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The following appeared on the news portal T24 on 11 September 2018. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

The deep alliance’s Cumhuriyet operation

by Oya Baydar

The subject of heated debate for the past few days has been the change of management and editorial staff at Cumhuriyet newspaper. Due on the one hand to this newspaper’s historical and current importance and, on the other, the social-political turmoil we are experiencing, the debate extends greatly beyond the dimensions of a newspaper.

Cumhuriyet newspaper’s 94-year adventure is like a mirror of the history of the Republic. In particular, it is possible to determine from an analysis of the paper which circles Kemalist ideology was championed by and how, the way the coupist-tutelageist-statist line and the westernist-secularist-republicanist line, both of which derived from Kemalism, from time to time converged and from time to time skirmished, the point where balance was attained and the state’s red lines.

As the new management (it really should be called the venerable old management) that has been in place for three days has stated, Cumhuriyet is neither a party’s nor an ideology’s spokesperson. This newspaper has since the first day it embarked on its publishing life been the Turkish nation state’s publishing outlet. Even if political ruling entities, governments, managers and spokespersons change, its basic principles and red lines are the voice of the deep will.

It does occasionally happen that those who hold the state’s steering wheel (i.e. not the driver’s assistant but the real drivers) lose control for a short while due to social developments, groundswells of change, world conditions and geostrategic reasons, as it does that they sometimes fall out among themselves or change direction. However, the mentality, ”When the state’s survival comes into play, all else is detail” is the deep will’s watchword and bonding cement. As to what is first understood by survival, this is the ”chastening and repression” of the elements that do not pay homage to the Turk (especially the Kurds) and the preservation of the state at the cost of sacrificing citizens.

Constitutions change from time to time but the essence of the deep state’s constitution does not. When a danger perceived of as a threat to the state’s survival (for example communism) has disappeared or a current/force/opposition that is deemed to be a threat element makes an alliance with Turkish nationalism (for example the 12 September military coup’s Turkish-Islamic synthesis or the taking surrender of Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP), certain retouches are made in keeping with the spirit of the time and external masterminds but the chauvinistic, monolithic, tutelageist line is preserved in one way or another. Turkish nationalism is the supporting column of the structure while the vulnerable point is the Kurdish issue. If you chime in with the state’s deep layers on these two points, there is no problem and you can engage in opposition on other matters (for example Sözcü newspaper).

A long journey arm-in-arm with the deep state

These are not fond memories, but it was Cumhuriyet newspaper that, in its 12 July 1951 edition, printed Nazım Hikmet’s photograph on the front page going on to say, “Let the people spit in his face to their hearts‘ content,” that also supported until the end the operation verging on genocide during the 1937-38 Dersim massacre and approved the brutality there, that also ran the headline, “Greetings from Kemalist Turkey to fascist Italy” above nine columns (22 May 1932), that also through its reports and columns – including those by leading columnists - supported Nazi Germany and Hitler’s Germany during the Second World War (the headline on 21 June 1941: “Sincere congratulations between our national chief and the Führer”), and that also supported the coups in 1960 and thereafter, first openly and then somewhat abashedly – until it was affected itself.

This situation is not actually the fault of the paper’s managers and columnists. The order was from a high place: it came from the state’s guardians and they fulfilled their duty for the state’s survival.

Accidents will happen

For sure, nothing works this mechanically. Just as there may be scuffles in the depths, the relative independence of publishing outlets is always a given. The personal political-ideological preferences and reactions of columnists, cartoonists and journalists cannot be dismissed or belittled, especially in periods in which societies undergo deep change-transformation.

Within these parameters, Cumhuriyet newspaper has now and again deviated from the line of the forces whose spokesperson it is and has gone through periods in which it has become desynchronized from these forces and certain managers, journalists, columnists and cartoonists have been seen to pass into the opposition and to have paid the price. However, when it appears on the verge of crossing the state’s red lines, the referee’s red card is ready. The whistle blows and the operation is successfully pulled off with internal support, to the accompaniment of pronouncements, “Cumhuriyet is saved. It has returned to Ataturkism.”

The last two accidents suffered in the paper’s past were the incidents in which the move (or dream) of the new management to turn the paper into a pluralistic, libertarian, secular and democratic publication as independent as possible from the deep will finished up in the police station in the crisis experienced in 1992 following the late 1980’s when Hasan Cemal was editor-in-chief and that following Cumhuriyet Foundation’s 2014 congress.

Under the arduous conditions of the period we are living through, the intervention against this most recent road crash was far harsher and more lawless, ruleless, below the belt and devoid of ethics/morality than its predecessors. (Plenty has been written about the way those included on the foundation’s new management were informants and prosecution witnesses in the horrific Cumhuriyet trial in which people were held in detention for years and months in an arbitrary manner and were sentenced to years in prison without the slightest scrap of inculpatory evidence, so there is no need for repetition.)

Not a media operation, but the deep alliance’s coup

Analysing events as being the AKP’s media operation would be a deficient interpretation. Tayyip Erdoğan undoubtedly wished to silence Cumhuriyet and used his influence over the judiciary to this end. However, were we to conceive this as being the full extent of the affair, we would not have grasped the truth in its full extent and gravity. The Cumhuriyet coup came from the deep alliance that the Eurasianist-Ergenekonist wing of the deep state that is strong at this time has formed with Erdoğan’s AKP, the fascistic Turkish nationalism represented by Bahçeli and the neo-nationalists.

The individual who took up the duty in the operation as the moral if not official representative of the secular (large) capital group betrayed this truth true to duty and with pride in informing those in his circle that he had consented to a request from the highest echelons of the state. Cem Küçük, eager to protect Ataturkism (!), in writing, “The newspaper’s basic policy is Ataturk’s enlightenment revolutions. There has of today been a return to the editorial line faithful readers have wished for,” found himself in accord with Sözcü columnist Uğur Dündar who rejoiced, “Cumhuriyet’s castle has been retaken” and Union of Bar Associations’ chair Feyzioğlu, who tweeted, “We can now once more wake up happily every morning to Cumhuriyet.” For his part, Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan also made clear how he had kept his column in passing judgment in a manner redolent of the Cumhuriyet trial’s indictment and grounds for sentencing, “It seemed like an anomaly for Cumhuriyet newspaper to turn into the HDP’s advocate.”

Those who have suffered the most from the Cumhuriyet operation that the deep alliance staged under the cloak of Ataturkism are in my view those valuable, honourable, conscientious journalist colleagues who were inveigled – be it due to their character flaws, ambitions, personal grudges or jealousy, be it down to ideological fanaticism that they thought to be Ataturkism, or be it from naivety out of a sense of allegiance to old friends and memories - by deep functionaries into agreeing to be extras in this operation.

Certainly, everyone bears the weight of their own conscience, but I am saddened on their behalves. They did not deserve this. Or, I wish to ask if they were not acquainted with this state, and especially with the deep will. Or if they are acquainted and in agreement.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton