Sentiment against incoming Kurdish refugees fueled by Turkish media

April 15, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- Namik Durukan, a photographer for the Turkish daily Milliyet, had the mournful look last week of having seen too much suffering through his camera lens. Each day, he photographed the deepening crisis among Iraq's Kurdish refugees stranded on the mountain border.

But Milliyet last week seemed an incongruous mix of sensationalism and defensive nationalism.

Above the photos chronicling the tragedy in the Cudi Mountains ran headlines describing the inferno the refugees had escaped in Iraq. But the paper wrote nothing of the hardship they encountered once in Turkey.

"Refugees Say Thank You, Turkey," Milliyet's front page read one day last week. Another day, it headlined Turkey's spending on refugees in previous years and defended the Turkish government's lack of assistance this time until international relief agencies stepped in late last week.

Milliyet is not alone. By first limiting access to the refugee camps to Turkish journalists, Ankara set the terms of the coverage and the political debate that followed: The crisis was an international problem, not solely a Turkish one, and the granting of emergency relief by the international community was necessary before Turkey could accept the refugees.

Hardly any of the Turkish newspapers, with the exception of the daily Cumhuriyet and Sabah, have suggested that Turkey has a moral responsibility to assure the survival of the refugees flooding its borders.

They have not looked into the difficulties the predominantly Kurdish cities and villages of southeastern Turkey had getting the military to accept truckloads of donated clothing and food for the refugees. Nor have they written of the tensions between international relief workers and Turkish authorities, who have been slow to let the aid through.

Turkish newspapers have not suggested bringing the refugees down off the mountainsides, to areas where food and medical aid would be easier to deliver. On Friday, four people were fatally crushed by airlift drops, the only way to deliver help high in the mountains.

Turkish television has given extensive coverage to conditions in the camps. But their reporters have spoken only with Turkmens, or ethnic Turks from Iraq, who appear to be receiving extra help at the camps.

Ertoglu Pirincioglu, chief of Milliyet's regional bureau in Diyarbakir, said that he was aware of the difficulties refugees faced but that he did not see how Turkey could accept the burden they represented.

That conclusion appeared to determine his bureau's coverage of the refugee crisis -- despite what his reporters and photographers found in the camps.

Citing villages in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region that did not have running water, Mr. Pirincioglu said that Turkey could not be expected to provide water to the Iraqi Kurds.

"We have no possibility to help them with water because we have no water. We don't even have enough medicine for Turkey," he said.

"The Italians didn't accept the Albanians, except maybe 1,000. These are 500,000. What can Turkey do?"

A Kurd himself and president of Turkey's southeast journalist association, Mr. Pirincioglu said he did not fear the mostly Kurdish refugees would die without help. "The Iraqi Kurds are XTC very clever people. They work. They do illegal things."

"Even if we send them food, it doesn't work, because they are unhappy over losing their country," he said.

Nor did he fear that Turkey's prestige would suffer if thousands of refugees died at Turkey's borders.

"Turkey has no prestige anyway. What's it got to lose?" he asked.

Turkish newspapers have not appeared pleased when foreign journalists question conditions in the camps.

Friday's Hurriyet newspaper criticized BBC Television for showing Turkish soldiers beating refugees and "mistreating" a mother holding her dead child.

"They always choose to talk to people who say Iraq was better than Turkey," Hurriyet complained. "There are also good things to show."

While Turkey does not officially recognize its Kurdish population, Kurdish journalists from this region were, like foreigners, denied access to the camps.

Foreign journalists were officially allowed to enter the refugee camps last week, though Kurdish reporters still cannot get in legally.

Mazhar Kara, acting Diyarbakir bureau chief of the Kurdish magazine Deng, dressed as a villager to sneak into the Cekurce refugee camp last week, carrying a plastic bag of groceries and a palm-sized camera.

"Does this look like a journalist going off on a story?" he asked, passing a snapshot of himself across his desk. He wore a dusty suit and hat and carried a sack of groceries over his shoulder.

His magazine has never been sold throughout the month during its two years of publication. After two or three days, the police ban its sale and arrest its writers, printers and the newspaper vendors that sell it.

The last issue cost him six months in prison. With the next issue coming out in a few days, Mr. Kara said he expects to see the inside of a prison cell again soon.

Halil Arisoy, a reporter for the Kurdish weekly paper Ulke, tried to visit the Isikveren camp with a group of Dutch journalists last week but was stopped by soldiers.

"They said, 'Are you press? This is not a press card,' " he recalled. He said he was taken before an officer at Isikveren and accused of wanting to discuss Kurdish nationalist politics with the refugees. Mr. Arisoy said he was punched and kicked in the stomach by the officer before being released.

In its Friday edition, Ulke described the deaths at the camps and the shootings that wounded and killed refugees.

But the newspaper could not be bought legally and had to be hidden between copies of Milliyet and Hurriyet.

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