Title: Turkish Newspapers’ role in winning votes and exasperating Turkish-Kurdish relations: The Ağrı shootings
full name: Lyndon C.S. Way
Ece Nur Kaya
Second version 04.08.2015
Address data of author where proofs should be sent:
Dr. Lyndon C.S. Way
İzmir Ekonomi Üniversitesi
Sakarya Caddesi, No:156
35330 Balçova - İzmir
short title for running head
Turkish Newspapers’ role in Turkish-Kurdish relations
Size: 7933 words
Relations between Turkish authorities and their Kurdish minority have been a source of conflict for decades. On 11 April 2015, in the run up to Turkey’s parliamentary elections, a gun fight broke out in the South Eastern province of Ağrı resulting in six Kurdish people dead and four Turkish military personnel wounded. Though sqirmishes like this are not unusual, this caught the public imagination as it became clear Kurdish civilians helped wounded Turkish soldiers after the shoot-out. The government denied such help and was keen to place the blame for the fight on the Kurdish opposition in its attempt to dissuade the public from voting for Kurdish-oriented parties, thereby increasing their chances of securing a parliamentary majority. The Kurds were keen to do the same to the government for the sake of votes, whilst the mainstream opposition saw this as an opportunity to represent the government and Kurds as poor voting options. The Turkish media, polarized and closely aligned to political interests, recontextualised events in ways which showed their political ties. This paper uses Critical Discourse Analysis to show how this was done in three national newspapers. Furthermore, the paper argues representations as such do nothing to aid in solving the decades old problem of how Turks and Kurds can coexist peacefully.
Lyndon C.S. Way received his PhD in Journalism from Cardiff University and teaches media and communications at Izmir University of Economics (Turkey). He has published on news representations in Social Semiotics (2011), CADAAD (2011), Global Media Journal (2010 & 2012), Journal of African Media Studies (2013), Journalism Practice (2013) and Journalism and Discourse Studies (2015). He has published on popular music in Multi-modal Communication (2012), Social Semiotics (2013) and Kültür ve İletişim (2014).
Ece Nur Kaya received a dual Bachelor degree in Advertising and Public Relations and Media and Communications. Currently, she is completing her Master’s thesis in media and communications at Izmir University of Economics whilst studying Sociology. She is an active member of various human rights organisations in Turkey.
Consecutive Turkish governments have had troublesome relations with their Kurdish citizens, despite numerous peace-driven initiates. A recent peace process between Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Kurdish organisations, including the Kurdish-rights oriented political party, The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the armed resistance group, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), saw some improvement in relations. These included an almost cessation of violence between government forces and the PKK and some cooperation between the government and Kurdish groups. However, these improvements were put under pressure prior to Turkey’s 7 June 2015 parliamentary elections when the political rhetoric saw a breakdown in relations, a stop to the peace process, and accusations of broken promises, each group accusing the other of being a problem, not a solution. This was seen by many as an attempt to attract voters (Köylü, 2015). As the election approached, polls indicated a significant shift in votes from AKP to HDP. Many long-term Kurdish AKP supporters switched alliances, seeing AKP’s peace attempts as a failure (Tremblay, 2015). This was disastrous for AKP’s hopes of securing a fourth consecutive parliamentary majority. To stem this tide, AKP took every opportunity to represent HDP negatively whilst HDP did the same to AKP to win votes.
On 11 April 2015, HDP along with other Kurdish groups organized a tree planting ceremony in Diyadin, Ağrı as part of a Spring Festival. Earlier in the day, the Turkish Armed Forces held a military operation in the area. When members of the PKK appeared, a shoot-out ensued with five PKKmilitants and one civilian killed and four soldiers wounded. There were different statements made by the government and the military about the conflict and its aftermath. A video which showed Kurdish people helping wounded Turkish soldiers initiated discussions in the media about whether the military left wounded soldiers and how Kurdish people (who are associated with the PKK in the eyes of many Turks) actually helped Turkish soldiers. The media associated with different political views recontextualised events over the next week in different ways. Across all newspapers, stories focussing on the peace process were excluded whilst each news outlet highlighted and obscured various aspects of what happened in Ağrı. This paper examines in detail how three national newspapers cover the shooting and the aftermath, each representing events in ways that subtly articulate discourses which reflect their political orientations. Though representations as such agree with the politics of each newspaper’s readership, it is argued here that this does little to create common understanding amongst Turkey’s population and does not aid in solving Turkey’s on-going problems with its Kurdish minority.
