Nov 29 2018

Analysts face abuse on and offline if they criticise Turkish government, scholar says

Turkish and foreign researchers who work on topics deemed unwelcome by the Turkish government can expect a tough response on and off social media, if Middle East scholar Jonathan Schanzer’s experience is the norm.

“I’m a terrorist, an intelligence agent for at least two Middle East governments, a coup-plotter, and a member of a sex cult,” wrote Schanzer in a column for the Weekly Standard in which he referred to the accusations slung at him since he began working on the Turkish government’s links to groups the United States classifies as terrorist organisations.

Schanzer began working on the topic in 2010 after reading about the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s links to the Palestinian fundamentalist organisation Hamas, and his interest grew in 2011 when Turkey began working with jihadists in the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

“For a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury now working at a Washington think tank, this stuff was too juicy to ignore,” said Schanzer, the senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

His areas of interest have seen him labelled as an agent of Israeli intelligence organisation the Mossad, called a member of the secretive Gülen religious organisation, which the AKP defines as a terrorist group, and even called a member of another preacher’s sex cult by Turkish pro-government newspapers.

“Even today, pro-government Turks on Twitter share with me new and shocking revelations about my mother, my anatomy, my attraction to certain domesticated animals, and more,” Schanzer said.

The same treatment is commonly doled out to Schanzer’s colleagues, who are often characterised as “coup plotters and terrorists,” he said.

“My colleague Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian, even had his assets frozen. What we all share in common: criticizing the Erdogan government’s Islamist and authoritarian trends,” Schanzer said.

By Schanzer’s reckoning, however, the foreign-based analysts are lucky compared to their colleagues in Turkey, who face severe repression, including the danger of jail time, and must contend with a media that is almost entirely controlled by the government’s cronies.