When Leftists Ruled the Airwaves: İsmail Cem, TRT, and a Divided Turkey
İsmail Cem was thirty-three in 1974, youthful and handsome, educated at the best schools in Turkey and Europe, president of the Istanbul Journalists Union and a famous columnist in his own right. He was also the author of several books on Turkish politics with a pronounced socialist-bent. He was, in short, an ideal candidate to head the Television and Radio Institution of Turkey (TRT) when the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) came to power, and under his leadership TRT did indeed embark on some of its most important and artistic ventures. Yet his fifteen months in office were also marked by bitter disputes, accusations and legislative maneuvering that reflected an increasingly divided society where opposing factions saw themselves as representing the popular will and their opponents as having no legitimacy at all.
III. The “Sultan Cem” Era
On the Sunday that İsmail Cem was offered a chance to helm TRT, television programing was scheduled to begin at 7:29pm. Ten minutes of news was followed by a twenty-five minute program called “Rainbow,” whose topics that night included match-stick production in England and plane-jumping fire-fighters in western Canada. The next hour was divided equally between sports and news, plus ten minutes for the weather report. The night’s longest program was the game show “Who Knows,” which lasted thirty-five minutes. Seventeen-minutes of singing by Muazzez Türüng followed by the first act of a Cahit Atay play about a village holy man. Ten more minutes of news closed out the night and the broadcast concluded at 10:39pm. And that was it. Three-hours and ten minutes.
While radio programming was far more developed—nineteen hours a day on multiple stations—Turkish television was still in its infancy. The sole network had begun airing on January 31, 1968 using a transmitter capable of broadcasting two hours of content to an audience within 30 km of Ankara, three nights a week. Six years later this had grown to five nights a week and Istanbul and Izmir had also become part of the network. At the time these steps were taken, TRT was a state corporation autonomous from the government. Following one-party control of broadcasting in the 1930s and 1940s, and government manipulation of content throughout the 1950s, elite opinion in Turkey had concluded that institutions like the radio should be insulated from direct political control. By 1960, when the military removed the government and directed academics to write up a new constitution, autonomy of the state broadcaster had become common sense.
The problem, however, was that common sense was less common than imagined. Whatever the merits of the 1961 constitution, it was the product of a military coup that had turned over a fairly popular government. Military officers, bureaucrats, students, and professionals detested the government of the 1950s but voters-at-large did not reflect these views at the ballot box. The constitutional referendum of July 1961 passed with only 61.7% of the vote and in the October general elections, the successors to the deposed government, banding together as the “Justice Party” (AP) in clear reference to their imprisoned and executed predecessors, came just 2% short of a plurality. Only through the threat of renewed military intervention were the political parties convinced to form a coalition in which the Republican People’s Party (CHP) took the lead. Though the CHP was the party of Atatürk and its leader, İsmet İnönü, the very same leader who had peacefully transitioned the country from one-party-rule to multiparty democracy, the party remained widely resented for its years of imposing its secular and progressive views onto society—and its cooperation with the military did not increase its popularity. It’s percentage of the vote fell 5.2% between 1957 and 1961. While İnönü did his best to guide the country once more towards democracy, it was likely that the 1965 elections would bring the AP and its leader Süleyman Demirel to power.
The law establishing TRT in May 1964 put the talk of autonomy into practice by establishing a board of directors. These were appointed by the government, university rectors, and other institutions, but TRT itself was shielded from direct political interference in day-to-day affairs since it was these board members who then selected the General Director. When the AP government won 52.9% and took office in November 1965, it made altering the TRT law one of its top priorities. Its various efforts, however, met with defeat as the Council of State, the court empowered to rule on administrative matters, continuously checked the AP’s efforts and reaffirmed the autonomy of TRT.
Following the AP’s reelection in 1969, politics in Turkey grew increasingly radical.On the right, the AP was unable to appeal to supporters with more religious and authoritarian dispositions. Conservatives who demanded Islamic solutions to the country’s problems formed the National Order Party (MNP); those conservatives—especially young ones—who saw forceful domination of the streets as the key to political success flocked to the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and its youth league, the Idealist Hearths (Ülkü Ocakları). The left likewise split: the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia turned leaders of the socialist movement against each other; the movement’s rank-and-file, meanwhile, were increasingly drawn to radical solutions; within a year, a student leader like Deniz Gezmiş went from leading protests to training at Palestine Liberation Organization camps in Syria and Jordan. Mainstream institutions like the Confederation of Turkish Workers Unions (Türk-İş) were increasingly challenged by smaller organizations like Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions (DİSK) that could bring thousands on the streets—and did in 1970.
With economic conditions worsening, violence rising, and rumors of a left-leaning coup in the works, the military high-command issued a memorandum to Demirel on March 12, 1971 demanding that a “credible” government be formed lest they take matters into their own hands. Demirel resigned and a new government was formed including technocrats and conservative members of both the AP and CHP. From here, events moved quickly: on April 7, the new cabinet was given a vote of confidence; on April 22, military representatives voiced support for constitutional changes; and on April 27, the military declared martial law in Turkey’s major cities and began systematically arresting left-wing academics and closing left-wing publications. Government institutions were purged and dozens of amendments were passed limiting the freedoms originally guaranteed in the constitution. Among these was the elimination of the TRT’s status as an “autonomous” entity. The word was replaced with “impartial.” The General Director was replaced with an actual general and other retired military leaders were sprinkled throughout the institution.Another constitutional amendment was also passed emphasizing that administrative court decisions—the sort that had long trumped government policy and protected TRT—did not have “the nature of administrative act,” meaning that they depended on the executive branch of government for enforcement.
The military’s 1971 intervention was far more violent and repressive than the 1960 coup had been; thousands were arrested and many tortured. The institutional arrangements that emerged from it constricted rather than enlarged freedoms like speech and assembly. By forcing Demirel from office, the military had succeeding in pushing through many of the constitutional reforms that he had long advocated. Just as in 1960, İnönü sought to negotiate the situation; unlike in 1960, his willingness to accommodate the top-brass led to his outer from party leadership. Under its new leader, Bülent Ecevit, the CHP headed into the 1973 elections as the only party opposed to both the military intervention andto the policies it had pursed. Yet, in electoral terms, the popular opinion was unclear. While the CHP won a plurality of the vote, two-thirds of allvotes went to parties representing various strains of right-wing thought. The CHP, historically the champion of secular and progressive policies, formed a government in February 1974 by allying with the Islamist National Salvation Party (MSP). To the extent these two parties shared common ground, it was in a shared skepticism of capitalist values and practices. It was difficult to imagine the government surviving for long; and yet, it was the Turkish center-left’s first opportunity to influence government in nearly a decade.
On February 7, the CHP-MSP received a parliamentary vote of confidence. It was the same day Cem was offered the position of TRT General Director.
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What did Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit—or for that matter his Islamist coalition partners—see in İsmail Cem? Born in 1940, Cem had attended the prestigious Işık School in the wealthy neighborhood of Nişantaşı, followed by the even more prestigious English-language Roberts College, leaving for a year to study abroad in San Francisco. He had become politically active upon his return in 1958, joining the CHP’s youth wing and becoming president of his local chapter.He had left Turkey again the following year to study law in the French-speaking Swiss city of Lausanne until 1962, when he returned and began writing for the newspapers Milliyet(owned by his cousin) and Cumhuriyet. In 1963 he married a high-school friend, Elçin Trak, the daughter of Razi Trak, a wealthy banker and merchant who had recently served as president of the Fenerbahçe football club.In 1970 Cem published his first book The History of Underdevelopment in Turkey, which goes a long way to explaining his appeal to both the MSP’s Islamists and the left of the center-left.
