Efe Kerem Sözeri, a self-declared Kurdish issues expert, prepared a profile about our website’s coverage in which he accused us of being a government mouthpiece, of distortion, and of purposefully ignoring information that contradicted our articles, among other things.
Of all the content on Kebab and Camel’s site, Sözeri is most concerned about our coverage of Kurdish issues.
Sözeri is a member of Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), founded by a veteran Turkish journalist notorious for his support for all of Turkey’s military juntas, and his article is fully worthy of that organization’s traditions. That founder, in keeping with his past journalistic choices, published this column after the 13 March 2016 PKK bombing in Ankara.
In other words, after the despicable attack against civilians carried out by the PKK, Hasan Cemal was more concerned with blaming the Turkish President. As the reader will understand from the discussion below, Sözeri’s concerns are directly in line with the P24 founder’s concerns, and the anxiety he feels about our coverage of the PKK comes from the need to provide detailed cover for that violent, militant leftist organization.
Below is a point-by-point examination of Sözeri’s article. Under each excerpt is information that will provide either correction or context for Sözeri’s claims:
1- “Then, it alleges “İMC TV is PKK linked” without providing any source; and hence, presents NYTimes as PKK’s mouthpiece for their readers. (Ignoring that both founders and contributors had appeared on İMC TV broadcasts in the past.)“
Sözeri uses the word “allege” to suggest that our characterization of IMC TV was incorrect. In fact, a committee of legal experts who reviewed İMC TV broadcasts between May-September 2015 decided that İMC TV is broadcasting on behalf of the PKK. The report states that the TV channel frequently interviews PKK commanders, functions as the voice of the militant group, and tries to justify PKK activities in southeastern Turkey. We think someone who watches IMC TV for a day can easily see that it has a PKK-friendly editorial line. The link with the PKK is self-evident to anyone who watches the channel objectively.
We would also like to remind Mr. Sözeri of the fact that the PKK is globally recognized as a “terrorist organization.”
Secondly, both appearances by our founder and contributor happened in the first five months of 2013, when IMC TV had a different editorial line and the peace-process with the PKK was still continuing. Note the dates of the references that he provides: January and early May 2013. What events might have occurred after those dates that completely changed not only IMC TV’s coverage but also the coverage of many other Turkish media sources?
That’s a rhetorical question.
2- “On January, 11 an article on Financial Times quoted Atlantic Council expert Aaron Stein, who said, “And it is worrying how the Turkish government hasn’t been able to pacify the situation so far, even with the recent military offensive and curfews that started as far back as June.” Kebab and Camel claims that Stein is misinformed, that curfews started in August, not in June. By claiming that, they completely ignore the “military offensive” part which includes non-civilian “Special Security Zones” and army-patrolled “Military Security Zones” issued by the AKP cabinet in March 2015, declared for the first time in Siirt in May, and widened after June 7 elections. Stein, as a security expert, follows Turkey’s military offensive much closer than a regular journalist , but even the official Anadolu Agency reported about the security zones within government’s “war against terror.” So, the Kebab and Camel should know, and I presume they do. But ignoring the pre-elections military deployment in Kurdish cities is intentional. It aims to start the timeline of the conflict from 11 June onwards, from PKK’s statement.“
Here there are several errors that Sözeri makes. First, as Mr. Sözeri says, we were only correcting information about the curfews, not the military zones. Apparently Mr. Sözeri realizes that he has no argument concerning the curfews, since they indeed started only last August. For that reason, he tries to widen the topic to include the “military offensive” part.
Really, the grammar in the original quote from Stein may have led Sözeri into this mistake. What the reader understands from Stein’s quote is that the military offensive is “recent”; because the article appeared in January 2016, “recent” would logically refer to the military operations against the areas which the PKK tried to assert control over through force of arms starting in August 2015 and especially in the fall of 2015.
However, this leads Sözeri into further errors, and into another topic that he purposefully ignores. Sözeri tries to insinuate that the Turkish military’s actions before 11 July 2015 were tantamount to active, i.e. shooting, warfare — obviously they were not as the Turkish armed forces abided by the ceasefire until late July 2015, after the KCK declared the ceasefire’s end and began to wantonly murder Turkish security personnel.
