- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

Hamas’ visit to Ankara has been controversial from the start, and has created an unexpected backlash.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has accused his country’s media of hampering whatever strategic gain Turkey has with this meeting. The press has harmed Turkey’s national interests by doing what he calls the irresponsible thing and comparing Hamas to the Partiya Karkerana Kurdistan or Worker’s Party of Kurdistan — better known as the PKK. “This comparison has not taken any place in the Israeli media,” he said. “You can’t even find one single word. But the Turkish media wrote about it.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry has not explained why he believes the comparison fails, except to say that Hamas is a democratically elected group.

The U.S. State Department and the European Union still consider both Hamas and PKK as terrorist organizations. Some members of the Turkish press reported the comments by Raanan Gissin, the Israeli prime minister’s spokesman, who asked, “How would you feel if we met with (PKK leader) Abdullah Ocalan?” Other columnists opposed the visit because it could be used against Turkey in its fight against the PKK. And that criticism prompted Mr. Gul to make some pretty far-fetched assumptions. “I see that the Turkish media is vulnerable to foreign diplomats and foreign intelligence services manipulation,” he said, accusing journalists who criticized the visit of being foreign agents or spies.

Ertugrul Ozkok, a commentator at Hurriyet daily, one of the largest newspapers in Turkey, was outraged. “Dear Nam’k, I called you a little late today,” he wrote in his latest column, referring to Nam’k Tan, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman. “Because of the time difference I had to wait for the people in Washington to wake up. As you well know, I had to receive my orders from the CIA. Sure I could not be satisfied with one source. I also called the chief CIA operator in Turkey and got his approval on the orders I received. Then I talked to [Israel’s] Mossad. So I was able to make ready the newspapers front page headline. Therefore I was a little late calling you today,” Mr. Ozkok wrote.

But satire notwithstanding, reporters are very disturbed by Turkish officials’ constant accusations. After he calmed down, Mr. Gul publicly admitted that his comment about foreign intelligence services’ manipulation of the Turkish media was out of line. Nonetheless, he asked journalists to trust their elected officials and learn from the Western press. But if that happens, Mr. Gul and his party will continue to face more trouble. American journalists aren’t exactly known for their non-adversarial relationship with the government.

The media, however, is hardly blameless in the situation. Y’lmaz Polat, a journalist for more than three decades, also takes a look at the Turkish press. “If there is any manipulation on foreign news, there is also manipulation on domestic national news as well,” he said. Mr. Polat notes how some members of the Turkish media received Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with the president at the White House. “Instead of focusing on the real substances, they used Mr. Erdogan’s picture sitting next to Mr. Bush, his legs crossed and seeming taller than the president, as if it is something to be proud of,” he said. The bottom line, he says, is that Mr. Gul’s statement targets only the journalists Mr. Gul and his political party used to be able to manipulate.

Meanwhile, the EU, the PalestinianAuthority’s largest donor, is considering cutting off funding if Hamas does not recognize Israel and renounce violence. Those same EU member countries weresympathetic to the Kurds with support to the PKK. Even while PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was on the run, he found safe haven in several European capitals until he was captured at the Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Turkish public opinion has always been suspicious about where Europe stands on the PKK’s actions.

In general, the Turkish people find it difficult to trust their Western allies on the issue of territorial integrity. The public perception is that the Western powers, with their eyes on the Turkish land, have used the Kurds and the PKK, which wants to separate land from Turkey and establish an independent Kurdistan. Since Saddam Hussein fell, the Turkish people have also been sensitive to how the United States and Europe will use the Kurds, possibly to the detriment of Turkey’s borders. Although Kurdistan lives only in the imaginations of some Kurdish nationalists, no one knows where its borders start or end. There is no U.N. decision or report. If comparing Hamas and the PKK is unfair because Hamas is a resistance movement fighting against Israeli occupation, do the Kurds have a claim to separate land from Turkey? Let’s clear that fear first and then argue about what to do with the comparison between Hamas and PKK.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.


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