Cem recounted the history of Turkey using materialist—which is to say Marxist—analysis, describing how the interactions of different classes had led to Turkey’s current state of dependence on western powers like the United States. Where he diverged from some materialist peers, and actually echoed Islamists, was in his emphasis on Turkey possessing a culture distinct from the west. The solutions to Turkey’s problems, in other words, were unique to Turkey and must rely on local traditions. While some of his intellectual influences, like the novelist Kemal Tahir, took this idea further than Cem, the essential argument can be found in passages where he argues:
In the late nineteenth century, there was an attempt to enforce the Western economic system on Ottoman society. Along with economics, culture was also imported. Yet, in essence, individualism and adventurism were a product of this method. These economic qualities were alien to Anatolia’s culture; the Ottoman people had no reason for adopting them. Those who did adopt Western culture and join the individualistic economy were those who did so for their own benefit; those with the opportunity to purse personal enterprise; those with the financial wherewithal to pursue a Western lifestyle . . .
The CHP’s traditional misfortune is to be identified in the people’s eyes with Westernization. . .Because they defend the Western style of life, move away from sharia, etc.
And, since the bureaucrats in the CHP and bourgeoisie in the AP had failed to do more than concentrate wealth in the hands of the few, the only solution would be:
The realization of an order benefitting the masses of workers and villagers, shaped through their leadership.
Even if the message came from the mouth of one so seemingly distant from the workers and villagers, there was much in it that might appeal to conservatives seeking to protect domestic industries, nationalize banking and insurance, and prompt farming cooperatives.
As for Ecevit—like Cem, a worldly product of the elite Roberts College—this sort of talk would have been quite pleasing. Ecevit too sought to present his center-left politics within the rhetoric of Turkish nationalism. On issues of culture, Ecevit was also opinionated; he had owned a gallery, wrote poetry, and periodically published commentary on art. In an interview with the newspaper Milliyet, several days after Cem’s appointment, Ecevit gave some general thoughts on television. Though he claimed not to “really follow it,” he ventured that television was less “developed” than cinema. Unlike some critics who argued “there should be no art outside socialist realism,” he believed there was room for pure entertainment—especially that which was rooted in local culture. On the other hand, there were programs which “do not accord with our democratic and humanist analysis”—here he signaled out Mission: Impossible(perhaps because its glorification of American spies seemed odd in an era where their real-life equivalents were overthrowing left-wing governments like Ecevit’s).
Cem echoed much of this sentiment. Speaking to the press about his vision for TRT, he emphasized that, “As Turkey, we possess a culture with which few societies can compare. We are a bridge between east and west. We are a society that can synthesize East and West.”The goal, he continued, was for TRT to “carefully guard young minds against false values and un-virtuous inclinations; this will produce an understanding that enables a more correct, true, virtuous, and beautiful world.”His goal was to use TRT to educate the public, give voice to its needs but also entertain it. In addition to the slew of foreign movies and documentaries that usually ran on TRT he wanted to produce high quality adaptations of classic Turkish literature. Furthermore, he wanted to broadcast football matches.
This latter goal became his first major initiative—a way of showing the public early on that TRT under his administration would cater to what people wanted rather than what a group of elite socialists thought was good for them. Early on he met with the presidents of the major football clubs and worked out a deal with them, promising to compensate them for empty seats at the matches he broadcast and pay each TL50,000 for the rights. Satisfied, they agreed to begin airing games on March 3, starting with a Fenerbahçe-Galatasaray match.
In his first several weeks, Cem also met with the head of the Turkish Electrical Authority and negotiated a deal to extend TRT to six days a week. Previously TRT had been broadcasting on Wednesday (the day when Turkish citizens used the most electricity); by agreeing to halt broadcasts on Wednesday, he got the rest of the week’s days in return starting on March 18.
Before all these accomplishments, however, Cem first had to establish himself in Ankara. His initial days at TRT were packed with introductions and meetings, hirings and firings. As Cem depicts it, these first days exemplified his leadership skills. Rather than wait for people to come to him, he went to their offices and introduced himself, a sign of respect that helped ease some concerns older employees might have had about this young man being their boss.Other accounts of his first day support the idea that his solicitousness was appreciated, but they undermine the unflappable self-portrait he strives to create.
According to news-anchor Jülide Gülizar, Cem visited the newsroom where she, the news director, and several others were hanging around. The TRT official showing Cem around introduced various staffers and, coming to Gülizar, joshingly presented her as “the shrew of the newsroom.” The news director, a conservative appointee whom Cem was soon to reassign, amended the introduction by saying, “It’d be better if we say ‘of TRT’—God help you Mr. Cem.” This observation set them all to laughing—except Cem whom Gülizar noticedgrowing a bit red with embarrassment. After he left, she and the other staffers shared glances as though to say “if he can’t take that, this job is going to be hard for him.” A contemporary might empathize with Cem in this instance and wonder whether Gülizar had simply learned to accept the unacceptable. Perhaps, but as Gülizar’s later experiences with Cem would show, he was at best a fickle champion of women’s rights.
In addition to these meetings around the TRT office, Cem also met with political leaders. First he met with President Fahri Korutürk, a retired admiral whom the military and political parties had compromised on electing a year earlier. During their meeting, Korutürk made two “requests” of Cem: first, that Cem’s TRT focus on Turkey’s positive developments as much as its problems; second, that Cem only remove officials from office if he deemed it absolutely necessary. Cem agreed to do both as best he could—though he would come to look back on the second request as having been particularly disingenuous.
The same day he also met with the outgoing head of TRT, General Musa Öğün. This was a man whom Cem had repeatedly criticized in newspaper columns for “being a tool of anti-democratic thought, for implementing fascist brain-washing polices, for firing TRT personal for the most trivial of reasons”; yet face-to-face, he found Öğün likeable in many ways. He was a man obsessed with the technical details of expanding the broadcasting network and clearly “uneasy” with the thought of not seeing them through to completion.
As Cem describes it, these meetings all went very smoothly. Nonetheless, beneath the cordiality, there were ominous signs. While his meeting with AP leader Süleyman Demirel went perfectly well, as Cem was leaving, the opposition leader reminded him, “This is a political job and we’re going to really give it to you. Don’t take offense.”
The first half was true. Cem might have done well to take the second part to heart.
Twice a month, the TRT Board held its meetings to review the budget and programing decisions. Aside from Cem, who had been appointed by government decree, three of the ten other members had been appointed by one of the conservative governments following the Mach 12, 1971 military intervention; the remaining seven had been chosen by university rectors and the military high command from a list developed by representatives from various other institutions.In short, the men sitting alongside Cem were largely suspicious of anything smacking of socialism, and many of them were allied with more socially conservative parties than the CHP.
In practice, however, Cem was able to get along with them: two (a university professor and a retired colonel) were generally in support of his initiatives; another six were what he referred to as “well-intentioned right-wingers” in the sense that they were reliably skeptical but often only toed their party line to avoid being criticized themselves. Among these were men like Nevzat Atlığ, who only grew political if he had happened to read a particularly scathing critique of Cem on his morning commute. The only two members whom Cem expressed outright contempt for were Fikret Ekinci (a former journalist and political appointee) and Sezai Orkunt (a retired admiral); both men, in Cem’s view, just wanted to hold on to their TL10,000 monthly salaries and would thus blow with the wind. While he took careful notes when the other members spoke, he did not bother with these two.
Cem needed support from these ten men to push through his polices and appoint his allies to key positions. TRT was a massive institution, employing over 5,000 people. In Cem’s view its autonomy had left it bloated, “a storehouse of lazy people” who made salaries far beyond many other civil servants.The recent removal of its autonomy had not helped either—following March 12, it had become a sinecure for retired military men. Even many on the left annoyed him: he had special contempt for the “revolutionaries in-name-only” who would come to his office, complain about how conservatives were blocking their creative impulses and how broadcasting sports was wrong since it was the opiate of the masses.