Newspapers and Sample
The three newspapers chosen reflect a diversity of political positions seen in Turkish media. There is a history of close relations between media and politics in Turkey (Özguneş and and Terzis, 2000: 414) and the governing AKP has taken more control over the media than its predecessors (Jenkins, 2012). It has done this by putting pressure on existing media to become less critical whilst acquiring more of its own (Sümer and Yaşlı, 2010: 17). Typical of Hallin and Mancini’s (2004) Mediterranean Model of relations between politics and the press, Turkey has a politically oriented press, high political parallelism in journalism, and the state plays a significant role as owner, regulator and funder of media as it oversees a high degree of ideological diversity and conflict in society. The result is a polarised press, with most supporting the government.
Sabah is a pro-government newspaper with a circulation during the sample week of 306,488. It was established in 1985. After a number of take overs, it was sold in 2007 to Çalık Holding whose CEO is the son-in-law of the prime minister of the time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Hürriyet, 2013).In 2013, it was sold to Zirve Holding owned by the Kalyon Group (BBC, 2013). Kalyon’s founder, Hasan Kalyoncu is a long-time personal friend of Erdoğan and contributed to the establishment of AKP (Demirkaya, 2013; Biografi, 2008). This close relationship has benefitted the Kalyon Group by winning numerous government contracts including the metro line and the Taksim pedestrianisation project which led to the Gezi protests of 2013 (Hürriyet, 2013a).
Sözcü is an anti-AKP newspaper with a circulation of 335, 209 for the week under examination. It is also an ardent supporter of Kemalism, which sees Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as the symbolic leader and hero of modern Turkey, a champion of secularism, modernisation and closeness with Europe (Mango, 1999). Turkey’s political opposition use various aspects of Kemalism as part of their parties’ ideologies. For example, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) embraces a Western outlook and secularism whilst the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) emphasises the Turkish nation and state. Unfortunately, Kemalism and Turkey’s Kurdish minority have not always had the best of relations. According to Yeğen (1999), Kemalism first viewed Kurds as an obstacle to modernization and then as a threat to national unity. Sözcü is the predecessor of Gozcu, which was closed amongst complaints that it “had become too critical of the AKP government” (Open Source Centre, 2008). Though once owned by the Doğan Group (itself known to be anti-AKP), today Sözcü is not owned by any media conglomerate. Journalists who experience AKP oppression and censorship generally gravitate towards Sözcü (Çetingüleç, 2014).
BirGün is a left leaning newspaper established in 2004 with stated sympathies for minorities and the oppressed. Indicative of its less mainstream stance, it has a much smaller circulation of 28,177 for the sample week. According to the Hrank Dink Foundation (2014), the purpose of BirGün is to be “the voice of those who are oppressed, exploited and ignored, and those believing in the peaceful co-existence of all nations.” It is run collectively by a group of trade unions and is primarily concerned with democratic, domestic, labor, identity and ethnic issues (Open Source Centre, 2008). It also criticises both AKP and the opposition for not being democratic or transparent enough and argues that state-sponsored secularism in Turkey caused Islam to be used as a political tool by the state (The Open Source Centre, 2008). Though there are no structural links between HDP and BirGün, both share a claimed affinity for “co-existence” and leftist politics, one being its journalistic voice and the other with roots in the Kurdish Left.
Our sample comes from the digital versions of these newspapers. When Ağrı was typed into each newspaper’s search engine, 91 stories appeared. 85 of these were straight news stories (as opposed to editorials and opinion columns) from the week following the incident (11 April to 19 April) and make up the sample. Sabah produced 39 stories (10,787 words), Sözcü 33 (12,016 words) and BirGun 13 (3,136 words). In the spirit of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), of the 85 stories, 12 stories were selected, four from each newspaper (see appendix). These were selected based on the researchers’ criteria that they articulate the discourses seen in the wider sample, reflecting both how coverage was similar and also different between newspapers. Though all 85 stories are considered throughout the analysis, to ensure an accurate comparison, the 12 stories for close inspection are taken from 11 to 14 April, when the controversy surrounding the video of Kurds helping Turkish soldiers was prominent in the news. Though the 12 articles see a divergence in their word counts (Sabah 1362, Sözcü 2118 and BirGün 1437), it is believed this sample is large enough to accurately reflect the dominant discourses of the three newspapers’ coverage of events in Ağır.
In CDA, linguistic and grammatical choices in texts are analysed as these allow the analyst to reveal the broader discourses being drawn upon (Fairclough, 2003; van Dijk, 1993). These discourses can be thought of as models of the world, and project certain social values and ideas which contribute to the (re)production of social life. The aim of CDA is to reveal what kinds of social relations of power are present in texts both explicitly and implicitly (van Dijk, 1993). Here language is not simply a neutral vehicle of communication but a means of social construction.
