Turkish media beats war drums as third Syria operation looms - Media roundup

By the end of the week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had announced new Turkish military operations were imminent, but various Turkish media outlets were ahead of the game at the beginning the week, beating the war drums with stories on two theatres of conflict for Turkey.

The leftist-nationalist daily Aydınlık’s Monday front page reported Turkish plans to build a massive naval base in Turkish Cypriot administered Northern Cyprus. The base is projected to cover over 280,000 acres of land, around 8 percent of the area governed by the Turkish Cypriot administration.

Aydınlık reported the base would have the capacity for all classes of vessel in the Turkish fleet, including helicopter boats and submarines. A driving factor behind the decision is doubtless Turkey’s aim to stake its claim to the massive gas reserves that have been found around the island of Cyprus.

The deployment of Turkish gas exploration vessels off the island’s west coast has already ruffled feathers in Greece, the Greek Republic of Cyprus and other nations that have agreed to partner in Greek Cypriot gas exploration in the area. The Turkish Navy’s efforts to ward off harassment and more serious threats from these quarters as Turkish research vessels search for gas was the subject of pro-government daily Yeni Şafak’s front page.

The newspaper’s journalists spent the day with the four navy vessels escorting the seismic surveying vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, running the story under the headline “Mediterranean Shield.”

The headline borrows from Turkey’s first major cross-border operation in the Syrian civil war – Euphrates Shield – which was launched in August 2016, and over the next seven months carved out an area around Aleppo governorate in northern Syria that broke up the continuous control Kurdish militias deemed enemies by Turkey had gained across areas bordering Turkey.

In the next operation, “Olive Branch,” Turkey launched an incursion into Afrin, an enclave in northwest Syria that had been under control of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which Turkey counts as a terrorist organisation due to its links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Monday headline of Akşam, another government friendly daily, reported that preparations were underway by the United States to train and equip an army of 40,000 fighters to provide stability in Syria. Akşam’s news piece reported that these forces would be outfitted in areas east of the Euphrates river, and would belong to Turkey’s YPG enemies, a fair assessment given that the YPG are the United States’ main partners in Syria, and U.S. forces are deployed in those areas.

Secularist daily Sözcü had grave news on Tuesday, devoting its entire front page to news that Turkish prosecutors had opened cases against two of its writers and three other staff for membership of a terrorist organisation.

That this organisation was the Gülen religious movement, which the Turkish government blames for organising the July 2016 coup attempt, will be mystifying for readers of the newspaper that for years has railed against the Gülenists.

The prosecutors, however, have an answer for that: apparently, the fact that the writers under investigation are long-term and strident critics of the Gülen movement does not matter, as they may have simply been writing critical columns for years to cover that they are actually members.

Secularist daily Cumhuriyet’s front page decried the 2019 budget, which Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak took to parliament this week, as a “blow to the people.”

Turkey’s economy has endured a difficult year, with high inflation and a weak lira contributing to large consumer price increases and making debt repayments more difficult.

Cumhuriyet pointed out that the new budget had already revised down its growth projections a short time after its first draft went through, and denounced the large cuts in investment and government spending.

Pro-government outlets, including the Islamist daily Yeni Şafak, devoted prominent front-page reports to the government’s contentions that nationwide protests in 2013 were a conspiracy organised by dark forces intent on overthrowing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Yeni Şafak said these forces, including the Gülen movement, had attempted unsuccessfully to transplant the recent French Yellow Vests protests to Turkey and were now working with “foreign intelligence services” on a new attempt to topple the government.

Another government-friendly newspaper, Akşam, went with the rather self-pitying narrative complaining that Western media had portrayed the 2013 Gezi Park protests as a democratic movement but had condemned the vandalism perpetrated by the Yellow Vests in France this year.

On Wednesday Yeni Şafak continued with its “scoop” tying the Gezi Park protests in with an all-star cast of Turkey’s enemies including the Gülen movement, the PKK, and Hungarian-American investor George Soros’s “Open Society.”

The front-page piece came out in response to investigative reports published this week in Western media outlets on Turkish “Black Sites” where enemies of the government have reportedly been renditioned and tortured.

For Yeni Şafak, this is nothing more than a smear by Turkey’s aforementioned enemies, to which the newspaper takes the audacious step of adding “the killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” In other words, Yeni Şafak says, the Gülen movement, armed Kurdish groups, a billionaire philanthropist and the Saudi government have all joined forces to contract nine media organisations including Spanish daily El Pais and French daily Le Monde to print a false investigative report.

Thursday’s headlines were dominated by the threats made at a Turkish defence industry summit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to launch a third cross-border military operation against Kurdish forces in Northern Syria, this time against targets in areas east of the river Euphrates where forces deployed by the U.S. are training the Kurdish militias.

Outlets including Yeni Şafak gave Erdoğan’s comments, and vow to launch the operation within a few days, the main focus, whereas Cumhuriyet called the operation a political move designed to drum up support before local elections next March.

On Friday, Cumhuriyet, Sözcü and left-wing daily BirGün’s front pages carried news of a train crash that killed nine passengers and injured 86 on Thursday in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara.

The three newspapers placed the blame for the crash, the second train disaster this year, on the government’s weak administration and rushing of projects to fit in with elections cycles.

Pro-government newspapers, on the other hand, placed the blame on the negligence of three rail workers – or, in the case of Türkiye newspaper, on “sabotage,” claiming such a disaster could simply not be the result of negligence.

Meanwhile, Yeni Şafak gave its most prominent coverage to Turkey’s planned operation in Syria, reporting that the military had plans to strike “all PKK targets” east of the Euphrates.

It was coverage that would continue on Saturday in pro-government outlets, even though the large-scale military operation had not yet materialised.