In general, Cem’s attitude toward TRT exemplified a particular sort of liberal elitism: he believed the state had a role in educating the population, of discerning and expressing the popular will—and he believed that this job was best accomplished by heroic individuals unencumbered by the web of bureaucracy that structured state institutions. For all his rhetorical support of unions and “the people,” in practice, he seemed to have little concern for collective solidarity. Though career civil servants and military officers might be skilled in technical areas, “planning programs [was] a job depending on a different education and cultivation; it [was] a job for those with expertise—or at least experience—in fields like art, culture, sociology, and journalism.”In light of Cem’s accomplishments at TRT, there may be truth to his elite-led vision, but realizing that vision depended on a level of self-confidence that gave little credence to alternative viewpoints.
Since the Personnel Law required certain positions, such as News Director, to be filled by people with up to a decade’s experience at TRT, Cem circumvented it by appointing a number of allies as “advisors.” These included Mehmet Barlas as Domestic News Director and Hıfzı Topuz as Assistant Director of Programming. Barlas was the son of a CHP elder statesman and had just graduated from law school three years earlier. He had met Cem afterwards, while the two were working at the newspaper Cumhuriyet, and had caught Cem’s eye as an energetic reformer. Topuz, meanwhile, was nearly twenty years older than Cem or Barlas; like them he had earned a degree in law and worked subsequently as a journalist, but whereas Cem had briefly served as president of the Istanbul Journalists Union, Topuz had founded it. Cem saw him as bringing a vast store of knowledge to a job whose previous occupant, a retired colonel, had been on paid medical leave in the United States for over a year.
These two men helped Cem pursue an ambitious agenda for TRT. In addition to increasing live sports programming, the signature accomplishments of the Cem era at TRT were the growing diversity of programing and its increasing quality. Cem and Topuz brought in accomplished movie directors to adapt classic works of Turkish literature for the small screen. The most famous of these was Aşk-i Memun, directed by Halit Refiğ. Not only did these productions look more polished—and expensive—than previous TRT endeavors, but they also took risks with content. In the case of Aşk-i Memun, Refiğ’s decision to capture the “reality” of late Ottoman life included keeping lines that offended Turkey’s Alevi community.
Other famous directors brought in to the TRT orbit included directors Lütfi Akad, who adapted the Ömer Şeyfettin story “Ferman,” and Metin Erksan who adapted works by five modernist Turkish authors—the result being a series of short-films so experimental that it is difficult to imagine a casual viewer taking much pleasure in them. More crowd-pleasing were the movies broadcast on Beyaz Perde’nin Unutmayanlar[Unforgettable Films of the Silver Screen]. Somewhere in between these poles was a program like Saz ve Söz[Words and Saz Music]. Many documentaries and films continued to be purchased from abroad during this period, meaning that around 38% of programming content remained foreign in 1974.
At the news division, Cem gave wide authority to Mehmet Barlas who developed shows like Sabahtan Sabaha[Morning to Morning], Kadın Dünyasi[Women’s World], and Eve Dönerken[Returning Home]. Another product of this period was the first late-night news show, Güne Bakış[A Look at the Day] with Can Akbel, whose bald head earned the show the nickname “A Look at the Scalp” (kelebakış) around the TRT offices.
Cem set September 9, 1974 as the date to introduce a slate of new programs and expand the total number of broadcast hours. The effort required to develop multiple new programs in a matter of months was draining on Cem and the staff, but they proved up to the challenge, working long hours, far beyond the stipulations of the Personnel Law governing their working conditions.Again, the contradiction between Cem’s heroic belief in (and demands on) the creative class as a manager and his more abstract calls for workers’ rights as an advocate of socialism was brought into sharp relief. The workload was all the more exhausting due to the simultaneous need to report on the Turkish military actions in Cyprus.
When Turkey sent troops to Cyprus to protect the island’s Muslim population following a coup orchestrated by Greece’s military dictators, the TRT news division rapidly developed the capabilities of filming in war-zones. Much as Vietnam War coverage brought the war home to American living rooms, coverage of Cyprus made the conflict far more concrete for audiences in Turkey. Unlike with Vietnam, however, the news coverage of Cyprus—the images of brave Turkish soldiers and terrible Greek atrocities—served to strengthen the popularity of the government in Turkey.Ecevit sensed that he could now win an election without the aid of the Islamist MSP and the MSP leaders, sensing that they would soon be marginalized, began testing Ecevit’s patience.One particular instance that reflected very badly on Cem was banning female news presenters.
On the evening of September 17, just a day before the coalition collapsed and Ecevit submitted his resignation, all twelve TRT anchors (six men and six women) were called together. Cem and Barlas entered and announced that women would no longer be reading the news. As anchor Jülide Gülizar recalls, the room erupted—or, at least, half the room. As the most outspoken of the staff, she asked Cem and Barlas directly if this was some MSP initiative, but they just “hemmed and hawed” and explained that it was like this around the world. When Gülizar pointed out that, even had that been true, it was no reason for Turkey following suit, Cem and Barlas explained that, “Ladies come onto the screen well-dressed and wearing make-up; it makes it hard for viewers to follow the news.” When she countered that the male news anchors also wore make-up on screen, she got a laugh from the room, but followed up by saying, “Shame on you all. You also need to be opposing this policy, not laughing unashamedly.” When she threatened to boycott work, one of Cem’s assistants—and a “close friend” of hers—observed that more than three days of skipping work could be grounds for removal. Suddenly the strictures of the Personnel Law mattered again.
True to her word, Gülizar refused to come in to work and, quickly, word of the new policy worked its way through the government. On the third day of her strike, she met with Ecevit who promised to sort things out. President Korutürk also made it known that he was displeased with the policy. By September 28, newspapers were reporting that TRT had reversed its policy. Cem called another meeting and announced that women would be returning to the screen. Still suspicious, Gülizar continued her strike until Cem presented the new work schedules—and, sure enough, the standard arrangement of one man and one woman had been altered to add another man, leaving little doubt in Gülizar’s mind that female anchors were being treated as little more than “decoration.” It took another day of resisting to bring the old format back in place.
Neither Cem nor Barlas explained at the time why the policy had been pursued, and Cem makes no mention of the incident in his memoirs. Female staff members like Gülizar were left feeling as though Cem only took a hard line against meddling in TRT when he or his male subordinates were being criticized. On the other hand, Gülizar too recalls the intensity of that criticism and saw it as an attempt by conservatives not simply to tarnish Cem, but to take control of TRT itself.
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TRT had been a target of conservatives since it was founded and, now that its general director was associated so clearly with a particular party, criticisms became even easier. If, before, conservatives saw TRT as a politically unaccountable institution, helping an elite of bureaucrats, officers, and urban professionals impose their secular, progressive world-view on an unwilling population, then March 12 had changed the calculus. The intervention of conservative officers into politics had accomplished many of the reforms conservative parties had desired; it had removed TRT’s autonomy and defined the institution as “impartial.” This term would quickly prove controversial.
Cem’s appointment was immediately contested. According to the law, the General Director should have twelve years government experience, but the Ecevit government avoided this requirement by appointing Cem by decree.The move offered conservative members of the opposition a grounds for questioning his qualifications and the government’s due diligence in vetting him. Especially in the Senate, where conservatives predominated, Cem was accused of lacking a degree (from a Turkish university), blowing his budget on purchasing foreign films, and praising leftist radicals in his various books.
