Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, interviewed Okay Deprem, a journalist and political scientist from Turkey. The human rights activist found out how the United States is using Europe to fight Russia, why Ankara supports Ukraine while maintaining friendly relations with Moscow, and what characteristics make Turkey one of the worst countries in the world in terms of human rights.
Mira Terada: Good afternoon, dear Okay! Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. Please tell our viewers and readers what you do?
Okay Deprem: I have been working as a journalist and correspondent from Turkey at Donbass for more than eight years. I have been corresponding and the creating visual and written materials for the one of the most famous national TV channels of Turkey and at the same time, for the informational portal of the same media.
M.T.: From the perspective of a political scientist, how do you assess the events taking place in the world? Are Americans really trying to extend their hegemony by pushing Russia and Europe against each other?
O.D.: The world is living very messy and total transformation, geopolitical and ideological transformation. The transformation has begun just after the conclusion of the Cold War. On the other hand, due to other comment or point of view, this transformation has begun slow by the end of 2000-s, but especially, of course last a year. The current conflict is political, social and economical. This competition that takes place between West (North American, West European and European block) and East (Eurasian alliance under the leadership of the Russian Federation, China, India and several countries). Just about the second part of your question, naturally, it is on discussable. The United States had been doing several times different kinds of conflicts and events throughout the last few decades. This time also and hegemonic.
This war is the global attack of the United States against Russia. Europe just it has been seen and observed just after the Second World War, is being used by the United States against Russia
M.T.: Please explain the relationship between Turkey and NATO? Some experts argue that the alliance, through its direct provocations, is forcing the country to consider the prospect of leaving it.
O.D.: The relationships between Turkey and NATO gets worse and worse. It is a very important fact. Turkey is not satisfied still being a member of NATO, and conflicts and disagreements between the Alliance and Turkey a year by year get bigger, get deeper, deeper, etc. Of course there are several messes inside Turkey demanding the exit of Turkey from NATO. Some state establishments, political parties, different state institutions have been arguing, discussing about the need, about the necessity of exiting from NATO. This is one of the main discussion topics in politics of Turkey for several decades.
M.T.: In one of your articles, you stated that Turkey’s decision to join NATO in 1952 was «a crucial mistake and a suicide mission for the country». Can you please explain your point of view?
O.D.: In the same article, I traced the history of relations between Turkey and Russia. In the 1920s, when the Republic of Turkey and the Soviet Union were founded, there were friendly relations between the two countries. Despite the death of Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, relations between Russia and Turkey until the 1950s, especially until that fateful date, had a positive dynamic.
After Turkey joined NATO, relations with Russia deteriorated sharply. For Turkey this was a critical moment in the history and a political suicide.
M.T.: At the end of January of this year, Swedish police gave official permission for the leader of a Danish far-right party to burn a Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm. Why do you think the Swedish authorities allow such horrific acts?
O.D.: I am sure that we cannot evaluate this event independent of some former incidents in the sphere of mutual relationships between Sweden and Turkey. We remember that Turkey was preparing to block the possible entry of Sweden to the alliance of NATO and especially having underlined as one of the most important reasons behind it, just because Sweden officially had been keeping several Kurdish serious opponents, had been supporting several Kurdish political organizations and political key persons, etc. But afterwards, of course, we know the condemnation of the events related to it. And just after beginning of the discussion quite seriously about the block of possible entry of Sweden to NATO, I think the Sweden authorities began, maybe not officially, but at some local level, to show some kind reaction to the position of Turkey. This was approved by authorities, both in Sweden and in Denmark.
M.T.: Do you think we can draw analogies between Ukraine and Kurdistan, can NATO countries use this region as leverage against Ankara?
O.D.: The United States has long been using Kurdistan for its own purposes. Its historical and natural borders go into the territories of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Various Kurdish political and armed formations operate in these territories. The US has never made a secret of its support for Kurdish rebel organizations and autonomous regions, such as in Syria. The United States supports these Kurdish formations in northern Syria, which the Turkish government considers a threat to Turkey.
The fact of direct or indirect US support for Kurdish autonomies and organizations is a threat and a provocation against Ankara.
