Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently categorized as “black propaganda” the claim that Turkey is shifting its foreign policy orientation away from the West, especially in the aftermath of the May 31 Israeli murder of 9 Turkish humanitarian activists on the Mavi Marmara.
Explaining that his administration’s policy of improved relations with neighbors—manifestations of which include the waiving of visa requirements for citizens of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Libya—has drastically increased tourism revenues, Erdoğan has also reminded the West of Turkey’s application for European integration, pending since 1963, and has threatened the European Union with the label “Christian Club” in the event that Turkey is not admitted.
The denunciation of black propaganda is simply an effort to stave off domestic and international opponents keen to create the impression that the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party is abandoning the secular, Western-oriented legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. If permitted to generate enough momentum, such a propaganda campaign could ultimately result in an attempted military coup; as for Erdoğan’s subsequent announcement that there are Turks who refer to their dogs as “Arab”, it turned out that this was not meant as further evidence of Turkey’s Western alignment but rather as a condemnation of those sectors of the population who continue to invoke the World War I-era “stab in the back” of the Ottoman Turks by Arabs in concert with the British.
Speaking on the subject of contemporary collaboration in the region, Erdoğan has suggested that observers who question Turkish humanitarian involvement in Gaza might instead question the involvement of other international actors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Turkish opposition daily Sözcü has meanwhile accused the administration of being more attentive to victims of attacks by Israel than to victims of attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an accusation echoed by a neighbor of mine in Turkey who recently informed me that:
- after converting Turkey to an Islamic republic, Erdoğan would donate the southeast section of Turkish territory to the Kurds such that they might have a state to go along with their TV channel.
- he had taken the Prime Minister’s comment to heart and changed his dog’s name from “Maxie” to “Arab”.
Adding to threats to the sanctity of the Turkish Republic, Turkish President Abdullah Gül has been accused of Armenian ancestry by members of the opposition based on his refusal to condemn Turks desiring to sign an online apology for the “catastrophe” that befell the Armenians early last century. Crimes of past centuries have also been brought up in the context of other minority populations in Turkey, and Erdoğan has referenced the superior treatment Jews received at the hands of the Ottomans compared to their treatment at the hands of the progenitors of the Christian Club around the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
As for modern crimes, a post-flotilla massacre Jerusalem Post article reports the condemnation of Israeli actions by the Jewish community in Turkey and marvels at the fact that Turkish Jews “consider themselves Turks, which might strike some Israelis who automatically fuse religious and national identity as odd.” The potential for oddness therefore only increases as Turkey expands cooperation with entities hyped as an existential menace to the Jewish state.