When I heard that Bram Vermeulen, my award winning successor as the correspondent of NOS, the main T.V. and radio news in the Netherlands, and reporter for the respected NRC newspaper, was blacklisted by Turkey, I immediately thought of my friend and former colleague, Aliza Marcus.
It was 1995. The PKK and the Turkish army were fighting hard. Hundreds of villages were being besieged or burnt, or both. People were getting shot in the street, in broad daylight, or were kidnapped and tortured to death. Or disappeared. We, journalists, sometimes had to risk our lives to get the truth out and I learned to deeply respect my local colleagues. But they often complained to me how their editors in Istanbul would turn around their stories. There was only one good side, and one bad side, and what really had happened was irrelevant.
Aliza had been reporting on the insurgency for Reuters since about a year. The Turkish authorities were not bothered by what she, or other foreign journalists published. Things changed for her when the newspaper Özgür Ülke, believed to be the mouth piece of the PKK, put a Reuters report (from her hand) about burnt villages on the front page under the headline: ‘Army targets Kurdish villages’. A trial in the then still existing State Security Court followed. Aliza was accused of provoking enmity and hatred. It was meant to scare her, and did so. She was acquitted.
I have spent several hours trying to find fault in Bram’s reporting, just like he must have done himself. Not to blame him for what has happened, but to try and understand why it did. Does that help in any way, I now wonder. Sadly I have to admit that it probably won’t, because the whole process has been so opaque, and nobody will officially even admit that he has been blacklisted.
But yes, I did come up with a few reports I thought the authorities may not have liked, and I think Bram’s trouble may have started because of his report about DHKP-C militants, broadcasted on February 5. The militants are interviewed in an apartment in Adana, right under the police’s nose, but Bram finds them instead. They are threatening to attack the Dutch military who are stationed with the Patriots that protect the border between Turkey and Syria. Bram suggests the soldiers might be at risk, thereby again implying that the Turkish security forces are failing to do their job. An ultra-sensitive somebody in Ankara must have been rubbed up the wrong way.
Hürriyet published an interview with Bram. In a separate box an anonymous ‘top level security official’ denies the whole issue. ‘If this were really the case, we would not wait until January to expel him,’ he says. Hmmm. Aliza was never expelled either. Only, in January her press card was not renewed, thereby making it impossible for her to get a new residence permit and stay any longer in Turkey. That is what probably will happen to Bram too. He is worried that he might not be able to come back at all, but Aliza has been back several times since, to visit her many friends here who remain.
Because fortunately there are plenty of lovely people in this beautiful country, who are open-minded and in favor of freedom of speech, also for foreigners. All together we have to keep chipping away at those blockheads that stop Turkey from becoming a first division country and from taking its place in the modern, free world.