Analysis draws on basic lexical analysis, which reveals simply what kinds of words are found in the text. What is included and excluded may be politically or socially significant, suiting text producers’ interests and purposes (Kress, 1989). Also analysed is the representation of participants or ‘‘social actors’’ (Wodak and Weiss, 2005) and their actions, drawing especially on the way these can be classified and categorised (van Leeuwen, 1996, 1995). Here questions about who does what to whom and how participants are represented in terms of active and passive roles in sentences are answered. In the data, it is clear that different newspapers foreground or background specific social actors and activities through representational strategies and degrees of agency. This includes who is given a voice in reported speech and how speech is recontextualised (Caldas-Coulthard, 1994).
Textual analysis is supplemented by a discussion about the political positioning of the three newspapers and an historical contextualisation of relations between Turkish governments and their Kurdish minority. Scholars who use CDA highlight the importance of historically contextualising analysis (Fairclough, 2003, 1995; Wodak, 2001; van Leeuwen and Wodak, 1999; van Dijk, 1993). Wodak’s (2001: 70) “discourse-historical” approach to CDA enables analysts to “detect and depict the disfiguring of facts and realities” by historically contextualising texts. This inter-disciplinary approach contends that it is only through understanding the history of Turkish relations with its Kurdish minority and the political orientation of the newspapers that the discourses news texts draw upon can be understood.
Though best avoided, translations are commonly used in CDA (for example, Flowerdew and Leong 2007; van Leeuwen and Wodak 1999). To overcome any bias, we had comments translated by three individual translators, including the authors. Any discrepancies between translations were discussed and if there was no agree on a phrase or sentence, it was not used in the analysis.
Relations between Turkish governments and its Kurdish population
The “Kurdish question” can be seen as the struggle of Kurds for recognition and the right to live as equals in Turkey. This is judged by many as the most important and destructive problem in Turkey today (Barkey and Fuller, 1998). The roots of the problem can be traced back to the late Ottoman period when it was considered merely an “administrative issue” between the strong political centre and local Kurdish people, later becoming an identity problem under the “Turkism” movement of the Republican era starting in the 1920s (Pusane, 2014; Barkey and Fuller, 1998; Yavuz and Özcan, 2006; Yeğen, 1999). The Kemalist modernization process, spearheaded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, aimed to create a homogeneous, secular and Western society. It ignored Kurds and all other non-Turkish ethnic groups or simply tried to assimilate them in to the new nation state (Yeğen, 1999: 555). Unfortunately, in an effort to create this imagined homogenous community, the elite saw assimilation necessary for uncivilized, uneducated, and backward Kurds (Yeğen, 1999: 563). A backlash of uprisings ensued following these efforts, which were then used by the authorities to implement more severe and more restrictive measures (Pusane, 2014). During the Republic’s first 14 years, over 45.000 people were killed, the Kurdish language was banned, many Kurds were forced to leave their villages and Kurdish name places were replaced in the name of Turkish nation building (Ensaroğlu, 2013).
An important turning point in relations came with the establishment of the PKK. This group was a revolutionary, leftist organization established in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan and initiated an armed struggle in 1984 (Barkey and Fuller, 1998). Although in the 1990s there were some attempts to resolve the problem by Turkey’s political elite with results such as unilateral ceasefires declared by the PKK and the capturing of Öcalan in 1999, conflict continued (Pusane, 2014). In 2002, AKP won the parliamentary elections with promises including more equality and freedom for all oppressed groups. According to AKP, the Kurdish problem was a result of secularization forced by Kemalist modernisation and had nothing to do with identity problems.
AKP’s solution was using Islam as the glue which binds everyone in the nation (Pusane, 2014; Yavuz and Özcan, 2006). Although there were some improvements in relations in 2003 and 2004, resulting in permission to use Kurdish names, “Return to Village and Rehabilitation” projects and the release of some political dissidents, little else materialised. In 2007, AKP renewed its strategy in order to appeal to the Kurdish vote (Yavuz and Özcan, 2006; Pusane, 2014). In 2009, after AKP won its second parliamentary election, the “Democratic Opening” programme was introduced with the aim to disarm the PKK. Steps such as the establishment of a Kurdish language broadcast channel and the return of some PKK fighters to Turkey were seen as victories by some Kurds. This process continued until 2011 when it lost its popular appeal. After AKP’s third victory, the government renewed its efforts by conducting a dialogue with Kurdish political parties and the PKK (Pusane, 2014). This gradually reduced the number of clashes between the PKK and the military and helped establish a conflict free period. However, in the run up to parliamentary elections in 2015, government discourse on the question changed dramatically and the Kurdish side declared that the peace process was obsolete due to government strategies to discredit the peace efforts and de-emphasise dialogue in an attempt to gain votes (Kuru, 2012:41)
Until 2015, Kurdish politicians preferred to run as independent candidates in order to by-pass the ten percent threshold rule in Turkish politics which prohibits political party representation in the parliament unless a party achieves more than ten percent of the popular vote. In 2015, the Kurdish rights oriented HDP decided to run as a party in the hopes of surpassing this, which they did. The result was AKP did not get its majority. It was for this reason that AKP attacked HDP in the press, hoping they would not achieve ten percent which would increase the likelihood of another parliamentary majority. This scenario would have guaranteed AKP’s goal of changing the constitution from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential one, a move many described as anti-democratic (Keleş, 2015). For HDP’s part, it reached out to other oppressed groups like women and LGBT individuals in order to secure its goal of achieving over ten percent of the popular vote. It was in this context that the Ağır shooting took place and was reported on in the media.