A steady stream of criticism also came from columnists at the conservative dailies Tercüman and Son Havadis. At the former, Ahmet Kabaklı, Ergun Göze, and Tarık Buğra led the way in attacking Cem with Kabaklı and Göze being the more vicious and Buğra remaining more circumspect, lamenting that Cem was running TRT like “his personal estate,” ignoring the multiple perspectives that might be brought to issues.Buğra was particularly disturbed by the way Cem and the CHP equated their political preferences with “the people” and constantly spoke of “the people’s proud reactions to developments at TRT,” and so forth, without any particular evidence.His critique echoed a more general conservative point that the CHP represented only 39% of voters, while the conservative opposition actually represented the majority. Given this reality, conservatives argued that TRT’s inclusion of left-wing perspectives was propaganda and contrary to its obligation to be “impartial.”
Ahmet Kabaklı, a far more fervent Turkish nationalist and anti-communist, was typically more specific in his criticisms. On April 26, 1974, for example, his attention was drawn to an episode of the program Günlerin Getirdikleri[What the Day’s Brought] that concluded with the statement “Like all the world’s countries, we also hope that Turkey can achieve independence,” which he felt implied Turkey was being compared to “Angola or Mozambique.” And, for that matter, he also complained that the same program had referred to Portugal as the world’s “last colonialist state,” as if to say the USSR or China were not colonizing Tibetans, Uighurs, Uzbeks, Tatars, and many other peoples.More generally, Kabaklı believed that the TRT under Cem was normalizing communism by calling “communist” groups “progressive” or “revolutionary.”
Another persistent criticism of Kabaklı’s was that Cem was consciously excluding conservative artists from the airwaves. This took many forms: famous left-wing authors like Nazim Hikmet were given profiles; on the first anniversary of novelist Kemal Tahir’s death a program was devoted to him; and the satirist Aziz Nesin was invited on to discuss writing children’s stories. By contrast, when the nationalist poet Arif Nihat Asya died, TRT did not even mention his funeral and, after saying it would do a feature on Tarık Buğra, TRT dropped him at the last minute.
The accusation of bias at TRT also found its way into other sections of Tercüman. The entertainment section, for example, ran a full-page story in which various musicians accused Cem of being a “one-sided individual” and only letting left-wingers have a turn at the microphone. The other half of the article was given over to quotes from various conservative academics making similar accusations. One, an economics professor named Nevzat Yalçıntaş, pointed to a documentary called “A Republic Collapses in Germany” that had referred the communist leader Rosa Luxemburg as a “heroic revolutionary woman.” Another professor observed that anyone who had seen Cem’s writing and imagined he could be “impartial” was engaged in “wishful thinking.”
Ergun Göze was, perhaps, the most direct in his criticisms. On the issue of TRT not mentioning the poet Arif Nihat Asya he declared that TRT would rather devote a half an hour of programming to “the death of some lousy poet only known by a handful of prison wardens.” Asya, meanwhile, was someone to be proud of: he was not some deracinated “poet of Turkey” (Türkiyeli şair), ashamed of his racial essence; he was a “Turkish poet” (Türkşair), proud of his ethnicity.Göze also took time to interview Professor Yalçıntaş, who shared the columnist’s anti-communism and Turkish nationalism.
Asked what he viewed to be the most “vital” issue in Turkey, Yalçıntaş expounded:
Turkey is in a state of excitement. This buoyancy brings changes—and problems—to the social structure with each passing day . . .To solve these problems without leaving behind our essential national and structural characteristics, it is uncalled for to transfer and apply other countries’ solutions, methods of analysis, and institutions. Especially with the materialist approaches widespread in the West, one encounters class struggles, the notion of profit about all else, social groups seeking to dominate each other or take the bread from one another’s hands . . .The West’s misfortune has not been ours. Turkish society is more humane, possessing a structure in which people support and help one another.
When Göze pointed out that this sounds very similar to the nationalist Marxism of Kemal Tahir “and his friends”—which was to imply Cem and his ilk—Yalçıntaş agreed: Marxists understood that capitalism was “alien to the reality of Turkey—and even antithetical,” but they were wrong to call Turkey feudal and they failed to appreciate that “mosques were the source of equality” in Turkey. Yet they were also keen enough to know that their foreign notions had little appeal in Turkey and, to have any hope of success, “their schema must clip a little bit from the left and the right.”
It was a convenient way to understand the actions of Cem and his allies. When, for example, they devoted more than a minute to a mayoral race in the Istanbul municipality of Kartal, pointing out that the CHP candidate had defeated the AP candidate “backed by the nationalist parties”, thiswas a clear sign of their leftist agenda and lack of impartiality.On the other hand, when Cem’s TRT became the first to make a live broadcast from a mosque to celebrate Ramadan’s Night of Power (Kadir Gecesi), this act was merely a trick to sugarcoat the Marxist medicine they were peddling to the nation.
Regardless of such subtleties, what Yalçıntaş was laying out was the essential conservative argument against Cem and the left more generally: the left misunderstood Turkish reality; it saw problems that were not there and offered solutions that would destabilize the very things that worked. Little surprise, then, that when Cem was finally removed from office, it was Yalçıntaş whom the conservative government put in his place.
There was, however, another criticism of İsmail Cem, which was present from the start. One month after his appointment, a senator submitted a formal written request to Ecevit, asking to know why “İsmail Cem” did not use his actual last name: İpekçi.
As it happened, İsmail Cem hailed from one of the most famous Dönmefamilies in Turkey.
The İpekçi family—five brothers and two sisters—had moved to Istanbul from Salonika in the late 1880s and established a firm marketing silk goods in the neighborhoodof Eminönü. In Salonika, they had been part of a larger social network: the Karakaş sect of the Dönme religious community.
“Dönme” was the blanket term for a large number of Muslim families that had converted to Islam around two-hundred years earlier. Prior to that they had been Jews. Salonika was a hub for the textile trade in the Ottoman Empire and presented a natural destination for Jews in the industry fleeing repression in the Spanish Empire in the late 1400s. Once in Salonika, Jewish merchants secured a monopoly on supplying uniforms to the empire’s janissary soldiers. By the 1600s, European competition had weakened Jewish merchants’ position in the market and sent many to other cities like Izmir. That, at least, was the experience of a Jewish man named Sabbatai Sevi. Sevi’s merchant father sponsored him to be a rabbi and, during the 1630s, Sevi became convinced that he was the messiah. Others became convinced as well to the point that the sultan called Sevi to Istanbul and demanded that he either prove his claims or be executed. At this point Sevi recanted his claims, converted to Islam, and was given a sinecure at the Ottoman palace in Edirne.
Many followers renounced his leadership in disgust, but many others followed his lead and converted to Islam as well. During the following years, Sevi advised them to marry only amongst each other, maintain the outward habits of Islamic faith while continuing to say psalms and celebrate holy days in private. Even this was too much for the Ottoman state, which exiled Sevi in 1673. After his death in 1676, the community was led by his brother-in-law Yakub. Tensions soon arose and the community split between Yakub’s followers and the Karakaş, who were drawn to sufi practices and believed that Sevi had been reincarnated in the body of a boy born nine-months after Sevi’s death whom they dubbed “Osman Baba.”During the subsequent two centuries the population of Dönme in Salonika grew and thrived as members tapped into both their connections to the textile industry and the Ottoman state. Up through the 1880s, the Yakubi sect (being more mainstream in terms of its connection to Sevi and his allegiance to the Ottomans) tended to monopolize government positions while the Karakaş tended toward more artisanal professions like cobblers and weavers (as well as more manual ones like butchers and porters).Yet, by the 1880s, when the İpekçis made their move to Istanbul, old class distinctions were breaking down.
Following the Lausanne Conference of 1923, which ended the post-WWI fighting between Greece and Turkey, Dönme were unable to be counted as “Greek” or “Jewish” for the purposes of residence. Around 15,000 Dönme were required to leave for the newly established Republic of Turkey alongside 400,000 other people—the Republic had “exchanged” them with over a million Greeks who would likewise have to make new lives for themselves in an unfamiliar country.
