Has Deutsche Welle romanticized Gezi or is it more than that?

Published 09.08.2019 23:26
Updated 11.08.2019 00:00
Has Deutsche Welle romanticized Gezi or is it more than that?

As you remember, almost all the news stories about Turkish politics in Western media featured the same cliché in the summer of 2013 when the Gezi incident sparked in Istanbul: "Once upon a time, [then-Prime Minister, now current President] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the moderate, successful, exemplary conservative leader of Turkey. We loved him so much." When the Arab Spring spread, almost all of them started pointing to Erdoğan-led Turkey as a model for guiding the transformation of the Middle East.

However, those days were suddenly over, according to Western media. Yes, all of a sudden Erdoğan became an autocrat – no wait, he became even more evil: a dictator in the eyes of Western media.

One day we woke up, and he became "the dark one" in the Middle East. As you have been reading for the last six years, he somehow ruined the country, and today Turkey is a mess because of him. And it all started with the "holy Gezi Park protests," according to Western journalists.

Well, when you see a large flow of fake news about you, your life or your country, it's normal to be shocked. But it is hard to be amazed if you are living in Turkey after six years of nonstop lies and false reports.

Turkish people at first couldn't believe their eyes when they saw hundreds of inaccurate, irresponsible and malicious reports by Western media outlets on the Gezi Park events in the summer of 2013. Yes, some people took to the streets in Turkey to protest a construction project in Taksim Square in Istanbul. Then it turned into an environmental demonstration.

Too much to say

Time has passed, and Turkey has seen a lot since then. We even survived an attempted coup in 2016. Almost no one here cares what happened in the summer of 2013 after all we have lived though. Other than some extreme groups, nobody remembers the Gezi incident when its anniversary comes. But memories of those days are still present in the minds of Western journalists and media pundits.

In fact, the Gezi incident wouldn't have become such an extraordinary event if Western media hadn't made such a fuss about it. The leaders of Gezi protests were people, including several famous figures, who were the Turkish version of the leaders of the Tamarod movement in Egypt. If Western media hadn't given so much space to Tamarod figures in their papers and on screen, I doubt that they would have succeeded in showing the Egyptian coup as a revolution.

What happened in Egypt?

Let's stop for a second and remember what happened in Egypt. Tamarod was a so-called Egyptian group that organized protests to overthrow the first democratically elected and recently killed President Mohammed Morsi. But it was depicted by Western media as well, as a new grassroots movement, whose name means "revolt" in Arabic. In the summer of 2013, during the same period as the Gezi incident, the group claimed that it collected more than 22 million signatures for a petition demanding Morsi to step down.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) dismissed the claim, saying Tamarod had only collected 170,000. Massive demonstrations, including the anti-government and counter-Tamarod protests in Egypt's capital Cairo and other cities, followed.

Rejecting any offers or dialogue with Morsi, Tamarod gave the president an ultimatum to resign or face a campaign of "complete civil disobedience." They urged the "state institutions, including the army, the police and the judiciary, to clearly side with the popular will as represented by the crowds."

Tamarod became quickly popular in the eyes of the international mainstream media. The founders of the movement became instant celebrities and were on live TV almost every night, complaining about Morsi and his government. Opposition parties in Egypt also backed the campaign. They were supposedly going to save Egypt from the "hands of an [almost tyrant]. As we know now, a long series of leaked audio recordings that appeared to capture meetings and phone calls between Egypt's senior defense officials revealed in 2015 that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had given money to the Egyptian Defense Ministry to foment a protest campaign against Morsi.

Accordingly, Tamarod leadership was drawing on a bank account administered by Egypt's generals and replenished by the Emirates.

Look at the situation in Egypt now. As Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the new pharaoh of Egypt, quickly started to discredit and threaten Tamarod after the coup following the Tahrir square protests, some of the founders of the group finally admitted in 2015 that they were taking orders from the army. They were actually being used.

Moheb Doss, one of the founders of the group, for instance, said in an interview: "What they did, they did in our names because we let them. The leaders of Tamarod let themselves be directed by others. They took orders from others."

Anyway, as I said, the Gezi figures of Turkey were the same version of Tamarod in Egypt. And just like what happened in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Western media got excited about the events in Taksim Square in Istanbul, where Gezi Park is located. Just like they did in Egypt, they didn't ask the thoughts of others, namely the people of Turkey. They praised the Gezi Park protesters and stated one-sided opinions as facts. They just talked to seculars who ruled Turkey for years thanks to bloody coup d'etats. They compare the clashes with Arab streets, not with any protests in Europe or the U.S.

Symbolic propaganda

For instance, one photo was romanticized most by Western media: a female protester was holding a Turkish flag with the face of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkish Republic and the symbol of Turkish nationalist secularism, in one hand, and in the other, she was holding the hand of a man carrying a flag of the self-proclaimed pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is indirectly linked to the outlawed PKK, a terror organization directly threatening the sovereignty of Turkey.

