Cablegate: Reflexive Turkish Nationalism Ensnares Mastercard

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/31/2015

This cable was coordinated with Embassy Ankara.

1. (SBU) Summary: After briefly basking in the reflected
glow of last week's exciting UEFA Champion's League Final in
Istanbul between Milan and Liverpool, corporate sponsor
Mastercard has found itself dealing with a public relations
nightmare in recent days following public criticism of
inclusion in its match city guide of critical commentary
about both Turkey and its revered founder, Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk. The offending passages, first publicized in the
liberal Islamist daily "Zaman," addressed the issue of
Turkish-Kurdish relations and the Armenian tragedy of 1915.
Mastercard briefly closed its office following death threats
against its General Manager, and has since officially
apologized, noting that the offending material had not been
reviewed by any company officials, but instead emanated from
the "Lonely Planet," which produced the bulk of the
publication. The public reaction, which has also included
calls for a boycott of the company by Turkish NGO's and the
threat of public prosecution from the Istanbul Governor,
highlights once again how close to the surface core
nationalist reflexes and taboos are in the post-December 17th
environment. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Shortlived Honeymoon: Mastercard officials, whose
biggest problem last week was the deluge of calls they were
receiving seeking tickets to the May 25th Milan-Liverpool
match, faced a more serious crisis on May 30 when "Zaman"
newspaper published extracts from the city guide the company
distributed to its VIP guests and journalists. In the
"Lonely Planet" produced publication, which was written by an
Istanbul-based British journalist, brief reference was made
to the issue of minorities in Turkey, with sections covering
both the Kurds and the Armenians. The breezy narrative noted
that "Ataturk banned any expression of Kurdishness in an
attempt at assimilation," adding that major battles and
atrocities followed in the 1920s and 1930s, with the deaths
of more than 30,000 coming since 1984. On the equally
sensitive Armenian issue, the guide noted that while most
Armenians had remained loyal to the Ottoman Empire, some had
rebelled, engaging in terrorism that set off a powerful
anti-Armenian backlash and the "widespread massacre of
innocent Armenians in Istanbul and elsewhere."

3. (SBU) Harsh Reaction: The publication sparked harsh
reaction from most quarters, with Istanbul Governor Guler
denouncing the "insult" to Turkey and warning that "such a
sponsorship firm needs to be more cautious." He added that
officials would investigate the publication and determine if
it constituted a criminal offense. NGO's were also quick to
leap on the bandwagon, with the Consumers' Union calling for
a boycott of the company if it did not officially apologize.
Turkish sports officials also expressed disappointment with
the publication. More worryingly, anonymous callers phoned
in death threats, and nationalist groups indicated that they
would organize protests, resulting in closure of Mastercard's
office early this week and the provision of extra security
for General Manager Ozlem Imece.

4. (C) Damage Control: Since the story broke on May 30,
Mastercard has been engaged in damage control. In an initial
announcement on May 30, the company admitted its mistake and
noted it had contacted the "Lonely Planet" to demand the
removal of "erroneous information" from the guide. When this
did not quell the furor, the company went further a day later
and officially apologized. In a public statement, General
Manager Imece observed that she had not known of some of the
material that was to be included in the publication, and was
"deeply shocked" by it. Privately she has told us that the
company was blind-sided by the furor, having been focused on
security for their VIP guests last week. This, she said, was
something that "no one expected."

5. (C) Comment: Given the sensitivities that exist here,
inclusion of any material on topics such as Turkey's minority
policy or the Armenian tragedy in a sporting guide was in
retrospect a serious mistake. The harsh, instinctive
reaction, however, shows the heightened sensitivities and
hair-trigger nature of public discourse here since the
December 17th EU decision. Post RSO has reached out to
Mastercard, which is an active member of the OSAC Advisory
Council, to ensure that they are satisfied with the police
response they have received and to provide assistance if
needed. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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