Most Dönme resettled in Istanbul neighborhoods like Nişantaşı (where İsmail Cem was born). In the early years of the Republic, community leaders made efforts to reproduce the institutions and networks that had existed in Salonika: the prestigious Feyz-i Sıbyan School was reestablished in Nişantaşı, with donations from families like the İpekçis—for several years, in fact, Cem’s grandfather was its director. In 1936, the school changed its name to Işık School. Though intended for the Dönme community, the school was open to all paying members of the neighborhood elite and, thus, İsmail Cem’s fellow alums included figures like Samet Ağaoğlu (from a family of Azeri Shi notables) and the novelist Orhan Pamuk.
In the early 1920s, the İpekçis began to diversify into cinema. In 1922 they opened theElhamra Cinema and, in 1925, the even more successful Melek Cinema (later “Emek Cinema”). Initially the company they formed, İpek Film, was just a means of purchasing foreign films, but soon they began making the own. They hired on the famous theater director Muhsin Ertuğrul to make the feature film Ankara Postasiin 1928, followed by The Smugglers(Kaçakçılar, 1929), the first Turkish film with sound, and A Nation Awakes (Bir Millet Uyanıyor, 1932). Soon they expanded to musicals like If My Wife Cheats on Me(Karim Beni Aldatirsa, 1933) and Cute Barber(Cici Berber, 1933). The İpekçis opened a studio in Nişantaşı in a converted bread factory. By 1933 they had established a division to handle dubbing and hired Ertuğrul’s friend(and fellow-traveler) Nazım Hikmet to oversee it.
In 1934 İpek Film divided into two companies: FİTAŞ, which handled purchasing and importing films from abroad, and SİTAŞ, which handled film production. FİTAŞ became the representative for MGM in Turkey; toward the end of WWII, it added Fox and Columbia as well. After the war, the family purchased a third cinema in the Taksim area, İpek Cinema.İsmail Cem’s fatherİhsan ran it. Other brothers ran different aspects of the company and the entire family—all of whom lived the same apartment building in the Maçka neighborhood—would dine together every morning at 9:00am to discuss business and, in the evening, assign further projects. In 1960, however, while Cem was abroad studying law in Switzerland, there was a falling out among the family members and the companies were formally separated. The various cinemas were doled out to different members of the family. On their own, and facing increasingly bad economic conditions, the brothers lacked the economies of scale necessary to continue. By 1976, SİNTAŞ, which Cem’s father ran, had been sold.
To cultural conservatives, then, the İpekçi name associated with cinema, left-wing filmmakers, and the importation of western cultural products. Moreover, since ideology—conservative or otherwise—seldom remains so narrowly focused, the İpekçis’ status as a Dönme family carried with it a host of other associations. For many conservatives, the Dönme—like masons and Jews—were working to undermine the institutions of Islam. Was it a coincidence that important members of the Committee for Union and Progress, which replaced a devout sultan in 1908, were Dönme? Was it a coincidence that one of Atatürk’s childhood teachers was a Dönme? Was it a coincidence that a prominent Dönme’s daughters had married both the prime minister andforeign minister in the 1950s? At their most extreme, religious conservative arguments insinuated that the Republic of Turkey itself was, from the outset, a plot by Dönme.
Bearing this history of conspiratorial thinking in mind—or, perhaps, under the influence of its paranoid logic—one starts to wonder what the writers in conservative papers like Tercüman orSon Havadisare getting at. What does a columnist like Tarik Buğra mean when he writes that “Mr. İpekçi is not bad intentioned, just poorly informed; not destructive, just untalented, backward . . .[the errors are] a mater of Mr. İsmail Cem İpekçi’s environment and upbringing.”Similarly, the history of anti-Dönme sentiment changes the way we consider calls by columnists like Ahmet Kabaklıfor TRT to devote time to the author Necip Fazıl Kısakürek.In addition to publishing the Turkish version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book of forged documents that purport to prove a world-wide Jewish conspiracy, Kısakürek wrote of Dönme:
As with their special cemetery in Üsküdar, Dönme live a wholly separate life amongst Muslims and Turks, carrying with them a similarly special identity, never failing through all eras in seeking to corrupt the Turk through dominance of commerce and industry, and thus knowing to exploit the flow of events.
And it makes some of the accusations against Cem’s TRT all the more ominous. In a May 1975 edition of Son Havadis, for example, columnist Tekin Erer highlighted a recent instance of TRT’s “brain washing” in a documentary series on WWII. The offending material was found in an episode titled “In Front of Moscow.” The entire program was designed to make the Soviet Army seem heroic, while the Germans were described as “murderers, enemies, traitors.” Why was this, Erer wondered:
We experienced no wrongs from the Germans [in WWII]. We didn’t even get our noses bloodied. In the end it wasn’t the Germans demanding our territory but the Russians. Why are our historic allies the German soldiers being identified as ‘murders, butchers, and enemies’ to our young generations?
Nor has the concern with Dönme diminished through the years. The best-selling book in Turkey in 2004 was Effendi: The White Turks Secret by Soner Yalçın, which followed the family line of Evliyazade Mehmed Efendi in order to should how the ruling elite of Turkey was peppered with Dönme. To wit:
HacıMehmed Efendi’s grandson Refık had five children. Of the children, two, Nejad and Beria (who married the Committee for Union and Progress leader Dr. Nazim) passed away in the early 1950s . . .Madame Beria’s daughter Sevinç was sent to Paris . . .Upon her return, she married Cemil Atalay . . .The couple gave their daughter the name Tülin . . .she graduated from American College in Izmir and fell in love with an American sergeant working for NATO named George Kennan. They married. This marriage produced two children, Maynard James and Lara. James is the lead singer for the heavy metal band Tool . . .
Hopefully the above passage gives both a sense of Yalçın’s style and, also, the fact that it is often wrong. The lead singer for Tool is indeed Maynard James Kennan, but he is from Ohio and neither of his parents is a Dönme from Turkey. This mistake took about two minutes of cursory reading to notice, more astute readers have found far more serious ones.
It is easy, of course, to find holes in a work like Yalçın’s or highlight bigoted quotes from various conservative writers. The more important thing to emphasize is that all this talk helped give shape to a worldview in which people like İsmail Cem were to be viewed as foreign elements in society, working to corrupt it from within. Given such rhetoric, it was no surprise that one of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek’s devoted readers attempted to murder the journalist (and noted Dönme descendent) Ahmet Emin Yalman in 1952. Nor was the misery that awaited the İpekçi family wholly inconceivable.
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Following Ecevit’s resignation on September 18, 1974 there would be nearly six months without a government approved by the parliament. By November, President Koruturk had authorized a university professor named Sadi Irmak to form a cabinet, neither Ecevit nor Demirel was willing to grant support to someone other than themselves, and both hoped that the continued instability would force other parties to rally behind them. Until April, when Demirel cobbled together a “National Front” of right-wing parties, Cem’s TRT continued along, largely as it had under the Ecevit government. Conservative lawmakers continued to criticize its content and wonder about Cem’s unwillingness to use his last name; another legislator questioned Cem’s academic qualifications; and the Ministry of Justice opened an investigation into “obscene material” aired during a documentary called “Wild Amazon.”
