Ștefan Cândea
Emin and Diba are two young men majoring in English at the University of Kars. They weren’t born here. Like many of their colleagues, they are Kurds and have come from other towns for their studies here. While we’re in town, they act as our interpreters. Moreover, they show us what young people do for fun in Kars and offer us their side of things on local issues; that’s how we end up playing rummy and drinking tea in a club for youngsters, among other students. They tell me it’s a great opportunity to practice their English conversational skills. They have tried to chat up tourists, but failed miserably.

As I was saying, minorities are an extremely sensitive issue in Turkey. There are only three officially recognized minorities: Armenians, Greeks and Jews. The rest are considered Turks and any official census completely ignores the ethnic appurtenance of Turkish citizens. Although they represent roughly 20% of Turkey’s population, the Kurds do not fall into the category of officially recognized minorities. In addition, any public statement regarding issues the Kurds or other minorities have may be interpreted as an insult to the Turkish state and constituted the object of a special bill, namely article 301 which states that imprisonment can last up to three years.

Orhan Pamuk’s - the only Turkish writer to have received the Nobel Prize for Literature – statement regarding the 1915-1917 genocide of Armenians and the killing of 30.000 Kurds by the Turks, made the Turkish state bring charges against him using specifically article 301. Turkey does not recognize these numbers. Only Pamuk’s fame and virulent international reactions saved him from being imprisoned.

Kars is the city where Pamuk’s political fiction, Snow, unfolds. The novel discusses the conflict between Islamists, secularists, the army and the Kurd and Turkish nationalists. Such subjects are taboo among local journalists. We have visited four local editorial offices, one of them radio-TV, and, according to journalists, there aren’t any interethnic tensions whatsoever and everybody lives in peace and harmony. That is why the press covers differences between customs and traditions, such as local dances or songs. Administrative issues regarding the infrastructure are considered important topics.

A typical local editorial office (there are nine such offices, each addressing one of the local communities) consists of a room giving onto the street, two computers, an offset press from the’70s and a transceiver tuning in on the frequency of the police. A steamy kettle is always at hand. On average, papers usually print about 300 copies a day, some are given out for free and for others one has to make a subscription. They aren’t available at any of the stands in town. Journalists complain that people don’t read the newspaper anymore, that the press is stealing topics, articles and images. An important source of income is commercials and adverts paid by the government and local authorities. For some papers, it is their sole source of income.

Tacettin Durmus, local journalist, is equipped with a camera, a video camera and a microphone. On his belt, the transceiver allowing him to follow the police frequency is buzzing away. He says working as a local journalist is pretty hard and some journalists even hold up two jobs. Two weeks a year he’s also a firefighter. During our talk he takes some pictures and at the Serhat TV editorial office he also films us. The following day people recognize us at the market, proof that our discussion has become local news.