Each newspaper represents events in subtly different ways, articulating discourses which support their political affiliations. Here, we analyse our sample stories, one newspaper at a time, in detail demonstrating how this is done.
The pro-government Sabah newspaper articulates discourses of support for AKP. This is done by representing the government as being powerful and devoted to the peace process whilst Kurds are homogenized as members of the PKK armed resistance group and against the peace process. As such, readers are more inclined to consider voting for AKP and less likely for Kurdish rights party HDP.
Throughout the sample, the government’s power and the legitimacy of its actions are suggested using a number of strategies. Consider:
1. Former Minister of Internal Affairs Efkan Ala, in his statement about the terrorist attack, indicated that one first lieutenant and 3 specialist sergeants were wounded.
2. Ala, said that as a result of operations conducted in the area, the terrorists who organized the attack were defused.
When examining the representation of in-group and out-group members, van Dijk (1991: 215) observes that the beginning of sentences emphasises those actors and their actions giving them “extra prominence”. In both extracts above and seen throughout the sample, government officials are positioned at the beginning of sentences, emphasising themselves and their actions. In these extracts, we see government authorities “indicating” soldiers were wounded and “saying” the attack was diffused . Sabah choosing to source stories throughout the sample using government sources, as seen above using an active AKP politician and former minister and “the governorship”, while excluding any Kurdish political actors, empowers and legitimises the government and its positions (Caldas-Coulthard, 1994: 303). Legitimisation is further articulated by the formal naming of “Former Minister of Internal Affairs Efkan Ala”. This personal representation allows readers a point of identification and sympathy as opposed to the silence represented by Kurdish interests.
Transivity is key to representations of power. Participants who are activated are represented as doing things and making things happen, thus accentuating representations of power (Fairclough, 2003: 150). Consider:
3. The government – in order to provide election security…- conducted risk analysis and security assessments … in 20 critical cities … sent 1065 riot polices and 10 gendarme commando units.
Here and throughout the sample, the government is represented in material process activations with material effect connoting power (van Leeuwen, 1995: 90). Here, it “conducts” risk and security analysis, “sends” police and commando units. Not only does the grammatical structure emphasise power, so does the idea of commanding such powerful groups in society. Furthermore, positivity is emphasised by these actions providing “security” for the election. The lexical choices of “critical”, “risk”, “security”, “riot” and “commando” collocated with the government and its positive actions legitimise and increase the sense of importance of government actions.
In Sabah’s recontextualisations of events, civilians who helped the Turkish soldiers following the shooting are almost excluded throughout the whole sample whilst the government and military are emphasised. Consider:
4. While a support unit was mobilized to the engagement area, Sikorsky helicopters were sent to collect the wounded.
This extract suggests that soldiers were collected with a Sikorsky helicopter, excluding Kurdish civilians’ actions from the sentence and story. Instead, military related lexical choices such as “support unit” and “Sikorsky helicopters” suggest it was they who “collected” soldiers. Interestingly, the word “Sikorsky” has cultural connotations in Turkey, reminding us of Lemke’s (1995) call for analysts to consider culture when engaging in systematic analysis. Sikorsky is the company which makes helicopters used in military operations against the PKK. Naming the helicopters as such suggests terrorism was involved, again connoting negativity towards Kurds and a far cry from Kurdish civilians aiding Turkish soldiers.
