READING THE MEDIA
The urban theater of violence in Turkey continues
Last week’s dramatic public attack on a Turkish journalist + Guy Martin’s City of Dreams
On 6 May 2016, Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, stood outside Istanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse speaking to a group of gathered reporters. During this short recess for a trial in which he was one of the defendants, a gunman emerged from the crowd and attempted to shoot Dündar, crying, “You are a traitor!”
Dündar and a fellow journalist were on trial following Cumhuriyet’s publication of stories and images claiming to show the transport of weapons to Syria in trucks belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT). The trial continued after the attempted shooting and he and his colleague were subsequently found guilty of “leaking state secrets“** and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
This follows the government’s recent takeover of the country’s largest daily newspaper, and the majority of its influential television channels and news agencies, heralding what has been called “the funeral of journalism in Turkey.”
The dramatic public attack on Dündar was captured by press photographers already on-scene for the trial. The gunman was subdued by quick, courageous action from Dündar’s wife and the opposition party (CHP) lawmaker Muharrem Erkek, who together managed to restrain him.
“It’s so close to a fictional scene that you can’t quite believe it happened. But that kind of thing just seems to happen all the time now in Turkey… The lines between reality and fiction [there] are so, so grey…”
—GUY MARTIN, reporting back from Turkey on the event and its coverage
Guy Martin’s City of Dreams explores what he calls the “sheer theatricality” of the 2013 protests in Istanbul, by pairing real images from the events with photographs taken behind the scenes of one of Turkey’s most beloved soap operas and most popular exports. During the protests, “everyone seemed to me to be a character,” and the presence of a camera encouraged people to play into their roles, to wave more flags or take a more heroic stance, embodying characters they might like to play in the TV series of their lives.
The images of real events are not identified as such within the larger series, and their virtual indistinguishability from the mafia shootouts and beautiful seductresses of the TV drama speaks both to universal problems with the public relation to the media and regional preoccupations with projection and image control. Guy’s project is ongoing, and continues to trace public performativity for the media in the face of political unrest in Turkey.
* In the foreground, wife of Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and an opposition party lawmaker attempt to overpower a gunman, who, convinced of Dündar’s traitorous activities, attempted to shoot the journalist while he was on break from court. Nearby, Can Dündar is protected by another man. May 6, 2016 in Istanbul. Picture released by Cumhuriyet. AFP photo.
** “Early in 2014, a truck understood to belong to the Turkish intelligence service (MIT) was stopped near the Syrian border. The gendarmerie and the intelligence officials in control of the convoy pulled guns on each other. This was the moment the two blocks vying to rule the state came face to face. The truck was searched. Beneath the camouflage composed of medicines boxes, weapons and ammunition were found. The truck was held for a while, but following the intervention of government officials a safe passage into Syria was granted.
The government immediately discharged the prosecutor and gendarmerie who stopped the convoy and had them arrested. It was declared that the trucks contained humanitarian aid. This incident, which fueled allegations that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government was intervening in the Syrian civil war, was rapidly covered up.
In May 2015, however, Cumhuriyet Daily, the newspaper I serve as the editor-in-chief, acquired the footage of this incident. It was clearly visible that the truck was loaded with arms. It was thus documented that the intelligence service was illegally carrying arms into the civil war raging in a neighboring country. This was big news. We published details of the operation with photos, and uploaded the video to our website.
Erdoğan was in a fix. He couldn’t refute the story, so instead chose to censor the publication and threaten the journalist responsible, who was me. In a live broadcast on a state TV channel, he said: ‘The person who wrote this story will pay a heavy price for it; I won’t let him go unpunished.’ He added that the footage was a ‘state secret,’ and that publishing it was an act of ‘espionage.'”
— Can Dündar, extract from The Guardian
*** A plain clothes police officer aims his gun at the gunman who tried to attack Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. Photo published by Cumhuriyet. AFP photo.
**** Can Dündar and fellow journalist Erdem Gül speak to the press after receiving the verdict on their case, which sentenced both men to five years in prison for revealing state secrets. “All of us have to be brave,” Dündar told reporters after being victim of two assassination attempts that same day. Image via Hurriyet Daily News.