The appeal of conspiracy theories in Turkish political discourse


During a recent live interview with CNN Turk, Turkish Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati used a conspiracy theory to explain the country’s economic woes. The lira had lost almost 40% of its value against the US dollar, Nebati said, because “the Fed was not an independent institution” and was instead “run by five big families”.

Despite their absurdity, conspiracy theories like the assertion of the federal cabal are gaining popularity among Turkish leaders. Deploying disinformation on others – from Germany to the CIA to the Fethullah Gulen organization – has become a primary political defense, and for good reason: Turks are a receptive audience.

In April 2018, when the Turkish currency hit a record low of 4.5 liras to the dollar, Ankara-based polling firm Metropoll found that 42% of Turks believed “the fall in the lira was a conspiracy by the powers that be.” foreign”. Seven months later, the polling company KONDA reported that 48% of Turks believed that “the world is run by five big families”, while only 23% considered this statement to be false.

As these trends have continued, it’s no wonder today’s leaders continue to maintain the charade.

It doesn’t help that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself is lenient in post-truth eloquence. For example, Erdogan’s main culprit for domestic unrest is “the interest rate lobby”, which he claims actively (and single-handedly) plotted Turkey’s economic demise, an idea popularized for the first time during the Gezi Park protests in 2013.

Then there is ust akıl (brain), a term leaders use to refer to a pervasive group opposed to what they claim is Turkey’s inevitable rise. The pro-government television channel A Haber even produced a documentary titled Brain in 2015. The two-hour investigation “exposed” ust akıl as composed almost entirely of Jews and tilting the world to its will in the search for a 3,500 year old “Ark of the Covenant”.

Again, crazy talk. But although pro-government outlets like A Haber and the state network TRT score poorly in international rankings for objectivity, they remain among the only news channels watched by Justice Party supporters. and Development (AKP), which is Erdogan’s base.

Moreover, the president accused independent news outlets and social media platforms of promoting lies and threatening democracy, further eroding apolitical news sources in the country.

Given the environment, it’s no surprise that distrust of the media is at an all-time high. In 2018, the Reuters Digital News Report found that 40% of Turks distrusted the news, while only 38% believed what journalists reported. Additionally, 66% of participants said they rely on social media for their news.

These trends have continued. Turkey now ranks 31st out of 35 in the Open Society Foundation’s Media Literacy Index, due to its “low potential to deal with the effects of fake news and disinformation, mainly due to the underperformance of media freedom and education”.

Ideas of “post-truth” were spreading freely in Turkey long before the term was crowned “Word of the Year” by Oxford Dictionaries in 2016. Political scientist and sociologist Şerif Mardin noted that “theories of conspiracy are the historical philosophy of the Turks”, while the concept of a “deep state” – anti-democratic forces within the political establishment – ​​has captivated the Turks for decades.

In other words, it’s nothing new for Turkish politicians to twist their words and make promises they can’t keep.

However, the high volume of state-sponsored disinformation, coupled with the AKP’s strong grip on the media, has pushed the conspiracies to the fore. Erdogan’s mastery of blurring the lines between political aspirations and misinformation has spawned a type of politics devoid of truth and intended solely to promote his agenda.

For example, AKP supporters frequently refer to the 2023 “expiration” of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty as the start of Turkey’s “golden age,” a mistake Erdoğan promoted.

“We are determined to enter 2023… as a stronger, more independent and more prosperous country economically, militarily, politically and diplomatically,” Erdogan said last July. “We continue to thwart treacherous ambitions against the unity and integrity of our country, as well as the peace and well-being of our nation.”

And yet, there is no expiry date for the treaty, no hidden clauses to unveil next July, as anyone connected to the internet can see for themselves.

Not all conspiracy theories are as innocent as the Lausanne peace treaty. Some have real consequences.

Take, for example, Erdogan’s obsession with defaming George Soros, the founder of the Open Society Foundations, as “that Jew funding the Gezi Park protests.” This invective led to the closure of OSF’s Turkish offices in 2018, but not before OSF Turkey President Hakan Altınay and 13 of his colleagues were arrested and charged with trying to overthrow the government.

Philanthropist Osman Kavala, whom Erdogan dubbed the “remnant of Soros”, has also been imprisoned for more than four years.

The blatant use of conspiracy theories to defend their own failures has been the daily bread of Turkish politicians for too long. But in the absence of reliable sources and open access to information, nothing can stop the rise of conspiracy theories among Turkey’s political elite.

As journalist Mustafa Akyol warns, “conspiratorial thinking has become a national problem” with educated, educated people powerless to change the narrative. In contemporary Turkey, where facts are politicized, a meaningful exchange of views is virtually impossible.

This article was provided by syndication office, who owns the copyright.


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