Sözeri apparently doesn’t like the security zones instituted by the Turkish state, but that doesn’t make them a violation of the ceasefire. This is clearly an attempt to redefine the context and chronology of what occurred last summer. In other words, because the facts do not fit Sözeri’s narrative, he attempts to change the facts themselves. This is dishonest.
But the problem is deeper than this. The AA and Bianet articles that Sözeri refers to are both from August 2015 and provide information that is almost exclusively about what was occurring at that juncture. The Bianet article refers to several places in Turkey’s SE where security zones were declared in the run-up to the June 2015 election. Here, again there are two important aspects: One, are these examples of ceasefire violations? No, they are not, although Sözeri is trying to suggest that they are. But a second point is an even larger issue — what else might have been going on that would have sparked the need for security zones?
What Sözeri purposefully does not mention is that the PKK and its youth branch, the YDG-H, had been engaging in acts of violence throughout the two-plus years of the ceasefire. The PKK were cutting off highways, kidnapping civilians and soldiers, attacking soldiers, and even shooting those who tried to escape from the roadblocks; they attacked dam construction sites, torched vehicles, and kidnapped civilian workers; they attacked infrastructure like power lines, and brigdes.
The YDG-H began to conduct traffic stops and ID checks (asayiş) in neighborhoods they felt strong in. And both the PKK and the YDG-H stockpiled weapons. Note that all of these actions were in fact violations of the ceasefire, but the Turkish state did not act against them in order to preserve the peace process’ continuation. And this does not even mention the pogrom that the YDG-H’s urban militants carried out in October 2014, with the result of more than 50 people losing their lives. More on that below.
Having said this, Sözeri also can’t hide the fact that it was PKK who ended the ceasefire in July. Let’s leave Mr. Sözeri’s semantic games aside and examine the facts:
Bese Hozat, the KCK Co-Chair, in her article dated July 15, 2015, declared that the only solution for the Kurdish question was “revolutionary people’s war.” She tried to legitimize PKK’s upcoming war by citing Turkey’s arrests of junior HDP officials, building dams, military stations, and military roads.
Then we all know what happened but Mr. Sözeri does not mention events, because his narrative will quickly be exposed as a fabrication.
On July 21, six days after Hozat’s column, the PKK killed a soldier in Adıyaman while he was undertaking a routine search operation.
On July 22, the PKK killed two police officers in Şanlıurfa while they were asleep in their beds. The group officially claimed the responsibility for the attack with a press release published by PKK news agency ANF. They alleged that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the ISIS bombing in Suruç. Weeks later, due to public backlash, the PKK retracted the claim that it carried out the attack. This is a common PKK tactic.
On July 23, the PKK killed a traffic police officer and injured another one in Diyarbakır by setting a trap with a phone call saying there was a traffic incident.
Also on July 23, the PKK killed a civilian in Adana, in front of his own family and kids. The group claimed the man was an ISIS member because of his long beard.
3- “Perhaps the most frequent and arrogant claim on the blog is that “PKK unilaterally ended the ceasefire and resumed armed struggle in summer 2015. PKK’s umbrella organization, KCK, announced an end to a two-and-a-half-year-long ceasefire with the government on July 11.” I am serious when I say ‘frequent’ and ‘arrogant’ —like, 47 times frequent; and teaching-it-to-Reuters arrogant. (Fact is, Reuters reported about KCK’s announcement before the Kebab and Camel website was even created.)”
As we have repeatedly showed, Reuters never provides this information or other statements by KCK officials as background when it mentions the “collapse of the peace process.” This is simply not a debatable point as it is consistently present in what Reuters publishes on current Turkish topics. That means Sözeri’s statement is nothing more than a passionate verbal attack.
We can also note small errors in the manner in which Sözeri refers to our site — we’re a blog? No we’re a fact-checking and commentary website. Arrogance is also in the eye of the beholder, Mr. Sözeri — as far as we can understand, the “arrogance” you identify in our features stems purely from the fact that you don’t like what we’re writing.
