If you thought you were imagining it, you weren’t. The Guardian really did just publish an article written by an alleged war criminal.
On the one-year anniversary of a failed military coup, The Guardian decided to publish an article by Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In it, he spewed propaganda like:
- “Turkey, a year after the attempted coup, is defending democratic values”.
- “Western leaders have a choice: stand with the terrorists or stand with the Turkish people”.
- That his government had “been able to restore the Turkish people’s confidence in public institutions”.
- “Turkey has set up independent commissions to review the cases of former public officials challenging their dismissals.”
And The Guardian left these assertions unchallenged within the article.
The paper did, however, publish another article from Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – apparently for ‘balance’. In it, he said:
- “Erdoğan exploited the crisis to lead a purge against all oppositional voices to rule by decree.”
- “Turkish democracy has given way to a near-dictatorial regime.”
- “After an illegitimate referendum, held under the state of emergency and in breach of Turkish electoral laws and international standards, the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) imposed a sui generis political system worthy of an authoritarian state… This system enables the president to appoint indirectly all judges and prosecutors. In any event, any judge who contradicts the government faces the risk of immediate removal and even arrest.”
And he concluded that:
Imprisoning MPs, journalists, academics, judges or employing widespread torture is not a defence of democracy. Labelling at least half of your population as “terrorist” is not a defence of democracy. And concentrating power in the hands of one person without any checks or balances is an assault on the very notion of democracy.
Challenging the propaganda
As The Guardian didn’t challenge Erdoğan’s assertions, we will:
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- He spoke of “defending democratic values” and fostering “confidence in public institutions”. But in reality, he’s been subverting both for his own ends. Dozens of elected representatives opposed to his regime, for example, have been arrested or dismissed. Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, says his regime has turned Turkey into “the world’s biggest prison for the media profession”. And only recently, authorities detained a number of leading human rights campaigners.
- He spoke of Western leaders having to choose between standing with terrorists or the Turkish people. But in reality, he has long manipulated the word ‘terrorism’ in order to smear and target his opponents; and to justify his regime killing civilians and anti-terrorist fighters – both at home and abroad.
- He also took a shot at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); a movement which the Turkish state has fought against on and off for decades, leading to significant losses on both sides. And as in most conflicts, civilians were often caught in the middle. In recent years, a peace agreement looked increasingly possible. But Erdoğan ended the process in 2015.
Is Erdoğan really a war criminal?
Since 2015, the civil war has caused death and destruction across mostly Kurdish areas of Turkey. And in March 2017, a UN report described the government’s massacre of Kurdish citizens, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people of mostly Kurdish origin, and “use of counter-terrorism legislation to remove from office democratically elected officials of Kurdish origin”.
Five Swedish MPs, meanwhile, recently filed a lawsuit with the country’s public prosecutor regarding Erdoğan’s role in the war. The complaint, which is the first in Sweden targeting a head of state, seeks “punishment for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”. If pursued, it could end with an arrest warrant being issued against Erdoğan.
At the same time, a recent report [pdf, Turkish] from the Stockholm Center for Freedom claims that Erdoğan actually had a hand in orchestrating the 2016 ‘coup’ as a pretext to crack down on his opponents. And he’s certainly the person who’s benefited most from the coup attempt. Since the event, a mass purge has seen thousands of people arrested, disappeared or killed; with current estimates suggesting the Turkish state has detained over 118,000 people, sacked over 138,000 from their jobs, dismissed over 4,400 judges and prosecutors, and shut down around 150 media outlets.
Seriously, Guardian. WTF?!?
The Guardian may publish articles critical of Erdoğan’s regime. And it may indeed be good practice to give a voice to all sides in any given story when possible. But it’s also a serious error in judgement to give war criminals a platform to spew their propaganda unchallenged; especially when your paper is usually one of the first voices to call out alleged war crimes when they happen.
Such decisions do The Guardian no favours at all.
– Ask Theresa May and your MP to urge the Turkish regime to resume peace talks with its Kurdish communities; to respect freedom of speech and human rights; and to stop attacking anti-terrorist forces in Syria. Also ask the UK government to stop putting business before human rights in Turkey, and to follow in Germany’s footsteps by suspending arms deliveries to Turkey.
– Fight back against the war criminals. Join the media revolution by supporting independent news outlets which seek to hold the powerful to account while informing and inspiring the struggle for an alternative. Add more that you like in the comments section:
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