Yasemin Congar studied at Georgetown University. She then worked for different media, including the daily Cumhuriyet in Ankara and as Washington correspondent for Milliyet, another daily. She is currently the deputy editor-in chief of the daily Taraf.
Taraf does not belong to one of the big media groups, but to the owners of the Alkim bookstore chain.
"I don't remember – certainly not in my lifetime – that there has been a paper that is really truly independent from business interests, from political interests, from the government, from the military and that is also courageous enough to criticize all those centres of power equally."
With its office in Kadikoy, Taraf is the only national newspaper with its headquarters on Istanbul's Asian shore.
Taraf published its first edition on 15 November 2007. It has since become a leading forum for Turkish liberals, including many respected columnists such as Murat Belge, Agos's Editor-in-Chief Etyen Mahcupyan, Amberin Zaman and others. All columnists are known for their harsh stance against military intervention in politics. Taraf has also made a name for itstelf by publishing several explosive documents suggesting, among other things, direct involvement of the Turkish Armed Forces in activities against the current AKP government. For Congar, the AKP does not pose a danger to democracy.
"As a woman who doesn't practice Islam and who has been educated in the West, let me say; I'm not afraid at all."
Taraf played a crucial role in the tumultuous public debates of 2008, publishing secret documents and setting the agenda in a way few papers had ever done. In the month of June alone Taraf published three stories that shook the country. The first uncovered a September 2007 document prepared by the General Staff, which set forth a strategy to denigrate critical journalists and authors and warned of the dangers of the AKP government. The second reported on a secret meeting between Osman Paksut, Deputy President of the Constitutional Court, and General Ilker Basbug – a meeting held only a few days before the Court received a lawsuit seeking to ban the AK Party. The last of the June stories revealed that the Armed Forces had prior (9 days) knowledge of preparations for an October 2007 PKK attack on soldiers in Daglica in the Hakkari province. 13 soldiers were killed and 8 were kidnapped in the attack.
Such open criticism of the armed forces and of leading generals is new in Turkey. In early July 2008 an investigation into the Ergenekon terror group led to the arrests of former 4-star generals. This was also a first.
"And now we are trying to cleanse that out of the system and while we are doing it we are realizing that it's not possible to do it if you don't go after the military. I think it will set an example to many people in Turkey that being part of such an organisation is a crime and is punishable by law and no one is untouchable."
Taraf started with around 15,000 copies sold daily and has reached a circulation of approximately 33,000 copies per day in September 2008. During the heydays of the Ergenekon investigation circulation jumped to 80,000 copies.