4- “And while Reuters reported the KCK statement with its background, Kebab and Camel failed to report even the full title of their source: “KCK announced the end of ceasefire: From now on, the dams will be the target of the guerilla.”
The PKK’s own version of Pravda, ANF News Agency, actually used a different headline, “KCK: From now on we won’t accept abuse of the ceasefire”:
But of course T24 (which Sözeri showed as a reference) knows better than the PKK’s media when it comes to KCK announcements.
The full KCK statement blamed the Turkish government for committing a “cultural massacre,” and said Turkish state never stopped building military outposts, military roads, and military dams.
Sözeri’s conspiracy theory on “military dams” is ludicrous, and based on unconfirmed reports in Turkey’s leftist media. For example, the Radikal report Sözeri references uses the phrase “it was claimed” (öne sürülüyor, savunuluyor, iddialara göre) in place of showing an actual source. This means that the newspaper had no evidence supporting this theory other than leftist gossiping. And the Radikal article makes clear where that gossiping came from: the HDP’s predecessor party, the DTP. However, the HDP has tried to keep the theme about “military dams” alive over the past several years. Really, when Demirtaş talks about this particular item, it sparks wry laughter: laughter because the idea is so patently unserious, wry because Demirtaş is acting as an apologist for the PKK.
Of course Mr. Sözeri believes such a theory, because he would like to do so. The government has never accepted such accusations and we don’t have any reason to believe the “military dams” theory unless there is legitimate and reasonable evidence. Some foreign journalists have even tried to pick up the topic and notably failed to produce a convincing argument:
Maybe Sözeri can release an explanation of the use of dams and reservoirs in military strategy throughout history and how that relates to the PKK? Maybe they can describe in detail how the Dutch use of water against the Spanish invaders in the 16th and 17th centuries is relevant? But more to the point, maybe they can explain how building a dam amounts to a ceasefire violation?
In fact, the AK Party government has built dams all over the country, including in the Black Sea region where the government has faced intense backlash from locals due to environmental concerns. The reason for the dams is clear and obvious: to provide electricity as well as drinking and irrigation water for local regions across the country. If we were to follow Sözeri and Demirtaş’s logic to its ends, then the GAP project, which is intended to provide electricity and water to a broad swath of SE Anatolia, is an anti-PKK military project.
But in an entirely different sense it actually is, and this is what the PKK fears the most: the dams will bring more economic prosperity and development, and that will directly decrease the PKK’s popularity amongst the local Kurdish population throughout southeastern and eastern Anatolia. In its essence, the argument about the “military dams” is an immoral argument intended to prevent the economic development of Turkey’s Kurdish regions. Improving the lives, life standards, and opportunities of Turkey’s Kurdish population is what the PKK opposes, because they know that their support amongst Kurdish people will evaporate as that happens.
A short note about roads and military outposts: any modern state has and exercises the right to build roads and military outposts. Turkey’s democratically elected government, which chose not to engage the PKK militarily at the risk of losing some aspect of local control to the PKK’s local branches (as has been illustrated amply by the towns and neighborhoods under curfew) has the right to continue building more military outposts. They are a natural aspect of any state’s own security precautions. Furthermore, those actions do not constitute the ending or violation of a ceasefire. The critical point is here that the PKK was looking for justification to end the ceasefire, and Mr. Sözeri is trying to provide them justification. The Turkish government was not the party which ended the ceasefire; the attacking party was the PKK, and they even announced to the world their decision.
Sözeri also mentions Medeni Yıldırm’s shooting death in 2013. Yıldırım was shot during a protest of a military outpost construction in Lice. What Sözeri does not explain is the context for the outpost’s construction and the protests. At that time, the Turkish state was carrying operations aiming at eradicating the massive marijuana-growing operations that the PKK maintained in the areas around Lice. These marijuana farms were widely known and provided large amounts of liquidity for the PKK’s operations.
Once Turkish security forces began to target those illicit drug-growing operations, then social unrest grew in Lice, both as a result of the cut in cash flows and from PKK provocation. The military outpost under question was being constructed as a part of that effort to curb the PKK’s illegal drug producing and trafficking operations. The trial of soldier accused of killing Yıldırım, Adem Çiftçi, is ongoing.
