Winning the propaganda war

Winning the propaganda war

As the region boils with the current crisis between Qatar and its neighbors, Turkey’s domestic agenda is still locked in the coup trials and the purges in government. There is no major political breakthrough in the court cases, but another high-level politician’s son-in-law has been put behind bars. Former Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınç’s son-in-law, a cardiologist at a university in Ankara was first dismissed from his academic post as part of the Fethullah Terror Organization (FETÖ) investigation, and he is now in jail.

Law professor Ersan Şen recently stressed the separation of two approaches in the FETÖ cases. “One of them is the actual coup trial of whatever happened in the military on that night. The other more important track are the FETÖ trials in more than a dozen cities. There we see the civilian side of the power sharing,” Şen said.

Indeed, Gülenists were major allies of ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) local officials in smaller cities. From government tenders to business deals, the partnership was so close and entangled that even now, almost a year after the bloody coup attempt, it is still impossible to break it up. It is not just family ties or intergroup marriages, Gülenists (before they became FETÖ) were the propaganda arm of the AK Party in western capitals for more than a decade.

Brussels has its own share of guilt in the current crisis, because EU officials were aware of the false allegations against military officials, journalists and academics jailed in the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon cases. For people in Washington, however, it is deeply confusing to understand today’s vendetta between the AK Party and the Gülen movement. 

That is why Ankara should put more emphasis on places like Capitol Hill, the State Department and other think tanks in Washington. Yes, FETÖ may have the upper hand in some places, but the AK Party - and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) - can and should do better. Instead of pouring money into English-language TV channels that nobody watches, Ankara should give every opportunity to its former and current diplomats to appear on respected TV channels. Diplomats and former soldiers who suffered under FETÖ terror should do the talking rather than journalists or AK Party-sympathizing talking heads. When they speak, Washington will listen and you would not have to rely on over-enthusiastic Turkish businessman in the diaspora to do the PR. 

Turkey can tell its own version of the July 2016 coup story and can win. It may take time, but this should be a collective effort. Meanwhile, the AK Party should swallow its pride and accept the fact that Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Şık and all other opposition symbols should not be in jail. If, God forbid, something horrible happens to academics Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, who are on hunger strike and in jail, none of us will be able to recover from the shame. 

When the rich and guilty FETÖ members walk free but teachers, academics, journalists, and workers get beaten and thrown into jail, nobody wins. When the AK Party thinks it can solve this crisis by sentencing soldiers to life in prison, nobody is punished other than the Turkish Armed Forces. FETÖ’s ultimate aim could be just that and we should be smart enough to crush this plot.