Tragedy of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet Daily: A Kemalist Civil War?

As six former Cumhuriyet staff members go back to prison, the new administration’s role in their imprisonment once again warrants scrutiny.

Abdullah Ayasun
7 min readApr 26, 2019

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Six former members of the Cumhuriyet daily. (Photo: Twitter)

On Thursday, six former workers of the Cumhuriyet newspaper went back to prison in western Turkey to complete the rest of their jail term after a regional appeals court upheld their prison sentences delivered by a local court last year.

This came as a new, demoralizing blow to press members in a country where the media landscape has already been battered by the post-coup crackdown and purge.

Yet, it took hours for the Cumhuriyet daily to publish a story about its former staff members going back to prison. What prompted the Cumhuriyet daily was a tweet from Nadire Kalkan Gursel, the wife of former Cumhuriyet columnist Kadri Gursel, who held the new administration responsible for what was happening.

“Look at this. @cumhuriyetgzt cannot report this. It is because of you, Sir. Shame on you! Can you comfortably sit in that newspaper? It is Mustafa Balbay who started this process,” Gursel wrote on Twitter.

The predicament of the Cumhuriyet daily was different in nature than the tragedy of other media outlets which became targets of a brutal clampdown by authorities following a botched coup in 2016. There was an internal element in the Cumhuriyet case; a rebellion launched by former members to take over the management of the board and newsroom of Turkey’s oldest newspaper, which had been found with the endorsement of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s to diffuse the ideology and principles of the Kemalist revolution.

Without having command of this dimension of the story, it would be implausible to grasp the core elements of the drama playing out in and around the Cumhuriyet.

In late 2016, I wrote elsewhere about the power struggle between different factions of Kemalism over the soul and…

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Abdullah Ayasun

New York-based journalist and writer. Columbia School of Journalism. 2023 White House Correspondents' Association Scholar. Twitter: @abyasun