M.T.: The bilateral relationship between Russia and Turkey goes back more than five centuries, but at the same time Ankara supports Ukraine by providing humanitarian aid as well as, according to unconfirmed reports, American-made cluster bombs. Why do you think this is the case?
O.D.: Firstly, I don’t know where to read the detail about what kind of military aid Ankara provides to Ukraine. Secondly, Ankara and even Turkish military companies did not supply weapons to Ukraine for free. If we connect both parts of the question, then it turns out that Turkey, having good relations with Russia, supports Ukraine to some extent. Nevertheless, if we compare Turkey’s relations with Russia and Ukraine, then the strongest relations will be with Russia.
If at the beginning of the conflict Turkey was on the side of Ukraine, trying to maintain a balance in its foreign policy and act in accordance with the course of America and Europe, now Ankara is more interested in relations with Russia as an equal ally.
It would be strange to expect Turkey to sever all relations with Ukraine, since even before the start of the special military operation, Turkey and Ukraine had quite close relations, even closer than with some European countries due to the geographical proximity of the two countries.
M.T.: At the end of October last year, the Turkish authorities refused to release human rights activist Osman Kavala from prison, contrary to the relevant decision of the European Court of Human Rights. How do you assess the human rights situation in Turkey?
O.D.: If you take the history of Turkey, not only in the last 20 years, but long before that, the human rights situation in Turkey was quite problematic. I don’t even remember in my life cases when cases that did not concern politicians from other countries were resolved democratically. The case of Osman Kavala is not individual. Even before him, hundreds of activists, politicians, journalists and writers were sent to prison.
Hundreds of people have been threatened by the government, including by the current government.
Unfortunately, this is why Turkey has one of the worst human rights situations in the world.
M.T.: Turkey is ranked 149th in the World Press Freedom Index as of 2022. Please comment on the level of pluralism, media independence and censorship in the Republic? Have you encountered censorship or artificial restrictions on freedom of speech?
O.D.: During my 20 years of work as a journalist, that is, from the beginning of the 90s, and even during my political career before that, hundreds of newspapers, magazines, TV channels and so on were closed. The most telling example is the 2016 coup attempt. After the coup, the authorities closed the TV channel and news publications belonging to the media group where I worked without a court decision. This media group was not associated with Gülen. In addition to shutting down a number of media outlets, the authorities also illegally confiscated the media group’s property. This incident can be considered a typical example of censorship. Hundreds of similar cases have occurred over several decades.
M.T.: How do the Turkish media cover the Ukrainian conflict? Do they report about the crimes and information provocations committed by the Ukrainian military?
O.D.: Little and rarely is written about the conflict in Ukraine in Turkey. The Tele1 media group I work for is Turkey’s only source of information about the conflict in Ukraine. We are the only media in the country that reports on the provocations of the Ukrainian military and the crimes of the Ukrainian Nazis against civilians. Since March of last year, I have been making reports for our media group or for other media. In addition, since 2014 I have been a correspondent for several Turkish media in Donbas. In my materials, I touched on the topics you mentioned. Our media is the third or fourth most popular in Turkey, so these materials have been seen by millions of people. I am the only Turkish correspondent in Donbass.
M.T.: That is, people in Turkey know about the events that have taken place in Donbas since 2014?
M.T.: Can we say that the Ukrainian conflict will put an end to centuries of attempts by European and Anglo-American imperialism to exploit our countries?
O.D.: I think yes. Back in 2014, even in the fall of 2013, it was clear that this was not a local or intrastate conflict.
Even then, the United States, the Baltic countries, countries neighboring Ukraine, as well as large EU countries such as France and Germany, tried to benefit from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in various ways.
Thus, they tried to resist not only Russia, but indirectly through it, China and other Eurasian states. With this confrontation, they are trying to achieve several goals. The first is to weaken Russia politically, militarily and economically. In addition, they have long been planning for Ukraine, not only to expand NATO, but also to use its resources, namely its territory, population, infrastructure and industrial potential to enrich the economies of America and Europe. In addition, they want to appropriate the natural resources of Ukraine. In European and Anglo-Saxon countries, such an agenda has long been present, and a plan has long been developed to implement these goals.