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Deep ignorance: Most Turks know nothing about what really happened on the "Mavi Marmara" 

In May, a ship full of civilians — but not full of humanitarian aid — sailed from Turkey to join the Free Gaza flotilla. Having warned the Mavi Marmara that it would not be allowed to breach the blockade, Israeli commandos raided the ship. In the clash, nine Turks were killed. I've lived in Istanbul for five years and I've spoken to hundreds of Turks about these events. A Turkish documentary filmmaker and I have filmed some of these conversations. Something will immediately strike the viewer: the Turkish people have no idea what happened. This is because the most basic facts about and surrounding these events have not been reported in Turkey. 

In billing the flotilla as a humanitarian mission, the IHH — the expedition's Islamist sponsor — exploited the Turks' Achilles heel: their generosity. Turks think of themselves as charitable and compassionate, as indeed they are. They genuinely believe, because this is what has been reported here, that the Palestinians are starving. They know almost nothing about the reasons for the blockade. They believe that the ship was on a humanitarian mission and nothing but a humanitarian mission. They are bewildered that anyone would have interfered with such a noble-minded endeavour. They do not know that there were no humanitarian supplies on the Mavi Marmara. They do not know the most rudimentary facts about Hamas. As one man said: "These are elected people. It's not like they took over by force, via a coup."

Almost no one in Turkey understands any language but Turkish. If this obviously thoughtful man was unaware that indeed, Hamas took over precisely by force, via a coup, it is because he had no way to know. The men and women to whom we spoke were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn't sound right. 

Turkey's Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as the AKP, came to power in 2002. Journalists struggle to find the right catchphrase to describe the nature of this party, usually settling on something like "mildly Islamist" — to which the party's critics reply that this is like being mildly pregnant. The ensuing theological debate quickly crowds out what is perhaps the more important observation: whether this party is mildly Islamist or gravid with a mullahcracy, it is in its instincts, and in keeping with Turkish tradition, profoundly authoritarian. It is no different from other Turkish political parties this way. But the intersection of authoritarianism and Islamism, no matter the degree of the latter, is not giving rise to a sterling candidate for EU membership, whatever David Cameron might think. The fate of the Turkish media since the AKP came to power illustrates this point.

When Western journalists note in a casual aside that press freedom has experienced certain setbacks under the AKP, they are failing to do justice to the severity of this calamity and its ramifications for Turkey and the region. The calamity is exacerbated by the tendency of the foreign media to repeat, without scrutiny, the very idiocies peddled in the Turkish press, where the range of opinion on offer has become severely limited. The result is the growth of a grossly distorted and dangerous consensus about Turkey, here and abroad — to wit, that Turkey under the AKP has become more democratic and politically healthier, even if it is a bit up the duff with Islamism.

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Bill Corr
August 26th, 2010
10:08 AM
Is it being alleged that most Western journalists are idle swine who regurgitate handouts issued by the Turkish foreign ministry and who rewrite and rephrase one another's stories in a process described as "churnalism" or is it that being posted to Turkey is a cushy assignment and the "the modernising and reformist AKP" - something we've all read a dozen times - is the easiest story to write and the one the home editor wants to receive? What is the situation of the remaining Greeks in Turkey [who were in Anatolia when the Turks were still on the steppes of Central Asia] or the Armenians or the Surani Christians? Or the Jews? The Greeks of the islands of Imbros and Tenedos are now a mere handful. Use the internet to find out why.

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