02 July 2007

1784) Turkey’s Minority Press Fights Falling Circulation, Dwindling Base

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site © Click For Larger Image Mihail Vasiliadis, the editor in chief of Apoyevmatini

All of them have seen better days. Most of them are among the oldest newspapers of the country and have been around since the beginning of the past century. .

They have witnessed the good and the bad times in Beyoglu, once home to the headquarters of nearly all of Turkey's newspapers. Since the foundation of the republic, most of their readership has been reduced by treaties or social incidents forcing them to leave, yet they persist in remaining as the voice of diminishing communities with impressing perseverance, as most of them are facing insurmountable financial hardship. They have very limited circulation, ranging from 500 to 2,000. They are the newspapers of Turkey's Armenian, Jewish and Greek communities.

The non-Muslim minorities of Istanbul, which were once an inseparable part of the feel and look of the city, are now uncannily invisible. Today, Istanbul is estimated to have a community of 2,000-3,000 Greeks, 15,000-20,000 Jews and 60,000-80,000 Armenians. Today, only five newspapers have been left behind from Istanbul's myriad of newspapers belonging to non-Muslim groups.

The 67-year-old Nor Marmara, which started out as a weekly but then went daily after popular demand, comes out in Armenian.The four-page newspaper currently sells about 1,400 copies and has 12 employees. It publishes an extra in Turkish on Fridays.

Rober Haddeler took over the newspaper as its editor in chief in 1967 with his two sons having taken much of the workload nowadays.

The most significant problem that Nor Marmara faces stems from it being printed in Armenian. “The biggest difficulty we face is the continuing decline in the number of Armenian speakers and writers,” Haddeler explained.

Are they happy about community support? “The Armenian community’s view of the newspaper is most certainly positive,” Haddeler says, quickly adding| “Still, nobody can claim that they pay enough attention. We are happy about the level of support shown by our readers, but what counts is the support of those who don’t read the paper. The more readers we have, the better we serve the community.”

Nor Marmara takes its fundamental mission to be uniting the Armenian language, culture and identity with the concept of Turkish citizenship, and serve society in both ways. “Preservation of the Armenian identity and the Armenian language could be considered as our primary mission, which we believe would enrich the Turkish culture,” Haddeler said, adding, “Good Armenian literature being produced in Turkey would be a source of pride both for Turkey and for Turkey’s Armenians.”

Nor Marmara is the first newspaper in the Armenian language to have its own Web site. Haddeler proudly stated newspapers being published abroad rely heavily on Nor Marmara’s news stories.

How secure would a Turkish- Armenian journalist feel after the assassination of Hrant Dink, editor in chief of the bilingual Agos weekly? “The Hrant Dink murder most certainly created a feeling of uneasiness and some concern. Officials advised implementing more effective security measures around the newspaper. However, we don’t have such an expectation. We continue our work and express our wish at every opportunity that such an incident would never happen again.”

Haddeler says in the past few years national newspapers that have higher print circulations have had a more positive approach to the Armenian community. “Currently there are very positive news and commentaries about the problems of the Armenian community appearing in the Turkish press, which is something that pleases the Armenian community,” Haddeler expressed his opinion, adding, “It was not easy to see such an approach 10 years ago.”

Nor Marmara has made it a personal goal to translate such stories and commentaries and share them with its readers at home and abroad. “This positive approach gives our community happiness, peace and hope for the future.”

Shalom, the Jewish community’s newspaper

Salom, (Shalom) a 16-page weekly for Turkey’s Jewish community, is relatively young compared to newspapers of other non-Muslim groups. Established in 1947, it was published in Ladino, a 500-year-old language spoken by Jews who moved to the Ottoman Empire from Spain in 1492. In the 1980s, it switched to Turkish for the younger generation that no longer spoke Ladino in their daily lives, but one page in the newspaper is still published in this language. “Keeping this language, spoken by a much older generation, is our mission,” says Tilda Levi, current editor in chief of Salom.

The original publisher, Avrom Leyon, transferred the paper to a younger team due to health problems. The main purpose of the newspaper is to inform readers of the community’s activities and relay information they can’t find in mainstream newspapers.

Salom, which currently prints 3,500 copies, has 500 subscribers abroad. It has 40 authors that regularly contribute on a voluntary basis and 15 employees.

The paper finds it difficult to stay on top of the latest news, since it is a weekly. “We are racing against time,” says Levi. “Since all our authors are volunteers, everybody has their own line of work. There are lawyers, economists, students; the paper is their second job. Racing against time is the biggest difficulty we have,” Levi explains. “We believe we need to professionalize in the near future.”

Salom is not a community newspaper, but a one that serves the community, Levi emphasizes.

Apoyevmatini, or “Mid-afternoon,” has been reporting community, national and international news to its readers in Greek since 1925.

