Given how Turkish newspapers “report” the news, “independent journalist” Alexis Debat would have no trouble landing a top spot at any one of them. For instance, during Pope Benedict’s visit to Turkey last November, local papers quoted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as claiming that the pontiff told him, “You know we don’t have a political role, but we wish for Turkey’s entry into the EU” – which prompted a swift “clarification” by the Vatican that essentially boiled down to “as if.”

In the latest example of great moments in Turkish journalism, here is a comparison of how the paper Hürriyet sumarized a September 13th speech by R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs to the Atlantic Council of the United States (ACUS) and what the third-highest ranking official at the U.S. Department of State actually said.

Hürriyet: Nicholas Burns … has said that Turkey-US relations have reached a “critical juncture.”

Burns: “I am pleased to be back at the Atlantic Council to discuss what is one of the most critical relationships for America in the world today – the relationship between the United States and Turkey.”

Note: Nowhere in his remarks, does Burns say that the relationship between the two countries has reached a “critical juncture”; he does say several times that the two countries have a critical relationship. “Critical juncture” suggests a crossroad, which in turn suggests a parting of the ways. No diplomat would use such language to an ally.


Hürriyet: Turkey is critical for us, an indispensable ally, with her commitment to secular democracy. Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gül are reliable. They have kept promises they have made to us in the past. Turkey is an important portal for energy sources to reach Europe. We support Turkey’s accession to the European Union.”

Burns: “The Turkish people have just concluded important, even historic elections. These elections demonstrated the strong health of Turkey’s democracy, the most impressive in the Moslem world. The result was a decisive and Turkey can now expect a period of renewal and growth at home and responsibility and challenge in its foreign policy. The United States government looks forward to a very close relationship with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Erdogan. President Bush and Secretary Rice respect both of these men. We have worked very well and productively with them in years past and know that will continue in the years to come. We would like to agree with the newly-elected Turkish leadership on a period in the coming months of high-level visits, discussions and joint commitment to face together the challenges of stability and peace in the Middle East.” …

“Turkey is the gateway for exports of oil and natural gas from the Caspian region and Iraq to Europe. Building on our successful cooperation in the 1990’s to develop the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus gas pipeline, we now seek to expand this critical energy infrastructure into a Southern Corridor to help our European allies – Greece, Italy and into Western Europe – create a free market for energy supplies in Europe. These efforts can also help Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan bolster their own independence by providing them access to European energy markets.” …

“We are among the strongest supporters of Turkey’s EU aspirations. We call on Europe’s leaders to signal clearly and unambiguously that Turkey will have a voice in the European Union in the future.”

Note: Nowhere in his remarks does Burns say that Erdogan and Gül, specifically, have been reliable allies and kept their promises to the U.S. Rather in weeping, historic terms, he states that Turkey has been a dependable and important ally in a turbulent region dating back to the Truman Doctrine.


Hürriyet: “The energy agreement between Iran and Turkey bothered us. It is beneficial for both the US and Turkey to keep Iran, which supports the Taleban and wants to possess nuclear power, under control.”

Burns: “We have worked well together to support of the clear international consensus demanding that Iran cease its nuclear weapons development programs. Turkey has also proven to be strong partner in countering Iran’s support for terrorists in the Middle East. But the United States and Turkey still need to work out some tactical differences in handling Iran. We understand that Iran is a neighbor of Turkey and key trading partner, which sends over a million tourists to Turkey each year. Turkey’s recent conclusion of a memorandum on energy cooperation with Iran, however, is troubling. Now is not the time for business as usual with Iran. We urge all of our friends and allies, including Turkey, to not reward Iran by investing in its oil and gas sector, while Iran continues to defy the United Nations Security Council by continuing its nuclear research for a weapons capability.”

Note: Hürriyet toned Burns’ remarks down big time. This was the one and only clear criticism of Turkish policy Burns dared to utter in his speech, and it was all-but censored. Burns pussyfooted around every other sensitive topic – in some cases ignoring some very inconvenient facts. For instance, Burns talked about Turkey’s “160-year legacy of modernizing reform, as the most successful example in the world today of a secular democracy within a Muslim society that can inspire reformers in the greater Middle East and beyond.” He did not mention how the Armenian Genocide and successive massacres of other Christian minorities during the Ottoman era left modern Turkey 99.8 percent Muslim, how converts from Islam are prosecuted and sometimes murdered, and the spate of murders of Catholic priests that have occurred over the past couple of years. If you are not Muslim, Turkey is neither secular nor a democracy.


Hürriyet: “The PKK is a terrorist organisation. Our good faith should not be underestimated. I hope that solid steps will be taken against the PKK within the next six months.””The PKK is a terrorist organisation. Our good faith should not be underestimated. I hope that solid steps will be taken against the PKK within the next six months.”

