Last week Sami Ben Gharbia did an excellent posting about the blockage of the WordPress blogging platform in Turkey, this week we will examine what Turkish bloggers have to say about it. There is anger, resentment, and sense of utter amazement at the absurdness of the situation. And yet, there is a powerful spirit of strength in combating this ban.
Many Turkish bloggers and expat bloggers feel that the recent banning of WordPress in Turkey is not only a sign of things to come, but a cause for embarrassment. James in Turkey sums up the history of Turkish censorship well:
Turkey has banned WordPress, the blogging platform. This is not a move without precedent; the popular definitions site ekşisözlük and, more famously, YouTube have both been blocked in the past. Turk Telekom's virtual monopoly on internet access in Turkey makes a ban an easy thing to enforce. There is, after all, just the one service provider to submit a court order to. Such a ban wouldn't be as easy in a place like Britain, where multiple companies maintain the country's internet infrastructure.
The man behind this ban is the Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar, more popularly known by his pen name Harun Yahya. It seems Mr Oktar took offence at some sentiments express about his person on a certain WordPress blog, and proceeded to have his lawyers ban the entire platform. Mr Oktar's lawyers were also behind the ekşisözlük ban, which was only lifted after the entires about him were deleted.
Censorship in Turkey has long been extensive. When it comes to certain sensitive subjects – be it the Kurds, the Armenians, the hidden state or the military – Turkish journalists have always exercised a degree of self-censorship. Even ordinary Turks have a habit of lowering their voices when talking politics, lest they be overheard. In such an environment, the mere recalling of books and banning of websites can be almost second nature.
But despite its long history of censorship, the Turkish state has yet to realise that it just doesn't work. When YouTube was banned for an anti-Atatürk video that appeared in its wares, every other Turkish internet user found a way of watching the video to see out what the fuss was about. I myself have met authors who are delighted when their books are banned and taken away by the police. It makes people want to read them. Surely it's like dealing with a spoilt child – giving attention only makes it worse.
I have very little time for Mr Oktar. He is not an intelligent man. The legal action he has taken against certain WordPress blogs are completely in character and, as far as I can see, without much justification. I don't see how a tiny blog can do much personal harm to him.
But my personal thoughts aside, there is a bigger issue here – the fact that it is possible to ban parts of the Internet in Turkey. The courts should not be able to close entire websites in responsible to a single libel claim. More important than that, though, the internet access of an entire country should not rest in the hands of one single company, however privatised it might be. It's time to break up Turk Telekom.
As James points out, the ease in which this ban was implemented is of some concern, however with this ease also comes the resourcefulness of Turkish internet users to work around the ban. Erkan from Erkan's Field Diary notes that he uses his RSS feed from Bloglines to read WordPress blogs.
Other bloggers have compared the decision to ban WordPress to a fatwa rather than a court decision, from Internations Musings:
What I simply don't understand is why nobody knows why this court decision is made. Looks fair to me that when a court makes a decision, it issues also a statement why the decision is made…or am I wrong? Now leaving so many people in limbo, it also creates space for speculations, conspiracy theories and gossip. I think that after 5 years, I still have a lot to learn about how Turkey is ruled, but this court issued rather a fatwa than a decision…
As to the type of the ban, Living in Turkey cites Turkey as joining the ranks of North Korea and Iran:
The Turkish Courts sometime around last Friday put forth an order that blocks WordPress from any internet user inside Turkey. Apparently, according to Photo Matt's blog, it is a DNS block. His site also provides tips for proxy servers around this block. Because of the nature of the domain, Turk Telecom banned the WordPress domain, which includes all subdomains.
So, when I went to visit my good buddy, fellow expat and blogger, Jake at his Foreign Perspective Blog, I was shocked to see this:
It basically says, “Access to this site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/195 of T.C. Fatih 2.Civil Court of First Instance.” This is the same thing that occurred to YouTube. It is too bad that a simple prosecutor and a judge that only uses the internet for email and to read the newspaper decided this was ok. Of course the judge is only following the law, the prosecutor is to blame. Most likely a wordpress blog published controversial material either insulting Turkey, Turkishness, the military, the courts, or Ataturk – all are possible. No word yet on who the real culprit is – and also no word from the media yet either.
