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The Year 2016, Turkey, the story of two dead bodies 

24.08.17
9 min

This is the story of İsa Oran and Mesut Seviktek, whose dead bodies were left lying on the ground for 29 days in Suriçi, Diyarbakır because they could not be retrieved. 

Let me first of all say this; I am writing this article so that what happened will go on the record; so that what has happened in the Turkey of 2016 will not be forgotten, in order to ensure history records it! 

I met İsa Oran’s father Mehmet Oran and Mesut Seviktek’s older brother İhsan Seviktek on December 30, 2015. I was organizing the program for Defenders of Peace in the city; 106 people from the initiative including intellectuals, artists and individuals from various vocational groups had come to Diyarbakır. A young woman came to me, she was crying. She said there were two dead bodies  on the street in Suriçi, and their families were devastated and asked for our help. Making an addition to the program, we organized for the families to talk about what happened at the Defenders of Peace meeting that day, and again the same day, we visited the Governor of Diyarbakır as a group of intellectuals to ask for his support to retrieve the remains. 

Let me summarize what happened afterwards: I met with the families almost every day, anyway just a few days later the families went on a hunger strike at the Diyarbakır branch office of Human Rights Association (İHD). In the meantime, while trying to bring the issue to the public agenda, we kept going from door to door for support with the President of İHD Diyarbakır, Raci Bilici. We rushed from pillar to post between institutions. We were told that the bodies were in the garden of Yavuz Sultan Selim School and security forces could not go inside, that it was behind the trenches. Finally, about ten days ago, we met with the Governor of Diyarbakır again, and agreed on a plan that the curfew be lifted for two hours, and the special ops to retreat for that period so that with the municipality’s funeral coach, the families and a group of civil society representatives could go and retrieve the remains. 

In the meantime, during our Ankara visit two weeks ago, we conveyed the situation to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Ministry of Interior Affairs Efkan Ala as well.  

You know what took place afterwards from the press anyway. On January 12, the curfew was lifted for two hours. Even though it was said that the special ops would retreat, when the group went to Suriçi there were hundreds of special ops around, then the conflict intensified, and families had to leave Suriçi without being able to get the bodies. Something the security forces told the family and the group that day surprised me and many people. It turns out there were special ops inside the school where the bodies lay anyway. That is to say, the remains were in a place where there were special ops  to begin with! 

While the families continued the hunger strike, two days ago, the prosecutor’s office calls Diyarbakır İHD and says that the bodies have been brought to the morgue and the families should come to the morgue to identify the bodies. 

Disintegrated bodies 

The father Mehmet Oran and brother İhsan Seviktek go to the morgue to identify the bodies. 

Let’s hear the rest in the father Mehmet Oran’s words:

“The prosecutor’s office said, ‘you shouldn’t go, don’t go in the morgue, you’ll faint’, and I said, ‘I’ll keep remain standing to see your cruelty.’ I went in the morgue. My son’s head wasn’t intact; it was burned, as if a chemical substance had been poured over it… His torso was carved out, his intestines hanging out, all in pieces, pieces of flesh had been torn off, as if an animal had bitten them off, I was able to recognize my son only from one of his arms, they had ripped my boy to shreds.”

There are hundreds of bullets on the body of the 25 year old Mesut Seviktek. His brother İhsan tells us about it:

“My brother is anyway martyred by the wound in his skull and chest. Then they shot hundreds of bullets at him. His face has become unrecognizable. What does it mean to do this to a dead person? Turkey’s problem can’t be resolved by doing this, the Kurdish problem can’t be resolved like this.” 

“Just like we had to leave Lice in 93 without even taking a spoon, that’s how we had to leave Sur in 2015” 

To tell you the truth, I am astonished, angry, enraged and in pain. I was personally involved in this, I still haven’t been able to make sense of why they made us struggle for days to get the remains if the security forces had them in the first place or if the bodies were somewhere they could get them; what their aim was in doing so. The families had anyway thought the state had the bodies from the outset, how naïve I was! How naïve I was as we were planning how and from which street they could be brought, how I was waiting with some shred of hope every day, thinking okay, they’ll be retrieved today! How naïve I was beating at the door of the state for days! 

Mr. İhsan says: 

“We told you from the outset, this state has the bodies. We knew from the first day the bodies lay there, because we live in Suriçi, we were talking on the phone with our neighbors, our friends, they were telling us, the bodies are in the school yard and the special ops have set up camp in the school.” 

Mr. Mehmet adds: 

“We knew from day one the state had these bodies, we know this state, we are the ones who know how dirty they are.” 

