Why We Are Not Getting the Whole Truth About Turkey's Afrin Operation

Published January 29th, 2018 - 03:58 GMT
Relatives of a Kurdish herder mourn outside the hospital in Afrin on January 28, 2018, after he was killed in a Turkish airstrike on their village near the Kurdish enclave (Delil Souleiman/AFP)
Relatives of a Kurdish herder mourn outside the hospital in Afrin on January 28, 2018, after he was killed in a Turkish airstrike on their village near the Kurdish enclave (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

It is the world’s most prolific jailer of journalists, and recently detained over 300 people for social media posts.

Nonetheless, it has been suggested, Turkey has been chosen as the base for many journalists writing about Ankara’s “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria.

The campaign was launched earlier this month against Kurdish militias in the Afrin region, which Turkey has branded terrorists despite their close cooperation with the U.S. against ISIS. The People's Protection Units (YPG), it says, are linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) which has undertaken a series of attacks in Turkey across three decades.

Beirut-based journalist Richard Hall tweeted on Sunday that “most stories [on Afrin] in [the] int[ernational] press are being written by Turkey-based reporters.”


“Turkey is a top jailer of journ[alists],” he added. This means, he suggested, that it is “difficult for [them] to write freely.”

That certainly seems to be the case. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Turkey was the “worst nation” for imprisoning journalists, with 73 behind bars.

The watchdog’s report referred to the “Turkish authorities’ brutal censorship tactics.”

In particular, journalists and politicians from the pro-Kurdish opposition have been jailed, confirming Hall’s suggestion that the “Kurdish issue [is] particularly sensitive.”

A number of Kurdish journalists, for instance, were prosecuted in December last year for alleged links to the PKK.

Indeed, Turkey has already shown itself willing to censor coverage of the Afrin operation. Politicians, journalists and activists are among 311 people who have been arrested for their social media posts critical of the military campaign there.

The detainees, who included four reporters, were accused of “spreading terrorist propaganda.”

“Police officials said that social media accounts are being monitored ceaselessly and that all users who spread terror groups’ propaganda will be prosecuted,” said state-run Anadolu.

The agency used its Twitter account to accuse the operation’s critics of spreading “fake news.”


On the Sunday following the campaign’s launch on Jan. 19, the country’s prime minister even reportedly held a meeting with mainstream media bosses to “suggest” how they might report it.


In this context, any journalism on “Operation Olive Branch” produced in Turkey is unlikely to diverge greatly from the government line. And, if it is accurate to say that “most” of the international media reports are coming from correspondents there, then the news we are receiving is unlikely to reflect the full picture.

Certainly, the Independent on Sunday claimed to offer “the first Western media report from Afrin since the start of the Turkish offensive.” In over a week since the beginning of the high-profile military operation, it suggested, Robert Fisk was the very first Western reporter on the ground.

It is telling that his report unambiguously sets about to challenge the Turkish account that they are attacking “terrorists” with “surgical precision.”

Instead, Fisk gives details of multiple civilian deaths and injuries in the village of Mabeta. It was a “massacre,” he claims, explicitly calling out the “official Turkish version [...] which states that more than 70 Turkish jets bombed YPG Kurdish militias in Syria on 21 January.”

Yet, there is little opportunity for that “official version” to be interrogated if there are no journalists on the ground at least attempting to offer an objective account of events. And even less so, if the reporters are actually located within the aggressor nation, well known for its press censorship.

“On the ground reporting will always be the core of journalism,” suggested journalist Frederike Geerdink, who is currently writing a book on the PKK, in response to Fisk's piece.

But, Hall suggests, in addition to the dangers of reporting from a conflict zone in a nation which has been in a state of civil war for seven years, Turkey has threatened reporters who travel to the region.

“Journalists have been warned that they could face arrest if they embed with YPG in Afrin,” he wrote.

Unless more international reporters take the risk like Fisk, however, it is unlikely that the stories of “refugees, babies, women and children,” who he alleges are the “true victims” of Turkey’s “invasion,” will get heard.

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