MESOP REFLECTION : Turkey & the PKK – War on Several Fronts / THE KURDISH PLAYER “NAKI”

THE DAYAN CENTER : In this article from the February 2016 issue of Beehive: Middle East Social Media, Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak analyzes the battle in Turkish social media between Turkey and the PKK.

A prominent example of ongoing widespread public discourse on social networks in Turkey was triggered by a Turkish military operation in the town of Cizre in Şırnak province. Official reports from the Turkish army said that the rebels had adopted urban warfare techniques, and were attempting to prevent the movement of Turkish ground forces by digging trenches and building obstructive embankments in streets of the town. Moreover, the rebels used underground tunnels that allowed them to move easily and surprise the Turkish army. These tactics made it difficult for the army to maneuver in the field.

The difficult battle against the rebels led to many casualties on both sides. While grim pictures and reports were sent from the battlefield via cell phones, the mainstream media ignored the events, including the consequences of the curfew that the Turkish army imposed on the town, for several weeks with few interruptions. Against this background, Kurdish users and their supporters, including members of the peace camp in Turkey, alleged that the Turkish army committed war crimes and massacres against the rebels, under cover of the strict curfew. On the other hand, many Turks supported the Turkish army and government, and called the critics “traitors.” There were also those who celebrated the killing of 60 PKK activists by the military, using the slogan “60 corpses in Cizre.”[1]

The verbal violence and intolerance in public discourse on SNS peaked on January 8, following a live telephone exchange on the popular Turkish program, “Beyaz Show” the night before. Speaking with the host Beyazıt Öztürk, a viewer named Ayşe Çelik (“the teacher Ayse,” as she was later called), pleaded, “No to war and killing children.” When the call ended, Turkish social networks were flooded with harsh reactions against Öztürk for allegedly allowing the show to be used as a platform for Kurdish propaganda. Many users called Öztürk a “traitor.” For its part, the Turkish Television Authority imposed a fine of 900,000 Turkish liras (approximately USD 308,000) on the channel that broadcasts Öztürk’s program. The Attorney General also charged the “teacher Ayşe” with broadcasting PKK propaganda live. Conversely, the incident was also followed by expressions of support for Öztürk and the teacher Ayşe, using the slogan “I’m also the teacher Ayşe.” Despite this support, Öztürk chose, due to public pressure, to apologize, and say that as an entertainer he was not interested in discussing political issues.[2]

Another wave of hostile reactions on SNS began on January 11, when many faculty members at universities across Turkey signed a petition calling for an end to the armed struggle against the Kurds. Turkish nationalists expressed their anger towards the lecturers whose petition, they contended, did not consider how the PKK’s actions undermine Turkish sovereignty in southeastern Turkey, and the violence they use against the Turkish army. In this case, too, users called the lecturers “traitors.” The signatories’ names were shared on SNS, students declared that they would organize protests in their classes, and the Turkish authorities launched investigations against them. In response to this hostility, the lecturers also received considerable support from the public on SNS, and many users protested the investigation opened against the lecturers, on the grounds that it could cause irreparable damage to freedom of expression in the country.[3]

The tension and violent discourse generated in the entertainment and academia sectors spilled over to soccer stadiums. The match between a Kurdish team, Amedspor (the Kurdish name of Diyarbakır, a city in southeastern Turkey) and a Turkish team, Başakşehir, that was critical for determining which team would advance to the next stage of the competition for the National Cup occupied the public’s attention. Turkish nationalists saw it as another battleground between Turkey and the Kurds. During the game, their posts on SNS used military terminology to describe moves made by the Turkish team against its Kurdish rival. At the same time, fans of the Kurdish team demanded victory from their team, and defined it as an achievement in the war against “fascism”, as they described it. Başakşehir forward Semih Şentürk added to the inflammatory discourse by celebrating the goal he scored with a military salute. Immediately after the match, Şentürk said that he had scored on behalf of the Turkish soldiers who are fighting Kurdish rebels, and many SNS users praised him for the comment. The game ended in a tie, and it was the Kurdish team that advanced into the final last 16 of the National Cup. When Amedspor was later victorious over another Turkish team Bursaspor, a player on its squad, Deniz Naki, tweeted that the team’s win was a victory for “those who lost their lives under oppression.” The Turkish Football Association meted out an unprecedented punishment for this statement: Naki was banned from twelve games, but no disciplinary action was taken against Şentürk for his salute. Overnight, Naki, who was previously unknown in Turkey, became a symbol for Kurdish users, who shared a picture showing his arm with the Kurdish word for “freedom,” “Azadi,” tattooed on it.[4]

SNS in Turkey give expression to diverse and contradictory positions, but simultaneously function as a central arena for lynchings that can destroy the life of key or famous personalities, who choose to oppose the government and/or the Turkish army’s operation against Kurdish rebels. Beyazıt Öztürk and the university lecturers who were defined “traitors” by nationalist users are typical victims of the phenomenon. Lynching on SNS does not facilitate cultural dialogue, but unlike the silencing of opponents in other arenas, it does permit freer speech and periodically creates new heroes, such as the Kurdish player Naki. The spread of violent political discourse between the Turks and the Kurds in the worlds of entertainment, academia and sport proves that the rift between the Turks and the Kurds is deepening day by day.[5]


[1] #cizre #cizrede60leş #CizredeSavaşSuçuİşleniyor #CİZREdeKatliamVar

[2] #BeyazShow #AyşeÖğretmenBenim

[3] #akademisyenler ; akademisyenler bildirisi

[4] Semih Şentürk, Deniz Naki, Azadi, #GururumuzsunDenizNaki #DenizNakiYanlızDeğildir

[5] See: Yanarocak, “Rallying around the Flag: Ups and Downs in the Peace Process between Ankara and the Kurds.” Beehive, vol. 2, no. 6, June 2014 at…