By early 1975, political tensions were contributing to a more general cycle of tit-for-tat violence. On January 23, an argument erupted in the lunchroom of the Vatan Advanced Architecture and Engineering School when right-wing students claimed control of the premises and barred left-wing students from entering. A group of left-wing students challenged them and insults flew. After classes ended for the day, the right-wing students waited outside the campus gates and ambushed the left-wing students, killing one named Kerim Yalman. Protests erupted with students from multiple universities gathering in front of Istanbul University. Yalman’s left-wing peers stole his body from the morgue and carried it around to gin up further anger. As the protests grew, Istanbul University called off classes “indefinitely” and several other universities followed suit. Further fighting three days later led to the closure of the Ataturk Education Institute. Even two weeks later, Yalman’s death was still sparking conflict—in this case at Hacetepe when a right-wing student organization began passing out flyers saying that Yaman had been killed by his “leftist friends” who now wanted to pin the crime on the right-wing.
TRT broadcast video of the protests on January 24, including audio of protesters shouting left-wing slogans. Such propaganda infuriated conservative legislators and media outlets and finally pushed Cem to issue a public response to his critics on January 26, in which he declared:
I have no intention of playing politics . . .I am only trying to ensure a service that benefits the people and do so in the best possible way . . .In recent months, the institution in Turkey receiving the greatest slander, that has been the target of the most unjust accusations, is the institution that I am running. TRT is weathering the attacks of a network of slanderers; it is spinning amidst Byzantine intrigues.
Anything Cem said would have been used against him. The very act of speaking out earned him rebukes from conservatives who said that the head of a state institution had no business making such statements as it undermined the “impartiality” of TRT. At Tercüman, Ahmet Kabaklılambasted Cem for ignoring left-wing violence and focusing only on the right-wing’s acts of aggression. Where, indeed, did TRT get off using “communist terminology” to describe Yaman’s killers when “this unsolved murder is doubtlessly done by ‘reds’ because those of our Turkish youth who are raised with Islamic manners do not shed blood.”
Under pressure from conservatives, Prime Minister Irmak authorized a formal investigation of the TRT’s management under Cem—but this was more of a delaying tactic designed to quiet conservatives. In general, Irmak was well-disposed toward Cem—due in part, Cem believed, to a lucky accident: his news director, Mehmet Barlas, had unknowlying sat beside Irmak in November as he was flying to Ankara to take office; during their flight, Barlas had apparently left a good impression with Irmak regarding his and Cem’s efforts at TRT.Even when the parliament’s conservative majority voted to cancel the 1974 decree appointing Cem, Irmak did not move to replace him.
Conservatives’ attempts to remove and replace Cem stalled until early April, when Demirel finally succeeded in forming a government, and then moved steadily forward: by early May the government was in negotiations with President Korutürk over a bill that could legally remove Cem and put Nevzat Yalçıntaş in his place. The final bill was justified with reference to the constitutional requirement that TRT uphold “national security.” The justification for Cem’s removal pointed to his writings praising left-wing movements; his statements on January 26 which were “unbecoming” a state official; and broadcasts on TRT ranging from showing the Istanbul University protests to filming the president at an angle that showed him reading off notes.
As soon as the bill was printed in the Official Gazette and went into effect on May 17, Cem appealed to the Council of State to review the decision and, in the meantime, place an injunction on the law. While he waited for the high administrative court to make its initial decision, Cem and his lawyers holed up at his Ankara house and waited. Yalçıntaş, meanwhile, set to work at TRT. Mehmet Barlas immediately resigned as news director, but Hıfzı Topuz remained in his post, challenging Yalçıntaş to remove him at the next TRT board meeting—which he did. Demirel’s government made the task of removing Cem’s ally easier by replacing a moderate TRT board member with Professor Şaban Karataş, a reliable conservative.
The Council of State issued an injunction on May 30, but Demirel and conservative newspapers argued this meant nothing; following the changes to the constitution, the Council of State’s rulings no longer obligated their own enforcement; at best, a decision in Cem’s favor would allow him to sue for compensation for his unjust termination and nothing more. Cem, unsurprisingly, took a different interpretation: upon being formally notified of the decision, he returned to work on June 5. He entered the TRT building, sat around a friend’s office with his lawyers, and then went home. He did not enter the General Director’s office because Yalçıntaş was there, refusing to receive notification of the Council of State’s decision. When Cem and his lawyers returned at 11:30am the next day, they found the TRT building surrounded by police who barred his entrance and turned him away. Journalists who had gotten wind of the police presence and sensed a story were also standing outside the building; as he departed, Cem declared to them, “At this moment, TRT is under occupation by an individual without any legal authority. I will inform the public of this!”
It was a dramatic pronouncement, but it had little hope of success. Demirel had no intention of letting Cem back into a position of authority. Yalçıntaş, however, was less willing than the prime minister to flout the legal norms of the republic; after repeatedly requesting that the government issue a new decree reappointing him (and being repeatedly rebuffed), he resigned on June 28. It would take six more months before a new General Director, more committed to the conservative coalitions’ cause, was appointed. That new director, Şaban Karataş, oversaw a mass purging of TRT and rearranging of its important posts.
In his first days, following precedents set by Cem, Karataş brought in outsiders as “advisors.” He also cancelled a number of programs and movies.In firing one Cem-appointee, Karataş explained that he was merely trying to “depoliticize” the institution, but it was not easy, “We are in a struggle, and while we engage in this struggle, I will work with all those employees who keep in step.”Now it was CHP legislators’ turn to cry foul, accusing Karataş of being an “enemy of Atatürk.”Employees removed by Karataş attempted to sue him for damages and pro-CHP newspapers, like Milliyet, criticized him—and Karataş turned right around and sued Milliyet.
During Karataş’s tenure, the size of TRT increased dramatically as he filled its ranks with conservative allies, causing Cem to draw a bitter contrast with his own tenure when the TRT Board slowed his appointments to a crawl.Yet the events at TRT were merely a reflection of a larger trend: under the “Nationalist Front” different political parties raced to “colonize” the ministries they had been given, attempting to get the most out of the advantage the coalition provided them.
By April 1977, the Council of State had found Karataş liable to pay up to TL73,000 in damages and the Ankara prosecutor’s office had begun an investigation into his actions as General Director, which resulted in his being sentenced to three months jail time.He hung onto his post until June, when he finally resigned and returned to his academic post with court cases swirling around him.
During these years Cem remained on the sidelines. With Hıfzı Topuz and other friends, he began a magazine called Politikaand waited for the political tides to change—legally, after all, he was still the TRT General Director. When Ecevit was finally able to form a stable government again in January 1978, Cem was offered the opportunity to return to his post. He did so, but the act was merely to assert the principle that he couldand, almost immediately, he resigned on the understanding that he would soon be appointed Turkey’s representative to UNESCO.When this appointment was not forthcoming, he continued his writing, returning to his old paper Milliyeton February 1, 1979 with a serialized article titled “Turkey’s Experiment in Social Democracy.” Milliyetwas run by his cousin Abdi İpekçi and February 1, 1979 was also the day on which Abdi İpekçi was gunned down in the street outside his home by right-wing activists. One assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca, was soon captured but managed to escape prison, flee Turkey, and ultimately shoot Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Following his cousin’s assassination, Cem received a phone call from the police informing him that he too might be a target of right-wing militants. Turkey no longer seeming safe, he and his family left for Paris. He did not bring them back until 1981, after the military had yet again taken control of politics in Turkey.
During his brief tenure at TRT, Cem had brought important changes to Turkish television: he had improved the quality of programs and demonstrated the level of quality that was possible when dedicated professionals were given freedom and opportunity. Pushing forward with such an ambitious program required—perhaps inevitably—a stubbornness and conviction that enflamed rather than soothed the tempers of journalists and legislators who were already predisposed to distrust him. Yet, for all the critics who grumbled about the one-sidedness of Cem’s TRT, there were many who simply criticized it for the sake of political advantage—declaring, for example, that broadcasting the Eurovision song contest was promoting gambling or that a documentary about spiders, purchased from the BBC, was an open and shut case of “cultural imperialism.”