5- “In the face of these criticisms, PM Davutoğlu said that he had ordered “all security measures to be taken” right after Kobani protests of October 2014. Turkish press reported “How the Peace Process ended, Davutoğlu reveals for the first time.” Despite all of that, Kebab and Camel never mentions military dams, high-security outposts or the military offensive by the government. They even deny what PM Davutoğlu admits.”
Of course Mr. Sözeri does not mention here that the PKK led the killing of over 50 people in 12 cities following the HDP Leader Selahattin Demirtaş’s call for nation-wide protests for Kobani in October 2014. The link that Sözeri provides actually explains this plainly. Apparently Sözeri expects PM Davutoglu, the elected leader of a nation of 80 million people, to take this violence silently and simply do nothing? Again, as the article which Sözeri provides as a reference makes amply clear, the Turkish leadership understood well what the PKK’s – and HDP’s – actions in October 2014 implied. Blaming a democratically-elected government for ordering its security forces to be ready against a likely further escalation of violence is simply not a serious perspective to adopt.
6- “However, on 22 March, just three weeks after the agreement, Erdoğan slammed the Dolmabahçe Agreement, said it was wrong “even to stand for a picture together” with the Kurdish movement. After 7 June elections, his tone got more aggressive when he claimed that HDP and PKK are linked. Since then, the story was popularly told as how Erdoğan sought for Turkish nationalist votes at the expense of Kurdish support.It is rather that Erdoğan built a war after he saw that peace was not getting him the votes he needed for an eventual presidency —which he lost in Kobani.“
Is it really? Of course not.
20 minutes after the release of Dolmabahce declaration, HDP Co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş said this on TV in response:
The government can’t say it is progressing in democratization while at the same time insisting on [a new domestic security package]. This draft law won’t bring peace…. We would very like to have peace. The government does not give any hope at all through the policies it is following. It does not promote peace.
In other words, twenty minutes after the AKP government and representatives of Turkey’s Kurdish political movement reached agreement on a historic accord outlining steps leading towards a possible peace, the leader of the HDP tried to link its support for the process to a piece of legislation in the parliament. Does this seem like a statement from someone whose intentions are pure? Neither the HDP nor the PKK were actually sincere.
On March 11, 2015, KCK Co-Chairs Cemil Bayık and Bese Hozat said live on IMC-TV (not a coincidence) that the PKK’s disarmament was simply election propaganda. The PKK would only disarm itself in a congress which PKK founder and leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in prison, could join. “The PKK won’t carry out a decision unless Öcalan is freed.”
As one can easily recognize, neither the HDP nor the PKK were sincere in their attempts to maintain the peace process. The Kurdish parties tried to enforce new rules and set new conditions continuously, the proverbial “moving the goalposts,” even though they did not keep their basic promise: withdrawing their forces completely from Turkey to Northern Syria.
On top of this, HDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş made it clear that he would not negotiate anything with President Erdoğan as the leader of the HDP.
On March 17, 2015, he told a HDP parliamentary group meeting, in reference to President Erdoğan, “We won’t allow you to become president, we won’t allow you, we won’t allow you.” This then became the slogan for the entire anti-AKP opposition in the run-up to the June 2015 parliamentary elections.
We think this is the part everyone is missing. The HDP could have still opposed Erdoğan’s executive presidency bid through parliamentary, democratic politics. But publicly ridiculing President Erdoğan while the Turkish state is trying to negotiate with you, with your party, your leader Öcalan, and your armed organization does not give the impression that you have sincere intentions.
7- “One of the founders of the Kebab and Camel blog, Adam McConnel, thus wrote in his post “The rise and fall of Selahattin Demirtaş:” “Demirtaş, for his part, has engaged in increasingly militant rhetoric since, and refused to distance the HDP from the PKK’s violence… In reality, Demirtaş has never openly, definitively rejected the use of violence in politics when speaking to his political base.” Let me offer my Kebab-and-Camel-checking service here: This is a blatant lie.