Mr. İhsan continues: 

“We were in prison together with my brother Mesut for three years, at the time I had gone on a hunger strike with my brother, now I am on a hunger strike with my mother to get my brother’s body.” 

I gasp. 

“It was a holiday in 1993, the state sent us away from the village. In that commotion, we had forgotten Mesut in the village, the next day, a neighbor who had stayed in the village called to inform us, we went and got Mesut. Mesut worked in construction, worked shining shoes on the streets, finally we opened a grocery store in Sur together. We built a life with great hardship. Now the store is also gone, it is demolished. Just like we had to leave Lice without even taking a spoon in 93, that’s how we had to leave Sur in 2015.”

“This is a political problem, it can’t be solved with arms, trenches, destruction” 

As we are talking there is movement on the walls of the hall in İHD where the families are on hunger strike. Two more pictures of young people are hung on the walls, photos of Turgay Girçek and Gündüz Akmeşe. They were actually killed four days ago but their families learned that they were killed only yesterday. I look at the photos of youth on the wall that increase by the day. Mr. İhsan, who notices I am shaken, holds my arm, sits me down, tries to give me strength despite his own state of agony: 

“Look, this is the outcome. For months the state bombed the martyrs’ graves, it did all in its power to the graves of Kurds, and then it boiled the problem down to the issue of trenches. What did you think would happen after you bombed so many graves, did you think the Kurdish youth would meekly accept all that was done? There were no trenches then, why did you bomb the graveyards? 

This is a political problem, it can’t be resolves with arms, trenches, destruction.” 

“I am calling out to the families of police and soldiers: Don’t say ‘all for the sake  of the homeland’!”

Mr. İhsan also has something to say to the families of soldiers and police: 

“The mothers of police and soldiers should see these sufferings too. Look I am saying this in my pained state. We are sad if soldiers die, we are sad if police die. I am calling out to the families of police and soldiers. Don’t say ‘all for the sake of the homeland’ over our children, if you are thinking about your dead child work for peace. Empathize. Mesut was my brother. They killed him, that wasn’t enough, they riddled him with over a hundred bullets. We are still saying let these be the last ones. Let our children be the last victims of the Kurdish people, of the Turkish people. Don’t let your children be sacrificed to this dirty war.   

The government should come out of this eclipse of reason immediately. The place to return to is the [negotiation] table. There is no place but the table.”

Mr. Mehmet, who joins in, says, “Everyone shot at Mesut, whoever came around shot at him, what religion, what humanity, in which God’s book does this exist?” 

I want to ask the officials, particularly Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who told us during our Ankara visit, “We will take care of all dead bodies, inform us”:  

Where were these bodies for one month? 

Who did this to these bodies? 

Will those who did these to these bodies be punished? 

Let history record this. The year 2016, the month of January. The dead bodies of the 21 year old İsa Oran and 25 year old Mesut Seviktek were left lying on the ground for 29 days in Suriçi, Diyarbakır, their families went on a hunger strike to retrieve the dead bodies of their children. When they were brought to the morgue on January 19, the bodies had been disintegrated… 

Nurcan Baysal, January 22, 2016 

Amr Ezzat
People

During the nights following the 28th of January, when the ‘popular committees’ took over the security of the Egyptian streets, each came up with a password which one needed to say in order to be let past. Astonishingly, the one chosen by the committee, which was securing my own street was “Do you know Amr Ezzat?” When I was asked this question on my way home for the first time from the Tahrir occupation to take a shower and change my clothes, I answered affirmatively, with a half-smile. But surely not every Amr Ezzat is the one I know. I didn’t know the neighbour whose name became synonymous with the street in a moment like that, but I knew very well the activist/writer/blogger/journalist who would become one of the figures of the betrayed Egyptian revolution, and, in my opinion, one of its most important torchbearers.

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to diversify his education, starting with engineering, where he encountered the various existing (or  potential) intellectual and political currents in the Egyptian society at the turn of the century. Engineering wasn’t the last destination , since his calm reflection was thirsty for philosophy, which he ended up studying. His religious inclination in his early twenties pushed him towards learning jurisprudence and sharia through the religious “institution” formed outside the realm of the Egyptian State. 

For Amr Ezzat to become himself, he had to engage with the communication revolution of the early 2000s; he had to blog, and the title he chose for his blog had to be so personal, idiosyncratic, simple and free as it is: Ma Bada Li (What seemed to me). He only writes what seemed to him. Is writing anything but that? Despite all the masks the writers hide behind?

