The resignations of Altan and Deputy Editor-in-Chief Yasemin Çongar were announced by Taraf columnist Kurtuluş Tayiz via his Twitter account.
“I regret to have to give you this news. Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar have resigned from Taraf,” Tayiz said in his tweet.
There were also reports that Taraf journalist Neşe Düzel had also quit from the daily.
Over the past several months, Taraf, which had in the past uncovered many suspicious plans targeting the government, such as the 2003 Sledgehammer coup plot, was very critical of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's decision to halt democratic reforms. The daily, which sometimes resorted to mockery to voice its criticisms, has been accusing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government of becoming more and more authoritarian every day and allying themselves with the status quo.
Consecutive columns written by Altan over the past several weeks were filled with severe criticism and sometimes insults against Erdoğan and the AK Party.
In his column on Thursday, Altan criticized an unexpected decision from Erdoğan to name a dam in the central province of Yozgat after Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek.
Erdoğan inaugurated 112 separate public projects at a ceremony held in Ankara during which he said he wished to name the Musabeyli dam in Yozgat after Çiçek, adding that Çiçek does not know anything about the plans and that this would come as a surprise to him.
“There is no longer the state, but there is the prime minister instead. There is no longer any need for state institutions, delegations, offices or bureaucrats. Is a decision needed? Ask Mr. Erdoğan and let him tell you what the decision is. Don't waste your time,” Altan wrote in his column.
Erdoğan filed several libel suits against Altan, claiming that the journalist had violated his personal rights in his columns.
Earlier this month, Altan was sentenced to pay TL 15,000 in compensation to the prime minister.
In a column he wrote then, Altan addressed conservative columnists who refer to Erdoğan as their “father” and said: “Don't trust me any longer to provide an income for your father because this is my last penny. Tell your father that if he asks me again for money through his lawyers, I will exclude him from the list of people I have to take care of.”
The resignations at Taraf led to claims over whether they were a result of government pressure due to the daily's harsh criticism of the AK Party.
Neither Altan nor Çongar were available for comment.
Taraf columnist Yıldıray Oğur, who was contacted by Today's Zaman, declined to comment on the resignations.
Over claims that he was appointed as the daily's new editor-in-chief, he said on his Twitter account that such allegations were baseless.
Yet, another Taraf journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, described the resignations as a “government operation targeting Taraf.”
“Taraf's harsh criticism of the government, stemming from its decision to halt democratic and military reforms, caused unease within the government, leading to speculation that the government is putting pressure on the daily to soften its stance,” the journalist said, adding that the owner of the daily, Başar Arslan, was no longer able to withstand the pressure coming from the government.
The Taraf journalist also said Arslan and Altan were for months in disagreement over the government's policies and that they were not talking to each other.
“Arslan prepared the ground for the resignations of the top managers and accepted their resignations without any objection,” added the journalist.
In remarks to the T24 news portal on Friday, Arslan praised the work of the outgoing journalists from Taraf and said they had to part ways due to a disagreement.
“They did very important jobs. They put their names in the history of Turkish democracy. But they became exhausted. At the point we reached today, there is a disagreement,” he said.
With regard to his future plans, Arslan said he does not have any plans to close the daily and that it will continue to run.
When contacted by Today's Zaman, sources close to Arslan said Arslan had asked Taraf columnist Esayan to give up his plan to resign and assume the post of editor-in-chief, guaranteeing that there will be editorial independence.
“We made a lot of self-sacrifice and exerted great effort for this daily. If we cannot keep our [pro-democratic] line, there is no point in running this daily,” Arslan reportedly told Esayan.
Esayan is considering Arslan's proposal, the sources said.
Taraf's shares went up on the İstanbul Stock Exchange (İMKB). In the morning session, the shares increased by 1.39 percent in value and were being traded at TL 7.50.
The rise in the value of Taraf's shares on the İMKB led to further speculation that government manipulation was at play.
Taraf uncovered in 2010 the Sledgehammer coup plot, according to which the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had a systematic plan to foment chaos in society by bombing mosques and attacking popular museums with Molotov cocktails with the ultimate goal of toppling the AK Party government. The plan was drawn up in 2003 and taught in a seminar held at the General Staff's Selimiye barracks in March of that year.
The Sledgehammer trial was concluded in September and dozens of active and retired military officers who were involved in the coup plot were given lengthy prison sentences, which was a first in Turkey.