In response to the Kobani situation, Sözeri tries to provide more cover for the culprits of the October 2014 violence in Turkey’s southeast. He tries to argue that, because not all of the deaths occurred at the hands of the YDG-H, that it cannot be termed a “pogrom.”
For Mr. Sözeri’s reference, here are definitions of “pogrom” from two authoritative dictionaries:
Note the Russian word which the term came from, and the historical context in which the term became prominent.
Now, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SGSQjfevoM
We would like to state that denying that the images in the video can be termed a “pogrom” is mendacious, and attempts to gloss over the situation’s nature. The violence broke out after Selahattin Demirtaş specifically called his base onto the streets, and the message was clear: violence. This was recognized immediately at the time. Sözeri’s claim that PM Davutoğlu or President Erdoğan only later tried to blame the HDP or Demirtaş for political purposes is in complete and total denial of every reality about the situation. This is shameful, Mr. Sözeri.
Sözeri then tries to aggressively attack one of our contributors in order to claim that HDP leader Demirtaş has rejected political violence. Sözeri provides four quotes to back up his claim. The second quote actually makes Demirtaş look like a defender of the PKK, so we’ll do Mr. Sözeri a favor and ignore that one. The other three quotes refer only to the PKK “disarming,” or “laying down weapons” as the literal translation from Turkish goes.
Mr. Sozeri obviously did not carefully read what Mr. McConnel wrote, and fails to see our reasoning. We don’t say that HDP leader Demirtaş has not called on the PKK to “stop shooting.” We said that Demirtaş has never openly, definitively rejected the use of violence in politics when speaking to his political base.
And we have plenty of proof.
October 2015, Selahattin Demirtaş on HDP deputies going to the funerals of PKK militants:
The media lynch us because one of our MPs joined the funeral of a PKK member. This is our electorate. Let me say it clearly, I would launch an internal inquiry if an MP would not embrace our people’s pain. You received votes from these people. You have to go their funerals as you go to the ones for police and soldiers.
December 18, 2015, Selahattin Demirtaş on the PKK’s digging trenches, building barricades, and setting up IEDs in urban areas:
The issue is neither about trenches nor barricades. We will enhance the resistance. This oppression won’t continue for a long time. We call our people to embrace this noble resistance.
“Excuse me but [they say] the youth were digging trenches, people were building barricades. Show them another way so they can follow that. If you can’t do anything pray. At least you should note in the history that you stood with honorable [people] and [those who are resisting].”
On December 30, 2015, Selahattin Demirtaş characterized the militants in towns where the PKK was battling Turkish security forces as follows: “Cizre, Sur, Nusaybin and Silopi are showing a heroic resistance. This people refuses to submit. These towns write history.”
On March 13, 2016, Selahattin Demirtaş praised the PKK “resistance” again: “The soul of resistance in Cizre and Sur is moving around us.”
Unfortunately, not only has Mr. Demirtaş refused to reject violence, he actually glorifies it. And Mr. Demirtaş’s party, the People’s Democratic Party, also engages in the same reprehensible behavior. After the PKK’s Ankara bombings in February and March 2016, which took the lives of more than 50 people, the HDP refused to sign a joint parliamentary statement condemning those acts of violence. Instead, the HDP forwarded what was essentially a list of demands in regard to the 1st statement’s wording; the HDP’s desired wording, which was rightfully rejected, would have effectively whitewashed the PKK’s responsibility for the bombing and the violence of the preceding six months.
Mr. Sözeri clearly falls victim to his unwillingness to face up to the reality of what he tries to defend. Mr. McConnel wrote that Demirtaş has never openly, definitively rejected the use of violence in politics when speaking to his political base. Look closely at the words used in that sentence – in any of the quotes that Sözeri listed, has Demirtaş done what Mr. McConnel suggested? No – Demirtaş at the most said that the PKK should “disarm” and then hurriedly tried to tell the Turkish state what to do – none of that qualifies as what Mr. McConnel stated.
