV channels into two categories: the "accredited" and the "non-accredited." The latter are simply not allowed, let alone invited, to press conferences and other occasions of the military. Moreover, such media sources are literally banned from entering military zones. You simply cannot read or watch them in a military school or a barrack.

As you might guess, these "non-accredited" media sources are the ones which the generals see as ideologically misguided. Besides marginal ones such as the pro-PKK Gündem and the hard-core Islamist Vakit, even mainstream Islamic or conservative papers such as Yeni Şafak or Zaman are strictly banned. Zaman’s case is especially curious for that this newspaper, and its English-language off-shoot, Today’s Zaman, would be defined as moderate and sensible by most observers. The problem lies somewhere else, though, for the military: this paper is known to be associated with the Fethullah Gülen movement, Turkey’s largest Islamic community. The same movement would be defined as moderate and sensible by most observers, too. But according to Turkey’s draconian doctrine of secularism, being a religious movement of any sorts is enough in itself to be considered heretical.

In the US, this story would be paralleled only if the American military decided to "non-accredit" the Washington Times because of its connections with the Moon Church, or the Christian Science Monitor because of its roots in the Christian Science movement. Yet that is simply unthinkable.

In Turkey, many unthinkable things are the norm, though. In fact, the military not just "non-accredits" media sources such as Zaman, but also openly defines the faith communities behind them as "threats" to the country. For the taxpayers in these communities, the whole political system is one big irony: with the taxes they pay, they are financing the very institutions which lead a cold war against them.

Last month, a new and interesting episode was added to this long-seated policy of official discrimination. It happened on the top of a cold, snowy mountain, where a helicopter carrying the leader of the Grand Union Party (BBP) had crashed. The whole country held its breath for the rescue efforts, which, regrettably, would end without success. Besides rescue team, which included military helicopters, dozens of journalists hit the road to reach the insurmountable mountaintop. One of them was cameraman and reporter Lütfi Akyurt, who works for Cihan News Agency, which is connected to daily Zaman.

In his column in Today’s Zaman, Abdülhamid Bilici, Cihan’s director, explains the rest of the story as follows:

"By the time [Akyurt] finished his job at 3:30 p.m., not many people were left on the mountain. Standing at an altitude of 2,500 meters in freezing weather, a gendarmerie search and rescue team told Akyurt it was getting too cold and that they did not want to leave him there, so they offered to bring him down with their helicopter. As Akyurt prepared to get on the helicopter, a general asked him which news agency he worked for, and when Akyurt said Cihan they said they could not carry a civilian and did not allow him to board the helicopter. Akyurt kindly pointed out that the other reporter on the helicopter, a DHA (Doğan news agency) reporter, was also a civilian. But the gendarmerie refused to allow him to board the helicopter and left him on the top of the mountain. This was their response to a reporter who had covered their search and rescue efforts all day long."

End the discrimination
The weather conditions were getting so bad that Akyurt could have not survived. Luckily he did. And for a few weeks he kept silent about this story, which came out only last Wednesday. Bilici wrote about this in his column addressed to the Chief of Gen. Staff, General Başbuğ, and headlined with a question: "Pasha, Would You Rescue Me If I Was Stranded on a Mountain?" No reply has come from the military yet.

This is a deeply disturbing incident. It suggests that the discrimination against "backward-minded" (i.e., too religious) members of the media has reached the level of contempt. Interestingly, about ten days ago, Gen. Başbuğ had made a speech in which he criticized "the wrong view that the military is against religion," and then bashed those people who "propagate" this view. Well, perhaps it is also the military’s job to correct the "wrong view" by taking active steps to show that it does not have any bias against the more religious segments of society. Abandoning the discriminatory policy of "non-accreditation" would be a good first step.