News & Politics

A Personal Report From Your PJ Media Correspondent in Turkey

A Personal Report From Your PJ Media Correspondent in Turkey
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Service, Pool Photo via AP)

Earlier this year, the owner of a large Dutch news and opinion website (De Dagelijkse Standaard) and I started negotiations about me possibly buying it from him. Until then, I had been a writer at the site, an editor, assistant managing editor and, finally, editor-in-chief. We founded the website in February of 2009. Ever since, the conservative website has grown by leaps and bounds, eventually making it one of the biggest and best-read websites in the Netherlands.

When Joshua Livestro and I started talking about me possibly buying the website, I was incredibly proud and happy. I had always wanted to take it over from him. So when we got a deal together and were preparing to sign it, I was overtaken by pride and happiness.

Normally, when you take over a business, you look at its finances and its potential. In De Dagelijkse Standaard’s case (the name means The Daily Standard, by the way) everything was looking good. I knew that I’d soon be in charge of a successful website that would make me a solid profit.

However, there was also a major concern: I realized that I could run into trouble if the authorities decided to make me legally responsible for every article published there, many of them written by me.

You see, although I’m Dutch, I live large parts of the year in Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey.

That was not a minor issue to me. The last few years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become increasingly dictatorial. Foreign journalists who dared criticize him have been deported, while Turkish journalists were actually arrested and often convicted for “insulting the president.” I had to ask myself: would I suffer the same fate if I took over DDS? Was I willing to take that risk?

Others may criticize me for even asking those questions. It’s extremely easy for outsiders to say that I should “be courageous!” “hold firm!” and “refuse to give in!” Those are statements made by men (and women) who live in a free country, where they don’t have to fear for their safety and freedom if they share their honest opinions on political matters.

Turkey hasn’t been a country like that for many years.

After serious conversations with my wife, I finally made a decision: I’d do it. I’m a journalist/blogger/columnist/entrepreneur, or I’m not. Of course, I’m not going to say or write things I know will get me arrested, but I shouldn’t be so afraid that I refuse to speak truth to power, without regards to the consequences for my family and me.

That’s why I eventually signed the contract to take over De Dagelijkse Standaard. I was and continue to be very proud of our principled stand on a host of issues, including on the dangers of Islamism and Turkey’s increasingly autocratic government.

Then July 15 happened. At night of that fateful day, a small part of the Turkish military attempted to stage a coup. If they had succeeded, Turkey would’ve — at least temporarily — been transformed into a military dictatorship (you can read my accounts of those days below). Now, although the Turkish military has a long history of quickly reinstating democracy after a coup, no military takeover is pleasant. Quite the opposite is true. In previous Turkish coups, the military always organized mass cleansings of the public and private sectors resulting in the persecution (and worse) of critics of the coup. What’s more, even citizens who may have supported the coup got in trouble because they were forced to stay in their homes for days and even weeks at a time. Turks who lived through those times have told me that other Turks literally starved to death in their own homes because they weren’t able to go to a supermarket.

That’s why I left our apartment at 2 a.m. I went to a local market and bought as much food and drinks as I could. My wife was worried sick because it was dangerous out on the streets, but a man’s a man: he has to take care of his family, even when it’s dangerous.

No, let me rephrase that: especially when it’s dangerous.

At the same time, I also knew that we would face incredibly difficult times if the coup did not succeed. Erdogan always planned on becoming Turkey’s sole ruler, its dictator. A failed military takeover would give him the opportunity to finally do so, to seize all power for himself.

That’s exactly what happened. Erdogan survived the coup. One day later, he was stronger and more powerful than ever. Since then, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs due to Erdogan’s purges, thousands of soldiers have been arrested, and many journalists have been thrown in jail, while Erdogan vows to target even more critics. As one of his ministers said today:

In the meantime, I and my team of editors at De Dagelijkse Standaard have continued to criticize Erdogan’s dictatorial policies. The purges he has orchestrated are inhumane and, clearly, in breach of international declarations of human rights. Erdogan even admits as much himself: there’s a reason his government has declared the European Convention on Human Rights invalid for the time being.

As a result, I and others like myself (colleagues in this country) suddenly realize that we too could be added to a blacklist soon, resulting in our imprisonment or deportation. Yes, I truly live with the idea in the back of my head that the police can show up at my doorstep at any moment and take me away, just because I refuse to worship Sultan Erdogan.

In fact, I take this threat so seriously that I’ve actually made an emergency plan for my wife. If I’m ever targeted, she knows whom to contact (Dutch politicians, colleagues at De Dagelijkse Standaard, colleagues here at PJ Media, and so on) and what to do. That way I hope to limit the amount of time I’ll spend in detention if it ever comes to that.

Those who have never lived in a country in which this is a real option will never understand what this feels like. It’s something you carry with you wherever and whenever you write a new article in which you criticize the Turkish president.

Of course, there are well-intentioned friends and even strangers who tell me to simply get out of Turkey — now! “Grab your bags, and leave.” That sort of thing.

Sadly, it’s not that simple. First, I have a Turkish wife who’s very close with her family. It’s not a small thing to her to leave them behind. My guess is it wouldn’t be easy for you — or your partner — either. Additionally, she has quite a good job. She can’t “just” find a new job in a different country that’ll pay the same.

What’s more, although I certainly detest Erdogan and everything he stands for, I do love Turkey itself. Yes, 50 percent of Turks support their president, but that’s in large part due to the fact that the Turkish media have become his propagandists. There’s no such thing as a neutral, objective media in Turkey. As a result, the average Turk — especially one living in the nation’s poorer heartland — has no idea what’s truly going on in their country. There certainly are diehard Erdogan supporters who’ll defend him no matter what, but every AKP-voter is not an “Erdoganist.”

Make no mistake about it: Turkey is a beautiful country and the Turkish people are, generally, very warm and kind. I won’t “just” turn my back on them, especially not now that they need classically liberal voices more than ever before; voices that call for a third way between the Islamism of Erdogan and the socialism of the main opposition party.

That’s why I refuse to give up, for now. Yes, it could very well be that the authorities will eventually target me. I have to take that into account — and, between you and me, it can be quite frightening — but that doesn’t mean I’m already prepared and willing to throw the towel into the ring. I’ll continue as long as I can… and I’ll see what I can do when that is no longer the case.

In the meantime, be sure to check PJ Media regularly: I’ll continue to write here about what’s going on in Turkey. Possibly with some fear in the back of my head, but always telling you the truth, no matter the possible consequences for me.

Read Michael van der Galien’s recent reports on the Turkish coup attempt:

Live From Turkey: Soldiers Everywhere; Possible Military Coup

Turkey: Coup Has Failed, Erdogan More Powerful Than Ever

Dutch Turks Assault Dutch Media After Coup Attempt in Turkey

Turkish Cabinet Minister Accuses United States of Being Behind Coup Attempt

Turkey: ‘Enemies’ Held at Unknown Locations, Rumors of Torture