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Minority newspapers in Turkey 16 mai 2007

Posted by Acturca in History / Histoire, Turkey / Turquie.
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Turkish Daily News

May 14, 2007 Monday

Newspapers, as we more or less know them today, were first published in Germany if one is to decide by what little evidence remains today. Then we see them in France, Italy and England. As more and more commercial contact occurred between the European countries and the Ottoman Empire, this trade came to Turkey and was primarily in the hands of Turkey’s minorities.

But the term minority has a rather different meaning when applied to the peoples of the Empire. When Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered Constantinople in 1453, the question arose of what to do with the Jewish, Armenian and Orthodox communities whose lives were defined by their faith just as Muslims were. Since Muslim law differed from the practices of these three religious groups, Fatih decided that they should be administered by their own leaders, according to their own rules.

When foreigners began coming to the Ottoman Empire, several countries successfully negotiated treaties called capitulations that allowed their foreign nationals special privileges, even their own courts. When the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923, the Jewish, Armenian and Orthodox communities were recognized as minorities, the only minorities in Turkey. No account was taken of other minorities in the modern sense, for example the Kurds. While Fatih’s organizational method worked well when countries were defined by religion, it no longer held up when nations based on citizenship or ethnic identity began appearing in the 19th century. In 1923, the foreign powers with which Turkey was negotiating this treaty were uninterested in or unaware of any other group in the country that might qualify as a minority.

The earliest newspapers in Turkey were those of the French and other minorities. It is known that there were five French, four Greek and one Armenian language newspapers in Istanbul and Izmir had two in French, one in Greek and one in Hebrew. Today there are two Armenian, two Greek and one Jewish newspaper, which still prints one page in Judeo-Spanish.

Turkey’s oldest minority newspaper

The oldest minority paper is the 83-year-old Greek language Apoyevmatini. As it was distributed in the afternoon, the newspaper was given the name it bears because it means « mid-afternoon » in Greek. The idea behind it was to provide information about the Greek community in Turkey and to encourage the younger people of that community to learn the language. Of course when it was started in 1925, there were many more Greeks of Turkish origin (known as Rums) in Turkey. Today there are 2,000 or so Greeks and consequently the paper is only published once a week.

Mihail Vasiliadis, the editor in chief of Apoyevmatini, took over the newspaper in 2002 after an extensive journalistic career elsewhere. Since the beginning, the paper’s philosophy has been against offering opposition. Much of the content that Vasiliadis publishes is information about Turkish-Greek history and relations. He’s concerned that TV and the Internet may have already won over the youngsters in the community but he does not expect newspapers to just disappear.

Today the atmosphere has changed just as it has in the relations between Turkey and Greece. The Turkish press has become warmer, friendlier towards the Greek press in Turkey, according to Vasiliadis. He is even optimistic enough to talk about the possibility of starting a Turkish-language newspaper here and is generally optimistic about the future. However, he believes that Turks have to change their attitude towards the minorities in the country if they are going to succeed in entering the European Union. He is hopeful that people in Turkey will eventually see that it is better to be in the EU than to not be.

Nor Marmara, one of Turkey’s Armenian papers

The second oldest minority paper is Nor Marmara, one of the two Armenian language newspapers that began publishing in 1940 and is now in its 67th year. At first it was published as a weekly but then became a daily paper as more and more people wanted to read it. Rober Haddeler took over the newspaper as its editor-in-chief in 1967 and now has passed most of the work on to his two sons.

At present Nor Marmara comes out six days a week because of the difficulty of distributing it on Sundays and on Fridays a supplement is given in Turkish so that Armenians who do not know Armenian and people interested in Armenian culture can learn what is happening in the community.

Haddeler was a graduate of Istanbul University’s Philosophy Department, knows four languages and basically was a writer before he became a journalist. As a result he brings a thoughtful background to his position as editor-in-chief.

Among the problems that he has faced is that of a declining readership. The younger members of the Armenian community prefer to read in Turkish because of the difficulty of the Armenian alphabet. And they are interested in Turkish television, radio and newspapers and don’t find the cultural publications produced anywhere near as fascinating as the Turkish.

Although the EU adaptation process has been initiated, that does not mean that the Armenian community’s problems have been solved. The most important of these, according to Haddeler, is the non-implementation of laws for the minority groups in Turkey that concern the acquisition of property, the disposal of money and the election of members of the various foundations’ boards that oversee the community’s affairs. He added that the government was aware of the problems faced but nothing has been done until recently; however, the government has now promised to pass a revised law regulating foundations prior to general elections in July. The Armenian community has expressed its pleasure over the changes to the law.

Haddeler also pointed out that the Armenian press abroad followed the Turkish Daily News quite closely because it was considered the best at reporting events. At the same time people are astonished that Nor Marmara is published in Turkey and that it is at such a high level. He emphasized that this was good for Turkey because it is read and admired by the Armenian community abroad for its coverage of events whether or not the reader liked Turkey.

Shalom, the Jewish community’s newspaper

Established in 1947, Shalom was published in Judeo-Spanish at first since that is the language that the Jewish community in Istanbul knew. But in 1983, it turned to Turkish because the young people no longer used Judeo-Spanish in their every day lives and older members who did had either died or had moved to other countries such as Israel and the U.S. in large numbers. Still the weekly publication continues to publish one page in Judeo. It maintains this tradition and a very extensive archive.

The original publisher, Avrom Leyon, placed the slogan, « Speak a simple truth, call a spade a spade » on the masthead of the paper and it is still there to this day. Its current editor-in-chief, Tilda Levi, says that they follow this slogan but shy away from political comment. Unlike the Greeks and the Armenians, Jews have never been in conflict with Turks and even enjoyed the official protection of the Ottomans after they fled prosecution in Spain in the 15th century. Levi points out that there has not been any anti-Semitism in Turkey although she admits it does exist here and there and is generally based on misinformation or lack of information. On occasion when unpleasant events have occurred in Palestine, the paper has received angry mail. But she has no doubt that newspapers will continue in spite of the Internet and TV.


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