After the shooting in Ağrı, there were conflicting reports about what happened. In particular, the military thanked civilians for helping its soldiers whilst the Prime Minister denied civilian involvement. In Sabah, strategies were used to de-emphasise confusion and contradictions whilst emphasising the power and reliability of the government. Consider:
5. Meanwhile after different institutions made statements about the fight against terrorism, border and domestic security … it is learnt that from now on statements about security will be made not by TSK but by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Naming the government and the military “institutions” at the beginning of this sentence does not include lexical choices which identify them as part of the government, aiding in de-emphasising government confusion. Later in the sentence, “the Ministry of Internal Affairs”, one of the government agencies involved in the confusion, is identified using formal naming and identified as the new sole source for information. Ironically, it is the government who assigned itself this new role and denied it to the military, despite government inaccuracies in its statements. However, represented as such, importance, power and in the know are connoted.
Part of government discourse before the elections reflected in the reporting in Sabah was to discredit HDP. There is an almost exclusion of HDP, an overlexicalisation of the PKK (about ten mentions every story) and a lexical binding between the two organisations. This works to paint HDP with a terrorist brush, thus de-legitimising the political party. Consider:
6. The Jandarme, who received intelligence saying that the PKK will exert pressure on people to vote for HDP under the cloak of a “spring festival”, wanted to provide security of the area.
7. While a group of PKK members were canvassing, another group of 25 people took position on the route in order to attack Mehmetçik [Turkish soldiers].
In the above extracts, the PKK is activated engaged in negative activities and sometimes with agency “exerting pressure”, “canvassing”, and “took positions” connoting both danger and power. Danger is also connoted by naming the PKK as “terrorists” and “separatist terror organization” elsewhere. At the same time, the HDP is in a prepositional clause in the middle of extract six being in the co-text of the PKK and being the beneficiary of their negative actions of “exerting pressure” and “canvassing”. Elsewhere, Sabah reports the Spring Festival was organized by “members of the separatist terrorist organization”, confusing the PKK with event organizer HDP. Lexical choices also muddy the waters by confusing politics with armed struggle representing the PKK “canvassing” and elsewhere “electioneering”, activities more closely associated with political parties. The shady representation of Kurds is furthered by the choice of “under the cloak of the Spring Festival” calling in to question the legitimacy of the event. This blurring of lines between the PKK and HDP serves to reduce the Kurdish rights movement in Turkey to an armed struggle, de-legitimating it.
Sabah not only de-legitimates HDP, it also suggests it is against the peace process and the elections. Consider:
8. Ambush to Process [title]
9. It became evident that PKK, which puts pressure on people to vote for certain candidates by conducting armed electioneering, prepared the conflict scenario to sabotage the process
In these extracts, again we see a blurring of military and political lexica, such as an “ambush” to a government initiated peace process. This lexical cocktail adds to a blurring of lines between military actions and political intents, between PKK and HDP. But here, we also see the PKK represented as against the elections and democracy activated negatively, “aiming to put pressure”, “conducting armed electioneering”, “preparing the conflict” and “sabotaging the peace process”. These activations represent the PKK very negatively. Seeing as the group is homogenized throughout with HDP and Kurds, this works to dissuade voters from casting votes to HDP, represented here as party to violence many potential voters, Turkish and Kurdish alike, do not want to see.
Sözcü newspaper indicates its political positions in its recontextualisations of the Ağrı shootings. Like Sabah, Kurds are represented as partisan to the PKK. This agrees with Kemalism and its lack of sympathy for a distinct Kurdish identity. Unlike Sabah, this paper articulates anti-government discourses of blame for events and lies.
What is included or excluded in a text may be politically or socially significant, suiting text producers’ interests and purposes (Fairclough, 2003; van Leeuwen, 1996). A comparison of Sabah and Sözcü reveals that Sabah almost excludes both the civilians who were in the engagement area and their actions while Sözcü includes them. However, true to its Kemalist orientation, Kurds are represented in a negative way. Consider:
10. The relatives of PKK members and partisans wanted to support the terrorists in order to prevent the attack of soldiers.
11. An official… said that 5 armed terrorists were killed and one person who went among them also lost his life.
In extract ten, citizens are named as “relatives” and “partisans” of the PKK suggesting close ties between citizens and the PKK. In extract 11 one fatality is identified as “one person who went among them”. This naming, metaphorical or literal, connects the person with the militants. These namings work to homogenise those attending the Spring Festival as supporters of an armed group and do not take into account those who helped the wounded soldiers. Here, relatives and partisans are activated negatively, “wanting to support the terrorists” but what exactly they did is not revealed. However by diluting specifics, this representation de-legitimises the people’s actions, a common trait in generalisations (van Leeuwen, 1995: 99) and serves to paint a negative picture of Kurds.
Although Sözcü also includes the statement by the military which acknowledges that some civilians helped the soldiers, this is de-emphasised. Consider:
12. The General Staff confirmed that after the attack in Ağrı, people of the region helped the wounded soldiers; he was praiseworthy for what happened.
