German reporter bids “a bitter farewell” to Turkey

Thomas Seibert, a reporter for the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel daily, who left Turkey after his press card was not renewed by Turkish authorities, wrote an article bidding “a bitter farewell” to the country where he has worked as a journalist for 22 years.

A war of words between the two countries was initiated by Turkey’s Interior Minister earlier when he threatened German nationals who come to Turkey for a vacation, saying that they will be detained if they attend “terrorist activities” abroad. Berlin responded by updating its travel advisory to citizens who go to Turkey, mentioning Ankara’s loose definition of terrorism.

Joerg Brase, Istanbul bureau chief for ZDF public television, who was also initially denied renewed accreditation, said on Twitter on Tuesday that Ankara “took back their rejection” of his press card for 2019 and that he would return to Istanbul soon. However, there has been no news yet of Seibert’s status regarding renewal.

Turkey started this practice after the failed 2016 coup, using what was merely a paperwork formality as a political instrument to intimidate Western journalists, according to Seibert.

Seibert was accredited to work in Turkey in 1997, the year of the secularist military intervention against the Islamist Welfare Party (RP). The measures taken by the secularist establishment in those years formed the basis of Erdogan’s rise to power.

Seibert’s article gives a short summary of the last two decades of Turkey’s politics through the lens of a European reporter. He gives an account of his very first meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he was sentenced to prison for a poem he recited back in 1998, when he was mayor of Istanbul. Erdogan was sentenced to 10 months in prison for “inciting hatred and enmity” amongst the people after reciting the poem written by a nationalist poet with an Islamic tone.

This prison sentence boosted Erdogan’s popularity among the conservative Turks who felt

oppressed by Turkey’s secular elite, and subsequently, his party secured an overwhelming

parliamentary majority after 2002 general elections.

The German reporter recalls a chat he had with Erdogan about football, and adds, ” For over two decades, I have watched Erdogan’s rise to become Turkey’s most powerful man. Now his government no longer tolerates me as a reporter in Turkey.”

Seibert details the difficulties he had while working as a Turkey-based reporter. “When I explained to my readers why Erdogan is what he is, and that the reasons for his behavior are to be found in his biography and in the political culture of his country, I was often criticized for being an apologist.  And when I described why many Kurds in Turkey feel like second-class citizens, and why some even take the gun in hand, I was often considered a friend to the PKK terrorist organization,” he wrote.

“The handling of dissenters by the state was a constant theme throughout the years. In my first years in Istanbul, I reported on how the police swept young students away with water cannons because they wanted to go to university in an Islamic headscarf. Fifteen years later, the water cannons hit the demonstrators from Gezi Park,” wrote Seibert, underlining the persistence of victimhood despite the revision of victims.

Seibert claims in the article that the Turkish government wanted to set an example with his and Brase’s case. He alleges that there was an immoral offer from Ankara to the Tagesspiegel that wanted to replace him with a different reporter.

“The Turkish government will not be able to reach its goal to control German media outlets,” Seibert’s article concluded.

A war of words between Turkey and Germany see journalists from the latter country denied accreditation to work

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