Some people, highlighting Aygün’s Kurdish identity, claim he was never really kidnapped and suggest he was in fact party to a propaganda stunt by the PKK, which has upped the ante in recent weeks. Aside from claiming new victims, these attacks are also raising the level of tension across the country and preventing a necessary discussion of Kurdish rights. Aygün, in fact, openly condemns the PKK’s methods, its attempts to impose its way of thinking on the entire region and its refusal to allow alternative voices to emerge. Others couldn’t get past the deputy’s Alevi identity and his status as a member of Turkey’s main opposition party, the CHP.
Sympathy for Aygün was even limited within the opposition party itself, where the moderate views he expressed upon his release caused a stir. Some of his colleagues sought to distance themselves from his opinions, particularly his belief that the militants he encountered wanted a peaceful solution and were eager to return home.
With the Kurdish question again the dominant item on the political agenda, Turkey’s fault lines are shifting. If the “secular vs. religious conservative” divide persists, the view that the Kurdish problem is primarily one of terrorism, which can be addressed by military means, has formed bridges between the ruling party and nationalist opposition members. On the other hand, a growing number of conservatives, who share the liberals’ concern that Turkey is sliding toward a more authoritarian form of governance, have been critical of the government’s intolerance of criticism, the increasingly limited media freedom and the recent appointment of a police chief accused of torture.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, incensed by a columnist’s criticism of Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s trip to Myanmar, publicly pointed the finger at media owners, implicitly urging them to take action. Many of the government’s fiercest critics in the press have been silenced in recent months. Interior Minister Idris Naim Şahin, for his part, went as far as comparing commentators’ pens with the lethal ammunition used by the PKK.
The role played by members of the media in supporting past military interventions and coup attempts has been much discussed, and rightly condemned, by the current ruling elite. It is rather ironic, therefore -- but also alarming -- that a conservative newspaper used alleged “revelations” of former PKK commander Şemdin Sakık to try and discredit the respected liberal columnists Cengiz Çandar and Hasan Cemal, accused of being close to the PKK. The move, in fact, confirmed that that the underhand methods used by the establishment in the 1990s to undermine the credibility of its critics and manipulate public opinion are still important tools today.
During the Feb. 28 post-modern coup, alleged confessions by the same Sakık had been used in the same way against Çandar, as well as Mehmet Ali Birand and Akın Birdal, who was then head of the Human Rights Association. Targeted as a PKK collaborator, Birdal, who is now a Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy, narrowly escaped death a few days later when he was shot seven times. A memorandum -- the famous electronic “andiç” -- signed by Gen. Çevik Bir later emerged, providing evidence that the allegations had been part of an elaborate PR campaign aimed mainly at people advocating a political solution to the Kurdish question.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government introduced important reforms in the first years of its rule, and it has brought economic stability to Turkey. But its U-turn on reforms is currently leading the country down a dangerous path. No democracy can function without press freedom. The need for transparency, the right to criticize and hold the authorities to account becomes even more important when a country, as is the case in Turkey today, faces major political and security challenges, both within its borders and in its vicinity.