And then, behind even those criticisms, was the implication that people like Cem did not understand—or were actively trying to destroy—the essence of “Turkish” culture. Complaints about a spider documentary can be laughed off; implications that your opponents lack legitimacy to even participate in the political system takes politics somewhere much more frightening.
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Haluk Şahin, “Broadcasting Autonomy in Turkey: Its Rise and Fall-1961-1971,” Journalism Quarterly58, no. 3 (1981): 396-8; Jülide Gülizar, TR + Tv +TRT(Ankara: SinemişYayınları, 2008), 26-8. N.B. Şahin was one of the several outside appointments Cem made during his time in office; he resigned following Cem’s removal.
In 1969 the Justice Party vote share dropped from 52.9% to 46.6%; the Republican People’s Party dropped from 28.7% to 27.4, but this was in part due to its more conservative members breaking away to from the Reliance Party (Güven Partisi), which polled 6.6%.
Eric Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern History. 4th ed. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004), 258-60; Feroz Ahmad, The Turkish Experiment in Democracy, 1950-1975(Boulder: Westview Press, 1977), 290-93.
Rona Aybay, “Some Contemporary Constitutional Problems in Turkey,” Middle Eastern Studies4, no. 1(1977): 25.
Can Dündar, Ben Böyle Veda Etmeliyim: İsmail Cem Kitabi (İstanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2000), 47.
Abdullah Muradoğlu, İpekçiler ve İsmail Cem: Selanik’ten İstanbul’a(İstanbul: Bakış Yayınları, 2002), 97-8.
İsmail Cem, Türkiye’de Geri Kalmışlığın Tarihi. 2nd ed. (Istanbul: Adalet Ağaoğlu Kitaplığı, 1971), 444.
Milliyet, 7/17/74: 6.
İsmail Cem, TRT’de 500 Gün(Istanbul: Gelişim Yayınları, 1976), 30.
“TELEVİZYON HAFTADA 6 GÜNE,” Milliyet, 3/3/74
Cem, TRT’de, 44. Much to Cem’s dismay, Fenerbahçe won 2-1.
Cem, TRT’de, 29.
Cem, TRT’de, 14. As it happens, he was appointed to office on the day of his thirty-forth birthday.
Gülizar, TR + Tv +TRT, 66-7. The news director whom Cem removed, Doğan Kasaroğlu, was an ally of the military. Rather than just present the removal as political in this manner, Cem describes Kasaroğlu as having established a “fiefdom” in the newsroom. Following the 1980 military coup, Kasaroğlu was appointed General Director of TRT, stepping down in 1983 to run as a candidate for the pro-military Nationalist Democracy Party (Milliyetçi Demokrasi Partisi) (Dündar, Ben Böyle Veda Etmeliyim, 111).
Cem, TRT’de, 25.
Cem, TRT’de, 27.
Prior to the military intervention of 1971 and the revision of the TRT law, members of the Board had been selected by various institutions directlyrather than proposed and then confirmed as was the process after 1971. Additionally, the three government-appointed members had originally only been two (Özden Cankaya, Bir Kitle İletişim Kurumunun Tarihi: TRT, 1927-2000[Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2003], 64, 95).
The ten members were Şerafettin Turan (a professor); Tevfik Karahan (a retired colonel); Sabri Süphandağlı (connected to the AP and the newspaper Son Havadis); Saadettin Karacabey (a former Democrat Party parliamentarian and President of the Agriculture Chamber of Commerce); Adnan Ataman (a professor); Ali Bozer (a professor); Nevzat Atlığ (a doctor); Adnan Saygun; Adbullah Türkoğlu (a professor); Fikret Ekinci (a journalist); and Sezai Orkunt (a retired admiral). Ekinci and Bozer had been appointed by the Melen cabinet on April 1972; Türkoğlu, Turan, Saygun, Süphandağlı, Karacabey, and Atlığ had been selected at the same time. Ekinci was removed by the CHP-MSP government in March 1974 and replaced with Uğur Alcakaptan (a professor); Cemal Aygen (the TRT news bureau chief) was added as well.
Cem, TRT’de, 16.
Cem, TRT’de, 43.
 In reference to a Westernized—which was to say “feminized”—nobleman, one of servant characters in Aşk-i Memun declares, “They go beyond even the Kızılbaş [Alevis] with their customs . . .Who is the wife, who is the husband?” The line alludes to the libelous idea that Alevi Muslims—who hold mixed-gender services—are having orgies, wife-swapping, etc. Refiğ, the writer/director, argued that “this scene is targeting neither the Alevis nor their beliefs. What’s being criticized is late-Ottoman society’s governing class.” The term was merely meant to reflect common forms of speech then—and, he implies, in the 1970s (Halit Refiğ, “Ayirici ve Bölücülük Yapan Kim?” Cumhuriyet, 5/4/75: 7).
Özden Cankaya, Türk Televizyonunun Program Yapısı(Istanbul, 1986), 32.
Gülizar, TR + Tv +TRT,73.
Cem, TRT’de, 63.
TRT already had radio broadcasts designed specifically for Cyprus’ Turkish-speaking population; after fighting halted, Cem announced TRT would integrate Cyprus into the television network as well (“TRT yetkilileri yeni sezonda üç büyüklerin maçlarını yayınlamak için harekete geçti,” Milliyet, 8/21/74).
Throughout the eight-month coalition, the National Salvation Party (MSP) leaders pressed moral issues to assert their role in the coalition and not be overshadowed by the CHP. In March 13, 1974, for example, MSP leader Necmettin Erbakan complained about a nude statue that had been placed in Istanbul on the fiftieth anniversary of the republic. On March 19 it was removed (Ahmad, The Turkish Experiment in Democracy, 341).
Gülizar, TR + Tv +TRT,85-93.
Ahmad, The Turkish Experiment in Democracy, 341.
Senators pointed to passages in 12 Mart, a collection of Cem’s columns from the period and picked out multiple passages that, they felt, exposed his leftist beliefs. In one case, they highlighted a discussion of the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP), Turkey’s main socialist party in the 1960s. In the essay, Cem had argued that TİP was a party run by intellectuals in the interest of workers; too often, he thought, the party was weakened when the intellectuals had been unwilling to compromise their personal philosophies to the collective decisions of the party. The conservative senators described this as praising “Leninist party discipline”—a description that, though a bit unfair, was not exactly untrue. Similarly, they accused Cem of praising left-wing terrorists—specifically a trio of leftist Turkish men who had been arrested and executed for a series of bank-robberies, kidnappings (of American soldiers), and a drive-by shooting (of the US embassy)—all of which amounted to an attempt to “overthrow the constitutional order.” Many people (especially those opposed to the course of events in Turkey post-March 12, 1971) saw the death sentences as excessive and little more than a symbolic revenge for the executions of conservative politicians a decade earlier. The senators said Cem had written of “their names like much-loved flowers” and “heroics as those read in history”—which again was true in the sense that, on the day following the executions, Cem had published a rather maudlin column quoting a poem by Melih Cevdet Anday that contained those lines (İsmail Cem, 12 Mart[Istanbul: Cem Yayınevi, 1973], 37, 288-90; “İsmail Cem İpekçi ve Bazi Belgeler,” Son Havadis, 4/22/75).
Tarık Buğra,“Cesur ve Kurnaz ,” Tercüman, 1/30/75.
Tarık Buğra, “Buruk Komedi,” Tercüman, 2/3/75.
Ahmet Kabaklı, “Sömürge miyiz?” Tercüman, 4/30/74.
