Propaganda wars

Propaganda wars

So, after all, construction has become a new method of military strategy. This week, the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) leading newspaper, Star, called the Public Housing and Construction Administration (TOKİ), for the anti-outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) campaign in Turkey’s southeast towns and villages. “Kurds in the poor neighborhoods of Diyarbakır, like Sur, are struggling,” the paper wrote. “They want richer and bigger apartments like the ones in the affluent Diclekent. The PKK is stopping the projects.”

Sur was under the UNESCO cultural watch list long before the clashes started. The historic Diyarbakir Walls together with the Hevsel Gardens have become international treasures according to the U.N. body. But for the media elite of this government unfortunately, it is a neighborhood to be “cleaned up and rebuilt.” Star wrote more details about the initiative dating back to 2006. Had the peace talks not failed, there would have been a construction boom in the region that would have put the lid on the PKK. So after all, it was all about construction, construction, construction.

Propaganda wars are a crucial element of the government’s current military operations in the southeast. This past week we witnessed fine warfare photography from the trenches: Soldiers lying in the bunkers of primary schools aiming at PKK terrorists, special police forces using drone footage to carry out the “house-to-house, room-to-room” clashes. For international viewers it all resembled the U.S. air operations in Afghanistan; no personal contact, no human faces. That is why people in western towns felt a chilling isolation and remoteness to it all.

Officials should have a transparent and clean story to tell in these days. If there is very little information that is distributed, this causes polarization and people turn to social media. When ideas clash and there is no middle ground, security officials’ work becomes doubly hard. This is when “the fog of war” sinks into the reality.

Experts on the anti-terror fight also stress the role political expressions play in social media. When political leaders turn the fight into a war of words and when unrealistic pictures on the ground are made public, social media becomes even more polarized. 

So to clear the air and start anew, there are steps to be taken:

-Transparency, not only in terms of numbers but also real impressions should become a part of policy.

-The fight against terror and terrorists should be distinguished and should be discussed openly.

-Transparency is also essential for international support when there are civilians at risk.

For most journalists, the scenes from Sur, Cizre, Silvan and Nusaybin are reminiscent of early fights in Syria. Even the apathy in the bigger cities of Turkey is similar to the supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We were reporting on concerts, weddings from Syria and feature stories with sentences like “the Baathist elite are enjoying daily life while there are clashes in Deir-as-Zor and Azaz.” Sad, but that was it.

History would not repeat itself when past mistakes were not repeated. Turkey’s ruling elite and intelligentsia should learn from the suffering of its neighbor before it becomes too late.