McGurk, the terrorist - pro-Erdoğan daily
In a front-page piece, Turkish pro-government newspaper, Yeni Şafak, branded Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the coalition against the IS, as the "head of the United States' terrorism in Syria and Iraq".
Titled "Ovaköy Paniği" ("The Ovaköy Panic"), the story published on 2 November refers to the Turkish plans for Ovacık Border Gate, an alternative border crossing to Habur that claims to bypass the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and provides a direct route from Turkey to the Iraqi Federal Government capital, Baghdad. KRG's security force Peshmerga officials strongly deny these claims, arguing they have the full control over the Iraq-Turkey border.
While the regional businessmen are sceptic about whether the new border will solve old problems, Yeni Şafak blames the U.S. special envoy for undermining the project before it begins.
The piece is penned by reporter Yılmaz Bilgen, who spent a year among jihadist extremists in Northern Syria and pledged support to their "noble struggle" by his reporting.
Featured on the Yeni Şafak front-page, Bilgen's story goes on to accuse the United States and Israel for making secret plans to divide Turkey, and brands McGurk as a "colonial governor" appointed by the U.S. to Iraq and Syria.
The piece also quotes an "Iraqi General" Suphi Nazım Tevfik at length, who then claims the U.S. is using the Kurdish insurgent group, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Peshmerga forces as "pawns" against Turkey.
But in fact, the Iraqi Army, mostly armed by the U.S., is gaining new grounds in Anbar against the Islamic State (ISIS), and McGurk is praising their success:
Then, who is the "Iraqi general" Suphi Nazım Tevfik?
According to ORSAM, a Turkish pro-government think-tank, there is one "Dr." Suphi Nazım Tevfik, who is an expert listed among the speakers of a 2009 conference held in Hatay to talk about "the situation of Turcomen in Iraq and Turkey’s Iraqi policy". In 2010, same organisation cited him as the "Syria representative" of the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
One of Tevfik's articles was later cited [pdf] in a publication by Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), Turkey's soft power tool. In 2016, Tevfik was photographed in an event by "Kerkuk Foundation", a pro-Turkmen organisation in Istanbul. The latest issue of Kerkuk Foundation's magazine, Kardaşlık ("Brotherhood"), features Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on the cover, warmly shaking hands with the Turkmen deputies of the Iraqi Parliament in Baghdad.
Given Yeni Şafak's mouthpiece role, the current U.S.-Turkey crisis, and the Ankara-Baghdad rapprochement, it is not a coincidence that a pro-Erdoğan paper criticises the U.S. support for Kurds and highlights the Turkmen option, both in the same piece.
In fact, the map featured by Yeni Şafak on Turkey's new trade route plans to Baghdad mostly corresponds to the region where the Iraqi Turkmen groups lay a claim to.
Yet, there is still a difference between what the Turkish government tells to its domestic audience and could say to its partners in their own language.
This is what Bilgen's McGurk piece on Turkish Yeni Şafak reads on the spot:
The terrorist organisation leader Brett McGurk has set up a crisis desk following Ankara's steps to cut the link between Peshmerga and the PKK. McGurk, the murderer of thousands of Muslims, is working hard against the Ovaköy-Baghdad line.
The English version of the Yeni Şafak's article, however, mentions McGurk only as "U.S. Envoy" and does not accuse him of any terror crime or colonialism, although it is still critical of the U.S. actions in Syria and Iraq.
Yeni Şafak, owned by the Albayrak Group, is a leading newspaper among the media organisations with close ties to the ruling Erdoğan's Justice and Development party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP. Next to its media business, Albayrak Group has operations in construction sector and owns the Trabzon port.
Ankara's direct oil trade deals with KRG since 2007 have met with protests in Baghdad. After the Kurdish referandum, Iraqi and Turkish prime ministers met to coordinate their efforts against KRG's independence and mend bilateral ties.
The Yeni Şafak piece might be signalling the brotherhood option, beyond the now-regular "America must be behind it" narrative.