Burns: “[T]he United States condemns the PKK as a vicious terrorist group. We mourn the loss of innocent Turkish lives in these attacks. We remain fully committed to working with the Governments of Turkey and Iraq to counter PKK terrorists, who are headquartered in northern Iraq. We are making progress in putting in place the mechanisms required to produce such concrete results against the PKK. We will also follow up our success in working with Turkey and our other European partners to interdict PKK terror financiers in Europe and bring them to justice.”

Note: Nowhere in his remarks does Burns mention a timetable.


Hürriyet: “The Fener Greek Patriarchate is of ecumenical status. The US recognises Patriarch Bartholomeos as a friend. A priests’ school should be opened in Heybeliada.”

Burns: “We … hope Turkey will help make its own case with the EU by allowing the Ecumenical Patriarch’s religious school at Halki in Istanbul to reopen decades after it closed.”

Note: Burns is very specific as to which school should be re-opened, which has quite a different meaning than opening a school. Also, Burns ties this to Turkey’s EU bid, not to U.S. “friendship” with the Patriarch.


Hürriyet: “Normalize relations with Armenia. The Turkish-Armenian border should be opened. We are opposed to the passing of the Armenian bill in Congress. In the case of this bill passing, those in Turkey who seek to keep a dialogue between the Armenians and the Turks will be silenced.”

Burns: “[T]he U.S. and Turkey face a serious challenge with regard to Armenia. Each year on April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day, President Bush has issued a public statement lamenting the mass killings and forced deportations of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman authorities at the end of World War I. …

We believe passage of the U.S. House of Representative’s Resolution 106, which would make a political determination that the tragedy of 1915 constituted genocide, would undercut voices emerging in Turkey for dialogue and reconciliations concerning these horrific events. We therefore have recommended to Congress that it not pass such a resolution. We strongly encourage Turkey to normalize its relations and reopen its border with Armenia, steps that will help bring peace, prosperity and cooperation to the Caucasus. Now, in the wake of the AKP’s resounding electoral victories, is the time for Ankara to make a bold opening toward Armenia. And we hope that Armenia will respond in kind.”

Note: The phrase “will be silenced” has an ominous ring to it, as compared to what Burns actually said. Considering that Nationalist sympathizers “silenced” Armenian journalist Hrant Dink by shooting him dead outside the offices of his newspaper, Agos, this wording is not accidental.


Hürriyet: “Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, used even against Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk, should be lifted.”

Burns: [W]e hope Turkey will repeal Article 301 of the Penal Code, which restricts freedom of expression and has led to outlandish legal cases against private citizens and global figures such as Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Note: And why should it be lifted? For some reason, the editors at Hürriyet did not feel comfortable using the phrase “freedom of expression.” Maybe they would have found themselves in violation of Article 301, somehow.


Hürriyet: “We are working for the UN to start a new venture in Cyprus.”

Burns: “We appreciate the difficulties that such cooperation poses for Turkey given the still-evolving Turkey-EU relationship, the circumstances of Turkey’s participation in activities within the European Security and Defense Policy, as well as the complications resulting from the lack of a Cyprus settlement. Yet it is vital for all of us, including Turkey, that NATO and the EU are indeed able to work together in crisis areas around the world. For this and many other reasons, we call on all relevant parties to reinvigorate UN-brokered efforts to reach a comprehensive Cyprus settlement that reunifies the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. We welcome last week’s meeting of President Papadopoulos and Mehmet Ali Talat, and look forward to future such meetings to implement last year’s July 8 agreement.”

Note: This bowdlerization of Burns’ remarks makes no sense – at least not to The Stiletto. Maybe “new venture” is a code phrase that only Turks can understand.

The U.S. State Department Web site posted Burns’ speech, and hard copy was no doubt distributed to reporters covering the event. Hürriyet’s “version” of the speech cannot be chalked up to a poor translation. In a country where journalists can be prosecuted and jailed for insulting Islam or Turkishness, it is reasonable to assume a chilling effect that induces papers to report the news the government wants the people to know instead of the news the people need to know. Until Article 301 is repealed, Turkey will never be a Western-style democracy. In the long run, the U.S. does Turkey no favors by pretending otherwise.

Note: To reward Israeli president Shimon Peres for personally calling Abe Foxman to ensure that the Anti-Defamation League doesn’t let up in lobbying against the symbolic Congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, Turkey provided Israel with intelligence on suspected Syrian nuclear facilities before a sortie into Syrian airspace by Israeli F-15I planes. Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reports that Turkish intelligence did not inform Erdogan of its plans. In an article no doubt meant to create the cover of plausible deniability for Erdogan, Hürriyet reported that an unnamed government official demanded to know whether the Israeli planes flew over Turkish airspace during the mission. Anyone who does not believe that Peres’ phone call and Turkey’s behind-the-scenes role in the Israeli sortie is not a quid pro quo is either naïve or not paying attention. Turkey will stop at nothing to guarantee that it will never be held accountable for the Armenian Genocide.

The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog. 


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