‘I’m critical of the Turkish government. I’d be ashamed of myself if I kept quiet,’ says former Zaman columnist

Herkül Millas, 82, a Greek-Turkish columnist for the now-closed Zaman daily who lives in Athens, said he as a government critic only wrote what he thought was right and that it was dangerous to do so in Turkey.

In a video interview he gave to the Kronos news website. Millas said the Zaman newspaper was under intense pressure before a failed coup on July 15, 2016, adding that he had made the decision not to return to Turkey even before the coup attempt since he didn’t want to live under fear and oppression.

Millas spoke about his time writing for Zaman and how it became dangerous: “It turned out that writing for Zaman was a crime, but that didn’t come out until much later. Imagine writing for a newspaper for 10 years and in the 11th year they tell you it was a crime. The ‘crime’ was declared, but it wasn’t said what exactly our crime was,” Millas said.

Zaman was among some 200 media outlets that were closed down by the Turkish government after the failed coup. It was Turkey’s highest-circulating daily before it was put under state control and then shuttered by a decree in 2016. Many journalists and columnists from Zaman are accused by the Turkish government of having links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Dozens of former Zaman employees left Turkey after the failed coup to avoid the government crackdown targeting critical journalists and disloyal citizens. Some, like Millas, who were already abroad, decided not to return to Turkey for fear of being in danger for their opposition stance.

Millas pointed out that this is not the first time he has been unable to return to Turkey because of his political position. As a member of a Greek minority, a leftist and a government critic, he said he never felt completely safe in Turkey and had to live abroad for several years after the March 12, 1971 coup attempt. Millas said he made the same decision again even before the 2016 abortive putsch because as a person of a certain age, it was not worth it for him to stay and experience injustice under the current government.

”In Turkey, intellectuals and people who want to do good for society always pay an extra price by going to jail for what they stand for, and then they become heroes after this terrible experience. ‘’Happy nations do not have heroes,’ and I don’t want to be a hero by going to jail,” Millas said.

Millas described the years he wrote for Zaman as a very good time. He said he never hesitated and never felt the need after the newspaper closed to hide the fact that he had been happy working there. ”I consider myself lucky, and I am proud to have written for Zaman. I am very happy to have met the colleagues I worked with there,” he said.

“If I lived in Turkey, I could be silent under pressure, but I would be ashamed of myself now if I did not talk about the injustices that are currently happening in Turkey. I cannot look away while my friends are suffering there.”

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