Turkey Pulse

How did Turkish media 'lynch' Kurdish singer?

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Article Summary
The late Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor after his life was ruined by Turkey’s “deep state” and mainstream media 14 years ago.

Ahmet Kaya was a Kurdish singer born in 1957 in Malatya, southeastern Turkey. He was phenomenally popular and sold millions of records in the 1980s and 1990s. He was also an anti-Kemalist artist who had bluntly challenged the official state ideology. He never hesitated to charge that the state under the control of the Turkish army was trying to eradicate the Kurds. Kaya was also a stout defender of the religious, Alevi and non-Muslim groups oppressed by the Kemalist regime. He is remembered for defending Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now the prime minister, then imprisoned for reciting an anti-Kemalist poem in the 1990s. At a concert on Oct. 29, 1998, at Taksim Square, he denounced what was done to Erdogan.

Sadly, he paid for his liberal views with his life. In 1999, the Turkish mainstream media pilloried Kaya for being a Kurd. The mainstream media under the former regime was racist and extremely nationalist. That is why the members of the racist media of the time have no credibility in Turkey today. They can only fool Western readers who don’t know Turkey.

Kaya was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor and praised by President Abdullah Gul during the recent ceremony.

A summary of what Kaya lived through will help explain his amazing life story. In 1999, Kaya was given an award by the Magazine Journalists Association. While receiving the honor, Kaya said, "I am receiving this award on behalf of everyone struggling for human rights. In my next album, I will sing in Kurdish and will make a Kurdish video clip. I am sure there are courageous TV people who will air these.”

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These words turned the hall of the luxury Istanbul hotel upside down. Turkish artists and journalists, nearly all Kemalists and nationalists, protested, even throwing their forks and knifes at his table. Kaya barely escaped with his life from the attacks of racist writers and artists, all for expressing the wish to sing in Kurdish.

Kaya survived that encounter, but the media lynching was to start two days later. On Feb. 14, the mainstream daily Hurriyet, whose motto is “Turkey belongs to Turks,” came out with a banner headline accusing Kaya of being a "disgrace."

The dateline under the headline was Berlin, 1993, with a photo of Kaya singing in front of a poster of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and a map of Kurdistan. The caption read, "In front photo, the baby killer." The news report quoted Kaya as allegedly saying, “I couldn’t come here with an orchestra. That would have required another 20,000-25,000 German marks. The men in the mountains need money.”

Hurriyet led this report with, “The organization needs money."

Turkish journalist Ertugrul Ozkok, who was managing Hurriyet, now says he regrets the headlines, but only after years of defending them. Just last year he still insisted that news report was 100% accurate. It was all a plan to use a fabricated article to destroy Kaya. It was later exposed that Kaya had not given a concert in Germany in 1993. He had in fact not gone to Berlin at all that year. There was simply no 1993 Berlin concert. Kaya had not sung in that non-concert, in front of a nonexistent poster of Ocalan and a nonexistent map of Kurdistan. Nobody had said, "The organization needs money.” Kaya never said, “The men in the mountains need money."

In short, Hurriyet, under the management of Ozkok, launched an operation to lynch Kaya by creating a concert, a nonexistent map and Ocalan poster and fabricating words Kaya never said. Ozkok was still repeating the same lies 12 years after Kaya’s death.

After the blatant lies were spread, Turkey’s prosecutor asked Hurriyet for the visuals and video footage from the story. Here is exactly how the legal adviser of Hurriyet, Aslihan Dumlu, replied to the Istanbul police on Nov. 25, 1999: "We have no cassette, taped visuals and documents related to the Hurriyet headline of Feb. 14, 1999."

This, of course, was an indisputable confession that Hurriyet had fabricated that news report.

All the remarks attributed to Kaya that he was accepting the award for the Kurds, that he would make a Kurdish video clip, that he would fight the TV stations that refused to air them and that he would force them to recognize his Kurdish origin were total fabrications to provoke the people against Kaya.

This is what Ertugrul Ozkok wrote in his Feb. 14, 1999, column: "Everything was beautiful that night, with the exception of one ugly man, Kaya.” Just because Kaya said he wanted to sing in Kurdish.

Also on Feb. 14, 1999, popular writer Bekir Coskun, who supports the main opposition Republican People's Party, wrote, "I don’t like Kaya anyway. I couldn’t care less that he was chased out from such a gathering. If an artist is being a separatist, sending the wrong messages to the people, of course he will be chased out."

Two days later, Fatih Altayli, who today manages Haberturk, wrote, "Ahmet, you are an uncultured, illiterate and simple man who doesn’t know what he is talking about. If I ask this Ahmet, ‘What is ideology?’ he would answer, 'Can it be eaten?'"

Following these news reports and comments fabricated in a sinister operation, prosecutors began filing indictments against Kaya. He told them he wasn’t in Berlin on that date, and that he had given no such concert. The prosecutor said he was basing his indictment on newspaper reports. For a nonexistent map and a concert that did not happen, Kaya was almost sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Five months later, the lynching team under the leadership of Hurriyet launched another operation to finish Kaya. Ozkok published Hurriyet on July 20, 1999, with the banner headline, “You, dishonorable." The news report under it read, "Kaya, who gave a concert in Munich, poured insults on Turkey. He called Turkey the ‘land of the dishonorable.'" The report was accompanied by a doctored photograph of Ocalan.

The same day, extreme nationalist writer Fatih Altayli wrote: "If you have money, you can buy Ahmet. Ahmet is a liar, a dishonorable man. He shouts out for anyone who pays him."

Hurriyet wasn’t ashamed to doctor a quote Kaya had made about leaving his car behind because of "three to five disgraceful people" to instead have it say, “I left my car in the country of the disgraced." Kaya was eventually forced to leave Turkey as a result of the constant threats that ensued.

Kaya's wife, Gulten, and daughter, Melis, had moved to Paris. But that wasn’t enough for the racist Turkish media. Another smear operation followed two months later. The Hurriyet headline on Sept. 2, 1999 read: “The crook, the dishonorable in action.”

Again, Turks saw the same lies and the same fake map accompanied by fabricated quotes. It was the media, especially Hurriyet, that made Turkey unlivable for Kaya, who was eventually deported after accumulating scores of fines and sentences based on false documents and news reports. His heart couldn’t cope with the pressure, and he passed away on Nov. 15, 2000.

Kaya was killed in a slow-motion murder. But today, most of Turkey remembers him with affection.

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Found in: media, art

Rasim Ozan Kutahyali has been a columnist for Sabah since 2011 after writing for Taraf from 2008 to 2011. He is a popular political commentator on various TV programs, having started at CNNTurk and now appearing on Beyaz TV. Kutahyali is known for his anti-militarist and liberal political views. He can be reached at rasim.ozan@hotmail.com

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