Conspiracy theories in Turkey
Conspiracy theories are a prevalent feature of culture and politics in Turkey. Conspiracism is an important phenomenon in understanding Turkish politics. This is explained by a desire to "make up for our lost Ottoman grandeur", the humiliation of perceiving Turkey as part of "the malfunctioning half" of the world, and a low level of media literacy among the Turkish population.
The prevalence of conspiracy theorizing in Turkey
Roots and causes
Prominent Turkish author and journalist Mustafa Akyol describes the reason for the prevalence of conspiracy theorizing in Turkey as "it makes us feel important. If the world is conspiring against us, we must be really special. It is, I believe, the way we Turks make up for our lost Ottoman grandeur." Turkish economist Selim Koru has pointed to the humiliation of perceiving Turkey as part of the "malfunctioning [half]" of the world.
Turkish consumers are the second-most media illiterate when compared to countries in Europe, leaving them especially vulnerable to fake news, a 2018 report released by the Open Society Institute said. A combination of low education levels, low reading scores, low media freedom and low societal trust went into making the score, which saw Turkey being placed above only North Macedonia. According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018, Turkey with some distance is the country with most made-up news reports in the world.
A distinct feature of conspiracy theorizing in Turkey is that at the alleged command and control end of an alleged conspiracy scheme there are usually narrated to be state governments; this is due to an extreme state-centric worldview taught in the Turkish education system.
Doğan Gürpınar; a scholar whose areas of study include nationalism, historiography, and ideologies in Turkey; argues that conspiracism's power to shape intellectual discourse and ideological standpoints as well as represent the state tradition is unique to Turkey.
Conspiracy theorizing since before the AKP era
Conspiracy theory that the Armenian genocide is invented
Turkish Armenian Genocide denialists typically argue the academic consensus of it being a genocide as anti-Turkish propaganda or as a conspiracy spread by the Armenians, instead claiming that it either did not occur or that it was somehow justified at the time.
Death of Özal
Some people believe that Turgut Özal, 8th president of Turkey, is assassinated in 1993. He was a supporter of a Great Turkic Union, therefore he is poisoned after Turkic nations gained independence after dissolution of the Soviet Union. Main supporter of this theory is Özal’s wife Semra Özal.
Conspiracy theorizing during the AKP era
Since the AKP came to power in 2002, conspiracy theories have gradually grown to dominate public discourse in Turkey. Mustafa Akyol summarizes the situation as follows: "Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey began to rise as a global power after a century of frailty. Since this New Turkey represents global justice for all the downtrodden, all the dark masters of the world are now alarmed by its glorious march. That is why they are using all their pawns against Turkey to defame, weaken, or destabilize it."
The general "Mastermind" conspiracy theory narrative
In 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan coined the term "mastermind" (Turkish: üst akıl) to denote the alleged command and control institution, somewhat ambiguously placed with the government of the United States, in a comprehensive conspiracy to weaken or even dismember Turkey, by orchestrating every political actor and action perceived hostile by Turkey. Erdoğan as well as the Daily Sabah have often alleged that very different non-state actors — like the Salafi jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Islamist cult with political ambitions around Fethullah Gülen — were attacking Turkey at the same time in a well-coordinated campaign.
A notable instance of promoting the "Mastermind" conspiracy theory was in February 2017 then Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek claiming that an earthquake in Çanakkale had been artificially generated by foreign powers. Similar claims have been made before, such as that the earthquakes of İzmit and Van were "generated" by the USA through the HAARP. In another example in November 2017, the Islamist newspaper Yeni Akit claimed that the fashion trend of "ripped denim" jeans would in fact be a means of communication, via specific forms of rips and holes, between agents of foreign states and their collaborators in Turkey. Throughout 2017, the Turkish AKP government increasingly started to explicitly name the United States as the alleged "mastermind".
According to a poll from April 2018, 42 percent of Turks, and 59 percent of AKP voters, saw the decline in the lira as a plot by foreign powers. On 30 May, foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu claimed that the plunge of the lira would have been caused by an organized campaign masterminded abroad, adding that the conspiracy would include both "the interest rate lobby" and "some Muslim countries", which he however refused to name. In August 2018, Erdoğan started using the formula of "the world fighting an economic war against Turkey".
Journalist Ömer Turan asserted that Netflix Turkey's teaser trailer for Money Heist contained messages aiming to incite the "second wave" of the Gezi Park protests. Similar remarks were made by Melih Gökçek later on.
Conspiracy theories directed against Israel
In the course of the 2006 Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Turkey, Felicity Party member Abdullah Uzun claimed that the tick species that spread the disease was brought to Turkey by Israeli female tourists.
In May 2012, a dead European bee-eater with an Israeli leg-band, used by naturalists to track migratory birds, was found by villagers near the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. The villagers worried that the bird may have carried a micro-chip from Israeli intelligence to spy on the area and alerted local officials. The head of the Agriculture and Livestock Provincial Directorate in Gaziantep, Akif Aslanpay, examined the corpse of the bee-eater and stated that he found that "the nose of the bird is very different and much lighter than others" and that it "can be used for audio and video," which, "in the case of Israel, they do." A counter-terrorism unit became involved before Turkey's agriculture ministry assured villagers that it is common to equip migratory birds with rings in order to track their movements. The BBC correspondent, Jonathan Head, ascribed the event to his view that "wildly implausible conspiracy theories take root easily in Turkey, with alleged Israeli plots among the most widely believed."
In 2013, a kestrel carrying an Israeli foot band was discovered by villagers in the Elazığ Province, Turkey. Initially, medical personnel at Firat University identified the bird as "Israeli Spy" in their registration documents. After thorough medical examinations, including X-ray scans, the bird was determined to be carrying no electronic equipment. No charges were filed and the kestrel was freed and allowed to continue its flight.
In 2018, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım called Israel's Eurovision victory an "imperialist plot devised to ensure that Jerusalem becomes the following year's host and to provoke interreligious conflict."
The "War against Islam" conspiracy theory narrative
"War against Islam", also called the "War on Islam" or "Attack on Islam", is a conspiracy theory narrative in Islamism discourse to describe an alleged conspiracy to harm, weaken or annihilate the societal system of Islam, using military, economic, social and cultural means. The perpetrators of the conspiracy are alleged to be non-Muslims, particularly the Western world and "false Muslims", allegedly in collusion with political actors in the Western world. While the contemporary conspiracy theory narrative of the "War against Islam" mostly covers general issues of societal transformations in modernization and secularization as well as general issues of international power politics among modern states, the Crusades are often narrated as its alleged starting point. The English-language political neologism of "War on Islam" was coined in Islamist discourse in the 1990s and popularized as a conspiracy theory only after 2001.
The secret articles of the Treaty of Lausanne
It has been claimed in civil and formal circles that the Treaty of Lausanne will expire in 2023. According to the conspiracy theory, Turkey is forbidden to mine its natural resources (such as boron and petroleum) due to the "secret articles" of the treaty; therefore, Turkey will rapidly become a developed country by mining and exporting its resources once the treaty expires.
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