An allegation that a tourism minister who resigned in 1997 was forced to do so under pressure from a newspaper has added a new twist to discussions on the role played by some Turkish newspapers during the unarmed military intervention that took place on Feb. 28, 1997, which resulted in the overthrow of the coalition government at the time.
The Refah-Yol government, a coalition government of the Welfare Party (RP) and the True Path Party (DYP), had to resign following resolutions the military issued through the National Security Council (MGK) on Feb. 28, 1997. Many writers, academics and military officers lost their jobs in the period, which began somewhat of a witch hunt for religiously inclined individuals. Turks call the intervention, triggered by the military's perception of the RP as an Islamist threat, a “postmodern” coup.
News stories, most of which are now known to have been deliberately manufactured, played a major role at the time in disseminating the view that Islamism is a growing threat for Turkey. However, the role played by the media was much greater than disseminating propaganda against religious segments of society. One example of this was given by journalist Can Ataklı, who called into a television program on Wednesday and claimed that the tourism minister at the time, Bahattin Yücel, had resigned after being blackmailed by Hürriyet newspaper's Ertuğrul Özkök and Zafer Mutlu. A much-publicized argument followed from Ataklı's allegations.
Ataklı said, in televised remarks: “During the Feb. 28 process, Zafer Mutlu and Ertuğrul Özkök were saying they had six documents on [Yücel]. The minister is a friend of mine. I told him that he would face a major smear campaign and false corruption charges if he didn't resign. He called his family, told them about the situation and resigned.”
Aydın Doğan, the owner of the Hürriyet daily, called in shortly after Ataklı and said, “If Özkök and Mutlu really did that, they are the lowest people on earth.” However, he also said he didn't find Ataklı's statements believable and accused him of “trying to be a hero” but instead only hurting the profession of journalism.
In response, Ataklı said he was deeply saddened by Doğan's words. “I have no desire to be a hero. I just recounted something that I witnessed. I didn't say anything about Mr. Doğan.” He also said he didn't want to get involved in an argument over the incident, saying he was not a party to the issue but only a witness.
On Thursday, Özkök -- one of the two journalists accused by Ataklı of blackmailing a minister to resign during the Feb. 28 process and who was the editor-in-chief of Hürriyet at the time -- wrote in his column that he never had any files concerning corruption on Yücel. “I would have published them immediately if I had had them. I never said any such thing to Yücel.” He said he would resign the second Yücel confirmed Ataklı's words and give up all journalism-related activities for the rest of his life.
Mutlu also released a written statement on Thursday, saying Ataklı was “confusing the events of 15 years ago.”
Former minister Yücel partially confirmed Ataklı's words, saying he had heard there were plans to launch a campaign against him accusing him of corrupt dealings but that his resignation at the time had nothing to do with it. “After Ataklı told me about this file in the beginning of May 1997, I talked to Mutlu and Özkök about this in detail. Mutlu said there was no such file that he knew of and that pressuring a minister to resign via blackmail was out of the question. Özkök told me this was the first time that he had ever heard about the issue and that he was very surprised. There was no blackmailing or the slightest implication of it.”