Yet another (parallel) link to ICT and social change: Having graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, he had to travel across the country – cities, towns and countryside – to follow up with the structural safety of mobile phone’s station’s facilities that ensured the communication between the people in this century’s mode. This face-to-face nationwide experience I went hand in hand with marking his technical and online presence at the heart of the contemporary communication revolution, a civil engineer at the helm of the then nascent Egyptian blog sphere–in which he was and still is one of the most active elements.

Wanting to write, another shift is made, this time a career shift, to the press, naturally enough, becoming quickly a prominent voice from a new generation of Egyptian journalists that took a special and fresh interest in observing the society at large and investigating its phenomena, breaking with the “conventional” press. His contributions to the  the “Colours of Life” page in the Shourouk daily were mainly long and in-depth stories that belonged to a new kind of journalism in Egypt that he explored further in other outlets–  Al Masry Al Yawm and Mada Masr for which he writes opinion pieces. 

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to realize that one of the central questions in the Egyptian society is the social and political conflict around religion. He benefited from all the intellectual tools he acquired from jurisprudence, sharia, law and politics to become a religious freedoms defender, either by publishing reports and articles or moderating dialogues between the different conflict parties. He does all of that with the concern/thrust and endeavor of the researcher keen on – without falling into the indecent generalizations or structural illusions –  exploring the authoritarian fallacies,  debunking them on historical and logical grounds, and on observing the similarities between several small phenomena to come up with a general pattern that applies on many of them, reflecting the space-time stage in which it takes place.

For Amr to become Amr, he had to be both so ordinary and exceptional, able of seeing the whole and the parts without one dominating the other and without reductionism or vulgarizing. For example he spoke of the ‘conditional accessibility’ as a state’s way of dealing with the islamists and the ‘cowardly daring’ as the way a group of the Egyptian opposition deals with the state. Or take his beautiful neologism; Sondokratia (Ballotocracy, Muslim Brotherhood era) about the elections that look democratic and independent from the outside while they don’t give a damn about democracy and all they do is absolve the state’s obligations towards the society.

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to be well-versed in logic, in the sense of the relations between concepts, and in syllogism, but also in argumentation and dialectic. He knows the art as it was founded by the great authors, namely the scholars of the seminal sources of jurisprudence, therefore becoming that argumentator, who doesn’t lose temper and doesn’t lose the thread of his argumentation. I refer here particularly – in addition to his writings – to the monthly “Forum of Religion and Freedoms”, which he organizes and moderates at the “Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights”. 

Amr is also well-versed in rhetorics. For me, the most beautiful thing in him/he does is perhaps his language, and its rhetoric, in the sense that it is highly contemporary, ridiculously lucid, and at the same time able to address the most complex theoretical subjects. The contemporary here doesn’t only mean catering to the cultural taste of a targeted reader as much as it means the creation of the rhetoric moment itself. 

I remember Amr Ezzat describing the prologue of the current Egyptian Constitution – full with all kinds of ”obsolete” figurative language pomp – as “idiotic”. What I understood from that description is the harsh sarcasm in favor of another style. He knows that sarcasm is the figure of speech which can provide a headline for the historical moment we are living–he calls for that, writes that way, and perhaps this is how he lives. Wasn’t it him, who kept the locks of the bathrooms of the Tahrir Square when the revolutionaries invaded it, without any of them, nor even myself, recognizing how significant that way of recording the historical moment was. Could it be more ironic?

Fadi Awad is a book editor, linguist and lecturer at Ecole Nationale Superieure in Paris 

Translated from Arabic by: Kenza Rady

Amr Ezzat is also columnist for Al-Masry Al-Youm and a human rights activist from Cairo. Amr participated in our Cairo Longform Workshop in 2015, whereof this longform “Room 304” evolved. 

The Istanbul Longform Workshop 2017

March 16-18, 2017 at Cezayir, Beyoglu
16.06.17
3 min
Voyage

We came to Istanbul at a crucial moment. It was in March, a few weeks before the referendum that would give the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan new and unprecedented power, furthering his fierce grip on the country, a sort of elected semi-dictator of the kind that are changing the face of politics all over the world at this moment in the early 21st century, taking shape in front of our eyes.

Tensions were high between the German and the Turkish government at the time, our thoughts were with our friend Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish journalist still in prison for doing his work on behalf of democracy and a free and open society, like to so many of his Turkish colleagues who are equally: locked up or threatened or pressured into silence. 