Now, it is clear from Mr. Sözeri’s article that his English is excellent. Therefore, the problem that Mr. Sözeri experiences with the quote from McConnel cannot be attributed to a linguistic misunderstanding. Instead it is clear that Mr. Sözeri both wants to misread what Mr. McConnel wrote and wants to avoid the reality of the organization that he is defending, the PKK. By refusing to correctly interpret Selahattin Demirtaş’s words, Mr. Sözeri is doing no more than trying to cover up the HDP co-leader’s ethical failures. As McConnel stated, Mr. Demirtaş has never been able to bring himself to tell the PKK, unequivocally and in front of their base, that political violence is wrong, and that the PKK must not only disarm, but reject political violence completely.
Mr. Sözeri also claims that Mr. McConnel engages in a “blatant lie” — actually that would be more appropriate for what Mr. Sözeri claims about the quotes from Selahattin Demirtaş that he includes. All of the speeches from Selahattin Demirtaş that Sözeri quotes were openly reported in the Turkish press, as are all public pronouncements given by not only the HDP but also by the leadership of the PKK’s various incarnations.
8- “Undoubtedly, Kebab and Camel and the like, will continue to tell that PKK unilaterally started this war and will continue to hold HDP responsible for its consequences, while whitewashing AKP and Erdoğan of the war’s political turmoil and human cost. But there will always be journalists and researchers who report the facts, and this is the whole point of this article.”
Honestly, we found this very funny. This statement comes at the end of a section claiming to show that it was not Kurdish voters that propelled the AKP to its 50% tally in the November 2015 election. Here Sözeri shares the same general atmosphere of denial that currently permeates both the HDP and the PKK. Their actions in the past ten months have dramatically decreased the amount of support they receive from Turkey’s Kurdish citizens.
As is amply illustrated in this article’s preceding sections, Mr. Sözeri’s article is not only misleading, it also fails to grasp the complexity of Turkish politics, primarily because he is very much involved with the HDP – this is even illustrated by his Twitter account.
In the last section of Sözeri’s article, he attempts to resurrect the foreign press as an authoritative commentator on Turkish affairs. Unfortunately, Sözeri’s efforts will fall flat until the foreign press is able to improve its performance. As our site has explained time and time again, the foreign press’ biased coverage of Turkey is a long-term problem that is caused by several different factors:
— lack of language skills
— lack of historical, political, or social knowledge
— prejudice coming from political or religious ideas
Sözeri even tries to deny that the “Cihangir bubble” exists, even though this is a phenomenon that is widely known. More correctly, Mr. Sözeri tries to purposefully misunderstand what is meant by the term “Cihangir bubble.” It is a metaphor for a certain mentality that afflicts most foreign correspondents living in and writing reports on Turkey for foreign-language publications. One of our editors, Adam McConnel, happens to be a foreigner, so he wants to add a word about this topic:
Even when I moved to İstanbul in 1999, I was aware of the “Cihangir bubble” phenomenon from things I had read, though I knew it by a different term, “the view from Cihangir.” This is common knowledge.
We also assume that Mr. Sözeri spent a fair amount of time in the Taksim-Galata-Cihangir area while he was a Boğaziçi University student. He must be aware that the population in that neighborhood, and its political viewpoint, is starkly different than most of the rest of İstanbul. Notice that this perspective is also not called the “Bebek bubble” or the “Teşvikiye bubble” or the “Kemer Country-Göktürk bubble.”
Mr. Sözeri then ends the article by repeating one of the more popular – and hysterical – accusations leveled at the Turkish government over the past several years, that press freedom is under threat in Turkey. Please refer to this article, and the statistical data contained therein.
After this exhaustive examination of Sözeri’s article, it should be abundantly clear to objective readers what Sözeri’s overall aim actually is. Because we do not want to give undue attention to those who are busy writing apologetic content for militant groups who use young people to carry out massacres in Turkey’s cities, this will be the last article in which we give attention to Mr. Sözeri or his columns.
In the end, we would urge Mr. Sözeri to devote his energies in different direction. Instead of spending so much time and effort trying to find excuses and justifications for the inherently inexcusable and unjustifiable choices that the HDP and the PKK have made in the past eighteen months, Mr. Sözeri should urge the HDP and the PKK to definitively, finally end their devotion to political violence and truly join Turkey’s democratic political system.
All of Turkish society is waiting to embrace them.