Others defended me, saying it had been photoshopped, but they were also confused. Why was the Encyclopaedia of Socialism and Socialist Struggles lying next to the sofa? A academic who supported the regime even published a serious and detailed analysis, in which he wrote things like: ‘It may seem paradoxical that both poles of the Cold War have come together in one photo, but in fact both have the goal of alienating Turkey from its own values.’
But what was really behind this photo? Why had I wrapped myself in the US flag? A few years ago a friend and I made a documentary about Deniz Gezmiş, the legendary student leader during the 1968 protests. We went days without sleep as we pored over books on the history of socialism in my friend's production studio and tinkered with the film.
One of the first political actions undertaken by Deniz and his friends was a protest against the US fleet that visited Turkey in 1968. On Istanbul's Taksim Square, students burned an American flag and then threw US soldiers who had come ashore into the sea. We acquired a US flag to symbolise this scene. We wanted to use it in the documentary by burning it in the background as we recounted the story of this protest. The night before we filmed the scene, I fell asleep in the office after many hours of editing work.
My friend, the director of the documentary, decided to have a bit of fun by covering me in the flag that we were going to burn the next morning – as it was the only ‘blanket’ in the room. The fact that the regime’s faithful media turned this flag into a big deal had its funny side. But the scary side was that the photo had been stored on my old phone, which the police had confiscated. On that same day, at a signal from Erdoğan, the police had provided the obedient press with the photo from my phone.
They were capable of all kinds of crimes, and on that day I was convinced of it yet again. But it all had consequences. One week later I ascertained that my column had not appeared in Cumhuriyet. I became suspicious. Because that was never a good sign in the history of the Turkish press. Whenever the phrase ‘This article could not appear due to a technical malfunction’ appeared in place of the column, it was clear that this was not a technical, but a political, malfunction.
On 18 November I was due to receive the Hermann Kesten Prize at the German PEN Centre in Darmstadt from the hands of Tagesthemen news anchor Thomas Roth. The writer Hermann Kesten was forced to leave his country during the Nazi regime and lived in exile for many years. The PEN centre offered refuge to writers in exile.
The photo had been stored on my old phone, which the police had confiscated. On that same day, at a signal from Erdoğan, the police had provided the obedient press with the photo from my phone.
As my car pulled up at the hotel where the award ceremony was taking place, Dilek called and told me the real reason why my column had not been printed. Along with the police who had passed on the photo, the public prosecutor had also taken action. He had a meeting with one of the newspaper’s managers, who had to testify at a hearing, and said about me: ‘A warrant is out for his arrest. Why are you continuing to let him write?’
Normally the response would have been: ‘That’s none of your business’, but these were not normal times. Our colleagues were behind bars, they were hostages, so to speak. Regardless of the content, the government was bothered that I was writing at all. And the fact that it was so concerned meant that it would not leave our people alone.
Certain lawyers said it would be better if I didn't write for a while. I had always resisted pressure and had never said to one of our writers: Don’t write! Not even to those who thought they had to teach me behind my back. It came as a bitter blow that now, after I had fought so long for freedom – in order to protect my detained colleagues – I was no longer allowed to write in the newspaper of which I had been editor-in-chief until just three months previously.
Normally I would have resigned immediately. But in the midst of this storm, such a resignation would have been given a different interpretation and it would only have harmed me, the newspaper, and my colleagues in prison. So I just had to accept it in silence. I said nothing. And so Cumhuriyet, the drum that I had once beaten so loudly, closed without a murmur.
But I would continue to fight for this newspaper. And that wasn’t all. I was politely told that it would be better if I did not go to the Alternative Nobel Prize, which was being awarded to the newspaper for its recent journalistic successes and its determined campaigning for the truth. I was told it might not look good if someone who was wanted by the police represented the newspaper at the award ceremony. ‘As you like’, I said and pulled out.