Veteran Turkish journalist known for reports on state repression of Kurds dies at 68

Journalist Celal Başlangıç

Celal Başlangıç, a respected Turkish journalist known for his fearless reporting on human rights violations of Kurds in the 1990s, died early Friday morning at the age of 68 in a hospital in Cologne after a lengthy cancer treatment, the Turkish Minute reported.

Born in İstanbul in 1956, Başlangıç began his career in journalism in 1975 at Ege Ekspres. Başlangıç worked for several prominent Turkish newspapers, including the Cumhuriyet daily, where he held various editorial positions from 1981 to 1984.

Başlangıç is best remembered for a groundbreaking report in 1989, when he revealed that Turkish soldiers had forced Kurdish villagers in the village of Yeşilyurt in Turkey’s souteastern Şırnak province to eat feces — a report that led to criminal charges against those responsible after he threatened to resign if the story was not published in Cumhuriyet.

This article is often credited with drawing attention to the plight of Kurds in Turkey.

In addition to his journalistic work, Başlangıç was also the author of several books and a staunch advocate of press freedom, leading him to face legal challenges.

He also received awards for his contribution to Turkish journalism.

After a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 and a subsequent crackdown on Turkish media, Başlangıç faced increased persecution from the government, which prompted him to move to Germany in 2017, where he founded Artı TV and Artı Gerçek news outlets and continued his journalistic work despite the political pressure in Turkey.
His journalistic efforts in Germany did not protect him from reprisal: His passport was canceled and he was investigated several times for his continued critical reporting.

In 2019 Başlangıç was sentenced to more than a year in prison for disseminating propaganda related to his work at Özgür Gündem, a now-defunct newspaper that had focused on Kurdish issues. An appeal to a higher court was pending to overturn the sentence.

In 2021 Başlangıç was informed by German police about a planned assassination targeting him based on a hit list including the names of 55 Turkish journalists living in exile.

Başlangıç’s death has sparked a wave of grief and tributes from colleagues and readers, underscoring his enduring legacy in the fight for human rights and press freedom.

Tuncer Bakırhan and Tülay Hatimoğulları, the co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), extended their condolences on X.

“We have lost dear #CelalBaşlangıç in exile, who spent his life paying great costs and standing up for the free press and the public’s right to know. His life was a reflection of the struggle against lawlessness and injustice in this country. It is our duty to extend this fight and succeed,” Bakırhan tweeted.

“I extend my condolences to the family and colleagues of Başlangıç, one of the pioneers of rights-based journalism in Turkey and an important figure in the struggle for press freedom,” he added.

“We have lost the master journalist Celal Başlangıç, who dedicated his life to exposing crimes against the people through his reporting. The people of Turkey will remember him for his unwavering stance. Our condolences to his family and loved ones,” Hatimoğulları tweeted.
“We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of journalist Celal Başlangıç. Our condolences to his family, relatives and colleagues. Throughout his career, Celal Başlangıç worked tirelessly to make the invisible visible and to be a voice for those who went unheard. His death is a great loss for all the oppressed in this country because he was our voice in the media. Farewell Celal, we will always remember you with kindness and affection,” wrote the official X handle of Saturday Mothers, a group of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances in Turkey.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association has conveyed its condolences to his family and paid tribute to his lifelong commitment to journalism.
A memorial service is planned in Cologne, where Başlangıç spent his last years. He leaves behind his wife, journalist Ayşe Yıldırım, and a legacy of courage for journalistic integrity and freedom.

Turkey is often described as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, and it was ranked 158th out of 180 countries in the 2024 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
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