In the much used inverted pyramid style of writing news, the information producers feel is most important appears at the “top” of the story and subsequent information is arranged in descending order of importance (Brooks et el, 1980: 69). Extract 12 is the final sentence of a long article, preceded by multiple sentences which represent Kurds negatively, such as extracts ten and 11. Unlike most namings in the sample, civilians are named not as PKK supporters, partisans or even Kurds, but as “people of the region”. This one-off naming obscures the Kurdish ethnicity of those activated positively helping soldiers. As such, the story and the sample articulate an anti-Kurdish discourse by naming Kurds negatively in the cases of negative actions and obscuring and de-emphasising their ethnicity when activated positively.
Unlike Sabah, Sözcü represents the AKP government negatively. One discourse articulated sees the government responsible for PKK actions. Consider:
13. The separatist terror organization, who has been spoiled by the “opening” policy of AKP, implements this attack to prove that it has established domination in the area.
14. It became evident that the PKK, who made use of the opportunity to do this operation [turn up at the Spring festival] but not allow for the presence of soldiers given by the governorship under the aspices of the “peace process” initiated by the government, reacted to soldiers going out of the base in Ağrı.
While Sabah blames the PKK/ HDP for breaking promises, Sözcü accuses AKP of empowering the PKK. Like Sabah, the PKK is activated negatively both “implementing this attack” and “reacting to soldiers going out of base”. Though “reacting” is far from a clear indication of what happened, co-text clarifies shooting was involved, so the PKK is represented negatively. The group is further empowered negatively, “establishing domination”, “making use of opportunities” offered by the peace process, “reacted to soldiers going out of the base” and “not allowing for the presence of soldiers”. All of these activations suggest abuse of power by the PKK, though the lexica “domination” is especially emotive, it being something Kemalists have been trying to avoid at the expense of soldiers’ lives for years. Though represented negatively, it is AKP who is seen as responsible for this situation. AKP’s “opening” policy is the reason why the PKK is “spoiled”, can implement attacks and establish domination. The government initiated “peace process” gives the “opportunity” for the PKK to “react” and “not allow” soldiers out of their base. It is these lexical choices in the co-text of government policy which articulates a discourse of government blame. AKP and the “peace process” are represented as the reason why the PKK was able to instigate violence. Due to the AKP government, Turkish soldiers are now losing power over Turkey’s east. This is a very negative representation of AKP, serving the purposes of legitimating Kemalism and parties who adhere to it such as CHP and MHP.
As was the case with Sabah, HDP is almost excluded from events throughout the sample. When they are represented, this is negative. In Sözcü, it is not only AKP but also HDP which is responsible for events. Consider:
15. Turkey witnessed a very contentious AKP-HDP fight over the blood of Mehmetçik before the election.
Hodge and Kress (1979) note that nominalisations, or the transforming a process into a noun, can be ideological because it can eliminate agency and make a representation “very abstract and distant” from actual events (in Fairclough, 1995: 112). Here, “AKP-HDP fight” is a nominalisation used to recontextualise a political argument into a “fight”, a word with violent connotations. This sentence could have been written as “AKP and HDP argue over who is responsible for today’s killings”. This alternative sentence would exclude lexical choices associated with violence and clearly indicate what the political parties were doing. Furthermore, using the lexical choice “blood of Mehmetçik” works on an emotional level. “Mehmetçik” is slang for Turkish soldiers. Mehmet is one of the most popular names in Turkey and the –cik suffix connotes smallness, sympathy and powerlessness. Naming soldiers as Mehmetçik makes them one of us, a son, a brother, a loved one. Here, this lexical choice adds to the negative representation of two greedy and selfish political parties trying to score political points over the suffering of “our” soldiers. This in turn benefits Kemalists interests in the forthcoming elections.
Common throughout the sample, critical discourses concerning the government take on other guises, including that of being inconsistent and lying, something Sabah excluded in its coverage. Consider:
16. Around noon the former Minister of Internal Affairs Efkan Ala who was answering questions from the press in his election district of Erzurum, said that four jandarme officers were wounded and terrorists were silenced.
17. However later in the day President Erdoğan himself contradicted this statement… President Erdoğan who was speaking at an opening ceremony in Sakarya said that 25 terrorists are fighting with our soldiers now.
Here government officials are named formally with functional honorifics, suggesting power and legitimacy. However, quite the opposite is connoted, these sentences appearing in the same article close to each other. Namings and the conflicting accounts of events by two government sources, the first saying the “terrorists were silenced” and the second later in the day claiming “25 terrorists are fighting with our soldiers now”, also emphasise the lack of consistency in government statements. Namings emphasise their roles within the government while their statements contradict each other. This suggests an unreliable and untrustworthy government, again favouring those with Kemalist interests in the upcoming elections.
