Conspiracy theories in Turkey

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Conspiracy theories are a prevalent feature of culture and politics in Turkey. Conspiracism is an important phenomenon in understanding Turkish politics.[1] This is explained by a desire to "make up for our lost Ottoman grandeur"[1] and a low level of media literacy among the Turkish population.[2]

The prevalence of conspiracy theorizing in Turkey

Roots and causes

Prominent Turkish author and journalist Mustafa Akyol describes the reason for the prevalence of conspiracy theorizing in Turkey as "it makes us feel important. If the world is conspiring against us, we must be really special. It is, I believe, the way we Turks make up for our lost Ottoman grandeur."[1]

Turkish consumers are the second-most media illiterate when compared to countries in Europe, leaving them especially vulnerable to fake news, a 2018 report released by the Open Society Institute said. A combination of low education levels, low reading scores, low media freedom and low societal trust went into making the score, which saw Turkey being placed second lowest only to Macedonia.[2]

Distinct features

A distinct feature of conspiracy theorizing in Turkey is that at the alleged command and control end of an alleged conspiracy scheme there are usually narrated to be state governments; this is due to en extreme state-centric worldview taught in the Turkish education system, where non-state actors are never given any agency and rather are always explained as pawns of other states.[3]

Conspiracy theorizing since before the AKP era

Before the AKP era, conspiracy theorizing in Turkey was generally directed against "the West",[1] but also focused on Armenian Genocide denial.

Conspiracy theory that Western powers seek the partition of the country

Rooted in a perennial Turkish fear that Turkey may be dismantled, sometimes called "Sèvres Syndrome" after the Treaty of Sèvres, since the creation of the republic in 1923 conspiracy theories proliferate in Turkey that Western powers would seek the partition of the country.[4]

Conspiracy theory that the Armenian genocide is invented

Turkish Armenian Genocide denialists typically argue the academic consensus of it being a genocide as anti-Turkish propaganda or as a conspiracy spread by the Armenians, instead claiming that it either did not occur or that it was somehow justified at the time.[5][6]

Conspiracy theorizing during the AKP era

Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) assumed power in 2002, conspiracy theories have gradually grown to dominate public discourse in Turkey.[1] The media, much of which are devoted to supporting and praising former Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, frequently resort to explaining Turkey’s every single trouble as a result of a heinous foreign actors' plot against the nation.[1] They all fit into one dominant political narrative along the line that "under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey began to rise as a global power after a century of frailty. Since this New Turkey represents global justice for all the downtrodden, all the dark masters of the world are now alarmed by its glorious march. That is why they are using all their pawns against Turkey to defame, weaken, or destabilize it."[1]

The general "Mastermind" conspiracy theory narrative

In 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan coined the term "mastermind" (Turkish: üst akıl) to denote the alleged command and control institution, somewhat ambiguously placed with the government of the United States, in a comprehensive conspiracy to weaken or even dismember Turkey, by orchestrating every political actor and action perceived hostile by Turkey.[7][8][1] Erdoğan as well as the Daily Sabah have on multiple occasions alleged that very different non-state actors — like the Salafi jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Islamist cult with political ambitions around Fethullah Gülen — were attacking Turkey at the same time in a well-coordinated campaign.[3]

A notable instance of promoting the "Mastermind" conspiracy theory was in February 2017 then Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek claiming that earthquakes in the western province of Çanakkale could have been organized by dark external powers aiming to destroy Turkey’s economy with an "artificial earthquake" near Istanbul.[9] In another example in November 2017, the Islamist newspaper Yeni Akit claimed that the fashion trend of "ripped denim" jeans would in fact be a means of communication, via specific forms of rips and holes, between agents of foreign states and their collaborators in Turkey.[10]

Throughout 2017, the Turkish AKP government increasingly started to explicitly name the United States as the alleged "mastermind".[3] In November 2017, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly said that "they [U.S.] ... aggravated the PKK for that. They put FETÖ to the front and sent Deash to our country and even now they are using the person who is the head of the main opposition, also known as the main ‘treason party,’ for the same purpose," he added, referring to the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who has recently alleged that the president and his relatives had off-shore accounts. Speaking about the Reza Zarrab trial in New York, Erdoğan said, "they wish to obtain the results they could not in the past in our country, with the same mastermind, material and scenario thousands of miles away."[11]

In the campaign for the 2018 general election in Turkey, a widespread conspiracy theory, infused with antisemitism, held that the Turkish lira currency’s decline were the work of a shadowy group, made up of Americans, English, Dutch and "some Jewish families" who would want to deprive incumbent President Erdogan of support in the elections.[12] According to a poll from April 2018, 42 percent of Turks, and 59 percent of AKP voters, saw the decline in the lira as a plot by foreign powers.[13]

