At D8 News, we aim to provide fair and unbiased coverage of events throughout Turkey. Language plays a critical role in the way we perceive news stories.
So when our reader posed the question, we decided to take a closer look at the present situation and examine our own editorial policy and its relation to the wider concept of Civil War in the context of both western and international journalism.
So, can we now say that Turkey is at civil war or is the casual count still too low to qualify for this terminology?
— Has Avrat (@hasavrat) February 18, 2016
A dictionary definition
Oxford English Dictionary
Definition of civil war
There is little to glean from formal definitions of the term. Dictionary entries on the matter are brief, even curt, with usage examples that provide little guidance for the modern digital journalist or news pundit working on Turkish current affairs.
The Geneva Conventions do not specifically define the term “civil war”, nevertheless they do outline the responsibilities of parties in “armed conflict not of an international character”. This includes civil wars, however no specific definition of civil war is provided in the text of the Conventions.
The term Civil War has been used most frequently to describe conflicts in Africa, while incidents following the Arab Spring were more likely to be labelled uprisings. More recently, the conflict in Ukraine achieved Civil War status for a matter of weeks as fighting between two former Soviet militarised forces intensified.
One of the few generalised definitions, and the one we prefer, is the four-point checklist from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC):
- That the Party in revolt against the de jure Government possesses an organized military force, an authority responsible for its acts, acting within a determinate territory and having the means of respecting and ensuring respect for the Convention.
- That the legal Government is obliged to have recourse to the regular military forces against insurgents organized as military and in possession of a part of the national territory.
- That the de jure Government has recognized the insurgents as belligerents; or
- That it has claimed for itself the rights of a belligerent; or
- That it has accorded the insurgents recognition as belligerents for the purposes only of the present Convention; or
- That the dispute has been admitted to the agenda of the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations as being a threat to international peace, a breach of the peace, or an act of aggression.
- That the insurgents have an organization purporting to have the characteristics of a State.
- That the insurgent civil authority exercises de facto authority over the population within a determinate portion of the national territory.
- That the armed forces act under the direction of an organized authority and are prepared to observe the ordinary laws of war.
- That the insurgent civil authority agrees to be bound by the provisions of the Convention.
In the context of conflict in Turkey’s southeast, and without passing further judgement, our editors believe that all four points are technically satisfied when we take the two parties to be (a) the Turkish state and (b) the Kurdish insurgency.
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Influence of the American Civil War on western mindsets
Looking up the term Civil War on the US edition of the Google web search engine only yields results relating to the country’s own internal conflict. Our editors noted that terms like slavery and lynch mob have specific connotations in America that make their use to describe other events across the world somewhat contentious.
Although we believe the conflict in Turkey now meets and exceeds most definitions of Civil War, we have nonetheless taken the editorial decision not to use the phrase in published headlines due to somewhat overloaded semantics.
D8 News editors will continue to be given editorial leeway to use the term within their own pieces where it adds context in an accurate manner, but we recommend against its use in titles, section headings or social media.
As a new publication, D8 News editorial policy may not be making headline news, but in the year since we launched, our unique perspective, formal verification techniques and proximity to news events have given our writers an exceptionally wide and influential reach – as a primary and secondary source for some of the most influential media outlets worldwide, we are committed to addressing public and direct feedback or recommendations on our editorial policy in a timely manner.