A sad encounter with a brave old city, that’s what we expected, Murat being originally from Istanbul and having talked to the officials at the German Foreign Ministry, sponsors of this project – but, rather surprisingly, the mood of the people we met, the writers, artists, activists we had invited to this workshop was different, they were open, unafraid, angry at times, but never despairing; giving in is not an option.  

We met in Galatasaray, not far from Taksim Square where the protests against the government had taken place in 2013, jolting a nation and a whole generation, and not far from the main shopping road where tanks were patrolling and police was everywhere – our host, Osman Kavala of the Anadolu Kültür Foundation had offered the lovely space of the Cezayir restaurant and conference space, an ideal place to focus on the power of stories, to listen and to learn.

These three days, like the 60pages workshop we did in Cairo in 2015, were among the most moving, memorable and, yes, important that you can imagine: The trust, the energy, the talent, the inspiration, the courage, the humanity that brought together these people around their ideas, their projects, their proposals was a gift to us and a promise to the world that they would never be silenced. 

Each participant had roughly half an hour to talk to the others about the story he or she wanted to write, to engage with the group in discussing this idea, in changing, working, insisting – and the stories shared created a sense of community and of meaning in a time where both is often cruelly absent, community and meaning.

All of the stories were great, we had to choose and commissioned eight. We will continue working with all of the writers and publish the eight longreads starting early in the fall. We will keep you updated on the progress and hope to engage you in our project.

by Georg Diez

Camera: Çağdaş Erdoğan
Post-Production: Çağdaş Erdoğan, Berkant Akarcan

Istanbul Longform Workshop 2017 - A Short Video Documentary

Amr Ezzat about three extraordinary days with 30 wonderful authors in Istanbul, at Cezayir/Beyoglu, March 16-18, 2017, edited by our friends from 140journos for 60pages
15.06.17
1 min

In March 2017 60pages hosted a three-day workshop with young journalists, writers and activists in Istanbul. We discussed the possibilities and the practice of long-form writing and identified five to eight relevant, surprising, necessary stories which could open up new perspectives on pressing political and societal questions.

It was a safe space, it was a pop-up editorial board, it was a first getting to know each other and the beginning of a longer connection. The writings will be published on 60pages.com soon.

Aylin Balboa
People

Aylin Balboa is an author living in Istanbul. Her short stories has been published under the name “Belki Bir Gün Uçarız (Maybe We Can Fly One Day)” by Iletisim Yayinevi. She writes for several periodicals.  She has a dog named Balık (Fish). 

Aylin partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Yigit Karaahmet
People

Yiğit Karaahmet was born in the last years of disco, glitter and shoulder pads (aka 70s) in the small seaside town of Giresun where people live on agriculture and fishery. He believes his humor comes from the region, motherland of Laz jokes. As he passed the university entrance exam he moved to İstanbul, city of his dreams, where he would study journalism at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communication. And he threw himself to the parties, the nights and the arms of men. His articles and interviews about night life, popular culture, life style were published by daily newspapers like Milliyet, Akşam, Taraf; national magazines as Vogue Turkey, GQ Turkey, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, FHM, 212, Time Out; and international magazines such as Vice Germany. Yiğit uses his openly gay identity in his articles on purpose and believes the importance of personal fight against homophobia. For this reason, he has been targeted by the fundamentalist press many times. His articles have been collected and published as two books. He also has a novel, yet unpublished. He writes commercial texts and experiments with scripts too. Currently living in Istanbul, the author continues to work in all areas of literature.

Yiğit partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Murat Mahmutyazicioglu
People

Oyuncu ve oyun yazarı, ne istanbul ona katacağı güzellikten haberdardı ne de murat. 80’lerdeki ve 90’lardaki tüm güzellikleri, gariplikleri, inişleri, çıkışları hayatına katarak büyüdü bilmiyordu ki her bir anı satır araları naifliklerle dolu nefes alabilen metinlere dönüşecekti. Önce “fü’yü ” yazdı sonra “şekersiz’i ” ilk “şekersizi ” sahneledi ikinci olarak ” fü ” sahnelendi ardından “sen istanbul’dan daha güzelsin’i “yazdı ve yönetti “sevmekten öldü desinler’i ” yazdı ve bu oyunu da durur mu o da sahnelendi oyunlar sahnelendikçe istanbul daha güzel bi yer olmaya başladı. Sadece isimlerine bakanlar dahi dedi ki Murat güzelliklerin en güzelini hak ediyor ve her gün dünyayı daha güzel bi yer yapmaya devam ediyor. (by Melis Öz)

Murat partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Onur Burcak Belli
People

Onur Burçak Belli is a Turkish-Syrian journalist mainly covering political conflicts as well as its far-reaching outcomes both in Turkey and the broader region. She is now based in Ankara.

