New York Times Editorial Board Highlights “Foreign Journalists Under Fire” in Turkey, Azerbaijan

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September 10, 2015

By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

On Sunday,
September 6, the New York Times
Editorial Board wrote a rebuke of three countries in the world whose
governments have intimidated, beaten, prosecuted, and imprisoned journalists
all in an effort to silence the freedom of the press. In addition to Egypt,
Turkey and Azerbaijan were rightfully called out for their anti-democratic
trends.

“On Tuesday,
in Azerbaijan, an award-winning investigative journalist was not allowed to
finish her closing statement before a judge sentenced her to more than seven
years in prison.

 

“Authorities
in Turkey, meanwhile, took three journalists from VICE news, a media company,
into custody last weekend, claiming, spuriously, that the journalists were
aiding the Islamic State. Later in the week, police officers raided the office
of another company that owns news outlets.

 

“These efforts
by governments to silence journalists are having a profoundly corrosive effect
on journalism at a time when strong news gathering is sorely needed.”

It is
refreshing to hear the NYT Editorial Board continually call for “a more robust
response from the international community.” Indeed, such calls were registered by
the Times when RFE/RL reporter Khadija Ismayilova was first arrested in Azerbaijan
10 months ago. The Times went even
further when they published Ismayilova’s jail-penned letter to the editor this
summer.  

While Turkey
is less frequently criticized in major publications, the New York Times did identify
“Mr. Erdogan’s paranoid bullying” following a wave of mass arrests of
journalists and new laws restricting public access to the Internet late last
year. “Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to stifle criticism and dissent show an
authoritarian leader living in a parallel universe,” the Times wrote in December.

In 2013,
Turkey surpassed Iran and China as the world’s number one imprisoner of
journalists, a title that it retains today.

Certainly,
the NYT is correct to assert this week that “World leaders, meanwhile, should
do more than issue paltry statements expressing ‘grave concern.’ They should
raise hell.”

The question
is, will world leaders, particularly here in the United States, heed these calls,
or will the Turkish and Azerbaijani government’s assault on independent
journalism continue to get worse?

U.S. Slams Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan For Another Anti-Israel Remark

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Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (left) tells Israeli President Shimon Peres (right), “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill,” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. January 29, 2009

By Taniel Koushakjian

August 22, 2013

In the latest development of the Turkish government’s increasingly anti-Israel posture, this week Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan made the audacious claim that Israel was behind the Egyptian military’s ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Speaking to a group of provincial governors of his AKP party, Erdogan reportedly stated: “What do they say in Egypt? Democracy is not at the ballot box. Who is behind it? Israel. We have in our hands documentation.”

This statement was quickly rebuffed by Israeli and U.S. government officials. In response to a reporter’s question specifically citing Erdogan’s comments, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said “We strongly condemn the statements that were made by Prime Minister Erdogan today.” “Suggesting that Israel is somehow responsible for recent events in Egypt is offensive, unsubstantiated and wrong,” Earnest stated.

According to the Jerusalem Post, “Erdogan’s rant was not worthy of a response, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Tuesday. ‘This is a statement well worth not commenting on.’”

Erdogan’s anti-Semitic statements have become a new normal for him and his Islamic AKP Party. A few weeks ago, Erdogan blamed the Turkish uprisings surrounding the Gezi Park protests as being motivated by the “interest rate lobby,” a reference widely interpreted to mean Israel.

While these statements may win him praise on the streets of the Arab World, Erdogan may be miscalculating the effect. “’Erdogan’s speech blaming Israel for the coup in Egypt pours cold water on the option of Israel cooperating with Turkey on the gas pipeline,” Gilad Alper, a senior analyst at Ramat-Gan, Israel-based Excellence Nessuah Brokerage Ltd. told Bloomberg News. With Turkey looking to import Israeli natural gas, it appears that Erdogan’s continued anti-Semitic statements jeopardize Turkey’s dream to becoming a major energy hub in the region.

Statements such as these also have an unfortunate effect on Turkish society. Anti-Americanism in Turkey is among the highest in world and has been for many years. The growing anti-Semitism and increasing Islamism in the Turkish government appear related. 

However, Erdogan’s comments are not just confined to Israel and the Jewish people. A headline last month in Commentary Magazine read “Erdogan’s disdain extends from Jews to Blacks.” Author Michael Rubin states that “Criticizing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the center-left and secular Republican Peoples Party (CHP), Erdoğan declared, “Kılıçdaroğlu is striving every bit he can to raise himself from the level of a black person to the level of a white man.”

Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg goes even further: “It’s time to call Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan what he is: a semi-unhinged bigot.”

Jewish-American and African-American members of the Congressional Turkish Caucus should be made aware of these statements and reconsider their support of a government and society that is increasingly at odds with U.S. interests and those of our allies Israel and Armenia.

Taniel Koushakjian is the Communications Director of the Armenian Assembly of America. Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest, Washington-based, nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues.

[UPDATED: August 22, 2013 at 5:52 PM]