On the first days of Gezi Park protests, when government agents were terrified of a massive uprising, they made up several scenarios to instigate violence among pro-government fanatics, in the hopes of suppressing the protests. The police had failed to reclaim the public spaces, unarmed, unorganized civilians were just too much to deal with for the government and there had to be a force equivalent of that. Some force which would take the streets back in the name of the legitimacy of the governing body. So came the lies about Kabataş assault. The claim was that, some journalists had heard/seen wife of a government official who was assaulted by over a hundred half naked men in Kabataş district -very close to Taksim- her baby was crushed on the ground, men dressed up in leather fetish clothes rubbed their penises on her face and peed on her head, defying her headscarf. It might seem unrealistic, because it is. This statement was supported by several columnists and journalists who claimed to have seen video footage of the incident. Later came the claim that protesters were having drunk orgies in the mosques, de-sacralizing religious premises.
Considering reactions to fabricated news pieces in Turkey and populist responses to these, the claims were very serious. The claims have been taken up by -by then Prime Minister- Erdoğan, and used extensively in political rallies against social movements. Such claims have been even exaggerated further to defy the teenagers shot dead by police, insult their families, criminalize all those that have participated/supported the protests. A promise had been given in one of those speeches, that the video footage is at hand regarding the fetish assault and mosque orgy, and these videos would be made public to show what protesters are all about. The designated date for publication of the videos was declared as “next friday” (referring to the mass prayer of Muslims), however they never showed up. Almost two years have passed, there has been released no video proving such claims, yet there are thousands of hours of video footage showing that no such thing has ever happened. Moreover, the lawyers of the claimants have come clean, stating that they have been part of a lie and no such thing ever took place.
Yet, government officials including Erdoğan himself, insist on the claims. Even though the claims have been disproved, they do not shy away from bringing the topics back to agenda and act as if they have so much salience to be discussed widely in public. The voters have not believed the claims, the opposition have proven them wrong, even supposedly the victims have come clean that the incidents might not have taken place as they were being talked of. One of the mainstream media papers that is known for having direct links to Erdoğan’s son have come up with a headline during the past week suggesting that the whole incident took place in the 52 seconds that is missing from the video footage of 2500 hours. This paper, Sabah has even went so far as to publish a photo of the incident happening, however the “photoshopped” image was edited without any proper skills, that the trees that were supposed to show June 1, had no leaves, and people walking around were wearing winter coats.
Prior to this headline story, 15 columnists from various papers had written their columns on the same day with the same headline, talking about the incident and opposition’s reaction. When started a movement which suggested that all those who have engaged in government’s psychological warfare plan, would be brought before court and put on trial, then also began more hawkish defense of the claims and actually turning offensive on the protesters again suggesting that the protesters actually wanted to hang the journalists for supporting government. This kind of statement can as well be seen as trying to exploit any kind of victimhood from any situation, and an attempt in turning a major nonsense into something which would translate into votes in 100 days.
When the claims have been disproved and even the claimants have come clean to suggest that they might have been wrong under the heat of the moment, why would government and government-linked journalists continue with such lies? When one takes a look at the timing of the Kabataş claims, it is possible to see that it came up on the first of June, the day before pro-government fanatics took up clubs and hit the streets to hunt down protesters and collaborated with police to kill protesters. If one is to consider the modern Turkish history, it is possible to see that the government’s plan with such claims might have been much bigger -perhaps expectations were as high as 1955’s 6/7 September, or the Çorum Massacre, Maraş Massacre, Sivas Massacre etc. where thousands died and even more had to relocate- yet the engagement level with pro-government violent actions show that perhaps there is a rise in the media literacy rates in the country, or people have not believed such outrageous claims at all.
Even though this low level of engagement can be seen as a positive development compared for a century of history written in blood-ink, there is still a disturbing fact and that is the government’s “normal” reaction to such social movements and reverting back to psychological warfare tactics to start civil unrest to justify physical suppression of protests and even use of arms. Beating to death of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, the day after the claims have been broadcast on all media platforms related to the government extensively might serve as an example to explain the scope of influence of fabricated news and psychological warfare which can have deadly effect.
Yet, two years have passed and Turkey today is on a very critical crossroads. Economy is heading down the cliff, EU relations have stagnated, negotiations for full accession have come to the point of no discussion, visa liberalization talks revolve around a maybe possible date of 2030, a government official has asked all islamists to take up arms against the Kurds, and most importantly, the most recent national security bill which will bypass the constitution and international agreements that Turkey is a signatory to. Amid all these discussions, and while the national security bill to which all three opposition parties are protesting with all they have are being discussed, why talk about something that has long been proven wrong?
There is a simple answer to this question: it serves to a great extent in Turkey. Whenever there is a salient topic which needs to be addressed not only at the parliament floor but also at social debate atmosphere, if the government does not see it fit for making gains in the upcoming elections, then the citizens get to hear an alternative agenda to discuss and once they get tired of the topic, no one
questions what has just passed in the parliament.
The level of absurdity regarding the pseudo-agenda topic -Kabataş assault- has come to such a level this time that the international press has shown so much interest and the news have appeared in several internationally renowned papers even. However, here the real strength of the concept of media pluralism becomes really important; since, unfortunately for the Turkish audience, there does not exist independent media in Turkey, as all media organizations have a certain kind of affiliation, thus some people they are not allowed to criticize harshly. Most people in Turkey follow these media outlets in one way or another; and a big majority do so fanatically, without ever questioning the truth value. Having already come to the election period, all these look so depressing. Yet, across the country, since Gezi Park protests there have been constant protests and strikes, against all odds; and some of them have been delivering results, one by one, in time…