She has closely followed the war in Syria covering it as a reporter and a field producer. She was based in Damascus researching Syria’s reform plans and the Sunni-Alawite conflicts amongst the ruling elite regarding these plans, when the uprising started in March 2011.

She has 10 years of experience as a journalist working for different mainstream media outlets. She started her career as a journalist at the Turkish Daily News (now Hurriyet Daily News) at Turkey’s leading media conglomerate. She successively worked for Newsweek Turkey, HaberTurk TV, RTL, BBC World Service, Channel 4 News, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, and more.

During her journalism career she has focused mainly on Kurdish conflict, war in Syria, refugees and migration matters, Turkish foreign policy, European Union policies and its broader affects, civil society movements, ethno-cultural and sectarian conflicts, studies and campaigns on sexual and bodily rights of women in Muslim societies, nature conservation and water policies as well as trans-boundary water conflicts in Turkey and the Middle East, urban transformation and gentrification, the socio-political and environmental policies in conflict zones in the Middle East.

She is fluent in English, Turkish, almost fluent in Arabic.

Burcak partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Masses Informing Masses: The Story of 140journos

14.06.17
18 min

Below is the unedited, raw version of my article entitled “A Sense of Exhilaration and Possibility”, which was published on Harvard University’s Nieman Reports magazine on July 2014.

It is a widely accepted fact that, throughout the history of civilization, blood, fire, energy and gluttony have been unavoidably experienced around the Anatolian geography where Turkey is situated. Just as history having indeed repeated itself probably as said, I can easily say that almost all the wars I have read in the history books have mostly been caused by such reasons. I assure you that today the subjects are different, but the fiction is the same. The only difference I have been able to observe is that the long-known idea of government, the legislative tradition and the judiciary power have also been included the media in the last century. It would be unrealistic, as you would appreciate, to state that the Ottoman society having started to use the printing press two hundred years later due to the conflicts of interests handed down a mature relation with the media.

The proliferation of television channels in Turkey in the 1990s resulted in assigning the obedient journalists to the management of the newspapers as the holding representative by their owners, in hosting the popular politicians at the media bosses’ mansions leading to the dangerous flirtation between the governments and media organizations. This relationship, derailing the media out of its function to inform, has transformed it into an instrument maintaining the subsidiaries of the holdings in other sectors. Could a media giant owned by a conglomerate of diverse companies be imagined to broadcast against the government or its energy policies after having won a government tender in the field of energy? Coming into power in 2002, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government observing today its 12th year of power began to work in less than no time in order to control that fourth power allegedly stating that it designs the politics, thus posing a threat to the national willpower. Mostly indirectly supplied messages leading the editors to be cautiously self-censoring the news were made apparently observable when the news of the anti-government republican rallies in 2007 were not intentionally broadcast, and when the protests by the state tobacco monopoly workers resulting in the greatest strike ever since the 1980 military coup taking place in the tents set up by the unions for months in the very center of the capital city of Ankara, in 2009 were ignored. At the end of 2011, in Uludere situated near the border along the Northern Iraq, the deliberate silence of the media organs followed by the murder of the 34 citizens reportedly maintaining their livelihood with the cross-border trade who were bombarded due to being allegedly mistaken as terrorists posed the most important exemplary for the young media literates as to prove that the mainstream media has completely lost its function.

Experienced media professional, Serdar Akinan, having called his friends who are the chief editors of the news centers only to learn that those news weren’t deliberately broadcast due to an order received from the governmental authorities, and thus leaving his journalist identity aside, went to Uludere and sent multimedia messages through Twitter and Instagram from the scene, leading to the birth of a methodology for the citizen journalism, no matter how simple it may seem. The photographs of that bloodshed not to be covered by the mainstream media in Turkey due to their filters those days were being shared in the social media leaked through the “Earlybird” filter of Instagram. Not surprisingly at all, that’s how the 140journos counter media movement was born as a conscientious reaction in such a macroenvironment, whose story I will share with you.