Ahmet Kabaklı, “Vatan Cephe TRT’si”Tercüman, 2/5/75
Ahmet Kabaklı, “Şeref Meselesi” Tercüman, 5/16/74; Ahmet Kabaklı, “Tesbih” Tercüman, 1/9/74; Ahmet Kabaklı, “Acz Beyani” Tercüman, 4/7/75.
Semih Yurga, Tercüman, 2/9/75.
Ergun Göze, “Bu Ne Demek?” Tercüman, 1/11/75. Göze’s implication that TRT was promoting an un-Turkish notion of citizenship, one rooted in being “of Turkey” (Türkiyeli) rather than a Turk illustrates how narrow the room for debating ethnicity was in 1974. The word “Kurd,” for example, does not come up in Cem’s 1976 memoir and the existence of Kurds in eastern Turkey was not discussed.
Ergun Göze, “Prof. Yalçıntaş Konuşuyor,” Tercüman, 12/8/74.
Yusuf Devran, Siyasal İktidar-TRT: İlişkisinin Dünü(Istanbul: Başlık Yayın Grubu, 2011), 84.
Özden, Bir Kitle İletişim(2003), 133.
In addition to being an economics professor, Nevzat Yalcintas had been an advisor to the Employers Union Confederation. Before the military intervention of March 12, he had worked in the State Panning Organization and advocated for laws that curtailed worker’s rights. In his capacity as an academic, he had offered expert opinions in court cases as why other professors were radicals and, thus, deserving of prosecution. He had also been closely allied with the Turkish National Student Federation (TMTF), a right-wing campus organization (Cumhuriyet, 5/5/75).
The Karakaş too had a split after some members (the Kapancı) rejected Osman Baba’s status as messiah. The above account of Sabbatan Sevi is, obviously, a bitcompressed. Excellent accounts of Dönme include Cengiz Şişman’sThe Burden of Silence: Sabbatai Sevi and the Evolution of the Ottoman-Turkish Donmes(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), which focuses more on the middle years of the Ottoman Empire, and Marc Baer’s Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks(Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009), which focuses more on the late Ottoman Empire and early Republic.
Şişman,The Burden of Silence, 236.
See Bruce Clark, Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions that Forged Modern Greece and Turkey(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).
Muradoğlu, İpekçiler ve İsmail Cem, 14.
Gökhan Akçura, Aile Boyu Sinema(Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 1995), 53-59.
Akçura, Aile Boyu Sinema, 59-62.
The conservative notion that the Republic of Turkey was from the outset a Donme project is addressed excellently by Rıfat Bali in his book A Scapegoat for All Seasons: The Dönmes or Crypto-Jews of Turkey(Istanbul: The ISIS Press, 2008).
Tarık Buğra,“Bir Otopsi ,” Tercüman, 5/10/75.
Ahmet Kabaklı, “Şeref Meselesi” Tercüman, 5/16/74.
Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, Yahudilik-Masonluk-Dönmelik(Istanbul: Şenyıldız Matbaası, 2008), 198.
Tekin Erer, “Yine T.R.T” Son Havadis, 5/8/75. In fairness to Erer’s argument, he was not supportingNazism, so much as criticizing those who thought it worse than communism. He concluded by observing that, “Our laws and our constitution reject both Communism and Nazism,” which was to say that there was evil on both sides in WWII and no need to single out one for greater opprobrium.
Soner Yalçın, Effendi: Beyaz Türklerin Büyük Sırrı(Istanbul: Doğan Kitap, 2004).
In A Scapegoat for All Seasons, Rıfat Bali lists off twenty-five far more significant errors in Soner Yalçın’s Effendi(338-45).
Tercüman, 10/24/74; “MHP’li Erkovan TRT Genel Müdürünün yüksek öğrenim yapıp yapmadığını sordu,” Milliyet, 1/6/75; “SENATODA TRT GENEL MÜDÜRÜNÜN SOYADI TARTIŞILDI,” Milliyet, 1/22/75.
“Sedat Sertoğlu, “Vatan Mühendislik’ten bir öğrenci öldürüldü,” Milliyet, 1/24/75; “İsmail Cem: ‘Gerçeklerin görülmesine kızanlar TRT’yi suçluyor,’” Milliyet, 1/27/75; “Hacettepe’de Silahlı öğrenci çatışması oldu,” Milliyet, 2/7/75.
Cem, TRT’de, 181.
Ahmet Kabaklı, “Basına Bakın,”Tercüman, 1/28/75; Ahmet Kabaklı, “İhbar Kabul Edin!” Tercüman, 2/4/75.
Cem, TRT’de, 152.
“Yalçıntaş Göreve Başladı . . .” Cumhuriyet, 5/18/75.
By June 11, 1975, when Hıfzı Topuz was removed from TRT, the Managing Board was composed of: Fikret Ekinci (a journalist); and Sezai Orkunt (a retired admiral); Cüneyt Orhon (TRT Music Division President); Şaban Karataş (Professor); Özcan Özal (rector of Ege University); Saadettin Karacabey (a former Democrat Party parliamentarian and President of the Agriculture Chamber of Commerce); Adnan Ataman (a professor); Şerafettin Turan (a professor); and Adnan Saygun. Saygun and Turan were the only members left supporting Topuz (“Topuz,2 ye karşı 8 oyla görevden alındı,” Milliyet, 6/11/75).
İsmail Cem Dosyası(Ankara: ANKA Yayınları, 1975), 5.
Şaban Karataş was a professor of agriculture. In 1957, he had been among the founding faculty members of the Atatürk University in Erzurum (the first university established in eastern Turkey). After studying at Cornell University in the United States, he had returned to Erzurum in 1969 and served in the university administration (“Karataş Kimdir?” Milliyet, 12/20/75).
“‘İnsanın Yücelmesi’ ve 8 program TV’den kaldırıldı,” Milliyet, 1/23/75.
“Karata; ‘Bir mücadelenin içindeyiz,bana ayak uyduracak elemanlarla çalışabilirim,’”Milliyet, 4/4/76.
“Unsal: ‘Karatas Atatürk düşmanı değilim diyemez,’” Milliyet, 1/23/75. The accusation that Karataş was opposed to Atatürk was based on statements he had made saying that Mustafa Kemal had overthrown the Ottoman order and that other generals, like the more conservative Kâzım Karabekir, had done more in the east—and in the interest of preservingthe empire.
“Karataş aleyhine açılan tazminat davasını mahkeme kabul etmedi,” Milliyet, 12/7/76; “Karataş’ın,Pulur ve Topuz aleyhine açtığı dava düştü,” Milliyet, 1/27/77; “TRT’nin 300 personeli,Karataş hakkında dava açılması için savcılığa başvurdu,” Milliyet, 2/19/77.
“TRT’de Karata;dönemindeki usulsüz atamalara maliye müfettişleri el koydu,” Milliyet, 12/28/78.
“Karataş 73 bin lira tazminata mahkûm oldu,” Milliyet, 4/8/77; “Karataş’m 3 aydan 2 yıla kadar hapsi isteniyor,” Milliyet, 4/15/77;
“Cem,TRT Genel Mudurlugu ne atandı,” Milliyet, 1/24/78; “Cem TRT den istifa etti,” Milliyet, 4/21/78.
Though Mehmet Ali Ağca never implied that his murder of Abdi İpekçi was connected with İpekçi’s Donme status, İpekçi’s family certainly suspected as much. In response to their statement, Ağca’s brother, Adnan, declared in 2006, “I’ve read [their statements]. They made me sad. It doesn’t benefit anyone to make such an accusation of racism. If only these things hadn’t happened. If only some people had felt more respect for this country, these things might not have happened. Whose man is Abdi İpekçi? Please look into this” (“‘Teşekkürü borç biliriz,’” Hürriyet, 1/12/06; Bali, A Scapegoat for All Seasons, 77-78).
Cem, TRT’de, 157-60.