Western media and the West: What would you do?
As a core figure in Middle Eastern politics, Turkey is one of the least understood countries in the world. During the first hours of the coup, NBC spread a completely false report that President Erdoğan had asked for asylum from Germany. At home, we looked at each other in disbelief. My friend asked me, "Handan, do you think he left?" in a nervous tone. I said, "No! Of course he did not." In an hour, he was on CNN Turk via a Facetime connection. Seeing him alive assured us that things could be aborted and that this whole nightmare would end. In that good faith, that very feeling carried a nation through the darkest night of its modern history.
From NBC and CNN to FOX and the New York Times to the Guardian and the Independent, all mainstream media of the Western world did not shy away from spreading misinformation during the bloody coup attempt. A total of 240 civilians were killed and 1,535 were injured by tanks, automatic machine guns and jets that opened fire on innocent people. The foreign media, meanwhile, was busy with theories that it was staged by President Erdoğan to gain more power, which is exactly the same claim made by Gülen. It's interesting to see a self-exiled cleric taken more seriously by the West than the actual intelligentsia -- regardless of their political background, education or experience living in Turkey. I wonder if Gülen's influential circles in the U.S. and Europe, or the Gülenists' hiring of the Clinton-connected Podesta Group to lobby for them have anything to do with that kind of PR. Is this a PR campaign that took Gülen to New York Times columns and led him to a CNN International interview? What he didn't say on international television is on the Internet for anyone interested. To comfort his followers, the controversial preacher said: "Let those stupid people [referring to the millions celebrating democracy] celebrate, let them have festivals they call 'democracy rallies,' but the world is making fun of them. If they manage to stay alive, they will get so ashamed of what they do today." When I noticed the threatening undertone in this I was in utter and complete shock at his limitless ego. What is even more disturbing is that he keeps bringing up the mainstream Western media's approach as the entire "world."
What is also troubling is that Western media outlets seem to care more about the safety of coup plotters than the actual civilians they brutalized in the streets that night and left for dead. The democratically elected government, regardless of its public approval ratings, was threatened by this junta, which was supported by Western media.
I would like to ask you, dear reader, what would you do if the same scale of events happens to unfold in your home country? To put this whole thing into perspective, let me share a breakdown of the "scale of threat" from a U.K.-perspective. Ziya Meral, a U.K.-based Turkish academic, translated the scale and a few important points are included here:
- House of Commons bombed while MPs in the Chamber were making statements against the coup
- Three helicopters with SAS soldiers attacked a hotel the prime minister had just left in Devon
- Tanks closed Westminster Bridge, and infantry fired at civilians challenging them
- BBC, ITV and Sky studios raided, presenters forced to res statements at gunpoint
- British Tornado jets flew over London (breaking the sound barrier) to scare people and dropped bombs in areas populated with civilians
- MI5 and MI6 were attacked by helicopters.
I hope this makes it clear for you to imagine the horror Turkish people had to endure on July 15. What would you say to your children when they ask you what all the scary noise is about? Would you worry what'd happen to the coup plotters if they fail? What would you do when you have a gut feeling that this would lead nowhere good? Even if you surrender and they succeed, would you be sure that things will be okay? I know what I felt and I know what I saw. A civil war would have been inevitable and probably even planned for had they not failed.
That night was also a turning point for our society, the EU, the U.S. and all the others who dictate human rights and democracy every chance they get. Some even wrote that this coup could mean hope for it could overthrow Turkey's "authoritarian" president. The hatred and obsession focused on Erdoğan typically blinds observers. Arriving at quick conclusions and making assertive political analysis based on one-week, on-site visits or conversations with friends from certain circles that are taken out of context does not make one an expert. The Independent's shameless front-page on July 30: "Five years ago I thought Syria could become like Turkey. Now Turkey is becoming like Syria" with a sub header that read, "After a week in Istanbul, Patrick Cockburn laments his beloved country" is an exceptional example of the Orientalist phenomena. This type of provocative reporting reads more like wishful thinking and propaganda.
On Aug. 7, the biggest democracy rally in modern history took place in Istanbul, and approximately 5 million people attended. I keep seeing reports full of phrases like "Erdoğan's supporters" calling for "capital punishment," which is actually very unlikely to happen, and disgusting comparisons to "Hitler's Nuremberg." First, the people in the rally were not only Erdoğan supporters. There were the main opposition parties' leaders and supporters too because it was a rally against the coup and for modern Turkey. Biased reports or intentional misinformation does not surprise me anymore. What still surprises me and breaks my heart though is the trauma being faced by my country, a civil movement that morphed from something I once associated with really nice people to an intelligence-obsessed, disguised means for geopolitical destruction. I'm not angry, though I have every right to be, but I am truly heartbroken for my country and due to personal memories. I am heartbroken for the innocent lives we lost and the stolen years and opportunities of generations of bright minds. A part of me - probably of the entire country too - is damaged beyond repair because trust is a very rare and very delicate virtue.
Days passed and I'm now on the balcony of my apartment typing my final thoughts. This time there is no chanting, no sound from the square nearby. Democracy watches all around the country ended with President Erdoğan's call. Today is Aug. 15, the first-month anniversary of the failed coup. It has been an almost surreal collective experience. Revisiting the coup night in my memory, I left my friend's place in the morning at around 10:00 a.m. The news channels reported that the coup was averted, and it was under control save for a few ongoing clashes at certain locations. It was about 6:00 a.m. when I heard the last explosion nearby; now, I gather from the videos and witnesses that came out later that it was tanks firing at civilians on the Bosporus Bridge. When I stepped out of the apartment's gate there was an eerie silence on the streets. Walking down the streets of Cihangir I looked up at the Galata Tower looking down over the neighborhood, my body was still buzzing with the crushing threat of the night before. There were only cats randomly sitting around. Life at the ferry station looked ordinary; I even spotted a few tourists in their sandals and big hats that drew me into some sort of normalcy. That morning on the ferry, going across the Bosporus, I imagined what it would be like if things had not worked out. The beautiful shimmering blue sea, beautiful view of Istanbul, its beautiful people, what would have happened to them? Would I be on the next rubber boat to another country where I knew I am unwelcomed?
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