This unusual process which turned the passive media consumers who are in their twenties having nothing to do with news and journalism at all into “terminator” news feeders in one night was triggered by Cem’s father, who failed to compromise and empathize with the other sectors of the society, and therefore, politically conflicted with his son just because he kept ceaselessly following the contents of the same media group. Cem, trying to inform his father, with whom he was unable to communicate on some political issues, by hacking his mindset about the diverse sectors of the society, me, who tried to defend the freedom of expression in the only protest I had ever participated, and passivist conservative Safa, who has taken to Sufism teachings, having signed up for their brand new social media account as “140journos”, began broadcasting via Twitter with their first news tweets on January, 19th, 2012, the 5th anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink, the Turkish journalist of Armenian origin. We have created this account so as to convey the contents of user-generated newsworthy raw intelligence broadcasting real-time only from the scene destigmatizing the news language into a neutral non-political one for disseminating it on social networks. With this non-profit effort, we wanted to extend the happinesses and sorrows of the sectors people had never heard from to those, like Cem’s father, who live in a reality designed in the communal media framework, and have no chance of getting any news from the other segments of the society polarized against one another. Who knows that the heterogeneous communities of our geography hosting many ethnic and cultural origins, who are unaware of one another, could perhaps learn to live together in this way! Playing the truant in order to observe the political cases open to public during some weekday classes or participating in several street demonstrations of diverse groups with whose political views we symphatise or not, we would share their real-time and on-the-scene audio or video recordings or photographs. We tried to create some issues alternative to the contents of the mainstream by covering the latest news about their underreported topics ranging from the actions of leftist fractions supporting the arrested journalists to the protests of the radical Islamic marginal groups against the abortion as well as observing the publicized game-fixing cases of one of the nation’s favorite football clubs in the courtrooms. We were, then, so unaware of what we were doing and what a journalistic-sounding terminology was that the first thing we had to do was to look up in the Wikipedia for the meaning of the phrase, “citizen journalism” when we were told by Esra Arsan, an Istanbul Bilgi University academician, during the “Oda TV” case trials when many journalists were being tried that what we were doing while live tweeting unpaid set an organized practice of the “citizen journalism”.

The transformation of yesterday’s passive news consumers into today’s active news producers, The young ages of the members of the group governing this formation and the fact that they weren’t the professionals of the job in the professional sense began to draw the attention of the mainstream media. Our team members were being interviewed by the newspapers, television channels, radio stations, and the university academics were studying the structure and history of 140journos. What we were doing were attributed a variety of assets by the third parties as citizen journalism, digital activism, etc. As a group of university students with no background and intention of being journalists, we found it difficult to interpret these matters. Unintentionally, we seemed to have undertaken the media’s mission of informing the public. In 2012, when Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC academic, whom we met at a panel, described the practice of the 140journos project after listening to how it works not as “citizen journalism”, but as “journalistic citizenship”, we all noticed that we were mistaken with the methodological sense of the approach and with the fact that the system should be upside down. Along the process, however constructive discourse we tried to expand the idea of news production from the scene as a volunteer network of citizens with, we failed. In Turkey, it is almost impossible to create a movement unless the chips are down. It was highly probable that self-censorship of the media hadn’t become a matter of priority for a large part of the country yet then.

Precisely just in this sense, the Gezi Park events experienced in May and June 2013, which has been the largest civilian uprising in the history of the Republic is an overnight revolution in many respects. Starting from our experience so far, it can be said that the Gezi Park events serve as a milestone in Turkey within the scope of citizen journalism with its current meaning in the media, which leads us to the classification of the three characteristic periods of the Gezi Park events as before, during and after the events. The fact confronted and the trauma experienced by the White Turks composing the majority of the nation’s population that state terrorism, police violence, disproportionate use of force and media censorship then experienced by the Kurdish citizens for years in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions had taken place in the middle of a metropolis like Istanbul that time constituted in one night the favorable conducive atmosphere and awareness that were expected to take place by the call and announcements of 140journos in an artificial way months prior to the events. The announcements shared by the civilian initiatives at the very start of the protests as to the fact that the media was dead and wasn’t able to fulfil its function properly and appropriately received positive reaction this time from the public unlike all the other efforts, and 140journos, relatively more and better prepared for this type of incidents, was pushed to the forefront in terms of coordinating the news circulation. Before the Gezi Park actions, while about 400 individual contents were being produced a month routinely, after the outbreak of the actions, during June 2013, a total of 2218 singular validated contents proven at least with one photograph, audio or microvideo recording have taken place in the 140journos accounts. While all these were happening, the number of followers of 140journos in the social media has increased six times more than the initial number and the Klout value indicating the credibility of the account increased. The activity characteristic of the project during the actions of protest changed from reporting from the scene to collecting, categorizing, validating and storifying the news contents sent to 140journos at the desktop in order to economize better on the human resources. In other words, academician Zeynep Tufekci’s criticism, even for a delay of one year, was put into practice in 140journos. In addition to the extensive broadcast through Twitter and Soundcloud during the Gezi Park events, almost all other alternative media tools and platforms such as Facebook, Storify, Vine, Instagram, Prezi, etc. were used as well as tools like Topsy, Tineye, Google Image Search, Google Maps, Yandex Panorama and Internet-accessible traffic cameras of the municipalities for authenticating the information received. After the protests ended, social opposition has kept coming up constantly changing its form to maintain its existence often as in the form of creative street actions being confronted with throughout the time so far.

