Ali Duran Topuz

Ali Duran Topuz

The sword against the pen

We used to say that the pen is mightier than the sword. The regime has shown that the sword can cut down any pen. Since the odds of maintaining power after the earthquake has decreased for the regime, it resorts to initiating repression mechanisms.

The pen is mightier than the sword, our elders used to say. Well, that was then. Now, the sword cuts down the pen, and the works of the pen, and the people who hold pens. There is no need to search for examples. Beginning with Ihsan Eliacik’s Quran translation and commentary, the torrent of banning is the most recent and most striking of examples: The internet site of Avesta, one of the important institutions of Kurdish media, has been blocked. Kurdish newspaper Xwebûn has been restricted from access. The same goes for Rudaw, which publishes from Hewler (Erbil). Even Eksi Sozluk, a website devoted to slandering pro-government individuals in the last few years, has been restricted. The fines imposed on Halk TV, Tele1, and Fox TV are common knowledge.


These tiresome and suffocating attacks show what the powers want the new regime, or rather the state and thus society, to look like. In this piece, I want to touch on the implicit and explicit features of these decisions, and I thank you for your patience ahead of time. My intention is to ascertain what the ongoing bans and oppressive salvos aim to achieve as of today with regard to the upcoming election.

I had written on the strangeness of the ban targeting Ihsan Eliacik yesterday, but there is still much to be said. For example, I did not discuss the section relevant to “regulations”: The decision notes that it is based on the second paragraph of Article 25 of the Press Law. Well, a reasoning and legal justification is required, so they have to write something even though the issue has nothing to do with the Press Law.

Article 25 cannot be used as a justification for this decision, because that article is reserved for use only when a crime has been committed according to the penal code. In that regard, there is no article in the law that regulates the criminality of a Quran translation or commentary including “elements that are objectionable with regard to the basic characteristics of the religion of Islam.” In other words, the fact that Article 25 was referenced as the legal justification of the Eliacik decision is simply a result of the court feeling obligated to come up with some sort of basis from which to fabricate a legally impossible decision. After all, the court could not have said that their decision rests on nothing.


Of course, there is still a regulation at hand that makes the courts beholden to the Ministry of Religious Affairs: the additional provisions that entered the Ministry’s bylaws as a result of the Decree No. 508. This article states:

“A decision to stop the printing and publishing, and to confiscate and destroy the dispersed editions of Quran translations that are determined by the Board to be objectionable in terms of the basic characteristics of the religion of Islam as a result of the examination to be carried out according to subsection (h) of the fifth paragraph, will be made upon the application of the Ministry to the competent and responsible authorities. In cases that the publication is made on the internet, upon the application of the Ministry, the competent and responsible authority will decide to block access to this publication. (…)”

First, this oddity draws attention: 5/h says:

“h) (Additional: 2/7/2018 - Decree Law/703/141) To determine and announce prayer times and religious days and nights in cooperation with relevant units, institutions, and organizations, and to carry out the necessary work for this.”

So, even 5/h is not a relevant justification for the decision; but there is still 5/ı:

"ı) (Additional: 2/7/2018 - Decree Law/703/141) To examine or have the translations of the Holy Quran examined ex officio, upon the request of the Ministry and other public institutions, private individuals, and organizations.”


Here, the additional provisions outline what will be done after the examination specified in 5/ı. It says the following: an application is made to the competent authority, then the authority collects and destroys. Likewise, if the Ministry makes a request of the Information Technologies and Communications Directorate, they will also block access. In other words, the regulation turns the Ministry of Religious Affairs into a judicial authority and turns the courts and the Communications Directorate into enforcement officers. Thus, a mechanism is formed that began with a decree and was strengthened by regulations, and so on. The Ministry is transformed into an executive authority of the current regime, above the legislature and the judiciary. When the courts receive the Ministry’s request feel that their hands are tied as the “court” and feel obligated to play the role of enforcement officer.

The Ministry becomes both the applicant and the plaintiff of the court, as well as the extrajudicial authority that commands the decision to be made. The Ministry’s "opinions, thoughts, suggestions and fatwas" are thus turned into "edicts.” This is a serious legal disaster and, as Ihsan Eliacik explains, diametrically opposed to the traditions and methods of Islamic debate. That is, what is “objectionable in terms of the basic characteristics of the religion of Islam” is not Ihsan Eliacik or the book he has written, but this regulation and authority itself. The case is not merely that the military (seyfiye) have surpassed the religious and cultural (ilmiye); it is that the former has entirely subjugated the latter. Religious Affairs Minister Ali Erbas does not walk around with a sword for nothing.


The government has been relying on the "Kurdish" card for a long time in order to strengthen the leashed state it aims at. The mechanism is simple: direct the bans, oppression, and pressure towards Kurdish people and institutions using the "terrorism" trump card, and silence objectors on the basis of "collaboration with terrorists.” Everyone knows what the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its affiliates have been subjected to, but the clearest proof of the everlasting principle of "Kurds do not exist, and if they do, they must be disappeared,” is that a publishing house like Avesta, which is not linked to "terrorism" or "terrorist organizations” has been banned. Avesta has no sphere of activity other than “publishing,” its books have already been banned many times already, and its website does not contain any content other than announcing its publications and providing the opportunity to shop at work. Those handing down the decisions know this well, but this information will not change the strategy of killing countless birds with one stone. Since Avesta broadcasts in Kurdish and broadcasts about Kurds, then it should always be suppressed as per the everlasting principle. If there are objections (by politicians especially), silence them by shouting about terrorism, and thus keep other political parties away from the Kurds and maintain the strategy of ending Kurdish existence.


At the same time, these developments are also strategically necessary for the upcoming election. The possibility of appeasing the electorate by weaving a pleasant story about the economy is long gone. The odds of maintaining power after the earthquake has also considerably decreased. Then what must be done is to push the start button on the ban mechanisms, pull out the Kurdish/terrorist card, trigger religious arguments, divide society into two warring camps, and try to gain what was lost in the economy and the earthquake. What more is there to do when the only tool left in your hand is the hammer, other than seeing everyone and everything as nails and hitting them all over the head?

What the regime will do and how it will do it is clear as day. What matters is what the "oppositions" will do now. Will we fall into this trap again, or will prudent policies be adopted in the short time before the elections to heal the suffering of society caused by the earthquake?

The earthquake hurt many, but it also cracked open a door of hope. That door of hope is not the disappearance of the current administration; it is the hope fostered by social solidarity, the public’s effort to closely attend to the fates of their neighbors, townsfolk, and compatriots, and fellow locals. It is the possibility of another society and a different sort of politics that has reared its head against the goal of "a country with no society" that this government wants to achieve. The government’s desire is to shut this door, this is why the repression apparatus has been initiated. It is the duty of the opposition to ensure that this door of hope remains open.

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