Populist discourses construct “the people” pitted against “an elite” other (De Cleen and Carpentier, 2010; Laclau 2005). It “pretends to speak for the underdog whose political identity is constructed by opposing it to an elite” (De Cleen and Carpentier, 2010: 180). In BirGün, a populist discourse is drawn upon constructing the government and military authorities as a despotic elite. Pitted against the elite is the people which includes HDP, soldiers, citizens of Ağrı and possibly the PKK, which is not named as a terrorist organization like the other newspapers (except for one direct reported speech). Though these representations of Kurds are positive, the anti-government discourses do little to promote dialogue and co-existence, a stated aim of BirGün.
The AKP government is represented as despotic, against the interests of “the people”. Consider:
18. The State did its best to create death.
19. While people governing the country electioneer in luxurious planes, they did not send an ambulance helicopter for the wounded soldiers.
Fairclough (2003: 149) notes that impersonal namings and a lack of nominations “can dehumanise social actors, take the focus away from them as people”. Here, government namings do not include nominations or honourifics which grant readers a point of identification and respect (van Leeuwen, 1996). Instead, it is named impersonally as “the state” and generically as the “people governing the country”. Seen throughout the sample, the government is activated negatively “creating death”, “electioneering” and “not sending ambulance helicopters”, suggesting a despotic elite. Wright (1975) notes that concerns and a lack of comprehension about social changes can be shaped into simple oppositions. In extract 19, the binary opposites of a despotic elite and the people are constructed by representing the elite “Electioneering in luxurious planes” flying above the ground “while” the people (wounded soldiers) are below struggling.
The government is also represented as lying. Consider:
20. Prime Minister Davutoğlu … said that “Demirtaş is lying.” referring to the Co-chairman of HDP Selahattin Demirtaş who stated that “HDP members carried the wounded soldiers.
21. The Turkish General Staff contradicted Prime Minister Davutoğlu who said that “Demirtaş is lying.” Thanks for the help.
Here, we see the Prime Minister, the Turkish General Staff and the head of HDP named using honorifics, connoting power. However, these namings are used to accentuate government deceit. Though the Prime Minister in reported speech claims HDP leader Demirtaş is lying, the report makes clear his statements are contradicted by a source with authority. Polls across Turkey regularly show its citizens trust the military more than politicians (Gürsoy, 2012). Also, the Turkish General Staff who is in charge of such military actions is “closer to the ground” than a politician in the capital, de-legitimising the Prime Minister’s statements. Furthermore, considering the military has spent the past three decades fighting against Kurdish armed groups, their interests lie not with representing Kurds positively. For the military to then thank Kurds for helping their soldiers is highly improbable unless indeed help was given. Though BirGün does not specifically state who the general staff is thanking, co-text suggests it is members of HDP. As such, this representation articulates discourses opposed to AKP and positive discourses towards HDP.
Though soldiers are represented as part of the “people”, the same is not true for their superiors. Soldiers are represented as pawns used by AKP and military authorities in a game of winning votes and battles. These representations can be partially explained through the use of sources. Though media generally choose sources of speech with power (Fairclough, 1995; Schudson, 1986; Fishman, 1980; Tuchman, 1978), it is the choices made within this sphere of power that are ideological (White, 2006: 58). As Caldas-Coulthard (1994: 304) points out, speaker selection reflects power structures and cultural beliefs of media writers, giving voice to some people instead of others. Consider:
22. Co-chairman of HDP Selahattin Demirtaş talked about the bloodshed in Ağrı caused by soldiers opening fire onto the people that went to the area… as human shields… “What happened in Ağrı yesterday was not a conflict but pre-planned, pre-rehearsed, fake and a fictional operation.”
23. Demirtaş said that… they abandoned 15 soldiers in the engagement area… eight of them were wounded… they left the soldiers and retreated.
24. Selahattin Demirtaş, who pointed out that while HDP members helped the wounded soldiers the government did not even send an ambulance, also stated that “There were soldiers in the engagement area; helicopters opened fire instead of taking the wounded.”
Throughout the BirGün sample, HDP sources are used far more than government officials. This is opposite to the other two newspapers. Sources include HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, the Mayor of Diyadin, Istanbul MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder and even jailed PKK leader and HDP associate Abdullah Öcalan. In the above extracts, HDP is activated and legitimated as a source of information. Fairclough (2003: 150) notes an activated participant’s capacity for “action, for making things happen, for controlling others and so forth is accentuated” whilst “what is accentuated [in a passivated participant] is their subjection to processes, them being affected by the actions of others”. Within reported speech, HDP is represented positively activated in “helped the wounded soldiers” and “went to the area as human shields”. Both activations suggest selfless acts of courage. In the meantime, soldiers are in prepositional phrases, de-emphasised in “bloodshed ..caused by soldiers” or passivated in “they abandoned 15 soldiers”, “ eight of them were wounded” and “they left the soldiers”. Here is a discourse of weakness, emphasised by the large number of collocations of “soldiers” with “wounded”.