After the evacuation of the park in June 2013, a new era in the medium of citizen journalism defined by 140journos was entered. 140journos, turning to the work of verification and curation, began to list contacts and establish close online and phone friendships with the individuals who regularly produce content on the account through Twitter with reference to the cities and regions staying in contact with them in daily life. The project today has 300 volunteer content producers, most of with whom we have personal contacts as well, in many different locations of Turkey. The high ranking media censorship in the Gezi Park events and one of those events caused by self-censorship were also the embodiment of the pirate journalism through the social media. In Turkey, some professional journalists already permanently employed in the popular news channels like NTV, CNN Turk, Haberturk, SkyTurk 360, 24, News A, thinking that they can’t practice their profession through which they have acquired their intellectual background after the schools from which they were graduated, contacted 140journos and stated that they would like to share their capacity to access the news which they could gather (through their live broadcast vehicles, the vehicle’s internet connection, cameras, intelligence sources, multimedia data or information to verify the reported newsworthy content) in order to share their content by means of pirate ways over the 140journos because of the self-censorsip on their own stations. This information, which they think won’t be used by their responsible editors in the newsrooms, mostly consisted of opposing content. The contribution of the pirate journalists to the live tweeting news broadcast of 140journos especially during the actions of Gezi Park was incredible in size. The quality photographs above the average of citizen journalism were serviced to the public, and some issues such as verification of the news were often supported by professional pirates.

The actions during the Gezi Park, just as it is said in that famous slogan, was only the beginning, and almost nothing in Turkey has ever been as before. Many partners in providing social reconciliation in the country began to look critically at any content serviced by the media. Significant increase in awareness about citizen journalism was observed, and today hundreds of people we do not know have just recently begun to tweet live news to 140journos just as on the days we began to with a group of friends, and they have been producing content in social media free-of-charge participating in lawsuits and demonstrations as well. This civil disobedience in the country these days has been forcing the government to play all the trumps in their hand. Writing the article you are currently reading, what rumors have had as “a dream” as to the shutdown of Twitter for years “has become a reality” in March 2014 just as in the AKP’s slogan for the elections: “Once a dream, has now become a reality!” Turkey, so much engaged with the international public opinion, was pushed to the league of North Korea, China and Iran, where Twitter was forbidden. Upon the access to the platform by millions of people using the DNS services, the government authorities this time in Turkey have blocked the most commonly used Google DNS service. Wherever you consider the matter, it is a chilling decision. Even my mother in her 50s had to learn how to use the VPN technology also making a small-scale hacker all those who have limited access to technology and the Internet, and finally causing citizen journalism to have its share from this prohibition. The citizens of Turkey, who have to pay more even for the standard plans already compared with many European countries, now have to suffer from the unqualified low speed service provided being forced to consume the same service now censored. The unlimited editions of stable VPN software used to circumvent censorship are sold at the prices starting with $5 and more per month. The new internet law approved and enacted by the parliament late last month, however, if all this were not enough, granted the bureaucrats the authority to prevent the access to any content which allegedly violates privacy through DNS and IP-based access before releasing it to the discretion of the judges. Just imagine, under these circumstances, it is quite probable that any citizen who does not know his legal rights better would hesitate to produce content because of the current regulations. It is no doubt that having limited the freedom of expression by the antidemocratic laws has been causing the digital natives including the writer of these lines to get critical of the democratic acquisitions of the nation while growing up along with the AKP government in power. In this sense, extending the area of freedom assigns the activists, concerned citizens and citizen journos.

