Smear Campaign against German-Turkish Female Activists
Three well-known German-Turkish authors, Seyran Ates, Necla Kelek and Serap Cileli, have recently been the target of smear campaigns in the German edition of the Turkish newspaper "Hürriyet." A background report by Uta Rasche
Every evening at 5:45 when the printing machines in Mörfelden-Walldorf begin to churn, the eight editors of the European edition of "Hürriyet" finally stop to catch their breath. But others begin to hold theirs. The three German-Turkish authors, Seyran Ates ("Große Reise ins Feuer" - "Big Journey into the Fire"), Necla Kelek ("Die fremde Braut" - "The Strange Bride") and Serap Cileli ("Wir sind eure Kinder, nicht eure Ehre" - "We Are Your Children, Not Your Honor") have been the target of a smear campaign by the newspaper since the end of February.
"The mood in the Turkish community has been turned against me," says Berlin lawyer Ates. The women's rights organization "Terre des Femmes" says the women have been put into a situation of "danger" due the articles.
In their books, all three authors have described how Turkish girls are imprisoned in the strict honor code of their families, how women are repressed by their husbands and by the widespread phenomenon of "arranged marriages" and forced marriages among Turks in Germany—topics which they have researched themselves. Their books are partly based on interviews and sociological studies, and partly on autobiographical material.
Cileli, for example, has written about how she herself was forced into an unwanted marriage and how she tried to defend herself. The topic is very much a current affair, even more so since the "honor killing" of a young Turkish woman out in the open in a Berlin street in early February.
"Hürriyet" is powerful
"Hürriyet" is the most widely circulating newspaper in Turkey with 500,000 copies sold daily. Their European headquarters are located six kilometers south of the Frankfurt airport. The editorial staff and the printers are based in a modern building in a town called Walldorf. From here, according to their own statistics, they sell 71,000 copies in Europe, 52,000 of them in Germany. That puts "Hürriyet" at the top of the market among Turkish newspapers sold in Germany.
The reach of this conservative-nationalist popular press daily among Turks in Germany is enormous. According to a study by the Germany-based Society for Consumer Research (GfK), in 2002 forty percent of those surveyed had read the paper in the past two weeks, fourteen percent on the previous day. "Hürriyet" is powerful.
So powerful, in fact, that even prominent German-Turkish figures of stature prefer not to give their names when "Hürriyet" is the topic at hand: "Those who are critical of 'Hürriyet' are reviled so vehemently that I would prefer not to comment."
In the past, even German politicians have been targeted by campaigns in "Hürriyet," which translates as "freedom": Current Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, for example, was slandered while serving as Minister President of Lower Saxony when he supported a stop on the deportation of Kurdish refugees back to Turkey.
Cem Özdemir, a former Bundestag representative (Green Party) of Turkish background, was also targeted when he demanded equal rights for the Alevitic religious community and criticized Turkey for its position on the Armenian genocide.
A visit with the German President
The regular attacks began when the editor of "Hürriyet," Aydin Dogan, was invited to talks with then-Federal President Johannes Rau in the summer of 2001. Representatives of the Federal Press Office, the Interior Ministry, and Rau himself spoke with the Turkish media czar, who also owns several television stations and other newspapers such as "Milliyet" and the sports magazine "Fanatic".
As the story goes, the Germans expressed their interest in fair reporting on German politics and politicians according to the standards of Western journalistic ethics. Shortly after, Dogan dismissed the director of the German edition of "Hürriyet", Ertug Karakullukcu, whose commentaries were considered hostile towards Germany and a hindrance to integration.
The new editor-in-chief, Ertugrul Özkök, is friendly toward Germany and Europe; in the debates about Turkey's possible entry into the EU, the paper toted the position of the Turkish government with the goal of securing a date for membership negotiations with the EU.
Of course, the paper did criticize Christian Democrats Merkel and Stoiber for their pursuit of a mere "privileged partnership" with Turkey. But the journalistic ethics of the paper had improved: Since 2001 press associations have no longer reprimanded the paper for articles on Germany, something they previously did quite regularly.
Further campaigns against Turks
The German edition of the paper has thus become more "liberal"—but apparently only toward the Germans. Smear campaigns still happen, though the deputy editor-in-chief for the German edition, Ayhan Can, refutes this: "We don't engage in campaigns and we don't even want to engage in politics, we want a good newspaper."
