Turkish Paper Helms Attack Against Alleged Plotters

In Turkey, hundreds of serving and retired military personnel — along with civilians — have been languishing in jail for months, charged with plotting to overthrow the ruling Islamic AK Party. As yet, no one has been found guilty. Spearheading the attack against alleged military coup plotters is a small newspaper with just 50,000 readers, called Taraf. In January, it published classified military documents describing an alleged plot to bomb Turkish mosques; 80 people were arrested, among them a former deputy military chief of staff. Who's behind this small newspaper that punches above its weight?

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Turkey, hundreds of serving and retired military personnel are in jail. They've been charged with plotting to overthrow the ruling party. So far, no one has been found guilty.

Spearheading the attack against alleged military coup plotters is a small newspaper with just 50,000 readers called Taraf. In January, it published classified military documents describing an alleged plot to bomb Turkish mosques. In response, 80 people were arrested, among them a former deputy military chief of staff.

Julia Rooke in Istanbul reports now on the small newspaper that's been punching well above its weight.

JULIA ROOKE: To reach Taraf, you walk through a European-style cafe bookshop. The smell of real coffee wafts through the air, and you can sit on a leather arm chair and read books on anything from the Republic founder Kemal Ataturk, to novels by Charlotte Bronte and Victor Hugo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROOKE: Unlike other Turkish newspapers, Taraf has no security scanner and no one asks for an ID. Yasemin Congar, Tafar's deputy chief editor, describes it as a liberal newspaper, the voice of the oppressed.

It's been called a government mouthpiece, but she insists it has no religious or party agenda.

BLOCK: I want not only a democratic country. I want a country where the military is out of politics, you know, results of the elections are respected. I don't want any unelected officials holding the power in Turkey.

ROOKE: Taraf opened in 2007 with the first shots of what would become Turkey's trial of the century, Ergenekon, an alleged underground network with links to the military, accused of plotting to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party, which has Islamist roots.

Taraf runs stories that other journalists wouldn't touch, because insulting the military is still a criminal offense in Turkey. Then came the scoops.

BLOCK: All of a sudden, we were receiving all these leads from different institutions from the government, from the military, from the gendarmerie, and all of a sudden, we realized that there are so many people waiting to be whistleblowers in Turkey.

ROOKE: The police arrested hundreds of people charged with belonging to Ergenekon. Taraf published incriminating documents and phone taps.

According to a Taraf columnist and university professor, Murat Belge, these were leaked by the police under the courts.

P: I think what comes from the police through the prosecutors is in some way leaking out to Taraf and to other publications, probably, but Taraf is making more use of them.

ROOKE: But in January, Taraf began calling the shots.

One night, a young reporter called Mehmet Baransu received a suitcase containing 5,000 pages of classified military documents. It contained alleged details of Turkey's biggest and bloodiest plot known as Sledgehammer.

BLOCK: Two major mosques in Istanbul were to be bombed by groups of eight soldiers each. And there was very, very detailed planning of that, including a discovery team, an explosive team, a recording team, a reporting team.

ROOKE: Taraf published the documents. Congar says they corroborated them as best they could by talking to witnesses. She adds, the newspaper was egged on by the prime minister and the head of state intelligence. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Congar says she made no such statement.]

Cuneyt Ulsever is a columnist for Hurriyet. Like Taraf, he relies on leaks. But in his case, they come from defense lawyers representing Turkey's generals. He says the Sledgehammer coup plot is a fake. He doesn't believe Taraf's so-called whistleblowers are acting alone. He thinks they're part of an organized conspiracy to get revenge for years of repression. I caught up with him in a Western-style piano bar.

BLOCK: The religious groups have, for 30 years, tried to put their own man into military, into police departments, into Ministry of Interior. These pro-religious political groups, they work in disguise.

ROOKE: In the end, the courts will decide whether the documents are genuine or not. But Ulsever warns that if the generals are acquitted, for Taraf, there could be hell to pay.

For NPR News, this is Julia Rooke in Istanbul.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.