In so forgetful a society which is devoid of the ability to practically assess the theoretical achievements of the recent history, in order to register the collective memory, we have been working on the the verification of the data accumulated in the universe of social media and the “Journos” project for an interface intended to be focusing on the users’ interpretation of the publicly available data being embedded inside the multilevel maps through one of the 140journos’s R&D studies. The mobile platform crowdsources verification of social media content, analyzes citizen news reporting, and extends the coverage of civic news will soon be introduced to Turkish internet community. As 140journos, Turkey’s popular citizen journalism network, we provide a new platform solely for Twitter users who are interested, and engaged in news sharing and reporting in this project. Operating through a mobile app, website providing maps layered with facts and datas, and social media, it applies game mechanics and data visualization to reinvent the way citizen reporting is verified, and contextualized. First, game features crowdsource and promote geo-tagged, factual, photo and microvideo-based reporting. Second, harnessed citizen data are used to display relevant background information to explicate where the specific news comes from. The app interface not only promotes verified and civic-minded citizen news, but also actively uses data to contextualize the incoming reports. As mentioned above, 140journos has an established network on Twitter where we receive thousands of tweets every day on events varying from protests to local politics. We are building a new platform, Journos, which integrates a socio-technical process for the geo-tagged and visually supported reports on Twitter to be verified and contextualized. The Journos provides users with a selection of reporting tasks to be completed that is filtered through 140journos’s social media presence and raw data. Users complete tasks relevant to them based on their location and interests. By completing different tasks, users then unlock different badges and receive points, thus gaining credibility and acquiring different editorial/reporting roles. Journos pushes citizen journalism beyond merely documenting events. Let me repeat, these are all real life events but gamified. It provides a variety of information; from environmental features of where the event takes place to the political dynamics that give insights into news. Every piece of visual evidence is watermarked by date, source, and location information through the application, therefore it becomes harder to manipulate reports. Simultaneously, the application’s interface actively encourages users to report and consume news in a contextualized manner by showcasing the overall map of the citizen news network over-layered with the local, historical, and political insights. Overall, Journos app is a feedback system for citizen news on social media; run, verified, and curated by a unique interaction of citizens and technology. We take social media content, parse and filter it, and send it back. Turkey, so far, seems to be a great place to start a journalism start-up not because it provides great entrepreneurial infrastructure and incentives but because it provides real life facts igniting, pushing forward innovators to develop better to comply with the latest information needs under an intense political atmosphere.

Though 140journos has been rising in momentum due to Turkey’s agenda each day today, it is a project of the Institute for Creative Minds, which we have independently managed to maintain non-profit as of January 2012 until today. Within this network of the creative professionals, with an interdisciplinary group of 25 people, we have been designing, with the most simple words, identities and communities. In consideration of the combative reaction of the states with autocratic tendencies developed against the opposition in the streets and squares, the freedom of expression in the digital public sphere and the maneuverability in every sense can be rated higher than the ordinary democratic states. Therefore, we, at the Institute, haven’t only been developing projects of culture, art and media for digital public spaces as well as for physical spaces, but we have also been working closely with the civil society and the non-governmental organisations in addition to creating installations for the national and international biennials so as not to receive any financial support from any third party. We have never aimed at earning any money from any project to which we have no appeal for having it realized as we have no interest and concern in the topics of financially attractive maintainability since we don’t praise any project stemmed from a creative idea conceived when not demanded. It seems that our motivation probably won’t disappear easily because it has originated from a personal matter, I mean, from our personal conscience, and then, from a naive request as to hack Cem’s father’s perception. The academic concepts, expressions that define 140journos will perhaps be altered with their means in the near future, but I am confident that we still have the same anger against the media, oblivion and to all the obstacles that prevent the coexistence of all the societies, none of which have yet been pulled down.

Off we go.

Engin Önder
People

“Engin Önder is not a journalist, and he’ll be the first to tell you that. (“No way,” he said, laughing, when I asked.) Instead, Önder, who cofounded the Turkish citizen journalism platform 140journos, considers himself a citizen acting journalistically to share information and spark discussions about political issues in Turkey.” wrote Joseph Lichterman on NiemanLab.

Engin Onder was a recent college graduate in 2012 when, frustrated by the state of the media in Turkey, he joined with friends on Twitter to launch 140journos. He described the early days in “A Sense of Exhilaration and Possibility,” for the Spring 2014 issue of Nieman Reports. On January 19, 140journos relaunched their site to mark their 5th anniversary, with big plans ahead for 2017, including launching an English-language service for journalism institutions and professionals.

Engin partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

The Year 2016, Turkey, the story of two dead bodies 

24.08.17
9 min

Istanbul Longform Workshop 2017 - A Short Video Documentary

Amr Ezzat about three extraordinary days with 30 wonderful authors in Istanbul, at Cezayir/Beyoglu, March 16-18, 2017, edited by our friends from 140journos for 60pages
15.06.17
1 min

Masses Informing Masses: The Story of 140journos

14.06.17
18 min