I guess Turkey just likes to join the ranks of firewall enthusiasts like Iran, China and North Korea. Of course, with the most recent elections, Iran is not far off. It is also a shame, because Turkey, a country of 70+ million people, has about 15 million ADSL users and still growing.
Erkan's Field Diary writes about his frustration in trying to find out more about the actual court decision:
I actually called the largest service provider, TTnet Customer Service as a mere citizen. The call person in the service call repetad that “they don't know any information about the ban. The court demanded and they banned, that's it.” So as a citizen i cannot learn why i cannot have access to the site. I later surfed in the Ministry of Justice site in order to find if court decisions are published here. No chance. So there is an accountability question here too. The banners are not accountable to citizens. If only mainstream media takes the issue at hand, we might have a chance. In the mean time, you can change open DNS numbers and you can try different proxies in ‘www.anonymouse.com’ or ‘www.ninjaproxy.com’ to overcome the ban and have access:)
Frustration is also mounting by Turkish bloggers and readers as they are discovering that more and more sites are blocked because of their use of WordPress platform like the Flickr blog and the political ticker blog from CNN.
So what is being done? Good question. Many Turks are getting around the ban by using RSS feeds and proxy servers, others are signing petitions to unblock WordPress, such as the petition from MidEast Youth, and still others are using their own sites as a protest such as Great Firewall of Turkey.
In any case, the one to blame this all on was the one man who had his lawyers block WordPress to begin with, Adnan Oktar, a creationist and (according to bloggers) a cult leader. Hans from Internations Musings, give a brief introduction to the man:
Apparently this is what happened: the attorneys of the cult leader Adnan Oktar aka Harun Yahya, a 51 year old former interior design student known in Turkey as “Adnan Hoca”, who founded in 1990 the foundation known as BAV (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi-Scientific Research Foundation), had applied to WordPress for removal of what they described as “unlawful statements regarding their client”. “As most of our attempts were unanswered” alleged the attorneys, they applied to Turkish judicial courts “to stop the defamation executed through WordPress services”. Hence, by the decision of Fatih 2nd Civil Court of First Instance, number 2007/195, access to WordPress.com was then blocked in Turkey by TTNET, an Internet network that covers all Turkey.
We learned that the sites which Adnan Oktar's attorneys wanted removed are run by an Islamic Reformer Edip Yuksel, who wrote an article criticizing Oktar and his movement where he seems to be trying to expose Oktar and his followers as a fundamentalist movement with dark secrets. Edip Yuksel published this message of rebuttal.
Started as a religious cult that preyed on wealthy members of Turkish society, the BAV has appeared in lurid media tales about sex rings, a blackmail prosecution and speculation about its charismatic leader. But if BAV's notoriety has been burnished by a sensationalist Turkish media, the secretive group has earned its reputation as a prodigious publisher of inexpensive ideological paperbacks. BAV has put out hundreds of titles written by “Harun Yahya” (a pseudonym) on various topics, but most of them are Islamic-based attacks on the theory of evolution. His book, Atlas Of Creation, decrying evolution is now aggressively promoted well beyond the borders of Turkey to the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States. The book is turning up, unsolicited, in the mailboxes of scientists and members of the US Congress, and at science museums around USA. In France, the Harun Yahya book offensive led the government to issue a warning for schools to be on the look out for the “Atlas” before it makes it into their classrooms. Meanwhile, the increasing European activity of BAV, as well as of Christian creationist groups, recently prompted a committee of the Council of Europe – a 47-nation group that acts as a kind of continental watchdog – to issue a report strongly warning about its dangers to education.
The lavishly illustrated 800-page book is one of the most significant creationist challenge to Charles Darwin's theory, which Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran. The books are slick, but BAV has had plenty of help. Creationism in Turkey got key support in the 1980s and 1990s from American creationist organizations, and BAV's Yahya books resemble the same sorts of works put out by California's Institute for Creation Research. Except in Yahya's books, it's Allah that's doing the creating. Unlike fundamentalist Christian creationists, Oktar does not claim the earth was created only a few thousand years ago. Instead, he argues that fossils show that creatures from millions of years ago looked just like the creatures of today, thus disproving evolution. Also, Oktar's brand of creationism is not only religious, but political and even messianic, seeing most of the world's ills – terrorism and fascism among them – as stemming from Darwin's theory of evolution. In 2001, Science magazine called BAV “one of the world's strongest anti-evolution movements outside of North America”.