Dec 04 2017

U.S. reeling from succession of (Turkish) blows: Turkish media reframes the narrative

News from the United States, most notably from the politically charged trial of banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, is increasingly dominating the domestic Turkish news cycle.

Turkey’s overwhelmingly pro-government has media has been largely defensive in its coverage of these events, seeking to portray them as U.S. conspiracies to undermine Turkey.

A recent article from the daily Akşam attempts to buck this trend. Although the article’s premises are conventional, at least by the standards of the Turkish media, its tone differs.

Thus, events such as the Gezi Park protests and corruption scandal of 2013, the 2016 coup attempt, the declining value of the Turkish lira, cuts in credit agency ratings and the ongoing U.S. trial of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, are seen as external plots, motivated by the desire to prevent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from establishing a new and more just world order.

Further, as is de rigueur these days in the Turkish media, there is no hesitation to point the finger of blame directly at the United States.

Where the article departs from the convention is that the events described are no longer framed as attempted U.S. blows that Turkey has parried, but rather as blows delivered by Turkey against the United States.

For example, the dismantling of the Gülenist network in Turkey is no longer a threat deactivated, but a direct blow to U.S. intelligence assets. Similarly, Operation Euphrates Shield – the Turkish occupation of a portion of northern Syria – previously described as a defensive measure to protect Turkey’s internal security, is now re-presented as undermining U.S. ambitions in the region.

Infrastructure projects, such as the construction of a giant new airport outside Istanbul and a railway line connecting Turkey to Central Asia, are likewise described as ‘deadly blows’ to Western business interests.

Such a change in emphasis, though noteworthy, was hardly unpredictable given the increasingly acrimonious relations between Washington and Ankara.

It is also a logical development that conjoins two narratives that dominate Turkish political discourse. The first is the decades-old perception that Turkey is the constant victim of more powerful states’ interests. The second is the more recent narrative that Turkey, under Erdoğan, is rapidly becoming a leading power on the global stage.

By presenting Turkey as the no longer passive victim of such machinations, both narratives can be combined.