Conspiracy theories directed against Israel

In May 2012, a dead European bee-eater with an Israeli leg-band, used by naturalists to track migratory birds, was found by villagers near the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. The villagers worried that the bird may have carried a micro-chip from Israeli intelligence to spy on the area and alerted local officials. The head of the Agriculture and Livestock Provincial Directorate in Gaziantep, Akif Aslanpay, examined the corpse of the bee-eater and stated that he found that "the nose of the bird is very different and much lighter than others" and that it "can be used for audio and video," which, "in the case of Israel, they do."[14] A counter-terrorism unit became involved before Turkey's agriculture ministry assured villagers that it is common to equip migratory birds with rings in order to track their movements. The BBC correspondent, Jonathan Head, ascribed the event to his view that "wildly implausible conspiracy theories take root easily in Turkey, with alleged Israeli plots among the most widely believed."[15]

In 2013, a kestrel carrying an Israeli foot band was discovered by villagers in the Elazığ Province, Turkey. Initially, medical personnel at Firat University identified the bird as "Israeli Spy" in their registration documents, however after thorough medical examinations, including X-ray scans, the bird was determined to be carrying no electronic equipment.[16] No charges were filed and the kestrel was freed and allowed to continue its flight.[17]

The "War against Islam" conspiracy theory narrative

"War against Islam", also called the "War on Islam" or "Attack on Islam", is a conspiracy theory narrative in Islamist discourse to describe an alleged conspiracy to harm, weaken or annihilate the societal system of Islam, using military, economic, social and cultural means. The perpetrators of the conspiracy are alleged to be non-Muslims, particularly the Western world and "false Muslims", allegedly in collusion with political actors in the Western world. While the contemporary conspiracy theory narrative of the "War against Islam" mostly covers general issues of societal transformations in modernization and secularization as well as general issues of international power politics among modern states, the Crusades are often narrated as its alleged starting point. The English-language political neologism of "War on Islam" was coined in Islamist discourse in the 1990s and popularized as a conspiracy theory only after 2001.[18]

A related conspiracy theory, publicly advanced inter alia by the deputy chief of the AKP’s local branch in İstanbul’s Fatih district, Tolgay Demir in 2017, claims that Earth would in fact be flat, and that the concept of it as a planet would constitute a conspiracy by the Vatican, by Jesuits and by Freemasons.[19]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Mustafa Akyol (12 September 2016). "The Tin-Foil Hats Are Out in Turkey". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Marin Lessenski (March 2018). "COMMON SENSE WANTED - Resilence to 'post-truth' and its predictors in the new media literacy index 2018" (PDF). Open Society Institute – Sofia. 
  3. ^ a b c Mustafa Akyol (9 January 2017). "Why Turkish government pushes 'global conspiracy' narrative". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  4. ^ Marc Pierini (31 January 2018). "My Friend, My Enemy". Carnegie Middle East Center. 
  5. ^ "Why scholars say Armenian Genocide was genocide but Obama won't". Newsweek. 24 April 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  6. ^ "A list of genocide denial websites". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  7. ^ Mustafa Akyol (31 October 2014). "The Middle East 'mastermind' who worries Erdogan". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  8. ^ Mustafa Akyol (19 March 2015). "Unraveling the AKP's 'Mastermind' conspiracy theory". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  9. ^ "Foreign powers performing 'earthquake tests' near Istanbul to destroy economy: Ankara mayor". Hurriyet Daily News. 7 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017. 
  10. ^ "Geheimbotschaften in der Jeanshose". tagesspiegel. 27 November 2017. 
  11. ^ "US trying to discredit Turkey for not submitting to 'scenarios': Erdoğan". Hurriyet Daily News. 3 December 2017. 
  12. ^ "Tumbling Turkish lira tests voters' support for Erdogan". Financial Times. 18 May 2018. 
  13. ^ "Forty-two percent of Turks say lira's drop is foreign plot". Ahval. 18 May 2018. 
  14. ^ Kiliç, Yusuf (May 9, 2012). "Gaziantep bird stand up!". Haberturk. Retrieved February 1, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Turkey villagers see Israeli spy in migratory bird". BBC. 16 May 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  16. ^ Vela, Justin (July 26, 2013). "Turkey clears bird of spying for Israel". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Renegade bird accused of being an Israeli spy cleared after careful examination in Turkey". Hürriyet Daily News. July 25, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  18. ^ John L. Esposito, Emad El-Din Shahin (September 2013). "The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  19. ^ "AKP member claims earth is flat, anyone saying it's round is a 'freemason'". Turkish Minute. 2 September 2017. 

Further reading

  • Pipes, Daniel (1998). The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0312176884. 
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