Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan: I'm no Maganda

March 3, 2009
In a recent post, I talked a little bit about the numerous lawsuits that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has filed in recent years against journalists and cartoonists. Today it was reported that Turkey's litigious leader is suing the leader of the political opposition, Deniz Baykal, for character assassination. According to the newspaper Vatan, Erdogan is suing Baykal 100,000 Turkish Liras (about $57,000 US) becasue Baykal criticized Erdogan's "maganda style" (maganda üslubu) at a rally in the Black Sea city of Sinop on February 28. Erdogan is also suing Republican People's Party spokesman Mustafa Ozyurek for 20,000 Turkish Liras.
In Turkish, the term 'maganda' is a very offensive word which is used to evoke hot-headed macho gold-wearing men lacking in general culture. That Baykal would even use the word at all is representative of his generally tin ear when it comes to addressing anyone outside his educated urban base.

Don't call this guy a maganda, either

This marks the fifth time that Erdogan has sued Baykal for character defamation. On two occasions, Erdogan sued for 25 thousand liras, and a third time for 20 thousand, losing on all three occasions. There has not yet been a ruling on a fourth lawsuit, in which Erdogan is demanding 40,000 liras.
Last month, Erdogan won an award of 4,000 liras from the Turkish humor magazine Leman, after Leman published a photomontage of Erdogan flipping his middle finger. Erdogan had originally sought 20,000 in the case.
I've written about this before but I'll say it again: Erdogan's frequent lawsuits against journalists and political rivals (thought to total over fifty lawsuits since Erdogan's AK Party took power in 2003) amount to an intimidation tactic unbecoming to Turkey. These lawsuits, moreover, need to be placed in the context of other events which have taken place in recent years. In late 2007, the second largest media company in Turkey, ATV-Sabah, was put into government receivership after its owner went bankrupt. Emerging out of nowhere to buy the company was an outfit called Calik Holding, which obtained loans from state-controlled banks in order to purchase the media firm. And who is Calik Holding's general manager? Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.
Now the Turkish government is going after the largest media holding company in the country, the Dogan Group. In late February, the Ministry of Finance announced that it was fining the Dogan Group--whose owner, Aydin Dogan, has been sharply critical of Erdogan over the past six months--a record 826 million Turkish Liras ($490 million). This amount is larger than the value of the entire company, which would most likely send it into government receivership if the Dogan Group fails in its bid to appeal the ruling.
While there have always been certain issues (mostly relating to Kurds, Armenians, Islam, and--once upon a time--communism) that could get people in trouble if they wrote about them, within such boundaries the media has generally been free in Turkey. Since I first began living here in 1992, I have never seen anything like the concerted and multi-faceted effort that is currently taking place to silence or buy out government critics. When this happened in Russia several years ago, the editorial staff at the Washington Post and other American media outlets routinely (and rightly) denounced Vladimir Putin for quashing democracy and the free press. In the case of Turkey, however, it's really a non-story. Indeed, while Turkish journalists have to defend themselves from lawsuits filed by their own Prime Minister, American journalists who are paid to report the news from Turkey are largely ignoring this story.

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