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Newspaper in Turkey's Van to have Armenian page

24 June 2010 [10:22] - TODAY.AZ
A multilingual newspaper in the eastern city of Van is preparing to add stories in Armenian to its Turkish, Kurdish, Persian and English-language content to mark the reinstating of religious services at a local Armenian church.
The editorial addition is just part of a larger effort to welcome visiting Armenians from Istanbul, Armenia and the broader diaspora to Van for the Sept. 19 religious service at the Surp Haç Church on Akdamar Island, Van Times owner and Editor-in-Chief Aziz Aykaç told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

“We published a notification asking our readers to open their doors to our guests from Armenia and we received 1,700 applications in a week. The figure is increasing every day,” said Aykaç, 54, who is of Kurdish origin and also owns and edits the Van Times’ sister newspaper, Şehri Van.

The Armenian page will be prepared by a crew of journalists from the Armenian diaspora in the United States, the editorial team of the Istanbul-based bilingual weekly Agos and the original crew of the Van Times. The Surp Haç Church will be allowed to open once a year to religious services under a special permit granted by the governor’s office.

Aykaç started out in journalism in 1972 with no prior schooling and learned the business as he worked in the industry, during what he said were difficult times for Turkey in political terms. “Journalism has been my obsession; I could never give up on it,” he said.

He did, however, take a break, at one point deciding to quit journalism and move to Antalya. “I could only stay away for six years,” Aykaç said. “When I got back to Van, I saw a couple of newspapers produced with old-fashioned technology and that motivated me to publish a real newspaper.”

Soon after he made this decision, Aykaç started publishing Şehri Van. “[Newspapers] used to publish any story, just to be able to get advertisements,” he said. “They were critical about no one and no institution. We have subverted this tradition altogether.”

The changes he brought to the local newspaper business drew a strong reaction, according to Aykaç. “The more we wrote the truth, the more they threatened us. Our office has been raided many times,” he said. “If I did not come from a powerful tribe, they would probably have already killed me. But given that, they abstained from harming me.”

New journalists emerged in the town, encouraged by what Şehri Van was doing, Aykaç said, adding that there are now 13 different newspapers on sale in Van. After he achieved his goals with Şehri Van, Aykaç said, he became intrigued by the idea of publishing a multilingual newspaper – a goal he achieved three months ago with the daily Van Times, which he said is inspired by the New York Times.

“My aim is to make it like a Western paper. It is published in black and white. What we focus on is the stories, not the package,” he said. “We are trying to avoid copy-paste news and trying to produce our own stories.”

The paper is currently supported by the advertisements published in Şehri Van. “If a piece particularly interests the Kurdish [community], we publish it in Kurdish. If it interests the Iranians, we publish it in Persian,” Aykaç added. “If the story interests all these parties, we publish it in all four languages.”

Aykaç has not shied away from controversy either with his papers or in his personal life. He said he wrote stories about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, when the group became a top issue on the Turkish political agenda in the 1990s. “My chief principle was being objective and impartial,” he said. “Yes, I was Kurdish, but I also was a journalist. I was at an equal distance to both sides.”

The journalist said he went to great lengths to get access to the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. “Because I am from a well-known tribe, it was easy for me to get in contact with them,” he said, adding that he went up to the mountains many time to interview PKK members. “They would tie a band around my head to cover my eyes. You had to agree to their preconditions. There were strict rules even for taking pictures.”

Aykaç is also a center of attention in Van due to his two wives, one whom he married legally and the other he joined with in a religious ceremony. His first wife, Kahire Aykaç, is a human-resources manager and his second wife, Muhbet Altınal, is the concessionaire at both of his newspapers. Aykaç said his two wives sometimes have arguments about which stories should be published and which should not.

Asked why he had two wives, Aykaç said: “I am a member of the Şemsikli tribe, the most powerful Kurdish tribe of this region. Because my first wife could not have a child, I had to get married again, due to our traditions.”

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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