According to Western media, the two, belonging to the different camps that were worlds apart, were showing that then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, who was in the crosshairs of the protests, brought them together with his cruelty.

It was a story that sounded romantic and fabulous but did not match reality. Until the first day of the Gezi Park protests, Turkish nationalists hated Erdoğan because he took the initiative and started the Kurdish-Turkish peace process. He has been depicted as a "traitor" by the nationalists and accused of attempting to divide the country with the peace process. On the other hand, the Kurds have hated the nationalists as their governments who ruled Turkey for years did not give Kurds their rights. Additionally, the PKK was very angry with Erdoğan as he showed the Kurds in Turkey that he wants peace but also was ready to fight if the peace talks stopped. I mean, the two camps, which have been enemies for years, were then coming together against the man who tried to reconcile them? It didn't feel right. Then the fake news about Turkey never stopped. Today, it's hard to surprise a Turkish person on the street when you show them a false story from a Western media outlet about their country and ask for their opinion. They don't get angry, they don't feel furious, they have just gotten used to it.

FETÖ sympathy

After so many unfair reports of terror attacks by the outlawed PKK and Daesh in 2015-2016 and the reports over the failed coup attempts by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) on July 15, 2016, Turkey had finally had enough. Even the people who thought the Gezi reporting based on fake tweets was true started to see how Western media makes false news. But I wonder, is it just because of a lack of information, ignorance or unawareness? Or is it more than that? Did Western media just romanticize it or have they tried to manipulate it? I am getting more and more suspicious every day that it could be the latter.

My experience

Let me tell you about one example recently. On July 9, a Deutsche Welle correspondent, Julia Hahn, called me and said they wanted an interview with an "anti-Gezi" and/or "pro-government" figure for a news story about the Gezi events in 2013. It was an absurd demand, but I still wanted to see what would happen next.

She asked me questions as if I was being interrogated. I am patient person, but I found myself asking, "What are you after?" I added that the Gezi events are already behind us. Two days later, she called me again and asked some questions very similar to the previous ones. I felt as if the Deutsche Welle was not looking for someone to be interviewed, but a candidate for a movie or something like that.

How could I know that it was going to be something like a drama? It was a hunch, but I did want to see how it ended. When I asked the context of the news story, she told me it would be about that if the Gezi protests were based on facts or if the Western media had romanticized it. I said, "OK."

My schedule was very tight that week, and yet I managed to find space between two trips on Sunday, July 14. The Deutsche Welle crew came to my place. They took at least three hours of my time, even though they said it was going to be more or less a half an hour. The correspondent, Julia, asked me many questions and that made me think that it was going to be a comprehensive story. It was not.

Julia sent me the web link of a video report on July 19, thanking me. It was just a four-minute story about someone, a lawyer, Can Atalay, who was involved in the Gezi incident and the Gezi trials. She didn't bother to tell me it was a human story, a man I had never heard of or that there was a leading actor in the video.

After more than one and half hours of interviewing, they only used less than 30 seconds of my comments. Don't get me wrong, there was no one else talking other that the leading actor and me, a figure as an antagonist who was just reiterating President Erdoğan's words. Actually, I was answering Julia's exact question, which was just about the international media's approach to the Gezi event: "Were they just romanticizing it?"

I said, "Yeah, especially the Western media romanticized it," and explained why I thought so as I did here on this column. But what I saw in the video was very intriguing. The context of my answer was completely changed to something very different.

Introducing me as a "columnist for the pro-government media Daily Sabah" in a biased way, I was portrayed as a mouthpiece of Erdoğan. Instead of putting my answer after the question she asked, Julia relocated it.

Showing Gezi Park, which is still a public place where everyone comes and goes, as if it is a risky area for the government and that is why it is widely monitored, which is not true, Julia planted my answer right after her comments about Erdoğan. Saying that Erdoğan was describing the protests as "an attack on the country's unity, controlled and financed by foreign actors," Julia suggested that I agreed with him. Yes, I agree with President Erdoğan. There were some foreign actors such as the UAE that financed the protests just like they did in Egypt. However, putting my sentences about Western media, which were the answer to a question asking if foreign journalists romanticized it, made my comments look like a joke.

Were those foreign actors Western media outlets? They were not. But I believe that Western media twisted the whole story about the Gezi events. They not only romanticized the Gezi incident but also tried to manipulate it. Erecting tents, drinking bottles of beer and having sex for days in the heart of city do not mean freedom and justice. What the Deutsche Welle correspondent did in this video report was not journalism. Western media did the same during the summer of 2013 in Turkey as well as in Egypt, and they are still trying to do it in Turkey. As for Egypt, they simply ignore the new tyrant, his mass trials and dozens of executions.

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