Jan 06 2019

New year, more of the same from Turkish media

Millions of Turks will be hoping that the new year will bring profound changes to a country that endured political and economic shocks throughout 2018.

However, it was more of the same from Turkish media outlets in the first week of the year, which served up another week of conspiracy theories and sabre rattling on the one hand and grim reports on the economy on the other.

The leftist-nationalist Aydınlık newspaper celebrated a triumphant year for “anti-imperialists” on Monday with a front page declaring “the end of the Atlantic era,” which it illustrated with 10 photographs.

These included one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hand in hand with his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, during one of the Astana peace process talks for Syria.

The chaos and disagreement holding Western countries apart last year, depicted by Aydınlık with the image of U.S. President Donald Trump facing off against German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders at the G-7 summit in Canada, was welcomed by the newspaper, which follows an editorial line deeply opposed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Islamist pro-Erdoğan daily Yeni Şafak took a similarly pro-Eurasian line, devoting its front page to the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to Erdoğan: “Let’s protect Eurasia together.”

The Russian president reportedly expressed his desire for increased security collaboration with Turkey, to add to the countries’ joint projects in the energy field.

New Year’s Day was an occasion for self-congratulation for fundamentalist Islamist daily Yeni Akit, whose front page listed stories with which it had “stamped its mark” on the year 2018. These included successfully lobbying to have an academic thrown off the national mineral research and exploration directorate for insulting an Ottoman sultan and reporting the story of a man who apparently had to sell his kidney to pay alimony.

The pro-government daily Star devoted its first front page of the year to spreading the good news of the government’s discounts to energy bills, as well as a series of other measures including a minimum wage increase.

The newspaper failed to mention that the 10 percent discount to bills would be offset by increased distribution charges, a move that the Chamber of Electrical Engineers said would, in fact, increase energy companies’ profits rather than benefit consumers.

Yeni Şafak’s front page gave readers a new group to blame for the ills wrought on the world by the United States: evangelists, or as the newspaper called them, “the Deep U.S.A.”

What drew the newspaper’s ire this time was a series of statements from evangelists in support of the Kurdish militias that have fought the Islamic State alongside the United States in Syria, and which will be left behind when U.S. forces leave as per President Donald Trump’s December 19 announcement.

Ankara views the militias as enemies and was seemingly pleased to hear of the U.S. withdrawal, which clears the way for a planned Turkish offensive. Influential U.S. officials and opinion leaders, however, were shocked by the sudden decision to withdraw, as was evident in the letters cited by Yeni Şafak, which were sent to Trump by evangelist leaders who support continued involvement in Syria. Since the letters and opinions were expressed quite openly, though, the newspaper’s implication of a “deep state” conspiracy can be taken with a grain of salt.

Left-wing secularist daily Sözcü’s front page declared Metin Temel, the general who led Turkey’s victorious campaign against Kurdish militias in Afrin, northwest Syria, to be “the year’s loser.”

After the success of the Afrin campaign Temel’s star appeared to be in the ascendant, but disagreements over the next planned incursion into northern Syria resulted in the general being unceremoniously removed from his command position and placed on desk duty.

On Wednesday, as pro-Islamist daily Türkiye led with another call to arms against Turkey’s Kurdish enemies in northern Syria, Star and Akşam were looking ahead to the March 31 local elections with front pages reporting Erdoğan’s rather bland statements promising victory in Ankara and a “new era” for the capital city.

Secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet, however, raised fears on its front page of a “shadow over the election” – the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s move to extend the Supreme Electoral Council’s term so the same members also oversee the local elections.

This council was responsible for highly contentious decisions to loosen security measures in the previous two elections, causing outrage in the April 2017 constitutional referendum by announcing that ballots lacking their security stamp would be allowed as votes were being counted.

Left-wing newspaper BirGün reported on the series of price hikes announced almost as soon as the year had started, including increased administrative fees for passports and driving licences, but also a 13.48 percent VAT increase for alcohol.

There was grim news on liberal Islamist daily Karar’s front page on Thursday, with a report featuring newly released figures from the We Will Stop Femicides Platform, which revealed that murders of women rose again in 2018.

The number of women murdered last year was 440, a “record of shame” and part of a trend that has shown an alarming rise in murders since 2011 when 126 murders were reported.

BirGün’s front page drew attention to the AKP’s decision to run Binali Yıldırım, a former prime minister, as its candidate for Istanbul. That Yıldırım is also the acting speaker of parliament while running is by experts’ accounts unconstitutional, and the electoral council has been called on to forbid him from running.

The big news reported across Turkey’s large pro-government press contingent on Friday was of a U.S. delegation sent to Ankara to hear evidence against the religious movement led by Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen.

The delegation reportedly spent a long day on Thursday hearing evidence, which included interviews with three high-ranking members of the Gülen movement, which is blamed by the Turkish government for organising the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Ankara has been seeking the extradition of Gülen from the United States, where he has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999.

Cumhuriyet reported news that the AKP government would appropriate funds from the central bank in order to pay for the local elections and head off a crisis that has been brewing since last year.

By the estimate of one opposition lawmaker, the amount transferred to the treasury could reach 25 billion lira ($4.68 billion).

The readiness of the government to take money from the central bank has also sharpened long-running concerns over the bank’s independence. These concerns were one of several factors that contributed to Turkey’s troubled year in 2018, during which the lira crashed to record lows and inflation rates were among the world’s highest.