Can Dundar gets straight to the point. The former editor of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, who has spent 92 days behind bars and has a five-years-10-months prison term hanging over his head for “revealing state secrets,” was among the finalists for the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought. As a nominee, his mere presence here in the European Parliament is a provocation in itself.
“Today I speak to you as a terrorist, according to my government,” he said.
He speaks about Western contradictions and relations between the European Union and Turkey. While the refugee admission process to the E.U. is frozen, Ankara remains an adamant NATO ally. “They want a country-soldier and a container of refugees. We immediately reached a dirty agreement: money and entry visas in exchange for refugees.”
He adds: “Europe has also called for an amendment of the anti-terrorism law, but that will never happen. That law is the main tool against opponents like me. But it was my duty as a journalist, it was my job to denounce that deal.”
Just as it was his duty to denounce the delivery of weapons by the Turkish secret services to active Islamist groups in Syria, as proven with videos and photos published in Cumhuriyet in 2015. The report cost him and the Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül a prison sentence, but he reiterates it was “a true story. No one in the government has ever denied it.”
Dundar does not hold back, defying the European leadership: “The E.U.-Turkey relationship is based on power and mutual threats. Europe is not enthusiastic when it comes to discussing human rights in Turkey. But Turkey is not Erdogan, as Europe is not only its institutions. It is the base that can guarantee support: the way in which the media discuss my country, the repression, the conditions of the press, universities and trade unions. These are the reports we need. Even those about political parties, given that we have 10 members of parliament in prison at the moment. This is the solidarity I am looking for.”
I spoke with Dundar on the sidelines of the awards ceremony earlier this week.
In recent days, Turkey has experienced another attack, and, almost unnoticed, the AKP’s constitutional reform proposal was presented. The government uses fear to concentrate power in one man.
It does so in an environment marked by the absence of free press, strong opposition, civil society and intellectual positions that can challenge this ideology. If we had free media, they would be the voice against the destruction of the opposition, the war on the Kurds and terrorism. But nobody at the moment has the courage to do it, amid the state of emergency and the frequent use of military force as a solution to problems. But the Kurdish question cannot be resolved by military force. We have known that for 40 years and after 40,000 deaths.
Now that half of the HDP representatives are behind bars and their strength in Parliament has been halved, will the reform go smoothly?
I am not sure it will pass, I still believe that many within the AKP, the ruling party, fear Turkey’s isolation and power concentrated in the hands of one man. Some have doubts about it. We cannot know what the outcome will be. But this atmosphere of fear and terror is enough for Erdogan to convince people of the need for strong leadership free of those “details” like a parliament, the press, the opposition, academics.
Turkey is also experiencing a serious economic crisis. Despite the strategy of tension, will discontent start to emerge?
The impact of the economic crisis is hard. People become poorer every day. Factories and shops are closing. If before he blamed the attempted coup, Erdogan now uses the crisis to accuse Europe of wanting him off the Presidency. In the short term, it will help him, but in the long term, the Turks will no longer believe him and discontent will explode.
Which sectors of society support him?
Many in the lower middle class see him as model: He grew up in a poor family, he speaks the language of the people, but challenges the strong powers, the media, Europe, and this is his image. Another element is Islam, which he exploits to secure consent. Finally, he enjoys the support of big capital.
The reportage that forced you to jail, and later to exile, was about the government’s ties with Islamist groups. Why does Erdogan want to set the region in fire?
First of all, to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state in the region — Ankara’s greatest fear. Second, Erdogan wants to expand his power in the Middle East through conflict. Finally, because of his affiliation with Islamist movements and his dream of creating a sultanate.
Europe nominated you for the Sakharov Prize and applauded you, but it does not question its relations with Turkey.
We have to separate the European leadership from the parliament. I am very critical of European policy toward refugees and Turkey, but I think that they are sending a message to the member states with my nomination. A way to say that the E.U. has another vision. Or at least I hope so.
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