In extract 22, binary opposites are again constructed here to accentuate HDP truth and government lies. In reported speech, Demirtaş constructs opposition between truth alleged by the government and reality, triggered by a “not/but”construction in “What happened in Ağrı yesterday was not a conflict but pre-planned, pre-rehearsed, fake and a fictional operation.” This construction accentuates government and military elite lies and treachery as opposed to HDP truth telling. In extract 24, a similar strategy is used to represent HDP members as part of the people who save soldiers “while” the government acts against their interests. This is done by constructing a HDP-government opposition triggered by “while” in “while HDP members helped the wounded soldiers the government did not even send an ambulance”. In the same extract, the military are represented as killers in “helicopters opened fire” accentuated by the word “instead” in “instead of taking the wounded.” As a whole, the extract constructs opposites which connote HDP positively as saviours while the government and military elite as killers, further articulating discourses of populism.
These extracts also reveal a more sinister discourse seen throughout the sample using impersonal namings and pronouns. Agency of the most negative actions are ascribed to “they” in “they abandoned 15 soldiers” and “they left the soldiers and retreated”. We see further impersonal representations in “helicopters opened fire”. Who “they” are is unclear though co-text suggests it is military authorities and ultimately the government who command soldiers to “abandon”, “leave”, “retreat” and “open fire”. This discourse is furthered by Demirtaş’s suggestion that the conflict was “pre-planned, pre-rehearsed, fake and a fictional operation.” In the context of nameless blame and suggestions, it is the government who is responsible for such deception.
In extract 22, Demirtaş refers to “the people”. This is a far more inclusive naming than those seen in other newspapers such as “the relatives of PKK members and partisans”. It was HDP policy to engage with more than just Kurds and Kurdish rights in the run up to the 2015 parliamentary elections in order to attract more than ten percent of the popular vote. This strategy included reaching out to other disenfranchised and minority Turks including LGBT, Arabs, Turkmen, religious minorities and women. By BirGün using “people” instead of other names, a HDP discourse of inclusion is articulated. Furthermore, the “people” of Ağrı are represented positively, not as terrorists. Consider:
25. Demirtaş said that… “Our HDP member friends went to the engagement area and dragged the wounded soldiers out with bare hands.”
26. Selahattin Demirtaş said that… “Our friends had to carry wounded soldiers with sheets.”
Here and throughout the sample, we see “HDP members” and “our [HDP] friends” activated positively. They “dragged the wounded soldiers” and “had to carry wounded soldiers”. In the meantime, it is soldiers who are passivated, represented as weak. Lexical choices such as “engagement area”, “bare hands” and “sheets” emphasise danger, heroics, sacrifice and the seriousness of the situation. Together, these represent HDP positively, being part of “the people” against the government, rescuing soldiers and promoting peace in a conflict area. This works in favour of HDP who were trying hard to gain over ten percent of the popular vote in up-coming elections.
The Kurdish question and the on-going war between the PKK and the Turkish authorities is a political, military and social problem which has plagued Turkey for the past three decades. It has costed thousands of lives and endless suffering for Turks and Kurds alike. Announcements of a peace process and progress are welcome news for the vast majority of those living in Turkey. However the process, as many other things, is subject to the political games of politicians and their associated media.
In this article we have shown how three newspapers aligned to interests from three very different spheres in the political spectrum have used the shooting incident in Ağrı to gain political points for interests closely aligned to them. Sabah used the incident to represent the governing AKP as powerful, credible, and devoted to the peace process while Kurds are homogenized as members of the PKK armed resistance and represented as an obstacle to the peace process. Sözcü articulates discourses which show its support for Kemalism and parties that adhere to this in various ways, such as MHP and CHP, whilst negatively representing AKP and Kurdish interests. BirGün, with its roots in Leftist politics and the oppressed, draw upon populist discourses to represent HDP and Kurds as strong, helpful and peaceful whilst the government and military officials as a despotic elite against the interests of the people. By each newspaper taking sides, they represent those opposed to their perspective negatively. This does not promote Turkish and Kurdish coexistence. In a volatile situation like the South East of Turkey today, the news media choose to inflame tensions, putting self-interest above a more measured approach to reporting which may suggest coexistence.
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