I wrote in The Hidden Hand, my 1996 book surveying conspiracy theories in the Middle East, that
Turkey and Israel stand out as the only two Middle Eastern countries where leaders are fully accountable to electorates, where the West is viewed more as an ally than as an enemy, and where conspiracy theories have a relatively minor role in public life. … Few mainstream politician, intellectual, or religious leaders [in Turkey] engage in conspiratorial thinking, which exists mostly at the fringes of polite society.
How sadly have things changed in the intervening years. Here's one example of many, not more egregious but more spectacular than most:
The background: On Jan. 30, Israeli warplanes struck targets in Syria. A week later, the exact details remain murky, but it concerned the transfer of advanced armaments by the Syrian regime to the Hizbullah terrorist group in Lebanon. One might expect the Turkish authorities to applaud this step, both because it did damage to the regime Ankara wants to overthrow and because those advanced armaments could potentially be used against Turkish interests. But no, both the government and the communist opposition spun elaborate and unconvincing conspiracy theories about the Israel raid.
Government: Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu criticized the Syrian government for not responding to the Israeli attack and spoke of a secret deal. "Why has the Syrian army, which has been attacking its own people with warplanes and tanks for 22 months, not responded to this Israeli operation? Why doesn't [Bashar al-Assad] throw a stone at the Israeli planes while they fly over his palace and insult his nation's honor? Why doesn't he do anything against Israel while he drops bombs on the innocent people of his country? Is there a secret agreement between Israel and Assad?" He suggested that the Israeli air strikes serve the interests of the Syrian government, arguing that Assad is "exploiting" the Israeli attack to increase his support among Muslims.
Opposition: SANA, the Syrian news agency, quotes Bülent Esinoğlu, vice chairman of Turkish Labor Party (EMEP), saying that the AKP government in Turkey "has cooperated with Israel in its aggression" on Syria. He goes on to claim that Davutoğlu turned a blind eye to this event and that "the Turkish Government was aware of the aggression in advance."
In brief, the government has Assad cooperating with Israel and the communists have Prime Minister Erdoğan cooperating with Israel.
Comments: (1) This sort of reasoning can quickly leave one with a sore head. (2) With inane conspiracy theories flying back and forth, the population gets confused, public life is degraded, and the portents for Turkey look dim. (February 4, 2013)
June 26, 2013 update: For a post-Gezi Park collection of conspiracy theories in Turkey, see Piotr Zalewski, "Protocols of the Interest Rate Lobby." Excerpts:
In Turkey, conspiracy theories are to politics what kebabs and baklava are to an evening meal. That goes for supporters and opponents of Erdogan alike, often with the same targets in mind. Of the dozens of Gezi protesters I talked to over the past weeks, many earnestly claimed that the United States had parachuted Erdogan and his party into power in 2002, that the Obama administration retained a Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, in order to bolster its aims in the Middle East, and that it and the European Union continued to support the militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in a bid to divide Turkey.
Zalewski then provides a timeline quite at variance with my own (I see conspiracy theories taking off only after the AKP came to power in 2002):
The tendency to cry "plot" is as old as the Turkish Republic itself, understandable in a part of the world where the West's armies and intelligence agencies have intervened on a regular basis—particularly so in a country that faced the very real prospect of Allied partition after World War I. Well into the 1990s, rare was the national crisis that Turkish politicians and army generals refused to blame on Greece, the United States, the EU, the Armenian diaspora, or Turkey's own Kurdish minority.
Refreshingly, during Erdoğan's first decade in power, the conspiracy reflex appeared to be ebbing. The economy boomed, the prime minister's Justice and Development Party (AKP) ruled uncontested, confidence was sky-high, and relations with neighbors were better than ever. Even if it continued to sense domestic plots around every corner, the AKP, with a few notable exceptions, saw no use in banging on about global ones.
That era ended with the Gezi Park protests this month. With the government still very popular but increasingly on the defensive, and with Erdoğan raising the temperature with every speech, conspiracy theories have once again boiled to the surface. The prime minister and his allies in government and the media, rather than acknowledge the depth of the resentment fueled by some of their policies and by the scale of the police crackdown, have begun pinning the popular unrest on a cabal of international actors.
He documents some of those theories, then concludes:
Unfortunately, the conspiracy theory narratives have progressed beyond the sound-bite stage: they're being acted upon. In the past 10 days alone, the ministry of interior has announced that it would begin work on a law allowing it to investigate and prosecute those who publish "false and provocative" posts on the Internet; the national intelligence agency has launched an official investigation into "foreign links" to the Gezi protests; and the mayor of Ankara has taken to Twitter to launch a hashtag campaign against a BBC journalist, Selin Girit, whom he accuses, on the basis of a quote that wasn't even her own, of being a British agent. Finally, Turkey's Capital Markets Board has launched a probe into brokerage transactions concluded at the height of the protests—presumably to expose, once and for all, both the identity and the secret machinations of the "interest rate" lobby.
July 8, 2013 update: Much more along these lines at "The Great Turkish Conspiracy" by Robert Ellis at Gatestone Institute.
July 10, 2013 update: Colorful details at "Can Erdogan's Enemies Kill Him With Their Minds?" by Bloomberg's Marc Champion.
July 22, 2013 update: "Turkey Between Interest Rates And Conspiracy Theories" by Sami Nader focuses on the economic dimension of Turkish conspiracy theories.
Related Topics: Conspiracy theories, Turkey and Turks
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