But authors Ates, Kelek and Cileli have seen it happen. At the end of February "Hürriyet" reported on new books by Cileli and Kelek, with headlines to the effect that the two authors had denounced Turkish men as violent brutes.
In mid-March the paper followed up with reports—supposedly at the request of Cileli's family who had contacted the editors—aimed at probing the issue of the author's "forced marriage". As a fifteen year old girl, they wrote, the author had willingly married. As proof, the paper published a wedding photo of Cileli in which she is smiling. "Does it look as if she was forced to marry?" asked the paper in large print.
The author was accused of telling stories in order to sell a few more books. "I feel personally threatened. If anything happens to me or the others, 'Hürriyet' is responsible. The way in which they dealt with my biography leads to other girls and women becoming discouraged."
A newspaper for the under-educated
Author Seyran Ates, a lawyer who represents Turkish women and who is not afraid to speak with directness, has also felt the wrath of "Hürriyet." According to her, Turks in Turkey are more progressive than most Turks in Germany. This is on the one hand because it is mostly the less educated Turks that immigrate, but also because of the isolation of Turks in the immigrant community. "Hürriyet" exploits this "not particularly literate or education-oriented group," she says.
The newspaper accuses her of insulting Turkish women, making the Turkish community look bad, and reconfirming German prejudices against Turks by making generalizations. In particular it was Ates' statement in a interview with the "Tageszeitung" that women who are forced to marry are "slaves on the Muslim marriage market" that drew protests from "Hürriyet".
She further outraged the newspaper when she went on to say that many Turkish girls must "give in to having anal sex with boys" because this is considered a good way to protect their virginity and the best form of birth control.
"Hürriyet" printed a series of short interviews with Turkish women in which they heavily criticized Ates. On March 11 the newspaper published an interview with Ates in which she appeared to admit that she had been misunderstood. According to the article, she did not want to generalize but was instead referring only to her clients experiences—i.e., a public retraction.
Ates says today that she had talked with "Hürriyet" but it was not an authorized interview. "I demanded an apology from 'Hürriyet', not the other way around. What kind of journalism is this?"
"The unbelievers are bad"
The Hamburg sociologist Necla Kelek explains the newspaper's reaction: "Turks are not allowed to say anything bad about the Turks, and especially not to a German." She says the idea of the Muslim "umma" is always present: "We Muslims are good, the unbelievers are bad."
Kelek, however, thinks that after forty years in Germany, the Turks "must finally accept German society as their own, instead of helping themselves to economic advantages and the social system and cursing everything else."
In the Turkish edition of "Hürriyet," on the other hand, studies on the topic of "violence in the family" are not taboo. At the initiative of the publisher's daughter, since last fall the paper has led a large campaign with posters, an informational bus traveling through Istanbul and the countryside, discussions with experts in the paper, and a telephone hotline.
No interest in a nuanced debate
At the wish of Dogan's daughter, the campaign will also tour Germany starting in mid-April, initially in five of the larger cities. Preparatory discussions for the German tour took place in early December with the participation of staff from the German Ministry for Family Affairs and "Terre des Femmes."
The latter organization has recently said in a letter to "Hürriyet" that they are unsure if they will participate in the campaign against domestic violence because of the paper's reporting. The articles are "irritating and counterproductive," they wrote, and they show that the newspaper is not genuinely interested in "a nuanced debate."
Competition with satellite television?
How does all this fit together—the newspaper's impetus to enlighten within Turkey, and yet the behavior of the editors at the German edition who strive to reinforce the patriarchal structures of the immigrant community? Perhaps it has to do with simple market strategies: Given the growing competition due to satellite television, this tactic is meant to cater to the tastes of the conservative immigrant community.
Perhaps it is related to continuity in personnel: According to circles around the Dogan publishing house in Turkey, the old editor-in-chief dismissed under pressure from Germany, Karakullukcu, is still serving as an advisor to his successor.
But also in another sense a sober view of the change in direction at "Hürriyet" has set in. The start of a German-language supplement (music, the scene, education and job training) appearing once a week was celebrated as making a great contribution to integration. However, half of its eight pages are devoted to the television program—but at least it is the program for Germany.
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Translation from German: Christina White