The 83-year-old paper’s main purpose was to was to provide information about the Greek community in Turkey and to encourage younger people of that community to learn the language. The four-page newspaper today comes out as a weekly due to technical difficulties.

But what is the purpose of the newspaper today? Mihail Vasiliadis, the editor in chief who took over in 2002, says, “Our readers are citizens of Turkey, but also of the world.” The paper still includes community news, adhering to its age-old slogan, “Nobody dies or is born without our knowledge!” but it also attaches great importance to coverage of Turkish-Greek relations, and most certainly domestic politics.

As a proud Greek Istanbulite, how does Mr. Vasiliadis view the approach of the mainstream press to its own Greeks? “Much better,” he admits. “They used to have a hostile approach,” he recalls. Although he is not always happy, giving the example of a newspaper that once praised an 18-year-old Greek citizen whose organ donations saved lives. “You have to die for them to like you!” he commented.

Another bad memory about the mainstream press, which he assumes was done mostly unknowingly, is the Turkish word “Rum,” referred to people of Greek origin here in Turkey, being used for the residents of southern Cyprus when covering stories about the island. Mr. Vasiliadis believe this way of reporting was misleading for the Turkish public, which was deceived into associating the Cypriots that barbarically killed a Turkish major in 1963 with their Greek neighbors here.

As a long-time observer of Turkish politics, he believes that Turkey as a country needs to change its mentality toward its minorities if it is serious about membership in the European Union.

Iho, or echo, started its life in 1977 as a biweekly. The original publisher was Haralambos Rombopulos. Following its first two years, it became a daily newspaper. Currently, four people are working to publish the six-page daily that sells around 500 copies.

Its current editor in chief, Andreas Rombopulos, also believes that hostility against minorities in Turkey is diminishing. “In the past 10 years, we are in fashion,” he says. “There are frequent commentaries and stories appearing in the press.” He says the transformation started much earlier. The immense migration Istanbul has received played a significant role in the change, as newcomers were unknowledgeable, therefore less biased, about Turkey’s minorities. “Istanbul’s population is now 18 million. Sometimes people stop and ask us what language we speak when they overhear us on the street, something that would have never happened some years ago. These are not the real Istanbulites. The makeup of society has greatly changed, so has the approach.”

Recalling the pogrom of 1955 in Istanbul against the city’s 100,000-person Greek minority, Rombopulos said the events were caused by political efforts to galvanize public opinion against minorities.

Iho today faces two major difficulties: one is about recruitment. It is difficult to find personnel who speak Greek but at the same time are devoted to the spirit of journalism, since the paper can’t pay too much. A second problem it faces is the problem of distribution. With low circulation, it is hard to get the newspaper to most parts of the city. “Now we are thankful for ads placed by churches during Easter or Christmas that once would frustrate us for taking up valuable news space.”

Rombopulos sums up the essence of the problem, “These are problems brought on by our diminishing numbers.”

Another witness of older times

Jamanak, or Time, is one of the oldest newspapers in Turkey. In addition to domestic news, the Armenian paper covers community news. It first started publishing in October of 1908 in Istanbul. The original publishers were the Misak and Sarkis Koçunyan brothers.

Jamanak is the product of efforts of 10 people and sells around 1,500 to 2,000 copies. In its earlier years, Editor in Chief Ara Koçunyan explains, Jamanak was distributed in much of the Ottoman land, from the Balkans to Anatolia and Egypt. With the decreasing size of the community, Jamanak has gone from being a national newspaper to an Istanbul community. “The focus of the paper has narrowed, the raison d’etre of it became the Armenian community.”

The mission of Jamanak is before anything else is to create a communication tool inside the Armenian community that is reliable, objective and “creating a healthy platform for exchanging views on important matters.”

In comparison with other Armenian publications, including some weeklies that emphasize “literary” qualities, Koçunyan says Jamanak does not have an “elitist” dimension to it.

Jamanak is sensitive about the continuation of the Armenian legacy, its culture and the life of the community.

The paper has printed the first articles of many famous Armenian authors. The first picture taken by Ara Güler, Turkey’s most prominent photojournalist, was printed in Jamanak. The paper does not have a Web site now, but it plans to go online soon with two domain names already registered.

Keeping Istanbul’s heritage alive

Why would Turkey be concerned about these newspapers, struggling to survive amidst exhausting difficulties? Haluk Sahin, a communications professor at Bilgi University not long ago wrote that the survival of these newspapers is “very important in terms of the culture of living together.” Sahin suggested that allowing Istanbul’s non-Muslim community newspapers to die would be a betrayal to the spirit of democracy.

01.07.2007
E. BARIS ALTINTAS ISTANBUL / Zaman

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