Turkey's Main Problems Faced in "Press"

in 30th Istanbul International Film Festival

by Nil Kural

Press, by Sedat Yilmaz, the winner of FIPRESCI prize of Istanbul Film Festival’s national competition, is a political film that touches on the subjects of freedom of the press and the Kurdish issue, which are vital for today’s Turkey.

On the 3rd of March 2011, two successful journalists were arrested. They were accused of being members of Ergenekon, an ultra-nationalist group trying to launch a coup against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

One of the journalists, Nedim Sener, is the winner of many international and national journalism awards, and he published a book about the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. In his book “Istihbarat Yalanlari” (Lies of Intelligence), he claimed that Turkish intelligence and police knew about the assassination plans for a long time.

The other journalist is Ahmet Sik, who is famous for his human rights stories and describes himself as a socialist. He was about to publish his book about the Fethullah Gülen organization in the police. The public could not understand these arrests. The people who worked with them or followed their stories or knew their political views could not make sense of the accusations the two journalists were facing. The prosecuting attorney could not come up with a reasonable (or any kind of) explanation about their connections with Ergenekon.

The arrest of Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik has been a very hot topic in Turkey since the 3rd of March. And the truth about this case is now clear: They were silenced.

Press is also about journalists who are silenced. Not only by means of force, pressures, and police, but by bullets. Based on a real story that took place in the middle of 1990’s, Press is set in the Diyarbakir office of a newspaper called “Özgür Gündem” (Free Agenda). This newspaper is independent and they are following cases of human rights violations the Kurdish people were facing at that time. The stories that the reporters of “Özgür Gündem” follow usually remain unreported in the mainstream press, or in other words, from ‘Istanbul’ and ‘Ankara’. When these reporters of “Özgür Gündem” investigate some big stories that concern the Turkish government, military, intelligence and police, they are threatened in every way possible, even get killed.

Sedat Yilmaz with his first feature film manages to make a film about an important issue that was a problem in the 1990s. It is still a problem in this decade as we can see from these two recent arrests that worried everyone in the country.

Discussion about the Kurdish issue has been ongoing in Turkey as one of the country’s main problems, and it has been an important, maybe the most important subject for the last 30 years. In 2009, the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government announced a “Kurdish initiative” that is a comprehensive approach for solving this problem. And since that day there is not a single day this topic has been out of the newspapers.

Press is also about this issue. It is set in Diyarbakir during “the dark days,” in the area where the Kurds lived (considered an “emergency region”) where unsolved murders, human rights violations and torture took place without most of the country even realizing. These stories just started to be covered in the mainstream press in the last few years, and so become known to the public.

On the other hand, we have seen many Kurdish directors making films about these subjects these days. It is understandable for a director of Kurdish descent to choose these subjects. But Sedat Yilmaz is not of Kurdish descent so his interest in these issues is even more valuable.

Press is a political film looking at two of the main problems of Turkey. More importantly, Sedat Yilmaz is handling his subject without being chauvinistic, with balance, and even includes humor.