Ergun Babahan
Oct 07 2019

How I unintentionally caused a Turkish-U.S. diplomatic crisis with a tweet

I would have never imagined one day I would find myself in the middle of an international diplomatic crisis by just posting on social media, but in today’s Turkey, where everything is possible, a tweet I posted led to tensions between Turkey and the United States.

I can now say that a single tweet has changed my life. But such things happen all the time in Turkey. People are jailed for years, have their passports seized, lose their jobs or are shunned by society because of their social media posts.

Briefly, I wrote on Twitter something on Saturday implying the leader of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, might be near the end of his political career. 

Someone managing the official account of the U.S. Embassy in Turkey liked my tweet, probably mistakenly, many of us do every day. 

The U.S. Embassy later apologised, but senior figures in Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) saw it as an opportunity to criticise the United States. The situation escalated quickly into a black comedy as the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. Charge d’Affaires to request an “open and clear” explanation. 

The only reason that such an event, which would be laughed off in any normal country, caused a diplomatic crisis is the swamp the AKP’s foreign policy has pushed Turkey into. The Turkish government believed when war broke out in Syria in 2022, it would end in six months, but has since found drawn deeper into the conflict and obliged to host 3.6 million Syrian refugees. It has not missed an opportunity to blame the United States for the state of affairs. 

The diplomatic tiff over my tweet is just a small example of the pathetic path taken by Turkish diplomacy in recent years. 

Let us start with the reason for the tweet. Bahçeli’s health problems have been the subject of much speculation for a fortnight two weeks and many predict he will not be able to return to active politics. While there is no clear information about the health of the 71-year-old, as the junior coalition partner holding up the government, his well being or otherwise is a key matter of interest to the political future of the country. Bahçeli has a great influence on many issues, from foreign policy to the Kurdish question. He has a say even on whether Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in law, remains in cabinet or not. 

Like many journalists, I follow reports on his condition and share what I know from sources on social media. 

The only awkward thing is that journalists in pro-government media outlets do not cover Bahçeli’s health problems at all as they cannot get permission from their masters. If Bahçeli’s health has become a state secret, there is a real problem. 

These people are not journalists, their only function is to share the information provided to them and to obscure what is really going on. They sometimes make tiny waves, but their real duty is to draw a veil over government misdeeds. They are wretched people who have sold their souls.

Some in the AKP on Sunday accused me of supporting the 2016 coup attempt, of having links to terrorists. 

“No embassy can make such a comment on any political party or politician in Turkey. It is essential to obey diplomatic traditions. People linked to terrorist organisations cannot be a reference of an embassy,” AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik said on Twitter. 

Years ago, when I was the editor-in-chief of the Sabah newspaper, the same Ömer Çelik tried to get me to promote his bid to become minister of tourism. Now times have changed and he has embraced the state’s rhetoric. 

I was the only editor of the newspaper when it declared “No to the Coup” in a banner headline in 2007 after the General Staff issued a memorandum warning the AKP. Everyone looked for a place to hide. 

Today we are trying to display a similar attitude at Ahval. Our news reports attract attention because we write the truth. Such journalism disturbs them. They can do whatever they can, because we will keep on doing our job. Neither their obstructions, nor their attacks will make us change course. 

And to the AKP… You have taken away our jobs, our newspapers and our lives, but you will not be able to take away our freedom to tell the truth. You have become an enemy of the Kurds and pursue a racist political path, you have undermined all principles of law and democracy. You have scared people with pressure and violence. But there is a limit.

Your time has ended and you are about to leave power. You yourselves can see. Neither the adventure of a foreign war, nor you power over the domestic media can change this. The time to be held to account is approaching and that is why you are in rage. I just wish you had not also disgraced our country in the international arena.